The Day I Met an Identity Thief

How is it possible to be surprised in a dream? How can unexpected things occur? This is one of the things that I find really amazing about dreams. If they are entirely of my own mind's making, how can the scenarios it (supposedly) creates be unpredictable? How can the characters it (allegedly) invents do and say things that it doesn't see coming?

And who are the characters in my dreams? If they are my mind's creation, how is it that I can say things to them they don't expect to hear?

The dream I had this morning is an example of this happening.

I was back in college. It was my first day back and I had just walked out of the student union into a central courtyard area with lots of picnic tables lined up on the lawn. Each picnic table had several pay phones on it, only they weren't really pay phones, they were just the university's phone system that you needed a special code or card to access.

I was carrying two big bags of laundry and all the paperwork I needed to complete to get my tuition and financial aid squared away. I sat down at one of the picnic tables and looked at the phone in front of me. To finish the paperwork, I needed to use the phone and enter the correct code. I remember trying to write the access code on a small glossy card and struggling to get the ink to stay on the card. The number was 475 030 0060 (or 1160, I can't remember now).

I picked up the phone and started dialing the numbers, but because the numbers wouldn't stick to the glossy card I had written them on, I was also unable to dial the numbers into the phone's touch pad. I just could not get the sequence right. I kept mis-dialing and then I would have to start over.

Although there were students and other people at lots of the tables around me, there was no one else but me at the table where I was sitting. There were dozens of other phones available, both at my table and at the numerous other tables in the courtyard. So I wasn't in any kind of rush. No one was waiting on me and there was no pressure to complete my task. I had all the time in the world. But it was frustrating. Every time I tried to dial my access code, I would get part-way through it and then screw it up.

Holding the handset to my ear, I just kept trying, screwing up, and starting over. Then, through the receiver I heard a voice, "Come on... get it... get it!" It was very faint and kind of crackly, like it wasn't a direct connection. I was completely taken aback. I shouldn't be connected to anyone yet, because I had not successfully entered my access code. There was a second or two of silence before I realized that someone was tapping into the phone lines - lines that were supposed to be secure.

Then I spoke back to him. "Get what?" I said.

There was another pause and then all he said was, "Uhh..."

I had caught him by surprise. I realized that I was not supposed to be able to hear him, but something about the connection was faulty. So when he had spoken, he had not expected me to hear his words. When I heard them, I was surprised. And when I answered them, he was totally caught off guard.

"What are you doing?" I asked him. "You're trying to get access to my information, aren't you?"

He wasn't completely forthcoming, though he did respond to me. I could tell I had made him nervous and, although he hadn't disconnected yet, I don't think he knew quite what to do.

I was curious and continued to ask questions. "Are you only connected to me? Or are you tapping into lots of lines? Where are you? Are you even in this country? East or West Coast?" He wouldn't even give me a vague answer.

A group of students at the table next to mine noticed me talking and began to laugh. I told them what was going on - that there was a guy tapping into the system to steal our information and that I had caught him. I thought they would be interested. They weren't.

I turned back to my own table. Realizing that my interview with the identity thief wasn't going to get me anywhere, I decided I should report this breach to the authorities. Staying on the line with the guy, I picked up a handset from another phone at my table. Below the keypad was a list of access numbers, one of which was labeled "POLICE: 1-2-1."

I dialed the numbers and connected to the dispatcher. She asked what I was calling about and I began to repeat the entire story to her. As I began to tell the story, something was announced over the loudspeaker and immediately all of the other students got up and began to exit the courtyard. The courtyard emptied quickly and then crews began removing the picnic tables. At the same time, the grounds crew drove onto the lawn with an enormous tractor that looked like the maintainers that used to drive up the dirt roads in Nebraska to redistribute the gravel.

However, instead of a scoop this machine had an enormous rotor blade for cutting the grass. It was basically the biggest lawn mower I had ever seen - and one of the loudest. By this time I had no idea if the guy was still on the other line, and I assumed he had hung up. But I was keeping the phone off the hook anyway, just in case it would help them trace the source of his connection. I was still telling my story to the woman at the police department, but I couldn't hear a thing over the roar of the lawn mower. And any minute now, the grounds crew would be at my table telling me to leave and trying to move the table. I couldn't tell if the dispatcher was listening to me and I had doubts that I was even speaking to the right people. I knew that I was only talking to the campus police. I probably needed the FBI for this. Would the dispatcher even care enough to put me through?

Was she even listening? I could barely hear, but I thought I detected an affirmative "Uh-huh..." from her at one point. "So do you think you'll be able to locate the source?" I asked while also trying to stall the grounds crew who were clearing the courtyard and eyeballing my pile of laundry and papers.

Just then, something beeped in the real world - the phone, an alarm clock, something - and woke me up, which was a relief. By this time, the dream seemed to be only getting more and more chaotic - and it was really noisy!

So, I don't really find the storyline of this dream to be very remarkable and I don't think I would even have bothered to write it down were it not for a couple of things I found interesting. Aside from the surprises I (and the guy on the phone) experienced, I also noticed a couple of what appear to be recurring themes from other dreams I have had.

In 15 Minutes to Apocalypse I was similarly flummoxed when I needed to dial runes into a telephone's keypad. And in The Delirium of Illness I had a similarly frustrating phone call with my doctor's receptionist, who I was unable to hear over the yelling of my Romanian grandmother.

Wonder what that means.