What the PUK was that?!?!

“Whose phone was that?!?! Turn it OFF,” our lawyer imperatively reiterated as we got up and exited the office, to be grilled separately by the stickler INS agent.

It couldn’t have been mine. Between my wife and I, I can survive not being connected and buried in my phone.

‘All phones must be turned off’ the signs clearly read.

On our way home everyone is barking at each other about who didn’t bring what documents and why and whose fault it is.

Combine being flustered and demoralized by an official of this “Land of Opportunity” (Yeah, my a…) and just how seldom we ever have to power off our phones… I was caught completely off guard when it asked for a pin.

Anyway, it just goes to show how often I’ve turned my cellphone off. Never.

It asks for your pin, and you get 3 tries. Easy, right?

It’s either the last four, my favorite four, or my parent’s favorite four…

Oh, or lately… my stepdad’s year of birth* to lock my cousin out of stuff he once knew the code to, to protect this house full of stuff my parents claim to not even want and are anxious to garage-sell…

Anyway therein lies the conundrum:

That’s four possibilities. You get three tries.

Well I’m anxious to get this thing revved up so I can text my bro about this horrific day…

My favorite four. Strike one.

Last four of my phone number. Strike two.

Parent’s favorite four… I get a menacing ‘THIS PHONE IS LOCKED. ENTER PUK CODE’ and that prisoner-in-my-own-home feeling.

Demoralized even further while the car grinds to a halt to be stuck in I-5 South traffic, I brainstorm how I can just go home and make this as non-intrusive as possible.

“I’ll just swap out the SIM card with my other AT&T phone and deal with it later.”

Good thing I didn’t! It just can’t be that easy.

“PUK Code.” Where do you get it? The instruction manual of course! Only problem? This is a hand-me-down phone and I don’t have it. So, it is inevitable that this day won’t be over any time soon. Have to ask my stepdad to track down the manual to find this code… which at this point I’m guessing is maybe some portion of the serial number or something.


You obtain the code by calling customer service and explaining the situation… and convincing them that you are the rightful owner. Can’t even find it on your account online. Have to speak to a live person.


So my phone is locked out… and I’m supposed to call someone to unlock it?

This is morbidly hilarious. It reminds me of the times when my laptop wifi wasn’t working and there is a hilarious link to ‘Help,’ and when you click it, “Unable to Connect to the Internet” occurs.

Freakin’ dufuses.

This all is like having an emergency key to a safe… IN the safe.

Prudently I presumed that this thorough, thoughtless lock out would not have been solved by swapping out SIM cards, so I go straight to my parent’s house and my stepdad calls customer service from his phone… and after about 20 minutes… the phone is back in action.

Only problem? I’m not smart enough to ask him what pin he set up.

3 weeks later I’m house sitting…

I always say we are too anxious to leave the 20th Century behind, sort of like a roommate’s mom I knew who was obsessed with throwing stuff away, the anti-hoarder.

We often read (past-tense, “red”) about ‘The death of the landline’ long before people stopped paying for the service… the Internet being anxious to proclaim its demise… but eventually yeah even at work registering info some old folks say now, ‘That’s a cellphone number I just gave ya… we don’t have a landline…’

Up until even about 2013 there was a payphone outside of my workplace. One day I pull up, and all that remains is a metal wire sticking out where the phone once stood, looking a bit like rebar but not as wicked-sharp.

I arrive at work 30 minutes early every day and sit in my car… and witness some pretty bizarre things from that vantage sometimes…

One is an old couple speed walking some mornings… the guy with coffee cup in hand.

Every time he would pass that payphone he would slip his two fingers into the change slot… but without breaking stride.

I guess that 401K ain’t enough.

They didn’t walk every morning but when I saw them on approach I would make sure to see if this dude would remember to check that change slot… and sure enough he wouldn’t forget.

At a movie theater once I was waiting for my “friends” to come out of the bathroom, so not wanting to just stand out like a swaying sore thumb, I do the pretend-text… and three rocker-looking dudes walk by and without slowing down or stopping one randomly goes, “Hey can I use your phone?” by then being a few feet away.

I can’t remember what I said to decline without ticking him off. Might’ve been anything between “Sorry, the battery is almost dead” to “This is my friend’s phone,” but I didn’t let him walk out the door with it… which leads me to my next point in picking apart this ridiculous ‘PUK Code’ concept…

Just how willing are people these days to let someone one-time use their cellphone?

No payphones.

No landlines.

Can’t unofficially use the phones at work, especially on a day off, especially when it will tie up a line for 15 minutes waiting for a rep to answer…

I’m a shy guy, so I don’t know any of my neighbors so the idea of them letting me waltz in and use their phone… and tie IT up for 15 minutes is not only awkward just contemplating but yeah… probably not happening.

So, what are we supposed to do when we need this PUK code?

They thought of everything… (*Borat voice*) Naaaaaaaat.

3 weeks later I’m house sitting… no landline…

I see this Korean concoction in the fridge… with gross whole minnows, but also fishcakes… one of my favorites. Maybe I can “fish” out what I want and leave the exotic rest.

I text my mom, “Is this ok to eat?”

‘I don’t remember. Can you send a picture?’

Even though I’ve advised that my prepaid GoPhone neither sends pics and can’t even show emoticons right a million times, two silly things happen: She still asks me to send a pic, and two… I try to anyway…

It ends up giving an ‘Unable to complete message’ response, but that ‘Sending…’ circle keeps spinning and spinning.

Like I said, prepaid GoPhone.

That circle spinning menacingly makes me wonder, “Is this counting as data usage?”

I frantically try everything to cancel the message, cancel out, delete it… stop it…


So, I shut the whole phone down and restart it.

Dun dun dunnnn…

‘Enter pin.’

I take a deep breath, not eager to enter a complex given my prior experience with this… and rather than overthink it I first calmly try my usual pin.

Strike one.

Ok, the last four of my number.

Strike two.

Ok, no need to panic… I’ll try the one set of four numbers I didn’t elect to try last time… and I input them in without the approach of “Here goes nothing” and try and shift my attitude more towards the confident faith that the phone will simply unlock… totally in the game mentally…

‘Phone is locked. Enter PUK code.’


Not ready to give up, I see that it allows two options: Emergency Call and some other weird, ‘112’ button.

Well, I sure as heck don’t want to dial out 911 for this situation, although it almost feels like mentally I might need to… but I press the OTHER button… and the screen goes “Warning: Emergency only.”

Great. Now it’s not even ASKING for the PUK code. It’s stuck on ANOTHER screen with just these two options…

Desperate, I break out my old flip-phone and swap out the card, the idea I had last time.

Doesn’t work… but at least the PUK code option field is there.

I just need to have the code!

So, I have no landline, don’t work for a few days even if I WERE willing to risk using the work phone in the office to unlock this, don’t know the neighbors at all, and obviously can’t call anyone to call AT&T for me…

Can’t cross the street to use the payphone.

We got rid of those, remember?

Apart from the aforementioned, another thought I had was that not everyone has credit good enough to get a cellphone.

How do homeless people call that out-of-state friend or family member in slim hopes that they might wire them a little cash?

How do the meth couples whose lives and credit and bank accounts have been ravaged by penal fines ever call anybody?

I guess here is the redeeming part of our new age, 21st Century: Even though I don’t have it, since I have a GoPhone, most people have smartphone… DATA.

I vaguely recalled being on Facebook a couple years prior, and being offered some seemingly useless feature… to be able to message someone on my friend list… from my page to their PHONE…


‘Got it. It worked,’ my bro replied.

Being communicationally (if that is a word) stranded now… I hop onto Facebook and private-message my stepdad… thousands of miles away in Illinois… not to his page… but to his phone… and wait…

The wait itself isn’t the issue. “Is this going to work?” was what I kept wondering with any passing minute I didn’t get a response…

I get a reply.

So, I end up getting this ‘PUK code’ by messaging my stepdad, from Facebook, who is thousands of miles and 2 hours difference in time zone away…

He ends up being a relay, middleman in this dialogue…

I need the serial number.

I need to log onto my account online and get another number.

…after a few back and forths with the delay that being in a 3-way dialogue… using Facebook messaging inevitably brings… and having to restart…

…my flip-phone is in business…

Since there is a delay in our correspondence… I bank on the idea that my stepdad hasn’t ended the conversation with the help line yet… so I quickly swap out the SIM card back to my other phone…


It’s back on that screen it was before…

No option to enter PUK.

I quickly shoot a message to my stepdad…

‘The phone we unlocked was the one you gave me the serial number for, right?’

Rather than explain this entire nightmare on Facebook messaging while HE is on the other line with AT&T thousands of miles away… I end up lying and saying the other phone ‘froze up’ or had an old battery that couldn’t hold a charge…

Lol I can’t even remember.

‘Restart the phone.’

I restart it… still same screen…

Demoralized, “I’ll just call AT&T tomorrow from work…” resolving to take the risk.

I’m already picturing one of the managers noticing me there in the office off the clock, obviously on the phone with some customer service… and their slow lead-in to what they’re probably going to tell me… ‘…we don’t make personal calls here…’

At wit’s end… I fling my phone to the floor and blurt out an expletive… and the battery flies out… mildly surprised it didn’t hit me in the eye at this point.

Burying my face in my hands then running my hands through my hair… I give myself a moment… and in a last-ditch, come-what-may reflex that you do when you don’t believe something will work but have nothing to lose trying anyway… I power up my phone…

“Enter PUK.”

Reminded me of that part in Jurassic Park when Samuel L. Jackson’s character finally hacks Nedry’s computer… and it goes to a neutral screen reloading everything…

So, anyway… we prematurely got rid of payphones, landlines, and have online-only screens that have help topics that you can only access… ONLINE…

What the “PUK” is that?



*Fictitious hint mentioned so as not to compromise the ACTUAL number

†In case you were wondering, ‘PUK’ stands for something like ‘Personal Unique Key’







7 thoughts on “What the PUK was that?!?!

  1. Dude, that sounds ultra-frustrating.
    I had a similar experience with a set of thumbdrives, but not nearly,as frustrating as your story bro. You need to get a smart phone bruh, easy security on those.


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