When you lose your purse you are certain that it was you who lost it or left it somewhere. No one took it. This loss is your own absentminded undoing. At the same time that your purse disappears your memory becomes full of holes for life’s many minute activities and routines. Dutifully retracing your steps, you try to reconnect with the last time you had your hands on that purse. I am from the West, so I use the word purse, in my experience, if you are an older woman, Italian, or grew up on the east coast you might call it a pocketbook. In my data sampling I have never heard anyone use the word handbag.
I was 60% certain that I left it on the kitchen table. The purse in question is a cute little Pendleton wool-patterned purse that reminds me of Eastern Oregon. It is small enough to prevent me from filling it with a hairbrush, screwdriver, revolver, and wine bottle opener, and subsequently develop a hunchback from carrying it.
My friend and I had driven to New York City the previous day and I distinctly remember paying for water at a Travel Mart on the thruway. Travel Marts are “rest areas” with restrooms, stores and restaurants each with its own oddly historical or geographical name that is less than memorable. These restaurants sell greasy, fried, processed food for twice the price, but it promises to keep you awake with indigestion. I remember that this particular Travel Mart had a Starbucks, and the name started with a “P.”
I am 70% sure that I brought my purse into the house and put it on the table. My son says he saw it there. In the morning, after I rode my bike, I noticed that it was not on the table. Odd. I am 60% certain I left it on the table.
It has to be around here somewhere, but after you look in the refrigerator for the third time, despair sets in. My mind starts to gravitate towards worst-case scenarios. Of course, even as small as the purse is I can’t remember what was in it; credit cards, drivers license, gift cards, money, a comb, pens, lipstick and a bottle of Advil? Maybe someone took my purse. There have been a rash of robberies in the area. Someone came into the house and took it off the table when my husband, son and two dogs were in the house. No way. Even though I didn’t think I left it at the Travel Mart, my husband insisted that I must have, so after a quick Google search, I called the Travel Mart that started with a “P” and had a Starbucks. It wasn’t like he didn’t have cause to believe I left it somewhere. I have left my purse at bars, offices and restaurants. One time, I left it in someone’s office and picked it up two weeks later. I can report that people are very honest when it comes to purses. But I vow to be more careful. It’s funny how loss makes you repentant. No, not there.
I have looked everywhere and after what seems like ten hours I give up and decide I better start calling and reporting my credit cards as lost or stolen. I will start with my Southwest card.
I wait through the voicemail prompts and hold until a nice man named “Tony” answers the phone, his accent is understandable. He is calming and informs me that the process won’t take long and I will not be responsible for any charges that might be made on the account. He wants to confirm my last charge at “I” “K” “E” “A”.
“Yes,” I say. Now, If I could just tell him the password on the account he will go ahead and close the account. I stop to consider the large rolodex next to my computer filled with user names and passwords. I don’t recall ever making a password for this credit card account.
“I never created a password for this account.”
“Tony” then asks for my mother’s maiden name.
“Easy.” I reply, “Geddes.”
“Wrong,” “Tony” says, but he encourages me, “it starts with a “D.”
“What?!, What do you mean, wrong?” I am outraged.
My mind is racing. “My mothers maiden name is Geddes,” I state this firmly. I am sure.
The man on the line suggests to me that this password might not be my mothers maiden name, but something I set up. “people like to use their first dogs name or the name of their high school, he helpfully prompts me again, “it starts with a “D.” Does he think I am slow? I don’t ever remember setting up an account for my credit card and now I am guessing at passwords.
“Dalles,” I shout.
“No, that is not it,” “Tony” says still trying.
“Let me check my rolodex,” I offer.
I am near maniacal about my passwords and user names using a intricate calculation of numbers letters and punctuation marks that cannot be recalled. This is going to take forever, I think, calculating the time it is taking me to cancel one card.
In a new state of encouragement, “Tony” now helpfully offers that he can verify my bank to move things along, and doesn’t need my password after all. Relief spreads over me.
“Easy.” I say releived and grateful, “Bank of America. I set my payments up electronically so I am 100% certain of this.”
“No, he states, sorry, that is not your bank.”
“ What are you talking about? I pay my account every month electronically from this bank. Are you sure you have the right credit card? We check the number. Yes. But as I protest, he says he is turning me over to the fraud division. I am now on hold. The fraud division quickly checks again to verify that no one has charged anything on the account. This is highly important to them. I am thinking I have at least ten cards in my wallet and I will have to replicate this activity at least ten times. In my head I think this might take two-three weeks. Not only that, but all of the subscription services that are tied to the accounts. The woman from the fraud division verifies my account with my Social Security number. She promptly issues me a new card and cancels my account. She informs me that she is sending out the equivalent of a credit APB-anyone named Deb Hall is now suspect. She assures me that no one will be able to use my cards or ID. Those credit card commercials have never been reassuring to me, you know the ones, “Oh honey, the credit card company called and my card has been charged in London.”
Isn’t my bank wonderful for looking out for me? Wrong. They are looking out for themselves. If someone steals your card and charges on it, the bank is liable. A few years ago, my brother felled a tree on his house trapping the power lines against the house. He called the electric company for assistance. The electric company promptly cut off his power.
Verifying identification scares me. After my dad died and my mother remarried I had to request my birth certificate during an adoption proceeding. I remember having to sign for it. Just learning cursive in elementary school, it was a big deal to sign for my certificate. I remember very carefully crafting each letter. Years later I was denied a copy of my birth certificate because my signature didn’t match. As a result, I cling to the one old birth certificate I have that my mother found. It looks like a printed negative. In the event of some grim inquiry, one would quickly discover a mistake on the document. I envision Rush Limbaugh announcing that I am not an Amercian citizen. Good thing I don’t want to be president.The old black mimeographed form says I was born on Thursday, the 13th. My luck. I was born a little after midnight on Friday – the thirteenth.
We plan to go camping tomorrow and it is my responsibility to stock up on groceries and prepare are a few meals. Hmm, How will I pay? No debit card. No cash. After a few moments I realize that I have my next series of checks in the office. I shop at our local grocery everyday. They know me. It will be okay. I have occasionally written a check before, no problem. I find an old purse and load it up with the the credit card that was in my pocket and several bills that will surely support that I am who I say I am. Off to the store.
But first, I decide on a whim to stop at the local credit union to cancel my cards there. It’s on the way, I convince myself. Just one more card taken care of. The teller hears my story and informs me that without an ID she cannot cancel my card. She is looking me over, and I realize that I must look like some kind of criminal. I sentimentally long for the days of local communities, banks and stores where people knew who you were. The store clerk would know your kids, that you went camping last week in the Adirondacks, and your husband is sleeping with the town clerk. You were a person, not a number. We have no air conditioning and it is about 97 degrees. I left the house without any make up and after camping last weekend I am covered with bites. My hair is disheveled–it takes six hours to dry it without a hair dryer in Northeast humidity. I have quickly moved to the “suspect” category, this is criminal.
Undeterred, I challenged that if someone did sneak into my house and take my purse that they would have my ID and would be able to drain my account. (I think there is all of a hundred dollars there.) She considers this carefully and then says, “The photo wouldn’t look like you.”
Trying to remember an actual time someone looked at the photo on my license that was taken at least nine years ago, I retort, “ If someone is stealing a purse don’t you think they could manage to make a fake ID?” She is understanding and wonders if I a have a passport? “Of course! I have a passport!” I am elated! I can verify my identity. Why didn’t I think of this? She says she will see what she can do on her end (I am guessing she will run me through the police blotter.) while I drive home to retrieve my passport.
On the trip back to the bank I suddenly remember that the strap was broken on my purse when I set it on the table the night before. I remember fixing it. Now I am 100% certain that my purse was on the table, my Mr. Fixit husband, always alert when something needs repair backs this up. Why didn’t I remember this before?
I am not to blame. I realize that someone MUST have taken my purse. The interloper sneaked into the house when I was on my bike ride, past my husband, son and two Jack Russell terriers who bark at a sneeze and stole my purse. My husband has no recollection of his whereabouts during this time. I confide this new tidbit of information to the woman at the bank. She points out to me that if someone did come into my house that I should search around the outside of the house, because a burglar would not want the purse and would likely throw it in the bushes.
This woman is brilliant. I quickly call my twenty-something son who is at home and ask him to search around the outside of the house. He knows my state of mind and agrees. Convinced now that I didn’t lose my purse and armed with my passport, I am freshly motivated to continue my quest. On to Bank of America where I will need to cancel my checking and get a debit card. I call my son. He says he hasn’t looked around the house because he was working out.
“Please,” I beg. Struck by a teaching moment, I tell him authoritatively that nine out of ten crimes are committed by someone you know. I am not really sure that this is true, but it sounds good. He says he is going to start locking his truck. Five minutes until the bank’s closing he calls me back.
“I found your purse.” he laughs. The purse was in the back yard at the base of our porch. “Unless you stepped off the porch you wouldn’t have seen it,” he observes. “All the money and credit cards are here. It hasn’t been opened.”
Amused, he wondered if Nacho, our Jack Russell terrier, jumped on to the table, got tangled up in the purse and dragged it out the dog door and down the steps. It seems unlikely, but then there is no other explanation. It is covered with grass.
In the checkout aisle at the grocery store there is a new cashier who seems more interested in the bag boy, but she begrudgingly listens to me recount my day as I write my check.
As she is processing the check, the transaction stops, “I will need to see an ID,” she says mindlessly,” I remind her that I lost my purse and it was just recovered at home. “Oh yeah,” she says, handing me back the check.
I reach for my credit card. It is painful to pay for groceries with a credit card. The man standing behind me chimes in, “ My dog barks a lot but never stole my wallet” I realize that it did sound like a “dog ate my homework story,” and once again, I am seen as a criminal. Well, I proved the adage that nine times out of ten it is someone you know that commits a criminal act against you.