So I try to get on the Internet through AOL, which is the way I originally learned how to do it. At that time, I thought AOL was the Internet, because I had to go through AOL to get on it. Sneering children subsequently taught me better.
So I try to get on the Internet, and for the first time ever, the response flashes on my screen:
This seemed very strange to me. I had saved my password a long time ago. Normally, all I did was click to get on AOL (and the Internet), and it automatically took me there. This time it didn’t. Why didn’t it?
I felt confounded and perplexed. How could a saved password – meaning a password I didn’t type in so I couldn’t have accidentally typed in it wrong – suddenly become invalid?
My reaction to the problem was immediate.
I freaked out.
Not just because I couldn’t get to my email or post on my blog. (I can’t post via Internet Explorer.) I freaked out because I was reminded once again that, in a world grounded in technology,
The individual controls
In a freaked out condition – at least in my freaked out condition – clear thinking is no longer available. Like a rat that keeps racing down the same path in a maze only to continually run into the same dead end, I continually exited the AOL sign-in place, and then went back to it, typing in my password again and again. And guess what happened every time?
Followed by a cheery “Goodbye” printed in red.
I tried a different password, just in case I’d forgotten my password, even though I hadn’t. The response to this Plan B, not surprisingly:
I went to the “Forgot Your Password?” place. (The word “moron” is understood.) They asked me some private question about my pet’s name. I typed in the name of the only pet I ever cared about.
I then went to a “Help” place, where I got the phone number for AOL Tech Support. I dialed the number, and I heard a pre-recorded woman with a buttery voice say this:
“If you’re calling for “Man Wants Man’, press One. If you’re calling for ‘Man Wants Woman’, press Two. If you’re calling for ‘Woman Wants Man’, press Three. If you’re calling for ‘Woman Wants Woman’, press Four.”
I listened with a dropped jaw. Clearly distraught, I had dialed the wrong number. But what was that about!
I hung up and dialed again. This time, I got AOL.
Not unexpectedly, my Tech Support assistant was a fellow from another country. I told him my problem. The man did some quick checking, and then announced, with total confidence, “I am absolutely certain I know what your problem is.”
“Great. Can you fix it?”
The Tech Support assistant explained that there had been some “inappropriate activity” on my account, and as a result, my password had been de-activated.
“Is that like when they find suspicious activity on my credit card account, and they cancel my credit card?”, a situation that has happened to me on numerous occasions.
“It could be a problem of that nature,” he replied, noncommittally.
“Could it be something I did?” I ventured to ask
The Tech Support assistant from another country’s response came in a tone familiar to anyone who’s watched The Man Who Knew Too Much, paying special attention to how the foreign police respond to American tourists accidentally caught in a web of intrigue.
The “perhaps” implied, “I know more than I am at liberty to say. But if you are concerned that I consider you a suspect, you have interpreted my manner precisely.”
The Tech Support assistant then informed me that the only way I could begin to correct my problem was to write the Crime Assistance, or CAT team, in Sterling, Virginia. I was severely taken aback.
“Write them? You mean like a letter with a stamp?”
“That is correct,” he replied crisply. “A letter with a stamp.”
I scribbled down the Virginia address, thanked the man and hung up. Frustrated by the prospect of an endless exchange of letters until my problem was finally resolved, I went back to typing in my password, hoping the situation had miraculously cleared up by itself. It hadn’t.
I moped for the rest of the day. Fortunately, later that afternoon, I got a call from my stepdaughter, Rachel. I complained about my problem, because that’s what I do. The always sensible and maturely assertive Rachel instructed me to call back AOL Tech Support and demand to speak to a supervisor. I told her I couldn’t do that. I have never had the ability to go over anyone’s head, fearing that the person whose head I went over would somehow track me down and kill me.
Rachel had, however, inspired me to try again. I redialed – very carefully this time – AOL Tech Support.
I got a woman named Rita.
I repeated my complaint to Rita, telling her that the previous Tech Support assistant had advised me that the only way I could handle my problem was with a letter to Virginia. Rita told me she that would not be necessary. She could help me right then and there.
Rita gave me a new password, a combination of numbers and letters, which she immediately helped me trade in for my old password. I was back in business in less than five minutes. I thanked Rita profusely. I then asked her where she was from.
“Bangalore, India,” she replied.
“A place I have never visited,” I heard myself stupidly say. I went on to announce that I now had a newfound respect for AOL’s Tech Support operation, a reputation tarnished by my unfortunate run-in with the “Perhaps” guy. Rita responded thusly.
“My records show that your previous Tech Support assistant was from Romania.” There was a hint of disdain in her voice when she said the word “Romania.”
I asked her what time it was in Bangalore.
I learned that Rita had been on the job since seven-thirty the previous evening. Her explanation: “We have to be here when you are awake.”
“Rita,” I said wistfully, “I believe our relationship is about to end. Thank you again. And I wish a very pleasant rest of the day. Or a good sleep. Or whatever you do after this.” She thanked me for patronizing AOL, and that was that.
Lesson learned? If you call AOL Tech Support and the guy’s from Romania? Ask immediately to be transferred to India.
And if you can, get Rita.