Now It Can Be Told: My eBay Password Was “Cactus” For 14 Years


Apparently, eBay was hacked in some semi-significant fashion. Today they made me change my password.

To something besides “cactus”.

If I didn’t get in on the ground floor to eBay, I was close; I’ve been a member since Feb 15, 1999, about two years after it became practical to buy anything on the site and well before it became part of the American vocabulary. In the first few years, I sold a bunch of vintage BMX parts and bought a variety of old Atari computers. It’s fair to say that I am deeply ambivalent about eBay: it’s raised the price of old books into the stratosphere while simultaneously adding a $250 transaction fee to most vintage guitar sales. On the other hand, it’s enabled me to find and purchase items that I’d have never found otherwise. You have to take the good with the bad; yes, you can now actually find a brand-new Atari 1200XL, but it will cost you.

I wish I could tell you exactly why I chose “cactus” as my eBay password. At the time, I was sharing the account with my friend Jeremy for some reason — I think so he could list a few things for sale. Shortly before then, something had happened where I said the word “cactus” and was roundly ridiculed by Jeremy, his wife, and my wife for having said it. I think it might have been based on me mis-hearing something that one of them said. For whatever reason, “cactus” was a thing between us at the time and I knew we’d both remember it.

I haven’t spoken to Jeremy in a solid decade. We are far from friends now, as a result of a misunderstanding related to the aforementioned wife of his. At any time, I suppose he could have logged into my eBay account and bankrupted me. I didn’t care enough to change it. In fact, there was something cheerful and sentimental about typing “cactus” into the password field; it was a reminder of a past life of mine, a cheerful and slow-moving period where I worked a lot to build my business and had a lot of dinners with friends and didn’t travel or race anything or pull off the mythical “four-banger” or anything like that.

My twenty-nine-year-old self, blithe and carefree and very concerned with things like software freedom and choosing the proper Corian for my countertop. I live in the house and the world that he made for me, but I am no longer him. His careful effort and stewardship loaded me with skills and savings and credentials on which I now coast, burning the last of it as carelessly as a Yukon Denali owner flooring the throttle on the last of the hydro-fracked oil. I wake up in beds from Carolina to California and am never sure exactly where I am, but he spent years without leaving Ohio, the weekends on a mountain bike during the day and cranking the code at night, cheerful and considerate, eating mac and cheese so I could have two paid-off Porsches in the garage.

When I received the friendly notice from eBay that I should change my password, I ignored it. When I received the urgent notice from eBay that I should change my password, I ignored it. I thought about Richard Stallman and his early years where he encouraged everyone on the MIT systems to use a blank password. Surely “cactus”, being at the narrow front of any dictionary attack, was about the same as none.

This morning, however, Pierre dropped the hammer on me: No longer could I use my old trusty friend. I had to change. To an eight-letter combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. I considered


but that would be a sad shadow of the original. Then I thought that I could do what every IT department in the world does and make it


but that didn’t satisfy either. In the end, I chose a psuedo-random arrangment suggested by a Linux computer in my basement. Perhaps it will make me less likely to buy things, typing in this impersonal assemblage. Perhaps not. Passwords are more than that; they are expressions of secrets, desires. love secret money pre$ident bucks2002champs grandma michaelethan RiveraBNA!

Maybe the best thing to do is correct horse battery staple.

In the meantime, I’ll pour one out for Cactus. Long may he grow, out there in the painted desert of the heart.

8 Replies to “Now It Can Be Told: My eBay Password Was “Cactus” For 14 Years”

  1. AvatarG___

    Completely off topic Jack, sorry, it looks like comments get locked after a time on old posts. Following the shite in California I have found cause to re-read the Bikini Bridge post a couple of times for context. Thanks.

  2. Avatarphr3dly

    I love this post. Taking something banal, as is a password change, and weaving it into a compelling story.


    Thank you.

  3. Avatargalactagog

    Jack I am disappoint. Someone like you used such a lame password for 14 years?? Lol

    Was it at least an uppercase “C” ?

  4. AvatarJeff

    Unfortunately, correct horse battery staple won’t work. I tried to replace my ancient lame ebay password with a CHBS alternative today. Unfortunately, ebay is insisting on passwords that are 20 character maximum, not all alpha. Oh well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.