The Plague-Ground – Quick, what’s your postal code?

On Monday night, I logged into my online bank account. I keyed in my Username and my Password, just as I’d done a thousand times in the last years – and a hundred times in the last month.

“Invalid Username/Password. Please try again.”

So I keyed them in again, being careful to get all the letters, numbers and capitals precisely right.

“Invalid Username/Password. Please try again.”

I froze. As a long-time password-forgetter, I know that banks operate on a strict Three Strikes protocol. Get it wrong three times and you’re locked out.

Which of course happened, even though that third time I was like a piano teacher holding the finger of his pupil to bang out Do-Re-Mi.

“Invalid Username/Password. Please call your bank representative at 1-800-555-1212.”


But I didn’t grieve long.

I cut and pasted that number into my Outlook calendar for 8 a.m. yesterday morning. I’d heard the horror stories of two-hour wait-times. I heard that one customer taped her iPhone to her head when she went to bed in order not to lose her place in line to speak to an actual person at her bank. Besides, an 8 a.m. call would act as an alarm clock for me. Something possibly productive to do!

So at 8:01 a.m. yesterday, I called my bank and was told the wait time was 10 to 20 minutes. A miracle! And sure enough, at 8:15, a real person said hello. I told him my problem (though it was really their problem) and he said “Well, let’s see how we can get you into your account then.”

“Mr. Ramsay, can I ask you some security questions first?”

“Of course, of course.”

I do very well on these tests.

“What is your birthdate?”

“July 23, 1949.”


“And where were you born?”


My self-esteem was rising dangerously.

“Mr. Ramsay, can you tell me your postal code?”

“Sure, it’s …………”


“Uh….……it’s…..….oh Heavens, it’s……”

Long pause.

“Mr. Ramsay, are you still there?”

“This is crazy. I know my postal code.”




At that moment, Jean walked into the kitchen to get a coffee.

“Hold on….…hold on. Let me ask….….Jean….? Darling!…..Jean!….What’s our postal code?!”

Jean looked oddly at me,  not because she didn’t recognize her husband, but because….

“Um…… our postal code?….Well, it’s… … M-5-K………uhhh…….

“Yes, yes……hello, hello, it’s M-5-K…….”

“Yes, Mr. Ramsay?”



“No, no, it’s not that,” I said.

“It’s 9……” …”and here we both yelled together  “..…..A-3!”

“That’s it!!  9-A-3”!!!!!


“No, I’m afraid it’s not, Mr. Ramsay, it’s “M-5-K 9-H-3.”


“But not to worry, sir. I believe you’re who you say you are.”

“Oh, thank you!”

My gratitude was child-like.

“So can you tell me the problem you’re having getting into your account?” He seemed bemused.

I told him, then told him my UserName, and he told me that that was close, but I was adding a question mark at the end which wasn’t in the actual UserName.

And right away, I knew he was right. Of course he was right.

What had caused me the night before to add a question mark to a UserName I’d had for all those years?

Not just once, or twice, but three times?

But what I’ll never question was this moment of grace on the phone with a bank person who knew I was “old” and who heard me call out to my wife for help and…..well, that’s the kind of security that no password can crack.

Share this post

49 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Quick, what’s your postal code?”

  1. Madeline Thompson

    Great dialogue Bob! I know exactly how that feels. The panic,
    the absolutely freeze of all functioning intelligence and self-happiness
    disappears. Twice is my limit with those kinds of errors – I’m 14,000 miles
    away from my bank and I’m terrified I’ll get a ‘drop by tomorrow and we
    can sort this out’ reply. Enjoyed this immensely and I’m sure anyone who’s
    ever been caught in that terrifying situation will too. You got a gem of a
    person on the other end, you really did!

    1. I know. He really did understand the craziness of our situation. And I love your reference to “drop by tomorrow” and you’re 14,000 miles away. I trust you are high and dry?

    2. I know. He really did understand the craziness of our situation. And I love your reference to “drop by tomorrow” and you’re 14,000 miles away. I trust you are high and dry?

      1. Madeline Thompson

        So far so – II think we’re about to crawl out of isolation
        soon, would be so lovely to eat in a restaurant again.
        Thank you Bob for your great posts!

  2. Whew … love starting my day by reading your blogs … notice it is now 9:30 am … a full 2 hrs later than my ‘normal’ start of the day… will set my alarm clock to 8 am tomorrow
    PS I think you’ll be getting a lot more happy birthday wishes going forward

  3. A wonderful story Bob to which most of us who are now classified as elderly can relate. Though for reasons too obvious and embarrassing to mention as a fellow private boys school survivor I am sure many of the masters would have referred to me and by extension you as a blithering idiot. Ah, those were the days.

  4. This is hilarious! Thanks for my morning smile.

    I have a bunch of passwords – can’t remember them all. I actually rely on my laptop (iCloud) to remember them and therefore I can never let my laptop out of my sight! How can anyone remember all the passwords required these days? And, we are supposed to be changing them every so often – heaven help us!

  5. Wonderful story Bob … and so familiar ! My wife has lost count of the number of times I have said that I would gladly offer a sample of my blood in order to avoid the dreaded password.

  6. Bob, thanks for your personal info. I will now try to log in as you.

    So much for identity theft. Just read Ramsay’s blog. 🙂


    1. I know….a few friends commented on that. Which is why all the numbers and dates and places are, in the words of America’s 45th President, fake.

  7. Thank you for my morning giggle, Bob.
    Take some comfort in that we’re all having moments like this in our Groundhog Day existence. 🙂

  8. I feel so much better now, after reading your confession. If only I could remember who you are. Sometimes I Fogo names.


  9. yvonne worthington

    all these continuously busy companies should use the option that some, like Rogers and Shaw have, to get a callback. Saves you waiting around with the phone clutched to your ear.

  10. Well I laughed out loud at 10:24 am thanks to your hysterical AND hysterical note (and yes I meant it twice as in different context).
    I too live in fear of dropping a password (don’t let yourself use the SAME password for everything say my daughters which of course would be way too easy (and dangerous)). I have found online service representatives either immensely kind and patient or unbelievably surly and abrupt. Hurrah for kindness (there is that word again).

      1. Shouldn’t that also have your username as well? LastPass keeps both my username and my passwords (a unique, 20-character hodgepodge for each site) and fills them in automatically for each website.Why were you entering your username manually?

  11. Hi Bob and Jean,

    Just want to say thanks for these daily briefs. They are an enjoyable part of my new daily life!

    I find it interesting that some of the things you talk about echo the things going on in my world. It’s interesting how we got trained into getting up at the crack of dawn to get a short line up on the phone! I recently did a midnight shift to get a date for grocery delivery three weeks out! Never mind, this too shall pass, we hope anyway,

    Best wishes to you both,
    Breda .. a former JM still getting out there!

    1. Breda — Of COURSE I remember who you are!
      And thanks so much for writing. It’s good to hear that
      you and Jean are still out there….
      Cheers and thanks for checking in. Bob

  12. Bob,

    This happens so often now that I have stopped bothering with entering a password – i just go straight to the ‘forgot password?’ box every time. Takes less time and is much less humiliating.

    Albert Einstein, when asked for his phone number, said: I don’t know it. Anything I can look up I don’t carry in my head. With that in mind, I started keeping a book of passwords and usernames. I know that is not recommended by the security folks. But in my case it is safe… I can’t read my handwriting!

    1. John – hi I am Sharon. I am behind reading Bob’s updates – but they are like NETFLIX and one can BINGE read as wellas BINGE WATCH. Ergo here I am.

      Would like to recommend something somewhat safe??? I downloaded an APP called PASSWORD SAFE to my android. I am certain these things exist in various forms. Probably on the cloud too – yet I feel that would be Unsafe. Anyway – without digressing too too much – You can load the passwords into the safe. Basically the userID and your password – you can call the thing whatever makes sense – like RBC online or StockBroker or Librarycard or GMAIL – like whatever. And you can create groups / categories – all easy peasy. The ONE TRICK? You must login to the password safe. SO. That is the ONE password to always remember.
      Mine is on my phoen so when she dies her natural passing – and I need to get a new phone – thus far anyway – I don’t have a solution to upload / download to new device. That’s because it is like a piece of paper for me, that no one can get into but me. Until I forget my postal code (like Bob).
      Check it out. I think you might like it.

      You too BOB.

      Cheers ST

  13. With your birthday, I now know why we have been compatible for soooo many years: I’m an (older) Aries.

  14. A gorgeous little, grace-filled story, Bob. I’m still learning at this late stage — and I’m even older than you are, son — from you and other masters, that the most affecting writing is usually about the cracks the light gets in through. By .. what’s his name, you know, that poet guy.

  15. Yes, I have recently learned that the casual mention of my date of birth is a magic ride to VIP treatment.
    Who knew? I could have been using this ploy for years.
    Best regards,

    1. Thanks for checking in, Sara…..I’m compiling a list of the benefits of growing old. It’s not a long list!

  16. Oh so resonant. And I am not sure it is an age thing. About ten years ago, when I was in my forties, I got one of those password keeper apps (this was before the iphone remembered them all, with my thumbprint unlocking the treasure trove), then two weeks in, panicked that the password for the password keeper was too easy, changed it and promptly forgot the new password. I never got in again.

  17. I got killed by two-factor authentication. I did everything right, but the online banking was tagged to a phone number that no longer exists, hence it cannot send me a pin code. So I called. Maybe I’m the woman who slept with the cellphone taped to her head. No way to get through. I gave up. Now I cannot do online banking. I am broke. But the really good thing is that with your name, a ?, your birthdate, and a few other easily-obtained bits of information from reading your blogs, I can now hack your banking. Fabulous solution. Thank you! (PS. What is your mother’s maiden name? And do you happen to have those 3 numbers from the back of your credit card?)

  18. Wonderful story, Bob. And all-too-familiar to me. When I have moments like this, Susan quietly mouths the words: “And so it begins…”

  19. Oh Bob, how you punctuate my unpunctuated life in the Nevada mountains. This pandemic diverted me here after a funeral in Philadelphia with a carry-on of all black clothes. Five weeks later . . . still dressed in black, but my winery delivers red, white and rose. Essential services.

  20. I am thoroughly enjoying your blog posts Bob – along with all the comments as we stumble along through life’s challenges together. I have been relying on a variation of the John Bosley method above – 2 printed single spaced typed pages with lots of crossed out user names, i.d.’s and coded passwords scribbled in and new ones added front and back. it has seen me through until a few weeks ago when I needed to access a site to complete a project I had committed to. Turns out I had outfoxed myself with my secret security question. I could not answer, “Where did you meet your significant other?” I feel like that site was out to get me with such a difficult option. And, no access to their “call centre” for the foreseeable future.

    1. Suzanne — Thanks so much for your comments. I use “1Password” to store all my passwords and after two years it still works easily and hopefully well.
      As for secret security questions, my credit card company once asked me: “Who is your first friend?” I didn’t have a clue, and made matters worse by saying to the guy on the phone that can’t possibly be a real question because I would never have remembered the answer i the first place, let alone forgotten it!

  21. One of the current dilemmas for me is because I am sporting a mask my phone doesn’t recognize me. And because I am wearing gloves I can’t key in my password. Hey- what is happening in Quebec with all the mask wearers: are they being let go from provincial jobs or refused service due to covering up? Maybe the face covering law will be rescinded.
    And, we could write our passwords on the inside of our masks.. like math formulae!

  22. Love the last line! I am thoroughly enjoying your daily posts Bob! We are just south of Maniwaki and heading into Week 6 looking after a 5 year old….thank God for the great outdoors!

    1. Sally — Great to hear from you. Jean and I are up north with Jean doing telemedicine (a growth industry!)
      and me doing my blog and going for very long walks. Glad to hear you and your brood are thriving up north too.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to my Free Weekly Omnium-Gatherum Blog:

  • Every Saturday the Omnium-Gatherum blog is delivered straight to your InBox
  • Full archive
  • Posting comments and joining the community
  • First to hear about other Ramsay events and activities

Get posts directly to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign Up for Updates!

Get news from Ramsay Inc. in your inbox.

Email Lists
Email Lists(Required)