2017-03-16 / Columns

The day a mysterious package arrived

Family Man
Michael Picarella

My wife and I don’t use our home phone. We use our cellphones.

In fact, the only people calling us on our land line are salespeople and scammers, making me often wonder why we still pay for our phone the same way I wonder why someone would pay for a stress ball. Maybe a piñata or a punching bag would cure one’s stress. But a tiny squishy ball?

So what do you do when some random device shows up on your doorstep? Do you worry it’s from the same salespeople, machines and scammers trying to reach you on that home phone you don’t even use anymore? Do you ponder the device’s purpose, make phone calls or research the matter in any way?

No, you turn on the device, of course. Then you look for that stress ball.

I have a pacemaker, which a doctor put in my chest 10 years ago to keep my heart from thumping under 50 beats per minute and ultimately keep me off the floor when I really want to be standing. In January, a doctor switched out the pacemaker because my battery was low.

The other day, when the strange device I referred to earlier showed up at my door, I looked for some kind of explanation or note. Nothing. Just some random electronic device with instructions to turn it on and remote in to my pacemaker.

I was pretty sure I knew what it was. To check my battery level and get information about my heart and pacemaker, I’d go to my cardiologist every three months for what’s called a telephone check. Someone in the office would put a device to my chest, grab information and send that information through the phone lines to a knowledgeable source.

And while the device in my living room looked different and worked through an app I got for free in the app store on my cell, I figured it did the same thing.

So why did I have a bad feeling about it?

I installed the batteries, turned it on and put it to my chest anyway. After following the directions, on-screen text let me know that data had been sent.

What data? I wondered. Why am I not privy to this data? And who is privy to it?

As my stress levels rose, because now it was too late to alter course, I went to my wife to calm me down. Wives are always good at calming down their husbands gone mad.

“Did you call the cardiologist?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“What? Why not? You just trusted something that showed up at the door?”

Even my 13-year-old son knew better. He reminded me of things I tell him, like “Curiosity killed the cat,” “Look before you leap” and “Watch what you put out in the universe—it might go to terrorists.”

“Terrorists don’t have access to me,” I said.

“It’s obviously not a terrorist,” my son said. “Teenagers are the ones hacking America.”

My brother, who has a computer forensics background, would shut all this worry down.

“Someone might remote in and control you like a cyborg,” he said. “It’s called bluejacking.”

I looked up bluejacking, the collection of unsolicited data over bluetooth to bluetooth-enabled devices, and it’s real.

I was doomed.

But there was no time to break out the stress ball. It was time to take action. I’m more of a Rambo kind of guy and thought about tying on one of those red Rambo sweatbands I still have from my ’80s childhood.

Like the stress ball and my home phone, the sweatband is quite useless, except when administered for tactical reasons to intimidate the enemy or to identify with Rambo’s inner mindset for the big takedown. However, I’d have to dig out my sweatband and, as stated previously, time was of the essence.

My plan: Destroy the device so it could transmit no more data. Before I could raise the sledgehammer, my wife found me in the garage and asked what I was doing.

Wives are so full of mixed messages. Even my son was all over me for not wearing goggles like I taught him to do when using tools.

In the end, I called the cardiologist’s office, and the representative said the device was exactly what I first thought it was—a unit to replace my telephone checks every three months.

I told the woman that I thought it was weird how the thing just showed up at my door with no warning whatsoever.

“Oh,” she said. “I left you a voicemail on your home phone about a week ago.”

After going through 610 messages over the past four months from salespeople, machines and scammers, I came across the call from my cardiologist.

I was right to do what I did with the device when I got it. And I let my family know I was right. But first I tied on my Rambo sweatband for the big takedown.

Email Michael Picarella at michael.picarella@gmail.com. To read more of his stories, pick up his book, “Everything Ever After,” at www.Michael-Picarella.com.

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