By Leonard Pitts: Syndicated Columnist
I am not myself these days.
I don’t know who I am, but I am definitely not myself. A lady on the phone as much as told me so. This was after she had given me a test to prove that I am me. I failed.
Do you know how frustrating that is, to fail a me test? Would you fail a you test?
All I was trying to do was place a phone order, using an existing credit account open in my name, for a new computer. But first the lady on the phone had to administer a test designed to detect and thwart identity theft.
I didn’t mind. We’re big on detecting and thwarting identity theft in my house. We feel this way because our bank account was once frozen after I — meaning, of course, not I — overdrew it buying dresses and jewelry in some chi-chi shops in L.A.
This is why my wife has suggested — in the same gentle tone that a drill sergeant suggests a new recruit really should do a few push-ups — that all our mail be run through a shredder before disposal. This means bills, invoices, invitations to have the house refinanced at a great low rate, things marked “Occupant,” and postcards that say, “Have you seen me?” There will be no identity theft here, buster. If ever the shredder broke down, I think the woman would personally chew the mail into confetti.
Will I take a me test? Sure.
So the lady names three cities and asks which one I’ve ever lived in. Ha. Too easy. Sunrise, Fla. Lived there for two years, 10 years ago.
What was your address? she asks. Address? A note of hesitancy now. Um … 9341 something-something 20-something court. Hey, I only lived there for two years. Ten years ago!
New question. Here are three addresses. Which one was once yours? It takes a moment, but finally 4221 Corona Dr. rings a faint bell. I think … I’m not sure … but I think that’s an address we lived at for six months, 23 years ago. Wow. If the CIA was this good, Osama bin Laden would be playing solitaire at Gitmo right now.
“Boy, you guys are good,” I say. The note of hesitancy is now a flutter of nervousness.
Fluttery gets me nowhere. The woman reads three men’s names and asks if any rings a bell. Trick question, right? Heck, I never heard of any of those losers. Except that … well, wait: that last one is my brother’s middle name. Is that what you’re looking for? I mean, he doesn’t use it, but…
Ummm hmmm, she says. She says this in the studiously neutral, making-no-judgments-here tone of a detective interrogating a suspect.
I am so toast.
The verdict, when it comes, is not a surprise. They won’t let me use my account because they’re not sure that I am me. Not that all is lost, she says. The company will send a letter to my home address. If I call them from my home phone and follow the instructions in the letter, they will believe I am me.
Unfortunately, I’m not at my home phone. I am in Ohio, family in tow, where I’ll be teaching for a year. Won’t be home before Thanksgiving.
I do not tell her any of this, figuring that it sounds like just the sort of lame excuse I’d give to cover the fact that I’m not me. Instead, I console myself with the thought that if I can’t prove I’m me, the person who bought dresses in my name probably couldn’t, either.
Or maybe she could. Maybe she’s a better me than me.
It occurs to me, not for the first time, that the world has become less personal as it has become more convenient. Sometimes you wonder if the trade-off is worth it.
I mean, my first credit account was not convenient. I must’ve been 17, 18 years old when I bought that stereo from Mr. Neely’s store in L.A. Had to go in once a month and make payments. He marked them in a ledger, gave me a paper receipt. Not convenient at all, but I’ll tell you this much:
If I’d been dealing with Mr. Neely, I’d have my computer by now. Sorry if that sounds petulant, but hey, Sammy Davis was right.
I’ve gotta be me.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org