While you were on vacation...

Staff WriterJanuary 1, 2004 

It is always a conundrum. You go on vacation, whereupon you can leave a sort of automatic response on your e-mail system. Your correspondent does not do this, for First Amendment as well as personal convenience reasons.

The problem is, an automatic response means that in addition to replying to all those governors and senators and university presidents and other illustriousables who usually write daily for advice -- I mean, you don't want them to panic because they can't get you for a couple of weeks -- you'll also be responding to the multitude of individuals and businesses that engage in what we now call spam. (Which, by the way, is an outrageous insult in my opinion to a fine processed meat product with a capital letter that is excellent when scrambled with eggs, cheese and a hint of onions. What you have to to is saute the onions first, and then you brown the Spam and finally, toss the eggs in the pan. I recommend a full-bodied merlot, though some prefer a six-pack of Blue Ribbon and...oh, sorry about the digression.)

If these individuals and organizations get a response, their own computers presumably put you on a list as a happy customer who would like more information on:

1. Products to enhance certain functions which are freely discussed on e-mail and cable television but which this correspondent will not mention in print because his Aunt Betty would kill him.

2. Business investments which will make you vastly rich in a matter of a few days. One can only figure that the pressure tactics are so intense and the response apparently so weak because lots of people, like myself, just don't want to be vastly rich.

3. Political parties, one of which wants to tell you what a sorry sack of sweet potatoes George W. Bush is. The other party, which we'll call Republican, doesn't send out much these days, because why should they when the party of the first part is conducting a campaign that's starting to resemble the first fight sequence in that classic film, "Road House."

4. Special interest groups which have you on a list somewhere as an opinion-writer and thus believe that you are intensely interested in anything you can get your hands on that pertains to the preservation of an ocelot habitat in Botswana and how there is a right-wing conspiracy to destroy it and how you perhaps would like 1,200 words on the issue to share with the readers of your opinion pages there in Raleigh, North Carolina.

5. Lots of women with first names that end in "i" and issue cordial invitations to Web sites. While this might be seen by some bald-headed 51-year-olds as a high compliment, your correspondent does not partake -- it's that Aunt Betty thing again. Well, and you can get fired for browsing around on such Web sites when you are in fact supposed to be focused on advising Governor Easley about the state budget deficit.

6. Drugs. Good grief. Some of these begin with phrases like "Your doctor might not approve of this, but we'll be glad to send you 12 million of them tomorrow!" Friends, I don't know about you, but it occurs to me that anything I'm gonna ingest, I not only want my doctor to approve of it, but to write it out for me himself.

7. Paris Hilton. OK, let's make it clear one last time: Don't know her. Don't care. But someone should buy her a sweater that covers her belly-button and also a few good meals wouldn't hurt.

8. Pamela Anderson Lee and Tommy Lee. Get thee behind me, you and the rest of the rockers and models and B-movie actresses. Why isn't there a Gordon Lightfoot Web site, for goodness sakes?

9. Loan companies. By my estimation, if I answered just the offers from one week's vacation, I could have a half a million bucks in cash in great big sacks left on the hood of my car by noon today. Who are these people? I wonder if I have to give them my real name...

Alas, there's not much of an alternative to deal with this stuff. I'm a holdout, perhaps ridiculously so, on installing all those blocking techniques, because whether it's telemarketing or spam or whatever, I sort of resist limiting the free flow of information -- even bad and stupid information. And on the list of life's burdens, a little spam isn't exactly up there with an ingrown toenail or a stalled car or pattern baldness in terms of major worries.

Gotta go. Just had a message pop up from "Brandi." No, no. Not that. I think she's that Democratic presidential candidate from Minnesota.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com (if you must).

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