Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just another number

It all started several years ago at Radio Shack. (Nothing good ever starts at Radio Shack.) I was at The Shack buying something. (That's what they want to be called these days: The Shack. They're trying to rebrand the company, as if somehow shortening the name will make you think the whole store isn't as obsolete as the "Radio" part of their name. It's like when Kentucky Fried Chicken became "KFC" to try make you forget their food was fried. Or when the SciFi channel changed their name to "SyFy" so people wouldn't think of it as a nerdy science fiction place, but instead as a cool place where they can pick up syphilis.)

Anywho, I was at The Shack buying something, I'm not sure what. It had to have been a cord for my stereo, a cable for my computer, or a battery for my cordless phone. (Something along those lines, because unless you are a remote-control car aficionado, why else would you go to The Shack?) 

The Shack: the place to go for cords, batteries, and remote-control cars!
I was at the counter paying for my purchase, my mind wandering to which fast food place I should go to for lunch. (This was back when I was single and ate out on average 13 times a week.) My internal Arby's/Burger King debate was interrupted when the salesclerk unexpectedly said, "What is your phone number?"

"What?" I said. I was a bit taken aback. 

The clerk repeated, "What is your phone number?" I asked why they needed my phone number. "We always get the phone numbers of our customers." Who can argue with logic like that? (Anyone with a brain?) The salesclerk made me feel stupid because I didn't know that this sort of information exchange went on all the time. I gave them my phone number, because who was I to go against the wishes of The Shack, especially if it's something they "always" do? Besides, I didn't want to argue, I just wanted to take my cord/cable/battery and get me a Beef 'N' Cheddar. (Mmmm….cheesy sauce!)

That's how it began. And now, it's hard to make any purchase without leaving a piece of personal information behind. We hardly even flinch anymore. I've made several visits to several doctors over the last couple of months (to try to see why my leg seems to be falling apart), and the first thing they ask me, even before my name, is when is my date of birth. It's a good thing my junior high buddy Jim doesn't go to the same doctors I go to, or there would be some confusion. (We share the same birthday.)

Sometimes it's not clear who is asking for the information and why. Within a week of moving to my current house, I was paying for fuel with my credit card when the fuel pump asked for my zip code. I wasn't sure which zip code to give them. Was it the credit card company asking for my old billing zip code for security reasons, or was it the gas station asking for my new zip for marketing Radio Shack-ish reasons? (And just what was my new zip code, anyway?) After entering the wrong zip code twice, I was shut out of the system. (It's never good to be totally rejected by an inanimate object.)(I already get enough rejection from actual people, I don't need machines doing it, too.) I had to move to a different pump, where I finally was able to crack their zip code code.
The other day when I went to get my hair cut, I finally lost it. I get my haircuts at a national chain. I don't want to mention them by name, so I'll just call them "Good Clippers." I've been going to this particular "Good Clippers" for about three years now. The first time I went there, they asked for my phone number. All of the eleventeen times I've been there since, they ask me my phone number as soon as I walk in the door. I tell them my number. They look at their screen and say "Andrew?" I then say, "No, my name is Joe." We've done this dance at least a dozen times. (Or eleventeen. Whichever is bigger.)
Finally, this time, I had had enough. "No, I'm not Andrew," I said sternly. "I've been coming here for three years, and every single time I do, you think my name is Andrew. Andrew hasn't had that phone number for at least three years. It would be very nice if you could take Andrew's name out of your computer, so that you don't call me Andrew the next time I come in. Do you think you can do that?" I had to try to maintain a bit of civility, remembering that one of these women would soon be holding sharp instruments very near to my head.

Yes, we can do that, the woman at the register said. She type-ity typed in her computer for a bit, then said she had removed Andrew's name from my phone number. Did she really remove Andrew's name? I'll find out for sure in a few weeks when I go back. If they call me Andrew again, I'll probably lose it and punch the wall or something. I'll hurt myself, and then I'll have to go to the doctor. And tell them what my birthday is.

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