SPAM that is.
All week long I've been getting e-mails from a former college buddy I haven't seen in years. Out of the relative blue came a string of forwarded messages with off-color jokes, editorial cartoons and inspirational messages. Nothing terribly offensive, just out of the ordinary.
I shot back a quick note, ignoring the punch-lines and explaining I was pleased as punch to hear from her. I inquired about her family and if she’d seen any of the "old gang" rattling around in her travels.
A few days later her husband's name popped into my inbox sandwiched between a BBC news update and a brief note from my mother-in-law checking in with a grandmotherly message for Ittybit. His communiqué, like his wife's, was a little bit of humor (video form) making the rounds on the World Wide Web.
Another note is sent off into the ethosphere ... more nothing … until … the mother of all pet peeves arrives in my inbox bearing their return address -- an e-mail warning me of the dangerous BLUSH SPIDER.
There are the people who wouldn't stand for pictures of Branjolina's leftover grilled cheese sandwich bits coming anywhere near their Internet, and I think I may be one of those people. It's not that I don’t like jokes. I laughed hysterically when the Trunk Monkey popped out of my inbox and dragged me to the Suburban Auto Group's Web site, where I spent the better part of an hour viewing SAG's library of simian "public service" ads. It's just that I have little tolerance for alarmist entertainment.
For the record: NPR is not getting shut down so don't sign and forward the petition; KFC uses real chickens; hypodermic needles are not showing up in McDonald's play areas and on the undersides of gas pumps; and there aren't people trolling around mall parking lots trying to knock you out with ether in perfume bottles.
I have noticed, however, that since I've begun tracking down urban legends and torturing folks bent on perpetuating these myths with a few facts, my inbox has turned into a virtual desert.
I can't tell you how many people send back a rebuke, telling me that they were just trying to be helpful when they passed along that "urgent" message reminding each of us to turn off our cell phones at the gas stations, lest they go off and cause an explosion.
I suppose if it were a political thing, I'd be saying I was trying to fight spam over in their e-mailbox so I won’t have to fight it in my own. But it's an uphill battle, and it doesn't help matters much that even gas stations have fallen for the hoax, many of them posting signs warning of the potential for disaster of using your cellphone at the pump.
I hang my head a little in shame every time my letters are returned with a line of hurt feelings and a streak of consternation: "Well, I thought it was sage advice even if it never happened. It can't hurt to be careful."
I'm beginning to think hitting the delete button is really the best way to connect with my imaginary friends.