“Hello?” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“Hi, my name is Mike Todd, and this is going to be a weird phone call,” I told the man, though the extent of the weirdness wouldn’t be clear until later.
“Okay, I’m listening,” he said, and I began explaining.
A few minutes earlier, I’d been on the phone with customer support for Straight Talk Wireless, trying to shake loose a human response from a biological script-reading machine.
“Can you give me the number associated with your account?” asked Nelly, the headset/human hybrid who had the misfortune of taking my call.
“I’m not one of your customers, so I don’t have an account. I’m just calling to make sure my identity hasn’t been stolen,” I reiterated.
Surely there are plenty of more desirable identities than mine, but thieves aren’t all that choosy. They’ll just pick up any old identity they find lying around, no matter if its owner’s bald spots are becoming less like “spots” and more like “hemispheres.”
Months ago, I’d started receiving “Thank you for your payment!” emails from Straight Talk, addressed to Mike Todd, but featuring a phone number I’d never seen. I scanned my credit cards and didn’t see any payments going to Straight Talk, but I needed to make sure that someone wasn’t charging another account in my name.
“I can’t tell you anything about this account without verifying your identity,” Nelly said, which was going to be difficult, since she couldn’t see my bald spots.
“Can you please just verify, as a nice thing to do for a fellow human, that the credit card being charged for this account does not belong to me? You can just say, ‘You have nothing to worry about’ and that will be that,” I said.
“I can’t do that, sir,” she replied. It was the corporate equivalent of someone tapping you on the shoulder, then when you turn around, saying, “What do YOU want?”
This went on for about twenty minutes, during which time she kept trying to get me to hang up, since she wasn’t allowed to hang up first.
Finally, in an angry whisper, she said, “You don’t have anything to worry about, sir.”
She went off script! At that moment, a thin wisp of smoke must have wafted out of her ear/earpiece amalgam. I appreciated the small display of humanity.
“Thank you! I really appreciate that. Now can you reach out to the owner of that phone number and get their email address corrected?” I asked.
“No, we’re not allowed to contact customers,” she said, before Jedi-mind-tricking me into hanging up first.
The emails weren’t going to stop. But they did contain the phone number of the person who should have been receiving them, and Nelly never forbade me from calling it.
“I knew it was going to be something like that right when you introduced yourself, because my name is Mike Todd, too,” said the guy. Turned out, we were both Mike C. Todds, a dubious distinction.
“Did you know that we have the same name as one of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands?” he asked. Right away, I knew he couldn’t have been a con man, at least not a young one, because the planet’s remaining Mike Todds are the only people under the age of eighty-four who know that fact.
“My Spanish teacher in high school used to call me Señor Taylor,” I said. He laughed, just like all the eighty-four-year-olds do.
“Well, it’s nice to meet another Mike Todd,” said Mike Todd, unperturbed that I’d been dragging his good name through the mud for so many years. We spoke for longer than we needed to, mostly about the relative merits of being Mike Todd.
“Mike Todds are good guys,” said Mike Todd, and I had to agree, even though we’d stolen each other’s identities.
You can thank Mike Todd for his payment at firstname.lastname@example.org.