I know my Social Security number by heart, of course. I’ve repeated it on form after form over the years. I never have to look it up. I remember reading somewhere that it was not to be used for identification purposes, but it was my student ID at three colleges, my employment ID in many cases, and has been used for other “identification purposes” I’m sure. It states right on the back of the card “This card belongs to the Social Security Administration and you must return it if we ask for it.” What if they asked for it, and I refused to return it? What if I was using it as my ID number for something? Or worse, what if I couldn’t find it when I was asked to return it? I happen to carry it in my wallet, and it’s the original card, the one I was issued back when I was 13 and got my first job. It’s been in my possession for a long time. You have to handle it carefully. I should probably store it in a vacuum ….in case they ever want it back.
I know my bank account number by heart. This impresses some bank tellers, but not really that many of them. I guess it’s not that impressive if you know it’s only eight digits and I have to type it in every time I use online banking. I check my balance in online banking a lot. It’s not like I have a lot of money in there, but I want to make sure my identity hasn’t been stolen and someone hasn’t hacked my account and wiped me out. Yeah, you go right ahead, enjoy that fifty bucks.
I have a hard time remembering my license plate number though. It’s only three letters and three numerals, so you think it would be easy. I do have two cars, so I have to go look when I register at a motel. Staying at a motel is not something I do very often, which is probably why I can’t remember the license number from overnight stop to overnight stop.
I can remember my phone number from when I was growing up. We had a party line when we first got our phone. We didn’t even have a telephone for a long time. We would have to use a neighbor’s phone if there was an emergency. We had a wall phone down off the kitchen, and an ugly black desk phone in the upstairs hallway. We had a two-party line. Party lines were cheaper, but party lines were also a result of World War II. With copper being in short supply the telephone company didn’t have the materials to add additional loops to the network. The phone company had 4-party and 8-party lines in the 1960s in Wyoming. In very rural areas they had some 16-party lines. In most of those cases though it was not a cost-savings strategy, they didn’t have enough “pairs” in the central switching office, so people were forced to share. You can imagine how that worked with 8 families on one telephone line, let alone 16!
In order for a phone to work, you had to have two pairs of wires that ran from the central switching office to the house, one pair for incoming talk and one pair for outgoing. This was a loop. The switch connected your phone to another set of 4 wires going to another house. The racks and racks of switches, each one dedicated to a phone number, replaced the rows and rows of switchboard operators that had to manually connect the calls. Light waves replaced the wire, and now, of course, we use radio waves, microwaves and cell phone towers. You now know more about how phones used to work than you probably cared to know.
We shared the two-party line with one other family, so you had to listen to see if someone was on the line before you started dialing. They already had the technology so you didn’t hear the other parties phone ring, but prior to that you would hear different rings, like a long and a short, or two shorts and long. You would listen for your ring sequence to determine if the call was for you. You also had to listen to see if someone was on the line before you started dialing. Sometimes you would be tempted to listen in a bit longer to a particularly juicy conversation, with your hand over the receiver, but you were supposed to hang right back up if you heard a voice on the line. Of course, if it was an emergency, you could ask politely for the party to give up the line. Calling your friend to see if they could go play ball at the school yard was not an emergency. You could end up getting pretty friendly with the other party on your party line too. By the mid 90’s, upgrades in the system slowly eliminated party lines in Wyoming and the rest of the country.
Our home phone number was 307-674….I better not tell you because my brother still has the same phone number, which is probably why I remember it because I’ve dialed it up a lot.
I can also remember the phone number I had when I lived in Laramie, Wyoming and worked for the phone company. It was 307-742-4111. Go ahead and call that one. I have no idea who has it now. I got to pick the number, back when that wasn’t normally allowed, because, like I said, I worked at the phone company. I worked in the local business office.
I can remember the Universal Service Order Codes (USOCs) used for ordering phone service when I worked as a service representative back in the 1970s. These were pre-computer days. You completed a two-part form with the order details which was later faxed to the order center in Cheyenne for processing. Facsimile machines were the proprietary property of IBM, and they protected the technology to the point of concealing the circuit boards in an opaque shell. Nobody else made a FAX machine that worked like the IBM machine, and Mountain Bell used them exclusively. It was not a good thing when the FAX machine went down and we couldn’t transmit orders to Cheyenne. That happened a lot.
The downstairs black wall phone, on the two party flat-rate residential line would have been coded 2FRBW. The upstairs extension was an EXTBC. The “C” denoting a desk phone, and the “W” denoting a wall phone, the “EXT” denoting an extension. Pretty self explanatory, but I wrote it down thousands of times in the eight years I worked for them, which is probably why I can remember all the USOCs, and I mean all of them. 1FBBC is a black desk phone on a business line. I know, nobody cares and what good would it do if they did.
I had phones in every room, bathroom included, because it was an employee benefit. Remember, we didn’t have wireless phones yet. We had wall phones with 25 foot cords. I also got $50 a month in long distance usage when calls to my Mom could cost 50 cents a minute depending on the time of day that I called. You usually waited until after 8:00 pm to get the lower rate. Anyway, I thought I was picking a phone number that would be easy to remember. Obviously that must have been true, because I still remember it. Did you notice anything about the number? Resemble anything you’re familiar with? Yep, I would get calls at 2:00-3:00 in the morning from inebriated individuals asking for the phone number of somebody or another .
Let me explain. You only had to dial 2-4111 to get my house in 1974. Information was 1-411. Hit the two, right next to the one on the keypad, after you’ve had too many drinks, and then an extra one, and presto, you’re waking me up at 2:00 in the morning trying to get a ride home from the bar. From two o: clock in the morning on, I started answering the phone in a nasally voice. “Informatioooon, may I help you.” I would give out any random wrong number hoping when they had to dial information again they would do it correctly. I didn’t give much thought to the other people that were being awakened at 2-3 o:clock in the morning, but then you would have to assume that they wrote the wrong number I gave them, down, and then managed to dial the correct sequence. Chances are someone was getting woke up somewhere.
But why in the hell do I still know the combination to my high school locker? 4-44-14 That’s, right 4, left once around to 44, right 14. I know I had to manipulate that combination several times a day for four years, but I had other combination locks. I had one on my gym basket, one that I used on my football locker. I don’t remember those combinations. And if you forgot the combination, the lock was totally worthless to you. You would often see someone tinkering with a combination lock in class trying to remember the combination before inevitably tossing it in the trash.
Albert Einstein didn’t know his own phone number by heart, let alone one he had years before. The oft repeated story is that a colleague asked for his phone number and he reached for the phone book to look it up. The colleague was incredulous that he didn’t know his own phone number from memory. Einstein answered “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book.” He believed that you shouldn’t clutter the mind. I’m think I’m way past that point. WTF.