unanswerable questions

I now have proof, beyond all doubt, that my life doesn’t follow the normal way of things. I had my suspicions, of course, but today I came across evidence just too strong to ignore.

I was trying to get access to one of my 401k accounts and Fidelity made me go through this whole convoluted security process that included picking a picture I liked and naming it and answering three personal questions. I assume the idea is that you may have to answer these questions again at a later time, so you should pick questions that don’t require you to make up answers on the spot. Which is where the trouble started.

Some systems with these special security questions give you the option of making up your own question, and I do great with those. I can easily think up a question that I’ll later remember the answer to. What series of books will I reread every year for the rest of my life to help subdue my panic about death? (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) What car of mine do I remember fondly due to its ability to hold as many people as I wanted and its kick ass engine that let me stomp on the gas when the light turned green and dust everyone around me? (65 Ford Falcon) What do I want to do every day for the rest of my life, at least a little, no matter where I am? (Write) And so on.

But no. Fidelity can’t ask me any of these questions or let me suggest them. Instead it offers me choices of questions I can’t possibly answer.

  • What city was your mother born in? What city was your father born in? I have no idea what city either of them were born in. I could vague it up and answer LA for either, since I’m pretty sure they were both born in the general Southern California area, but when faced with this question later, will I remember I decided to do that? For that matter, is this question about my biological father or my stepfather? I suppose it doesn’t matter, since I haven’t talked to either of them in about 15 years and don’t plan to call either of them up to ask about their childhoods at this point. And if I call my mom, well, I’d have to talk to her, and there’s just no reason for that. Next question?
  • What’s your paternal grandfather’s first name? I was told I met him once, when I was a tiny baby. He killed himself not long after. I’m sure the two events are in no way related, but in any case, I don’t want to dwell. Nor did I ever pry about what his name might have been. Moving on.
  • Who was your childhood best friend? Right. This question probably makes perfect sense to those who mostly lived in the same place growing up and had this so-called long term friend. I had lots of micro friends for brief periods of time, in between moves to the next place. I wasn’t friends with anyone long enough to remember their names, all these years later. Any more questions that perhaps would make me feel less loserish?
  • When were you married? Where did you honeymoon? Where did you meet your spouse? These are the questions apparently meant to remind me that I’m a divorced loser who will end up a crazy old cat lady. I could answer these questions and remember the answers later, but I’d really rather skip them.
  • What city was your high school in? What was your high school mascot? This question would require me to remember which high school I was answering about. Because only those fortunate non-movers went to only one.

I assume that a bank such as Fidelity uses focus groups and research and determined that these were the questions that their user base could easily answer. Fidelity’s customers have stable childhoods, non-crazy parents, and enduring relationships. When someone asks where they went to high school, they don’t have a split second flash where they wonder if it’s best to lie or to just say it’s a long story.

Clearly, I’m with the wrong bank.

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