Last week, for a few seconds, I wished I were named Aloywichius Phofhenzoller Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. You would have felt the same.
Let me back up. Do you check your bank accounts frequently to look for suspicious activity? Good. But don't do it in a coffeehouse, we're told. That harmless hipster tapping away at his laptop with a $4 cup of hot whipped soy might use the unsecure Wi-Fi to get your passwords and empty your accounts.
Joke's on him, you say: I don't have a savings account. I used to, back when they paid 3% interest, but now you get 0.001%, because the banks had an epiphany: "If we don't give them interest, they'll still give us their money? What were we thinking all those years?"
Anyway, I was checking my accounts when I spotted something unusual: a large payment on a credit card we do not have.
Step one: Call the bank. The automated menu reminded me that the only Spanish phrase I know is "to continue in Spanish, press cero," and I wonder if that will ever come in handy. I'd never ask anyone to continue in Spanish, because I wouldn't understand what they said.
Anyway, I eventually got a nice guy somewhere in the world who was very unhappy to hear that a bad thing had happened and expressed his boundless desire to assist in any way he could.
Does that include flying to the city where the crime occurred and personally supervising the SEAL team that would extract the villain and deliver him to my doorstep trussed up in a burlap bag? Ah, no point in asking. So I described my problem, and he said he would cancel the transaction and begin an investigation. I had an image of men in dark suits snapping awake in a bunkhouse, grabbing their briefcases and sliding down poles to a room full of desks and phones.
"I'm going to give you a customer number," he said.
"Don't I already have one?"
"This is for your ticket. Do you have a pen and paper?"
"Let me scrabble around in the junk drawer for a pen and a Post-it note ... OK, shoot."
"Five three six nine zero four ... "
"Hold on, pen's dead. Let me find another one."
"I am very sorry that the pen is out of ink. Please tell me when you are ready to continue. I will wait in a state of quivering anticipation."
"OK, this one works. Go ahead."
"Five three six nine zero four zero eight eight fourteen one nine eleventy trio five five five five five five six ten one zero ten ten one zero, A as in apple, P as in pneumonia, G as in garbanzo, four four four three. Would you like me to read it again?"
"Yes, please, and then I'll read it back to you, and both of us will have chewed up a precious allotment of our mortal existence on this meaningless exchange. No, I'm fine. I'll commit it to memory. Are we done?"
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Leeks. I have to read you your transaction cancellation number. It is ... "
"Wait. Why? What can I possibly do with this information? I'm not taking this out on you, but this is like calling 911 to report a crime and having the dispatcher read me the entire amino-acid sequence of human DNA."
"It is for your protection," he said.
"Oh! Well, that's different. Now I can walk into hailstorms bareheaded and take an electric scooter on the highway, because I have protection."
He read another string of numbers, and I fell behind and gave up. When he asked if I had it, I lied and said yes, which is probably a federal crime.
"I will now," he said, "give you your case number." He took my soft whimper as consent, and started rattling off the digits. I added commas after every three numbers, and when he was done, my case number was in the 3 billion range. Perhaps after 7 billion more cases of fraud, they'd roll over the counter, and some lucky person would be told their case number is "One."
He gave me a 1-800 number, which was like a zingy quip compared with the others, asked if there was anything else he could do, and I said no. Later I got an e-mail asking me to rate the experience on a scale of 1 to 10, and I gave him a 934938423.
The good news? There wasn't any fraud; just a peculiar error that was straightened out. I called the bank the next day to touch base with them. The person on the phone asked for my customer number and case number, and I said I didn't have them handy.
"No problem," she said. "I can look them up. What's your name?"
That's when I wished I were named Aloywichius Phofhenzoller Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, just so I could let them know what it's like.