On Monday, April 15, the telephone rang 31,800 times at 9050 Flair Drive in El Monte. Hundreds of people streamed in and out all day.
Cathy Horne loved it. "This is our day," she said. "We are fulfilling our mission."
Horne is chief of the IRS Taxpayer Service Branch, where on Monday more than 200 trained helpers gave last-minute telephone help to taxpayers throughout Southern California, from Bakersfield to San Diego.
From the public's point of view, Monday, the last day to pay federal income taxes without a penalty, may have been 1985's most disagreeable day, but inside the air was almost festive. One ebullient employee likened it to "Christmas and New Year's Day rolled into one."
Nobody counted the foot traffic, but an estimate put the number of people at well over 1,000.
The 200 or so members of the IRS telephone squad occupied a building about the size of a city block. They were men and women of all ages who sat, sprawled, stood, squirmed and murmured as they talked into headphones all day. One section was festooned with banners and balloons for somebody's birthday.
Horne, whose kindly smile never wavered, said this was a large part of the IRS's seasonal work force, divided into those who give routine tax information and others assigned to give more technical help.
"We've found that some of the best people for this job are women who have raised children," Horne said. "They have the kind of experience it takes--to patiently answer the same questions over and over all day, like talking to 2-year-olds."
On April 15, she said, callers ask about tax forms they don't understand, for time extensions to pay their taxes, about refunds, and "What do I do now?"
On April 16, she said, callers ask about tax forms they did not understand, for time extensions they are not entitled to after April 15, about refunds and "What do I do now?"
"It's all very predictable," Horne said. "There's a big rush in January when people start making out tax forms, it peaks in April and from May to September people will be calling to ask about refunds and bills and notices," Horne said.
On Monday, she predicted that on Tuesday there would be half the number of telephone calls that were received the day before. And she predicted "a letdown after all the excitement."
Her guess proved to be conservative. There were 10,000 telephone calls answered by a work force of 78, and 95 people walked in for over-the-counter help.
"I'm also predicting it won't be like this again until next April 15," Horne said.
"This is our job." Horne said. "It's the business we're in. If we don't enjoy it we might as well quit."