“It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
“It is where you from, nigga, fuck where you at.”
The I.R.S. claims that I owe them two hundred and thirty one dollars and forty three cents. I am on hold with them right now. I have been on hold for about ten minutes. I have the phone in the crook of my neck as I type.
Where I’m at: my bedroom aka my office. It is about 11am. I am still in my pajamas. The hold music is on par with most hold music I’ve been forced to endure in the past. It sounds like a song in a bad movie where a father takes his kid to the park after they haven’t seen each other in a while. It’s a very bad movie, the sort of thing you wouldn’t even want to watch during a long ride on a greyhound bus.
The I.R.S. lady gets back on. She sounds like somebody’s nice grandmother.
“Ok, so this was in 2006, you say? What was your filing status?” She asks me a bunch more questions about my income at the time. I feel as though I am about to get trapped into owing more money. I am sure of it. “Please hold,” she says.
Where I’m at: I’m in a place – emotionally speaking – where I feel like my issues with the I.R.S. are in the past. I say let’s just call it even. Let bygones be bygones. Time heals all wounds, that sort of thing.
The money I allegedly owe them is from 2006. The me that didn’t pay his taxes in 2006 is long gone. If I were to run into him on the street I don’t know if I would even recognize him. He wore much baggier pants, shaved his head, didn’t have tattoos.
I used to have this friend, a rapper, one of the most talented people I ever met. Batshit crazy. My friends and I loved him and we did everything for him – we fed him, housed him, got him jobs, whatever. He treated us, his only friends, like dirt. His way of fixing things was to take ecstasy and in his altered state have epiphanies about how much he actually cared for us. He’d claim to be a new person.
“The new me isn’t responsible for the things that the old me did,” he’d say.
He actually said this to us, out loud, more than once, and he meant it. Like I said, batshit crazy.
I wonder if this is what I’m currently trying to do with the I.R.S.. Is the new me incapable of settling the old me’s debts? When the I.R.S. lady gets back on the phone, should I just say “Look, lady, it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”?
And hang up?
When it comes to owing people money, Rakim’s old maxim doesn’t really apply. As it turns out, Cavalier’s rap seems to be closer to the truth. “It” isn’t where you’re at. “It” is where you’re from. In this case, I am “from” 2006. If “it” was where I’m at, then the I.R.S. would have nothing on me. They wouldn’t be able to send the collections dogs after me.
“Oh we don’t do that.” The nice lady has assured me that the I.R.S. doesn’t send collection agencies after people. The I.R.S. just takes your shit. They go into your bank account and take what you owe. It’s called a levy, or a lien. A gangster lien.
My phone starts to make the beeping sound that it makes when the battery is about to die. I had set it to speakerphone while I was holding, thereby amplifying the crap music. My phone, the cheapest one I could find on canal street (akin to seeking out the lowest grade of sand on a beach), doesn’t do well with speakerphone. The battery won’t last much longer.
I would much rather have an iphone. But I can’t because they don’t make them for T-Mobile, only for AT&T. But you already know this, my fellow Americans. We all know this as surely as we don’t know who is President of Spain. Anyway, as you know: AT&T used to be Cingular, which used to be AT&T. Back when it was Cingular, I was a faithful customer until I had a small mix up which resulted in me owing them fourteen hundred dollars.
25-year-old me said “Uh-uh” to that. I instantly dipped and signed up with Catherine Zeta Jones.
I recently went into the AT&T store. I went through the whole process of buying the iphone… and right when I was about to get it, the nice lady says “Oh.” Because my name comes up in the system as someone who owes them money from back in the day. “You’re going to have to settle your debt before I can sell you this phone.” She is no longer nice.
I look her in the eye, and I say “It ain’t where you’re from, lady, it’s where you’re at.”
I do not really say this.
She looks me in the eye and says “It is where you from, nigga, fuck where you at. Now could you please fuck off?”
She doesn’t really say this either. But still, she is right and she wins this unspoken duel of words. The voice in my head asks to see her head-voice’s manager.
What happens in real life is that I start yelling and being irrational and angry and then I (loudly) talk to someone in customer service for 45 minutes and then storm out cursing, very much as iphoneless as I was when I first walked into the place.
You see, it doesn’t matter where I’m at. The fact remains that I used to be a 25 year old who lacked the technological and economic foresight to predict the awesomeness of the iphone and the wackness of its exclusivity to the one fucking company that I owe money to. Correction. One of two companies. The other being the United States of Corporate America, man.
Back on the telephone with the government, I tell the nice grandmother lady that I intend to send a check today to the I.R.S. for the $231.43 that I owe. And I mean it.
“Have a nice day,” she says pleasantly.
“No. You have a nice day,” I say. And I mean it.
It seems the old me has bested the new me once again. I wonder if it will ever happen the other way around. Sometimes the reverse happens, by accident, like when you find a ten dollar bill in the pocket of an old pair of jeans. Thanks, old me. Thanks for losing those ten dollars. Now new me can buy a six pack. It’s like how Social Security is supposed to work. (I wonder if the fact that our generation won’t be getting Social Security has anything to do with all this.)
Either way, the question arises: Where is this going?
Maybe we are in a time loop. Or maybe time flows in streams, multiple parallel streams. I don’t know.
What I do know: The new me might wear fashionably tighter pants, he might grow his hair out a bit, he might tattoo his chest and arms, but the old me… he’s still in there somewhere. He’s hiding in the fabric, in the follicles. He’s several layers below the skin, just beyond the razor-sharp reach of the tattoo needle. When it comes to owing money, the old me is alive and well.
By extension, here is something else I know: The past is not over, not by a long shot. Not even after I send this check to the I.R.S.. Not even if I settle my debt with AT&T, which I will never do. “It” will almost always be where you’re from. “It” will sometimes be influenced by where you’re at, but most likely “it” will boil down to where you’re from.
So, to repeat: Where is this going?
Should the current version of me pay my taxes? Should I avoid going into debt? Should I strive to be an upstanding and healthy member of society so that my future self won’t suffer for the negligence and failings of the current me? Should I open a savings account? Or should I just hide ten dollar bills all around my apartment?
What I don’t claim to know: The answers to those questions. Personally, I’m more inclined to defer most of life’s difficult questions to a single line of dialogue from the 1986 film Big Trouble In Little China. As your old friend Jack Burton used to say, “You never can tell.”
After all, you could save up for twenty years to buy a house and then get struck by lightning on your way to pick up the keys. Then again, those twenty years of saving could be the happiest, most full-of-purpose years of your life. You never can tell.
So pay your taxes, and eat your vegetables. Or don’t. And may God bless us everyone.