Jim Mullen

I called my cable company to see if they could fix a problem with my line.

"And what is the name on the account?"

I told him. And the number I was calling from, starting with the area code. And my service address. And my billing address. And my account number.

"Now, if you could just answer a few questions to verify your identity, sir. Who was your first girlfriend?"

"You need to know that to fix my cable?"

"Of course not, sir. I'm just curious. Was it Beverly Smith?"

"I don't really think that's any of your business."

"I had a girlfriend once Beverly. She ripped out my heart and stomped on it, that's what she did. May I remind you that this phone call in being taped for the entertainment of my boss. I think he posts the juicy ones on the Internet. What was your first pet's name?"

"I don't think I have to tell you that."

"Was in Muffin? Was it? Or something stupid like calling your cat 'Cat' or your dog 'Dog?'"

"The cat's name was Mr. Bushy, and he got hit by a car. Thanks for bringing up a painful memory."

"We're the cable company, that's what we're here for. What is your mother's maiden name?"

"Why do you need to know that? Are you afraid some imposter is calling to get my cable fixed? Are you afraid an imposter will pay my bill?"

"We're protecting your identity, sir. What town were you born in? Who did you vote for in 1996? Who won Super Bowl XX? Have you ever been or dated a member of the Communist Party? Did you see the new 'Die Hard' movie? Was it any good? Isn't Bruce a little long in the tooth to be doing action/adventure movies? Do you think he'll run for governor of California? Do you prefer ranch dressing or blue cheese? Have you ever been abducted by a UFO? What side of the bed do you sleep on? Do you use an electric razor or a blade?"

"I really don't feel comfortable giving you that information over the phone."

"Would you rather we meet in a bar? I get off in an hour."

"That's not what I meant. I meant, 'why do you need to know all this stuff to fix my cable?'"

"That's the kind of thing we would expect an imposter to ask. But, in the interest of customer service, I'm going to let it slide. What time of day is no one at home?"

"Why on earth would you need to know that?

"So I can schedule a repairmen to call on you at that time."

"Are you really a customer service representative or have you stolen his identity?"

"That is your paranoia talking, sir. What's the name of your therapist?"

"Before this phone call, I never needed a therapist."

"We knew that. It's in your file. A few more questions and we can address your problem. What is your birthday?"

"You don't need to know my birthday to fix my cable."

"No, but we like to do an astrological chart on all our customers. I can tell by this conversation that you're a Capricorn. Now if you know the exact time of your birth, I can tell you the exact time the repairman will show up."

"I'm a Sagittarius."

"Gotcha! You weren't going to tell me that, but I got it out of you anyway. You've got to be more careful giving out that kind of information, sir. There are people out there who are trying to steal your identity, sir."

I'd had it.

"Fine. Let them! If someone wants to take on my credit card debt, make my car payments and pay my doctor's bills I'll just have to learn to live with it."

Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com