John Carlson: The Password? Uhhh, I Dunno

Keeping a list of passwords can prevent you from yanking your own hair out. Photo by Nancy Carlson.Keeping a list of passwords can prevent you from yanking your own hair out. Photo by Nancy Carlson.

By John Carlson—

Every now and then I wake up in the middle of the night bathed in a cold sweat, screaming something like, “RINKY-DINK-DOUBLE-OH-SEVEN!!!”

My computer password nightmare has struck again.

Indeed, password overload may be a Top Five candidate for the worst things about life in the 21st Century. In my horrific dream, forgotten passwords surround me, ominously closing in as I desperately try to remember the one that will make them disappear.

Odd? Sure.

Stupid? Why, of course!

But it’s hardly surprising that passwords are becoming the stuff of nightmares. You have to know a friggin’ password for everything these days. Facebook. Smart phones. Google. Smart TVs. Digital banking. Apple Music. Health insurance inquiries. Magazine subscriptions. Magazine subscription cancellations … you name it.

Yet half the time when you need to set a password, instead of a familiar one you’ve used before, you inexplicably choose some weird new one that flashes in your head for an instant, then leaves your memory forever. Consequently, your number of forgotten passwords grows, making them impossible to keep straight.

For example, we recently bought a fancy new smart toilet. Since then I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scooted into the bathroom, needing to use it, then totally blanked on the password that unlocks the lid. “Oh geez!” I’ve screamed, before frantically trying to guess it. “Uhhh, LOADED-SQUIRT-GUN-THREE-FIFTY-SEVEN!!! Uhhh, LEAKY-FAUCET-TWENTY-TWENTY-ONE!!! Uhhh, SHAKEN-BEER-BOTTLE-FIZZ-ERUPTION-THREE-POINT-TWO!!! Uhhh …”

OK, I am just kidding about the smart toilet. We didn’t really buy one. I’m no genius, but even I’m not dumb enough to buy a toilet requiring a password to lift the lid. But that seems to be where America is headed.

It used to be I’d write my relevant passwords in black Sharpie on the white table at which I work. Then one day Nancy caught me and freaked out, as if writing passwords in black Sharpie on a white table made me some kind of lowlife. As a result, she spent most of one recent day listing every conceivable password of ours in a notebook. When she was finished, she’d written down forty-three of them, and we’re still not sure she got them all.

The truly maddening thing about forgotten passwords is how you are totally thwarted by an invisible barrier, one that ostensibly should disappear with just a few quick clicks on your keyboard. The inability to do so is not only emasculating, the cranky look on Nancy’s face tells me it’s what women might call, say, efemulating, too.

Consider …

Back in pioneer days, when a westward-migrating couple faced a typical barrier, it was perhaps a fallen tree trunk blocking their wagon’s path.

The solution? Move the tree trunk.

Granted, there could be complications, such as rattlesnakes slithering under the trunk. And maybe the trunk had been dropped across your path by bloodthirsty bandits hoping to kill you, date your wife, waylay your oxen, and eat up all your corn pone. But the fact remained, to continue your journey, you automatically understood you needed to relocate the rattlesnakes. Then you needed to kill the bandits before they killed you, then remove the trunk by spending a day of backbreaking labor hacking it into manageable chunks.

The solution was easily understood, if not easily accomplished.

These days? Faced with a glitchy computer, I tend to descend into something resembling an online coma, mindlessly fingering the same keys I’ve been fingering all along. I will do this until I remember Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Realizing there’s a pretty good chance Albert Einstein was smarter than I am, I will then change my course of action. By “change my course of action,” I mean pounding those keys like a kid in an arcade playing “Whack-A-Mole,” while verbally conveying to the computer that I am, in fact, getting very, very pissed.

This never works, either.

As always at our house, Nancy eventually comes riding to the rescue. She settles down and advises me to do the same, locating old passwords, trying out old passwords and, eventually, listing old passwords in a convenient notebook for easy reference until she gets us back in business.

When the thing finally comes on, peace and joy fill my soul. Life is suddenly all about warm cuddly puppies and streets paved with Reese’s Cups and Milk Duds. That’s until the next time my computer goes wacko, and I have no clue what password will restore it and my sanity.

Then things get ugly again.

This, I have come to realize, likely marks the course of my remaining years. And what the heck, I guess that’s OK. For my parents from the aptly named Greatest Generation, life dealt some problems to deal with, too. You know, glitches like The Great Depression and World War II.

If they could deal with that, I suppose I can deal with forgotten passwords … assuming we don’t change our minds about buying that smart toilet.


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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.