Monthly Archives: December 2010

Just because you’re paranoid…

I got in the car this morning to drive my daughter to the bus, and pushed the button that turns on the Prius. Nothing happened. I looked at the dashboard and saw that the only light that had appeared was a small key icon with a line through it. That didn’t do it for me. I said, without expecting an answer, “What gives?” And my fourteen-year-old daughter, who does not drive, replied, “Do you have your purse?”

The Prius has what’s called a ‘keyless entry’; you carry a fob that communicates with the car and as long as it’s in the vicinity of the ignition you’re good to go. The fob lives in a zipped pocket in my purse. I never leave the house without my purse. My purse was in the house.

Last week, I was working out with my trainer, and he demonstrated something he wanted me to do. Then he went to get a floor mat and I immediately forgot the specifics of what he had shown me fifteen seconds earlier.

I recently read a book called Still Alice, about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. The protagonist was about my age, but much more accomplished, a professor at Harvard (which underscored how much she had to lose compared to the rest of us). Literary criticism aside, I found the book disturbing, primarily because now I have something else to worry about.

I’ve had a bad memory all my life. I inherited it from my mother, who, by the way, is still sharp as the proverbial tack. I always make lists of things to do so I’ll remember to do them. If I run to the store for a couple of things without writing down what I need, I’ll recite a list of the items all the way there so I won’t forget. I always knew this behavior indicated a somewhat compulsive nature, but I didn’t think it foreshadowed Alzheimer’s.

Since reading Still Alice, that’s all I think about. I fantasize about what life would be like for my husband and daughter if I did have that disease. I wonder if I’d have the courage, not to mention the wherewithal, to check out before it became too problematical for all of us. When these thoughts get overwhelming, I chastise myself for being maudlin and melodramatic. I remind myself that there’s no family history of Alzheimer’s, and the likelihood that I will fall prey to it is slim. Then I remember the old chestnut, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, and I start to worry all over again.

Ma Bell’s great-great-grandchildren

How many of you have given up your telephone landline? Keep your hands up if you’re under forty. Just as I thought, people who live in a landline-free home are relatively young. It’s not surprising. Young people don’t even use their cell phones for talking anymore: they text each other. And younger people are not intimidated by a world where each individual has their own phone number because they can remember the numbers! Ironically, they don’t need to memorize phone numbers because they’re all programmed into their cell phones. If they ever need to make a call on someone else’s phone though, they are up the proverbial creek without a paddle because they don’t know the numbers.

The most obvious benefit to a landline is that you only need to memorize a single phone number in order to reach everyone who lives at a particular residence. At eleven digits per phone number, memorizing multiple people’s numbers can become challenging quickly, particularly as you get older.

If age has not yet robbed you of your ability to memorize new data, but you find yourself unable to remember multiple numbers for a single household, the problem might be psychological. For instance, if your grown child, who never really liked you, insists that you check in once a week, you may persist in calling the house number, hoping that your grandchild will answer and you’ll be able to talk to someone who is truly happy to hear from you. If you called your child on their cell, you’d have to talk to them.

And what about emergencies? The landline connects you to the outside world (unless you have my mother’s service provider and live on her street, in which case the phone is often dead, but that’s another post). Cell phones, on the other hand, need to be charged. Mine chirps periodically to indicate that its battery is low. I dread that noise. It signals to the others in the house that I am irresponsible. If my cell phone were a Tamagotchi, I would have killed it long ago.

Unlike men, women do not always wear clothes with pockets; that is why we carry a purse. My cell phone lives in my purse. I don’t, however, carry my purse around the house with me. If my cell phone rings during the day I am unlikely to hear it, or else I will get to it too late to answer it. I have several landline handsets in the house. There is always one close at hand.

Since young people no longer actually talk on the phone, I predict that there will be a resurgence of text-only devices. We’ll revert to carrying pagers. No one will use phones at all anymore. It will be quieter, but we’ll free up our memories for more important things, like where we put our car keys.

Mistaken identity

Growing up, there was another family named Mintz in our town. They must have been more popular in aggregate than my family, because I got used to saying, “No, those are the other Mintzes.” Despite that, I still thought Mintz was a unique name in the universe of last names. That is, until my doppelganger started acting up in western Massachusetts.

I started getting messages on my home answering machine from accounts receivable representatives. “Miss Mintz (this was the mid-eighties and people were still routinely using Miss, and answering machines) your payment is past due. When can we expect a check?” Then collection agencies, who were not as friendly, started calling. “Your account has been turned over to us for collection. Payment is due now.”

Initially I was concerned that I had, in fact, missed a payment or bounced a check, because the caller asked for me by name, and how could there possibly be another Judith A. Mintz out there? By the second or third call I was getting suspicious. When I heard from a hospital that I had never visited, I became convinced that someone had stolen my identity.

At the time, I worked with someone who commuted a long way to our office. He arrived one day with a copy of his local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dropped it on my desk. “What have you been up to?” he asked. There, on the front page, was a story about a woman with my name, first, last and middle initial, who had been passing bad checks and otherwise wreaking havoc in the Berkshires. The article included a picture, and it was with great relief that I saw that the culprit was not me!

I contacted a State Trooper named in the article and explained my fear that this woman was going to ruin my credit. He was kind enough to look her up in the DMV records and report back that she had her own social security number, which meant she didn’t need to steal my identity, she had her own.

After that, I started noticing the name Mintz cropping up everywhere. Today, a quick search on the Internet shows that, in and near Boston alone, there are over one hundred Mintzes! While I was relieved to find out that the other woman existed and could be held accountable for her own debts, I was sad to discover that my name was not, after all, unique.

My husband, however, is a different story. His last name is Kleppner. Chances are good that if you meet another Kleppner, it’s a relative of his. If you do, tell them I said hello.

Company Confidential

There was an editorial in The Boston Globe the other day about how nothing you send in email is private. I was disappointed when I read the piece because I’d been thinking about writing about the same subject. If I did, I wondered, would our mutual readers think I was copping ideas from the Globe? Worse, would the Globe think I was muscling in on their territory, using their editorials as springboards for my own? Would they write a piece about bloggers who steal ideas, and name me by name? Would a metro reporter call me for an interview, or even a lowly fact checker, to check a fact? Come to think of it, I’d like that, so I’ll forge ahead.

I started thinking about the futility of keeping email private the day I got one from an old colleague that read, in part, “Did you get the company confidential PowerPoint?” In case you haven’t been paying attention, I haven’t worked for that company in over a year. It would be natural to assume that I had not seen the ‘company confidential’ PowerPoint presentation. That, however, would be wrong. A second ex-colleague had already forwarded the file in question.

If that presentation were instead, say, a ring, which had been stolen by a burglar, I would be in possession of stolen property, and as such could be sent to the hoosegow. (I’ve never seen a hoosegow, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to go to one.) In that case, I would have the option of asking the person gifting me the ring, ‘where did you get this?’ If they answered that they stole it, I could politely decline. When someone sends you unrequested email, that you’re clearly not meant to see, are you culpable for receiving it?

On a related note, I’d like to point out that printers in public hallways are not secure. If you send a document to a public printer, there is a very good chance that someone else will see it. This does not have to be the result of malicious behavior; it could be an accident. Many were the times that I’d wander the halls yelling, “Who took my freakin’ document?” when something I’d printed disappeared. It was not unusual for someone to scoop up more than their own paper, and then set it aside in their office without looking.

A good friend of mine once inadvertently picked up a memo off a printer that talked about me. Realizing her mistake, she returned it to the printer, after she read it. Then, being the good friend that she was, she told me all about it. It ruined my day. Under the best of circumstances I can’t keep a secret, and this was the worst of circumstances, so I confronted the author and told him I knew what he’d said. Pandemonium ensued (details unlikely ever to be revealed in this blog, proving that perhaps I can keep a secret after all).

Did my friend do me a favor by sharing the contents of that confidential memo with me, or would I have been better off not knowing? I don’t know, but if I do find the answer to that question, I’ll be sure to share it with you.