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No taxee, no shirtee.

I remember being given wise counsel in my formative years by a friend who had emerged emotionally scarred and tangibly poorer from an encounter with the Internal Revenue Service. "Don't ever," my friend warned, "mess with the eagle."

Over the years I have assiduously followed that advice. Each April my tax return is prepared by an accountant so fiscally conservative that he makes Calvin Coolidge look like John Maynard Keynes. I never carry money on my person. Instead I carry 22 credit cards, permitting me to charge (and deduct) everything from movie-theater popcorn (business entertainment, Section 162, Internal Revenue Code) to a sauna bath (emotional wear and tear: medical expenses, Section 213, Internal Revenue Code). It is a system that has always given me a secure feeling. And then, last summer, I messed with the eagle--over, of all things, my laundry.

It all began one afternoon when I drove into San Pedro, California, to pick up my shirts and sheets. The scene outside the New Deal Laundry had all the elements of Black Tuesday, 1929. A crowd of angry housewives was peering into the window and pounding on the padlocked door. In the window was a sign: CLOSED FOR NONPAYMENT OF INCOME TAX. INTERNAL REVENUE AGENT WILL BE ON PREMISES AT 2 P.M.

It was then a quarter to four, and the sullen crowd began to close around me. "Are you this agent?" a woman asked truculently.

"No," I said, and fled to my car.

When I arrived the next day, I squinted through the window, and all I saw was a pile of empty polyethylene bags. The proprietor of the store next door told me the IRS man ahd come, distributed all the laundry and left. Someone, I thought, was 12 shirts and 16 sheets to the good.

From a pay phone on the corner, I called the Internal Revenue Service and asked the name of the agent in charge of the New Deal Laundry caper. His name, I was told, was Mr. Hakimura. "May I speak to Mr. Hakimura?" I asked. The voice parried. What did I want to speak to Mr. Hakimura about? "The whereabouts of certain property," I said-slipping easily into what I imagined was IRS diction--"namely, my landury." There was pause. "Mr. Hakimura will get back to you," the voice said.

Three days passed. By this time I was a little gamy, 12 shirts being 3 less than I own. I kept badgering the IRS until finally, after I made a veiled threat of an appeal to higher authority, I was told that Mr. Hakimura might be found at the main branch of the New Deal in Long Beach. By now I felt distinctly committed. I drove to the branch, where I encountered a tall, slender Japanese.

"Mr. Hakimura, I presume," I said calmly.

Mr. Hakimura perused me inscrutably. I produced my ticket and said that I would like my laundry back. He replied equably that he had given back all the laundry. I asked him where he thought mine might be.

"That," Mr. Hakimura said, "is a good question."

Pressed, he suggested that the laundry might be in the truck owned by Mr. Whiffle, the tax-delinquent laundryman. Mr. Whiffle's phone had been disconnected, and it took met two days to track the truck to a San Pedro garage. When I got there, I found the truck padlocked. Maneuvering around me on a skateboard, a mechanic told me that the IRS had sealed it.

My temper was beginning to fray, and during the ensuing days I prowled the corridors of the IRS offices in downtown Los Angeles and belligerently asked strangers, "Where's Hakimura?" But Mr. Hakimura had dropped from sight. Eventually one of his associates suggested I call the cleaning plant where the New Deal sent its laundry. "I don't have access to the name," he said, "but it's in the book."

There are five telephone books in Los Angeles, but by deducing that the plant would be within a 25-mile radius of the New Deal, I located it on the 37th call. I explained who I was and asked if they had my shirts.

"We might," a voice answered. "Or we might not."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"We're under orders not to give out any laundry information."

"I'm not asking about the Polaris missile system."

"It's a federal affair, Mac."

I called the IRS and told an agent that the cleaning plant had taken the Fifth. He assured me that no injunction had been issued against the dissemination of laundry information. I again called the plant. Just before they hung up, I could hear a voice saying, "It's that nut who wants his shirts back."

VEry coolly I dialed the IRS and this time got Mr. Hakimura. "Where are my shirts?" I asked evenly.

"Have you investigated the possibility that they might be on Mr. Whiffle's person?"
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Title Annotation:laundry anecdote
Author:Dunne, John Gregory
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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