One of the sad realizations of my life, which has been complicated beyond endurance by an electronic conspiracy that threatens what little is left of my sanity, is that I will never be a winner on my favorite game show, "Million Dollar Password." Even if you paid me a million dollars, I could never remember every password I need to continue my daily existence.
Like most people who are not legally dead, I have approximately 150 passwords for virtually every aspect of my life. I can't keep track of them all. To make matters worse, some of them change regularly.
For example, every month I have to come up with a new password for my office computer. And I can't use any of the previous dozen. I have used various combinations of my name, my wife's name and our two daughters' names, along with numbers (you need them, too) based on anniversaries, birthdays, shoe size, my decreasing IQ, anything I can think of. When I run out of possibilities, I do the same with the names of our dog and four cats. Once I even used an expletive. It worked!
Why, you may wonder, don't I write all my passwords on a piece of paper? I am not glad you asked, but I'll answer anyway. The reason is twofold: (a) I would forget where I put the piece of paper and (b) somebody else would find it and steal my identity, though why anyone would want it is beyond me. I don't want it myself. Nonetheless, it would further complicate things.
Recently I became so flummoxed and desperate, which I may have to use as passwords, that I sought help from Tony Dottino, a management consultant who founded the USA Memory Championship, a national brain-teasing event that will be held March 7 in New York City (more info at usamemorychampionship.com).
I was in the inaugural competition in 1997 and finished 14th in a field of 18. I came back for the 10th anniversary two years ago and, as the oldest contestant at 53, fared even worse: 38th out of 41.
"I remember you," Dottino said when I called him. "You are not easy to forget. Unfortunately, passwords are, which is why most people can't remember them."
Even Dottino, a memory expert, said he has trouble with passwords.
"They drive me nuts," he admitted. "The whole idea of having a password for everything is just brutal."
"How can I keep track of them all?" I asked.
"It's almost impossible," Dottino said solemnly. "The worst are the ones that have both letters and numbers and a minimum of eight characters. They're a royal pain, especially if you have to keep changing them. I must confess that for me at times, it's hopeless."
If this password problem can baffle a mnemonic maven like Dottino, who could possibly help me? You guessed it: Regis Philbin, host of "Million Dollar Password."
"Jerry!" Regis exclaimed when he returned my call. "This is exactly why I am computer-free and cell-phone free! I live my life without wondering what my name is! Everything you have these days has a code or a password! Then you have to punch the stupid thing in! It's ridiculous! It's not worth it, Jerry! You've got to give it all up! Live a new life, Jerry! You're joining my computer-free club! You're an important guy, Jerry! You don't need people knowing your password!"
Yes, it's true: Regis Philbin has no passwords. He has simplified his life the way I and millions of other people wish we could simplify ours, but can't.
Still, he did help me come up with a solution to my problem. From now on, I am going to use only one word, with a series of numbers starting with 1 and going, if necessary, to infinity, for every computer, telephone and bank account in my life.
The password is: "Regis."