“What was my first pet’s favorite food?

Posted on November 8, 2014

UntitledLife in the old days – say around 2009 – used to be so much simpler.

Forget your login? No problem. “What was your mother’s maiden name?” That was easy.

Then came phishing. My 4 number password – child’s birthday, of course – no longer was acceptable. “Passwords should be a minimum of 8 characters and should include at least one capital letter, 2 numbers, and a non-alphanumeric character with the exception of /, ?, or &.”

OK. It was a little harder. But I kept a careful log of all my passwords – despite all the warnings not to! – and – again despite the warnings – I tried to use the same password as often as possible. If I found myself locked out of a site and received the ominous warning “Incorrect user ID or password” I typed in a cycle of all the permutations I had used over the past few months and eventually entered the pearly gates.

Along the way other nasty messages awaited me: The infamous “Choose a password that has not been used in the past 6 months” was a particular letdown. “Your User ID has been taken” was always a blow to my ego. “This site will be locked down for 3 days” struck hard and put me into a deep funk – not to mention resulted in a bounced check – but I survived.

Until today. I sit in front of a new obstacle. I feel like Lewis and Clark at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Is it too late to turn back?

A brokerage firm would like to deliver my statements on line. They tell me it will benefit the environment. Thousands of trees will be saved. My grandchildren will not face the horrors of global warming. Birds will continue to sing in springtime and the ocean’s waters will not rise and inundate Long Island. I will join the thousands of other customers who have taken the responsible step of reducing waste and deforestation.

Simple enough. I pull up the email instructions. I fail at my first two attempts to access the secret archives that contain my pitiful account statements. Perhaps I should be grateful that I am being saved from the humiliation of my inept investment choices over the years. I write the firm and receive more instructions.

At last I get through the first iron doors. All it took was the first 3 initials of my mother’s maiden name and the last 4 digits of my social security number. Now I need to select a picture that will be shown to me in the future to reassure me I am in the right place. I’m not sure why – I would probably know if I had mistakenly entered Warren Buffett’s account statement.

I scroll through the pictures of people and monuments. I don’t see any monuments I like – they all look like tombstones in the thumbnails – and I can’t select a picture of somebody I don’t know. That would sort of be like putting a new picture frame on the shelf with the stock photo that comes with it. So I choose the picture of the rainbow, thank you very much.

Wait. Another barrier. (I am reminded of the opening credits of the sitcom “Get Smart” where Maxwell Smart enters the phone booth and proceeds to go through a dozen doors to get to Control.) I need to select a phrase. Hmmm. Does this call for a snatch of poetry? A favorite aria? The opening line of an Ayn Rand novel?

I choose “Now is the time” from Tom Payne: I am thinking: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country and throw out the screens.”

I am feeling pretty good about myself. I have risen through several stages of Nirvana. I should be on the verge of divine enlightenment.

There is one more step. I must choose four private security questions from a list of 30 or so choices. I pop open the menu for the first question. I scan in vain for “What is my mother’s maiden name?” and “What was the name of your first pet?”

I read:

“What was the first name of your elementary school principal?”
“What street were you on when you first kissed?”
“What was the color of the bridesmaid’s dresses at your wedding?”
“What was the name of your first boss?”
“What was your first pet’s favorite food?”
“What was your salary in your first job?”

The list goes on. I feel this cold sweat breaking out. I can’t answer these questions. Is this a sign of early dementia? If I make something up will they catch me? And how will I ever remember what I said? Will I be arrested for lying about the town I first went skinny dipping in?

My heart is racing. Emotionally I am feeling somewhere between discovering that my bank account has been cleaned out by the Russian mob and serving time for ripping off the mattress tag.

Where is Sacagawea when I need her? Who can find me a pass through these mountains? Is it too late to turn back?

I stare at the screen a few moments before searching for the tiny oval with its “Log Out” button in the corner of the page.

I find the email instructions from my broker. I reply.

“On second thought, please continue to mail me hard copies of my statements. I fully accept responsibility for the trees I have killed.”

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