by Hope Edison-Brown
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
My husband and I went into business for ourselves, learning by trial and error. My job was all the paperwork, and I did it faithfully, but sometimes, especially when it came to government mumbo-jumbo, I didn’t really understand what it was I should be doing. Of course I eventually managed to fall afoul of the payroll branch of Revenue Canada — Canada’s version of the IRS. My sins were not to be overlooked: they sent me a stern letter with a date when they would come by to review my books.
I was traumatized: what did I know about government? Only that they were The Law. And one didn’t fool with them. I was only 26, and I felt sure I’d be jailed for this transgression.
I decided my best course was to be helpful and courteous. Perhaps they would realize, then, that this was not deliberate fraud, but an innocent error — whatever that error was, as I really didn’t know.
The fateful day arrived. The fellow who walked in the door was as forbidding and stone-faced as other business owners had assured me they all were. My heart dropped into my stomach but I managed to smile anyhow.
It didn’t help, but I kept the smile on somehow and did his bidding as efficiently and pleasantly as I could. His demeanor did not change: the message was that I was a criminal, and he was not to be bought off with sweetness. It was useless to try any more. I was ready to put out my hands for the handcuffs when he asked to see my payroll book.
That fall when I’d purchased the children’s school scribblers, the covers featured “Muppets” characters, as they were the “in” thing with children at that time. We had one left over; a scribbler with a picture of Miss Piggy on it. Being thrifty, I used this as my payroll book — why spend money for a formal book when there was a perfectly good scribbler going begging to be used? So I handed him Miss Piggy. He stared at it. His countenance cracked. He smiled. He began laughing and couldn’t seem to stop.
I put on the coffee pot and we got along famously as we found and fixed the mistakes together. He even took extra time to teach me how to get it right in the future. And what is more, thanks to Miss Piggy, I never got charged one penny in penalties.
Later, I imagined what his job must be like. His workplace was fraught with distrust and hostility. Daily he met a public who considered him the enemy, and some who surely smiled as I had — while hiding larceny. And if he didn’t do his job, well, he wouldn’t have it very long. He walked a tightrope that could sour anyone. But in the face of a show of innocence of malice, he was big enough to allow his humanity to show through, and forever broke my stereotype of Revenue Agents.