the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Next Action — the ATM Password

There was this girl who was a classmate of mine from first grade through senior year in high school. She had an unusual, but beautiful first name. We were friendly, but we didn’t anything socially outside of the classroom. Our relationship was based on the activities between the brick walls of the school building.

She was very important to me. She was my class competitor.

During math class, if I didn’t raise my hand up in time to answer a question, she would get there first. We competed for awards. We each won numerous “Citizen of the Month,” citations. We always compared test scores, secretly wishing the other to flounder. We tried to outdo the other in the number of books we read per year. When I was picked to make the commencement speech at graduation in elementary school, she became the class president in junior high. We were both the literary editors of the high school yearbook. At the end of the senior year of high school, the school “ranked” all the seniors according to their grade point average. I beat her by one point; it was a very satisfying victory.

My parents were never the pushy parents who told me to succeed at any cost. I just enjoyed school. It was this girl, ambitious and super-focused, who forced me to step up my game.

We lost touch the minute we attended college. I hadn’t heard from her for years, until, well, no surprise — Facebook. I was excited, and nervous, to reconnect with her. We had a polite exchange of messages, but nothing very intimate. I think we were both too shy to have any real conversation. For all I know, she may not have give me a second’s thought during all these years.

But I have a little secret about her. This girl has been a part of my life for decades, in a very unusual way. I wanted to tell her about it, but when I mentioned it to Sophia, she told me not to tell her. It would make me look weird.

I’ll let you decide.

So what is this mystery I keep on talking about? How has this girl (now a woman) been an integral part of my life since high school?

On my first day of college at Columbia in New York, I went with my mother to open a bank account at Citibank. There was a branch a few blocks on Broadway. After depositing some money, I received my very first ever personal ATM card. I needed a password. Using my street name or middle name was too obvious. I wanted something personal, but obscure enough for a thief to never figure it out. So, I chose the first name of this girl from school, this girl with the unusual, but beautiful name. My competitor.

Since that time, years passed, and I have moved and changed banks numerous times. Citibank, Marine Midland, HSBC, Pacific Security, Wells Fargo, Bank of America — each receiving an ATM card with the exact same password — my classmate’s first name. As you can tell, I don’t change things easily.

This girl is now a woman, but I still can picture her raising her hand a second before mine in the fourth grade, and reciting the correct equation in math. She has become an iconic image in my mind. Her name, because of her association with my ATM card, has been forever connected to matters such as ambition, success… and my bank account. Has it worked out for me? Well…

Of course, by telling this story, it is also the end of an era. Once she finds out (if I choose to tell her) , I will need to change the password to my bank ATM for the first time in decades.

First, my blog template changes, now my ATM password will have to change. Again, it might seem like very small changes, but these items have symbolism, and symbolism is the most powerful God of all.

But maybe it is time to change the password on my ATM card. It is 2010, and my hair is graying. It is time to move beyond a life revolving around a competition with a girl from elementary school. This was never an effective and mature way to deal with existence beyond the 12th grade. Time to finally graduate from school — psychologically — and find my inspiration in the present.

Time for a new ATM password.


  1. meredith

    beautiful. and even if it could be construed as somewhat creepy, i think it’s oddly affectionate. you should tell her.

  2. Lou P.

    I think Sophia is right — don’t tell her.

  3. Philly Jewish Amy

    Um, you just did, didn’t you?

  4. CP

    I have used the name of an ex-boyfriend as my password for my various mail accounts online for 15 years. Like your friend, it is a very obscure name not commonly used…nor is it a boyfriend that my friends would know or be acquainted with.

    It’s always my secret smile of the day whenever I type his name into the “password” tab.

    I say keep it to yourself and let it be your secret smile.

  5. Peeved Michelle

    Your “street name”? What is it? Snake? Ice?

  6. mary

    I don’t know if I’d tell her but I definitely think its time to change it. I mean, you can’t stop the whole renewal tour at the template, can you? Keep this train going, Neil! ;D

  7. Finn

    LOL at Peeved Michelle because I thought the exact same thing.

    This makes me wonder if I am not someone’s password somewhere. What a tribute. You should absolutely keep it.

  8. Stacey

    In elementary school and middle school, it was this kid Karl always checking to see if my test scores were better than his (they were) that drove me to succeed. In high school my nemesis was Trevor, a colossal suck-up who ultimately beat me out by a fraction of a point to graduate top of our class. I guess I don’t remember them as fondly as you remember your class competitor.

  9. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    I wonder how many overachievers struggle with life after school. No clear succession of milestones to achieve. No grades. No GPA. Increasing pressure to find a niche and focus on one thing after enjoying the smorgsabord of a liberal arts education.

    I suspect those who never cared about school don’t care when it’s over. Those who enjoyed the challenge of it and the clearly marked parameters of success may miss it the most. It’s a “safe” world. Everyone has a place.

  10. TheAnyKey

    I say change it, but tell us the name. You say it is beautiful, so I am very curious now.

  11. TheAnyKey

    Or don’t change it. Either way, I’m curious.

  12. headbang8

    Even those of us without a strong religious faith find that talismans sneak in, under our conscious mind. The little sacraments of everyday life (Joyce’s words) take the place of a big religious ceremony. Your password went beyond a symbol. It became a superstition.

    Every time you used the password, was it a little prayer to the universe that you should stay top of the class? For that matter, is the title of your blog Citizen of the Month the same thing? When she won, did you feel like you were unworthy? These sound like religious impulses.

    Symbols and rituals are powerful. So is a symbolic break.

    I change passwords regularly. Many authorities (like my employer) demand it. I use the opportunity to confront bugaboos from my past, and sometimes playfully adopt symbols that are supposed to bring bad luck. You’ll find lots of thirteens and triple sixes in my passwords. I would also include fours, but my mildly-Shinto husband gets spooked.

    Even though I am (for all intents and purposes) an atheist, I sometimes embrace the comfort of symbols. My job as an adman reminds me how powerful they can be. Your job as a writer does, too. But one must be conscious of this, lest it turn into superstition.

    You know, stupid little things. If the barista runs out of low fat milk as I buy my coffee on the way to work, I know it will be a bad day. Maybe your morning visits to McDonalds in Queens work the same way.

    Your life has been full of change, disruption, instability. Sweep out a little more debris, every time you front up to a cash machine.

  13. gorillabuns

    change it for you, if you want. i don’t find it odd as i think we all secretly do things based solely on the past. you were the only one to man-up and admit it!:)

  14. Heather of the EO

    Neil, I love the way you think-why you chose her name. It’s not creepy, I don’t think. If you were just going to up and surprise her with “Hey! You’ve been my password all these years,” that would be weird. But if you explain, like you did here…I don’t know…if it were me I wouldn’t think it was a huge deal, maybe even flattering and nostalgic. That’s just me, I obviously don’t know this woman. Maybe she’s totally paranoid…then…yeah, it wouldn’t be good to tell her ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Jane Lively

    I think you just told her.

  16. Juli Ryan

    Yeah, if you are friends on Facebook, she’ll probably click on the link for your blog…

  17. Cheryl

    This isn’t so weird Neil… I’ve used the birth date of my first true love as my ATM password/code for over 20 years. Really. And so from where I’m sitting, I find this very endearing and sweet. So there.

  18. unmitigated me (m.a.w.)

    Bossy told me I should change my user name to match my blog name.
    I hated high school, but hubs and his buddies were valedictorian and salutatorians. They blew another guy out of the water in GPA by getting a teacher to set up a philosophy honors seminar for them, which was on a 5 pt. scale. 3 of them are now wildly successful. One of them is lost in space.

    LOVE the new blog look, Neil. Very nicely done.

  19. sarah

    Grown up me thinks it could be construed as creepy. But the 18 year old romantic idealist nostaglia-junkie in me thinks it is utterly dreamy that you’ve used this girl’s name as a password all these years.

    That being said, I probably wouldn’t mention it; I’d hate for the fond memories you have of this women to be mangled by her overreacting to this information.

  20. WebSavvyMom

    –>If she was as competitive as you say for 12 years and you just barely beat her out in final GPA, this may be a nice “victory” for her.
    Change your password.
    Then tell her.
    Then tell us the name!

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