Dear Lexis/Nexis onsite training executive,
I'm sorry you had to learn my secret password.
You were just doing your job back in 1996, visiting the offices of companies that had recently purchased accounts with the new computer database of newspaper articles and legal papers called Lexis/Nexis. I was working as a freelance factchecker in the research department at the also quite new Vibe magazine. Lexis/Nexis was an invaluable research tool. Vibe ponied up.
A week or so after we factcheckers had been granted access to the service, you arrived at our office to give us a day's worth of tutoring in how to most efficiently use it. You were pert and pretty and maybe ten years older than most of us, your square-shouldered navy suit out of place amongst our sagging jeans and t-shirts. But you were not shy, and after a short lecture and demonstration, you walked around our windowless work space, coming to each of our computers, watching over our shoulders, offering helpful bits of advice.
I was having trouble. Unable to find an article, I'd gotten myself stuck somewhere in the database web and couldn't find my way back to the start of my search session.
You came over to talk me through the problem, but were soon frowning, flummoxed as I was. (It was no surprise I'd found a new and challenging way to get lost in the system; I've never been good with the computer machines.) "Here," you said, motioning to the keyboard. "Let me sit down." I got up and stood behind you while you started pressing buttons.
"You know what," you said. "Let's just start over." You typed a combination of keys and the screen blinked back to the log-in page. That's better, I thought. Then, still looking at the screen, you asked, "What's your password?"
I felt myself turn red. All the pores on all my skin opened at once. "Ummm," I said, stalling. "My password?"
"Yeah." You turned to me. "So we can log back in."
"Ummm, it's…" I couldn't think fast enough. I should have said I'd forgotten it. I should have said made something new up and blamed a typo or something.
You looked at me blankly.
I started to sweat. "It's… ummm… It's silly," I said, with a desperate giggle. "I guess I should have… It's bad."
You raised your eyebrows.
I didn't know what to do. "It's… ummm…" I couldn't think of any way out of it. Other people were starting to look. Stiffening my lip, I lowered my voice and told you:
I'd like to say that this was an old nickname of mine. It was not. It was a reference to a favorite joke, a cartoon I'd seen in a Playboy magazine someone had sneaked into school back in fifth grade or so. A middle-aged man opens the door to his suburban house to find a hulking young brute standing there with flowers in his hand. "Tell Sally Horsedick's here," says the caption. (I'd always assumed Sally to be the man's daughter. But thinking about it now, I suppose she could have been meant to be his wife. Either way-kinda funny, right? Okay.)
I hadn't had a lot of experience with computer passwords up to that point in my life. It had never occurred to me that I might find myself in a situation where I'd have to share one with an attractive older woman in a professional setting. It was supposed to be secret, after all.
To your eternal credit, you were very cool. Nothing if not professional. You shook your head, turned back to the screen, set your hands on the keyboard, and sighed. "One word or two?"
Rest assured, I've never chosen anything dirty for a password again.
Previously: Dear Bob Mould