But first, let’s go back to Saturday afternoon.
My grandfather calls and says the following:
“A friend of mine gave me something to put on the computer. Where you click things and things come up. So where should I put it on the computer?”
Now, anyone who’s ever taken a similar call knows that this is a minefield. Is there a CD with software that needs to be installed? Is there a thumb drive with a file that needs to be dragged over? Is it compatible with my grandfather’s Mac? Have I just lost my entire Saturday?
But before I could stop shuddering at the possible implications, the phone cut out. And when I called back, I got a message saying that the phone was temporarily out of service. (Meaning, at least, that it probably wasn’t a medical emergency causing the problem.)
So I basically forgot about it.
This morning, he calls again.
His phone is a pay-as-you-go cell phone, and he needs to top it off. He’s calling from the lobby of his building. Would I please call the phone number and top off the card using his debit card?
He gives me the phone number to call. He gives me the debit card number. I am savvy enough to ask for his cell number, which I assume I need to top off the account. I am savvy enough to ask for the expiration date of the debit card. After he argues with me about whether such a thing exists, he finds it and gives it to me.
Slight foreshadowing: I consider asking for the security number on the card, but figure that’s overkill.
Call #1: 800-387-7255
“You’ve reached a number that’s out of service.”
Retry, retry, retry, give up.
Grandpa checks the number. Reads part of it out, then puts on his glasses for the second half of the number. It occurs to me too late that this is the wrong order to do things.
Call #2: 800-387-8255
Grandpa checks the number, then gives a me completely different number, in no way related to the first two:
Call #3: 888-322-1122
But the automated jerk on the phone needs the security code of the card.
So I say, screw this, I’ll use my own card. In order to use my own card, I need the phone account’s PIN, which I don’t have. Argue with live rep about this for a frustrating 40 seconds.
Grandpa gives me a person’s name and says that the name is the PIN. I’m supposed to type the PIN into the phone, so I ask for a numeric PIN (even if it’s just the name translated into the corresponding numbers on a phone pad).
He gives me a numeric PIN that is unrelated to the person’s name.
Confidence level: Subterranean.
I also ask for the security number of the card. After again arguing about the existence of such a thing, he gives me the security code, so maybe I won’t need the PIN after all.
I get to use the credit card, I don’t need the PIN, but I need my grandfather’s billing address ZIP code. Which I don’t have. Or, I have an out-of-date one, since he recently moved.
So once again I choose to pay with my own credit card. So again I need the PIN. Wrong PIN.
Get the ZIP code from Grandpa.
Call #5: Success.
It’s topped off. The message tells me to make sure to top it off again in January. So that’s something to look forward to in the new year.
Twenty minutes later the phone rings. It’s my uncle. Apparently, he had killed half an hour on this task before Grandpa handed the baton to me.
But my uncle didn’t get a sex line, so even though I’m second-tier, I did enjoy some benefits.
Grandpa turned 96 in July, by the way.