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Did not compute

October 22, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Back when people wrote letters - in The Long-Lost Age of Literacy - I was an avid letter writer. But no more.

Now that e-mail has taken the place of letters, texting has taken the place of talking and electronics in general have taken the place of thinking, my letter writing is pretty much kaput. I write a few a year, and that's it.

As for my e-mail? Well, in terms of numbers alone, I get a lot of them. In terms of content, I rarely get one that actually says anything. Most are workplace notes:

The lecture on Rocks of Tasmania has been cancelled; Tonight at 8:00 the Mumbly-Peg club will meet; Parking lot number three's northeast section is closed because of repaving."

... and so on.

I do have friends who e-mail me regularly, and almost all of them say nothing more than: "How ya doin'? Things here are fine. Buddy just got voted honor graduate." (and they still haven't told me if Buddy's their kid or their dog).

The sole exception to the mini-e-mails are the ones I get from A. Fabienne Jones, which are always long and articulate. Of course, A. Fabienne Jones is exceptional. She's an exotic Caribbean beauty who's always surrounded by an air of intrigue and mystery. What lies behind her enigmatic smile -- warm and inviting one moment, cold and distant the next? And the "A" in A Fabienne? No one - not even the Social Security Administrator - knows what it stands for, nor has she ever revealed it.


Most of my "personal" e-mails get sent to my junk mail folder. There are three kinds.

One is notices I've won the Swiss Lotto or the U.K. National Lottery. This is nothing less than astounding, considering I've never bought a ticket for our lotteries, much less theirs.

Another are the Nigerian scams: A desperate but unfailingly polite note from an Umar Isiaka, or a Zongo Kabore, or perhaps even a Khalid McGonegal, all telling me they're due to inherit millions of dollars (or sometimes British pounds) from a father who was the deposed president of The Republic of Zazzaloopia. All I have to do is send a reply with my bank account and Social Security number and I, too, will share in their windfall. Oh, Frabjous Day, Calloo, Callay!

Then, there are the infrequent ones from a widowed Mrs. Liu or Mrs. Fong or Mrs. Won, addressed to "My Dearest One."

The lottery and Nigerian scams are easy to ignore, but not the "My Dearest Ones." I mean, let's get real: Life in Geriatric Bachelor Heaven is a lot less exciting than portrayed in Modern Maturity and Cialis ads. So much less so, there have been more than a few long cold Saturday nights when I've been tempted to write back to Mrs. Liu (or maybe Mrs. Fong) and ask if she'd like to join me for lo mein at The No. 1 - my treat, of course.

But I don't mind any of those people, whoever they are. Sure, they're a pack of cons trying to wheedle us out of our hard-earned bread. But so what? It's The American Way.

Face it: If amoral - and even illegal - hustling landed all the rip-off artists in jail, ours would be overflowing with our businessmen, politicians and clergy - and not necessarily in that order.


Writing the wrong

No, the cryber-creeps who really bug me are the hackers who delight in wrecking files, spreading viruses and generally making a mess of people's personal computers and personal lives.

Almost anyone with a computer has had to deal with them. My computer has had a few viruses and worms that ended up costing me a bunch of money to clean out, but I just accept it as the cost of having Internet access. But earlier in the week, I was confronted by a whole new brand of cyber-swine.

On Monday, I got an e-mail from one of my two favorite twin nieces, Jill. Here it is exactly as written:

Traumatic experience

"I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, sorry I did not inform you about our trip. We actually made a quick travel to London and unfortunately attacked and mugged at gun point on the way to our hotel, all cash and credit card and cell phone were taken away from us but luckily we still have our passports with us.

I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and our return flight leaves anytime from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills. Am freaked out at the moment."


Of course, the heading caught my attention and the first sentence shocked me but only momentarily. For the more I read, the more I realized my niece didn't write it.

How did I know?

Simple: My niece is not only my niece; she's also one of my best friends, and over the years she's written me a lot of letters. Plus, having been in the English Comp. biz for almost four decades, I've learned a few things about writing, one of them being everyone has their own writing technique and style. And the writing technique and style of that e-mail was not Jill's.

Take the heading alone: Four exclamation marks? She might use one, maybe even two. But four? Never. Far too cheesy.

Now the first sentence:

" with tears in my eyes"?

The girl is a tough non-shiksa, so while she might actually have tears in her eyes, she'd never call attention to it, much less do it in print.

Also, the first sentence is in fact two sentences, held together with a comma splice, and an artless comma splice at that.

" a quick travel to London"? Travel, not trip? Fergit it.

Gunpoint is one word, not two, and the P in police is not capitalized, as I'm sure she knows.

" our return flight leaves anytime from now "

"Anytime from now"? Jill would never even think of allowing such sloppy diction in print, let alone actually do it.

There were other flaws and faux pas, but I won't oppress you - or me - with any of them.

So I e-mailed Jill, telling her I spotted "her" e-mail as a phony from the get-go, due to my brilliance as a rhetorical detective.

She e-mailed back, telling me I was right and indeed the e-mail was the work of a hacker, not her.

But then she added something, a surefire sign the e-mail could not have been hers. It was something far more obvious than how it was written. Instead, it was what was written.

It was something I missed because I never think anyone's as old school as I am.

But apparently Jill is, because like her favorite uncle, she's never had a cell phone, either.



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