My mother often said, “If you always tell the truth you’ll never have to worry about your memory.” Or was that Mark Twain? I can’t remember.
That’s because I am becoming a big fat liar with a mud-clogged memory.
Here’s a perfect example … a few weeks ago my husband and I went to Rite Aid to get flu shots. In order to receive our vaccinations we each had to fill out a two-page form. It had standard stuff like name, address, birth date, email, allergies.
My defenses went up at the sight of this questionnaire though. Why does Rite Aid need to know my birthday and phone number and where I live? So without thinking too hard, I wrote in mostly fake information — a long-ago disconnected fax number for my phone number, a PO box with the wrong zip code, a fake birthday. My husband did the same, as he always does with stuff like this. The difference is that he’s memorized all his fake info. I wing it every time.
This time I got caught.
It was during the third step of this four-step process that it happened. After filling out the paperwork a pharmacist entered our data into one computer and then told us to go stand in a different line to pay at another counter. We waited for eons, then finally made it to the front where another pharmacist, Stacy, asked us for our birthdays so she could pull up our records on her computer.
My husband churned his off effortlessly. I, on the other hand, went blank. Between my daughter trying to convince me to let her buy stuffed animals and all sorts of things she didn’t need and me trying to find a new pair of reading glasses, that piece of information had evaporated from my memory.
“July … ummm … let’s see … July 7th? Ummm … 1967? Yeah, that’s it, July 7th,” I stammered like John Lovitz in his ’90s SNL skit.
“Are you sure?” The pharmacist looked at me like I was insane.
She typed it in, then shook her head. “You don’t know your birthday?” When I murmured to my husband that I couldn’t remember which date I had written, her eyebrows flew up, then her eyes harpooned me.
I chuckled nervously then finally came clean. “Okay, okay, I have to admit I put a fake birthday. I’m paranoid about where all this information ends up on databases.”
I thought maybe she’d try to reassure me about their secure database or tell me that she understood my concern, but without so much as a smirk, she tramped off to the other computer to retrieve my fake information.
When she returned, punching in my birthday a little too hard on her keyboard, I was tempted to ask Stacy what day I was born, but I knew that it might incite an extra enthusiastic stab with the needle during step four of this already painful process.
All this nonsense left me simultaneously chuckling and cringing at how absurd our lives have become. Our techno society with never-ending databases and online everything has turned us into pathological liars (at least some of us) as we attempt to maintain our privacy and security.
Who doesn’t curse every time while trying to recall one of a bazillion passwords and usernames? Was it hubbabubba@1*2 or Nincompoopx10!? Am I writingchiquita or worddiva? Am I sassafras or sassypants?
All these aliases are turning my brain into mud.
And it’s not only online. I thought my daughter would keel over laughing when the clerk at Office Max looked at me and said, “Thank you, Ms. LaStrange,” as we completed our back-to-school shopping earlier this year. At some point I had signed up for a rewards card under the name Sophie LaStrange. I’m also Betty Boop at Ralphs, Lulu LaMoor at Safeway, and Penelope Popsicle at World Market. And of course I mostly use phone numbers from long ago.
My husband has his share of names and numbers, too. You can imagine. And now our young daughter is joining the insanity, as she is required to remember online names and passwords for her school homework.
Fortunately, our dog Doodles still goes by his real name. After all, to whom would all those marketing gurus send junk mail … not to mention his free subscription of Family Circle?
Becky Green Aaronson is the author of Steve & i: One Photographer’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs, and she writes for a variety of publications including Edible Santa Barbara, Aspen Magazine, Runner’s World, and Adventure Cyclist. You can find her on Twitter @wordmuse when she can remember her password.