Somewhere this morning a young man named Ben G. is probably still shaking his head about the online “chat” he had a few days ago with that really impatient woman (me) who was trying to recover her AT&T password so she could pay her bill online. I want to say Ben is in India, but only because when he had finally had it with me and my all-caps responses to some of his questions, he had his supervisor call me on the phone. That man, who had a distinct Indian accent and apparently more power than Ben G., was able to verify who I was, which allowed Ben to proceed with the task of helping me to reset my password. But that was after Ben and I could find absolutely no meeting of the minds, regardless of what either of us offered the other. I am not proud of my behavior.
If I had Ben G,'s email address or his phone number to text him, I would say that our paths crossed at the wrong time, that I’m not really as impatient or as busy as I sounded. I want him to know that I’ve just entered a bad spell the last few weeks and that I was, no doubt, taking it out on him.
Although I’m sure this is much more than Ben cares to know about me, my insistent demands were the result of several weeks of engaging in too many chores and activities that weren’t really what I wanted to be doing. The problem is, it’s easy to get into an “I’ll just do this for her and then I’ll have time for me” mode, but then you run out of time. I know that about myself, but it’s often when the damage has been done and I’m not “feeling psychically or emotionally well,” as my friend Dianne puts it, that I see what’s been going on.
“I was a completely unformed person until I was in my mid-20s. To top it off, I was gay—there was no one anywhere who
looked like someone I wanted to be like.”
So, when Ben G. wanted to know my account number, it took me over the edge. I felt like typing, “I don’t have time to look for my account number, Ben. I’m sick of spending all of my time taking care of other people.” Thankfully, I refrained from that much emotion, but I did say, “I have NO IDEA what my account number is. I haven’t gotten a paper bill in YEARS. I JUST WANT TO PAY MY BILL.” I realized the minute our exchange finally ended that I was a little harsh with Ben and that he didn’t deserve that much cyber-shouting.
But, this was after we went back and forth for a while as he attempted to verify my account. I’m fully aware that Ben G. was trying to protect me from potential identity theft, but I was still tempted to write, “Who would hack into someone’s account in order to pay their bill?” I held back from that much snarkiness, though, but Ben was not helping my growing bad mood. As I waited and stared at the little moving dots, followed by a message saying, “Representative is typing …” I started replaying scenes in my head, reviewing all the situations in my life where other people’s issues were taking precedence over mine. This only made me angrier. Then I started thinking about how I haven’t worked out in days, I ate French toast AND pizza yesterday, and an editor I want to work with hasn’t responded to any of my emails. Poor Ben G.
This is when, in his third or fourth attempt to see if he couldn’t possibly verify that this was truly my account and I was really who I said I was, Ben asked me if I was willing to answer a few of my security questions. I agreed, as I have a tendency to do with people in my personal life, even though I was sure placating Ben wasn't really going to help. Still, I thought it was possible he knew something I didn't.
“Who was your childhood hero?” he typed.
“Whaaaaat?” I know it isn’t your fault, Ben G., but this is an insane question. I told him I had NO IDEA who my childhood hero was and that I CAN”T BELIEVE I really chose this as a possible security question. “I am a female, raised in the 1950s, for God’s sake,” I didn’t type, but could have. “I was a completely unformed person until I was in my mid-20s," i could have continued with Ben. "To top it off, I was gay—there was no one anywhere who looked like someone I wanted to be like.” Ben didn’t deserve this, though. Instead, unprompted, I sent him the answers to other possible security questions he might ask, just in case these might appear somewhere. I listed several of my best childhood friends, the name of my first dog, two or three different possible versions of the name of my grammar school, the model of my first car, my favorite city in the world, and the town in which my parents met. Then I waited. I felt that Ben G. was probably taking deep breaths now and maybe even looking for new jobs on Craigslist.
… “Representative is typing …” it said on the screen after a few minutes. Then, immediately, it said, “Representative has stopped typing.” I’ve done it now, I thought, but then, “Can you tell me your CBR?” he typed finally.
“That was the last straw, Ben G.,” I wanted to type. “I know these aren’t your rules and I know it’s my responsibility to remember my passwords and if I could only find ‘AT&T’ on that little crumpled, fading piece of paper in my wallet with my other 87 passwords, I would have it. But don’t just ask me random questions about letters I can’t identify.” Still, I went back to my file cabinet for the third time, looking fruitlessly for a paper bill. This just reminded me of how messy my office is and how little time I’ve been spending taking care of my own stuff. You are not helping an already bad mood, Ben G. Not at all.
When I returned to my computer, Ben had sent another note.
“Are you still there?” he asked. “May my supervisor call you?” The words were no smaller than in his other messages, but I felt like Ben was typing now in a sheepish voice. I had definitely frightened him. Still, Ben’s intrepid supervisor did call and was able to verify my identity and, when Ben and I were reunited on the screen, he reset my password for me and I paid my bill. The long national nightmare was over.
Today, though, I feel terrible. If I had Ben’s address, I’d send him a note: “None of this was your doing, Ben G. Though you and I will probably never have another online message session, I’m vowing not to take out my bad moods on you and your co-workers again. What I felt during our interaction was just my own craziness that comes up when I get off my own track. I haven’t felt this way in a while, Ben, so I didn’t recognize it at first. I wanted it to be you and your inflexible, bureaucratic rules, but I know that’s not the truth. It really wasn’t you, Ben G. It was all me all along and I apologize.