The Holiday Spirit
Ho ho ho, and Good Will to All, etc. etc. etc. etc. In Seattle, the holidays have been celebrated with a frenzy of thieves playing Santa Claus to themselves, particularly at the municipal pools: the robbers apply a bolt-cutter to the padlocks we swimmers use to secure our lockers, then make off with the lockers' contents---sometimes, when they get the car keys, also stealing the corresponding car from the pool parking lot.

At one Seattle pool, where I swam for the last time on December 28, the staff didn't bother to post notices about the rash of locker thefts, so I had no warning when I carefully locked my clothes in a locker as usual. When I returned from swimming, the pieces of my padlock were on the floor, and nothing but my shoes were left in the locker. I thus found myself stuck in mid-Winter with nothing but a wet bathing suit and a swim bag, an educational experience.

At the pool desk, I reported that my locker padlock had been hacked into pieces and everything inside had been stolen. The clerk, looking up lazily from a crossword puzzle, opined that "maybe it was Russian hackers" and turned back to her puzzle. I asked if the staff had seen anyone suspicious going into the men's dressing room in the last hour---for example, someone carrying a bolt-cutter, or someone who came out after only 10 minutes, carrying all my clothes over their shoulder. The clerk said they had indeed observed one such suspicious charcter. I asked what the suspect looked like, in case I might have seen him at other pools. The clerk replied that they couldn't release this sensitive information.

Apparently, it is a matter of policy to protect the privacy of thieves, so as not to compromise that group's contribution to the rich, multicultural fabric of the municipal pools. The swim I had just enjoyed was a highpoint for the thief community: besides everything of mine, they had also snatched another swimmer's wallet, and a third swimmer's keys.

I asked if I might borrow a life-jacket or a tarpaulin or something, to have some protection from the weather while trying to hitch-hike to my home three miles away. In the event, the pool staff did find a pair of dry swimming trunks and a sweatshirt for me, and they called an Uber car to take me home. The Uber driver, puzzled to find a fare dressed as if for the tropics, asked me if I didn't realize it was Winter. "I just got here from southern Cal," I told him, "and we don't believe in Winter."

Having stolen my pants, the thief got my wallet (with cash and all its cards), my keys, my checkbook, and even my reading glasses. He wasted no time in using my debit card at local sporting goods outlets---he is evidently a sportsman when not busy stealing---but I was able to put a hold on the card after he made only three purchases. Since the police have the addresses where my stolen debit card was used, it would be child's play for Detectives Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green of "Law and Order" to track down the culprit. Unfortunately these officers are too busy with TV re-runs to help the Seattle Police Department. I am not holding my breath in anticipation that the latter organization will perform actual detective work, or catch anybody.

§   §   §

I have of course filled my time since the swimming pool theft with the project of replacing bank accounts, bank cards, driver's license, all the various kinds of personal ID that were in the wallet, and so on. The most challenging of these operations had to do with bank cards, which required that I call an (800) number and talk to a robot.

"Welcome to SillyBank's automated customer service line," a cheery robot voice intones. I tell it that I need to replace a stolen bank card. "Tell me the 16 digit number of the card you want to replace," the robot instructs. "If I had the card in front of me to read the number," I explain, "I wouldn't need to replace it, would I?" "You can enter the number on your keypad," the robot replies helpfully, "or you can just say it." "I can't tell you the damn number because I don't have the damn card," I cry.

The robot responds by confiding: "Did you know that when you start a new account at SillyBank, you will automatically receive a $200 credit and a 2017 calendar?" "I'm not starting a new account," I sputter, "I'm trying to replace a stolen fucking debit card!" "Get convenient account access, now with fingerprint sign-in and Touch IDÂ," the robot purrs, "with our free mobile app, plus our customizable mobile app alerts." "Get me a human customer representatives this minute," I snarl, "or I will immediately cancel all my SillyBank accounts." "When you establish a Premier Account with us," the robot goes on, "you receive free checking, no-fee overdraft insurance, a toaster oven, and a pony." "Agent! Agent! Agent!" I shout into the phone, frantically pressing the zero key over and over. There follows a few clicks and a whirring sound from the robot, and then it resumes its chatty tone and says: "Hello Ms. Smith. How may I help you?"

At the various agencies I approached for new ID, I was at least able to speak with live human beings---these being, in every case, a scribe with a goose-quill pen, sitting on a high stool behind a plexiglass window. The main difficulty here was that they asked me to prove who I am. Alas, this basic existential question has baffled me for many decades. At the Social Security office, they plunged me into a fit of existential angst by asking whether I existed. "Well," I responded, "I think, therefore I am, I think." That wasn't enough, and they started to act as if I wasn't there. One scribe would turn to another behind the plexiglass window and ask whether he detected a faint scratching sound from my side of the window. "Oh, it must be just the wind," the other scribe reassures the first, "or something."

At the DMV, I brought along as proofs of existence my passport, a long expired Swedish telephone card, my AAA and CostCo memberships, and my True Value Hardware rewards card. To further underline my tangibiliy, I wore my surplus USSR Naval officer's hat, with fake-fur earflaps and standard Soviet insignias. The DMV official was willing to assume my existence, at least provisionally, and directed me to look into a device resembling a nineteenth century stereopticon.

"What is the smallest line of letters you can read in the eye chart?" she asked me. "What eye chart?", I replied, squinting into the infernal device. "Let's try some easier ones," the scribe murmured, and she pressed some buttons. Larger, blacker characters, which to my eyes looked like Russian letters, swam dimly into view. "Uhhh, I can make out the 2nd line from the top," I ventured, "kha, tse, shcha, Korotkiye YA." "I guess that will do, just barely," the scribe said in a weary voice, "but you had better see your optometrist and get a new prescription for your glasses." "Spasiba, tovarishch," I said, touching my hand to the hammer-and-sickle insignia above my brow, and moved to the line to have a picture taken. They let me wear my Soviet Navy hat for the picture, but told me to take off the aviator goggles.

At the University ID office, I had the advantage of a mysterious document from my departmental office which officially confirmed my existence. A nice young woman behind the plexiglass window took the document, and said she would immediately print out a new University ID card for me. She even said that I needn't have a new photograph taken. "You don't look any worse," she assured me, "than you did on the last card." Naturally, I beamed at this rare compliment. I felt fortunate that she could see me at all; apparently the paper from the departmental office took care of that. I have to admit that I myself felt more solid, somehow, while I was holding it.

Despite these existential difficulties, life went on. And every once in a while life does include one of those rare, unexpected bits of good luck that sometimes balance out the other kind. Several days after the theft, I took my Downser son Aaron to a Family Fun Center to play 18 holes of obstacle golf and to play the video games. When one of the video games ate our token, an attendant not only fixed the device for us, but he gave us one extra token!

May the magic and heavenly gifts of Christmas gladden and fill your hearts with blah blah blah......

--- Dr. Phage
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