It was a typical summer Saturday in every way. I was up at the crack of noon and running around to get stuff done so I could go out and play. A quick stop at Shaw’s, a manly visit to the hardware store, gas at Cumberland Farms.

The trouble didn’t begin until I hit Marden’s, a grand place where one should purchase items upon discovering them lest said items vanish from the inventory (if you don’t have that damn jingle stuck in your head the rest of the day, I’ll consider myself a failure).

I carried my items, which included a Wiffle ball set because you can’t have too many, to the counter, just like I’ve done 10,000 times before. I bantered with the friendly clerk as always. I slid my debit card through that little gizmo and waited for the prompts. It was business as usual at Marden’s.

And then it happened. As the friendly clerk smiled serenely and half a dozen people waited behind me in line, my PIN flew out of my head like some cerebral bat and disappeared into the rafters above. I mean, it was gone! I stood blinking at the credit card gizmo, my finger hovering over the keypad.

PIN? You mean the one I’d entered at the hardware store half an hour earlier? The PIN I used at Cumby’s to purchase fuel? Yes, that PIN, but where the hell was it?

“Is there a problem?” the clerk asked. I stammered something and concentrated as hard as I could, my face probably scrunching up like a baby’s who’s trying to make a poo poo. I entered a series of four numbers that didn’t feel right at all.

“Incorrect PIN” the gizmo advised me. “Would you like to try again?”

I squirmed, I stammered some more, I shuffled my feet. The harder I tried to recall that number, the more elusive it seemed. I got the feeling it had a three in it, but where did it belong? At the beginning, at the end or in the middle?

I entered four numbers and fancied I could hear the gizmo sigh with impatience. “Wrong again, Einstein. Would you like to take another swing at it?”

A weird little sense of panic started to gnaw at me; not because I might leave the store without my Wiffle ball set and bicycle tubes, but because clearly something was wrong with my brain. Desperate, I tried to recall other PINs and passwords and security codes that inhabit the gray space of my mind. I instantly recalled the password that allows me into my office desktop, another that opens top secret folders at home, and the code to a door panel that allows me into the newsroom five days a week. I remembered passwords dating back to the days of AOL and some from a deeper past: My gym locker combination in junior high was 6464, based on the telephone number of a girl I liked that week.

I could remember my childhood phone number, George Brett’s lifetime batting average and the average flight speed of the Guatemalan bulge-eyed hummingbird, but my PIN? Not even close. It was gone, erased from the hard drive. It was as though by learning the price of Marden’s nine-piece multi-tool ($3.99; I bought it when I saw it) I had displaced that other, more crucial bit of information.

“It happens to a lot of customers,” the clerk reassured me. I supposed that next she would tell me that cuddling is nice.

It does happen to people, as it turns out, but as the cliche goes: It had never happened to me before. For the rest of the day, I summoned the awesome power of super duper focused concentration, determined to fish that PIN out of my neural network if I had to use sharp implements to do it.

You know how this goes. The harder I tried, the worse it got. Driving along a busy highway near Palermo, I would suddenly jam on my brakes and shout out a set of four numbers. Eureka! I have recalled my PIN through sheer force of will!

Wrong. Every time, wrong. In the end, the ATM screens just got more and more hateful. “Not even close,” went one message. “HA HA HA!” went another. “You didn’t even get ONE number right this time. HA HA HA!”

I made a midnight visit to Walmart to try out one guess and it was so wrong, the credit card gizmo called other credit card gizmos over to laugh at me.

I blame Evernote. And Lastpass. And Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and anybody who has ever designed a program to make life easier by storing information that belongs inside your noggin. Who needs to remember passwords anymore when Lastpass will keep track of all of them? Why bother memorizing pertinent facts and figures when you can just keep them in Evernote for later retrieval?

Ultimately, to solve the Hardy Boys-esque Riddle of the Runaway PIN, I went to the bank, hat in hand, and attempted to explain my problem. I must be overtired. Or maybe I’ve had too much coffee.

“It’s OK,” the nice bank lady told me. “Cuddling is just as nice.”

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. If you remember his PIN, email him at [email protected]


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