"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 10 January 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Thinking Outside the Mailbox



While the odds of our reproducing

any time soon are generally

better if the two Xs involved

are at the fore and aft of

"Xerox," lately we've been

thinking "The Days Before Email"

would make an exciting story for

our grandchildren. We'll be

decrepit and incontinent and

much, much more bitter, but

doubtlessly as eager to bore our

demon spawn as we are to bore

you right now. We'll sit those

little whippersnappers down and

show them our Eudora

registration card and speak of

the days before Pine was felled.

Incredulous, they'll squeak,

"You were alive back then?!!"

And we'll say, "Why sure! My

God, was it a pain in the ass!"

But they'll just squint

quizzically at us for a second,

and then run off to score some

McCrack down the block. "Kids

today!" we'll croak, and then

forget the whole conversation.


As Michael Kinsley has shown,

first-timers find that email

rivals the curly-fry maker for

social significance. And, as

much as we like curly fries,

they've done nothing to help us

evade countless awkward or

trying social situations on a

daily basis. For that, we look

to Eudora, and, with her wisdom,

guidance, and filters, we breeze

through a world of Treacherously

Significant Social Interactions

like Barry Sanders on speed.


If you can't recognize these

various branches of the email

taxonomy, you'd better start

flexing your digital muscles a

little more. You've got social

land mines to evade! As Faulkner

once said, "I believe that man

will not merely endure; he will




The Playing Hooky Email: One of

our favorites. Perhaps you've

got "an appointment." Perhaps

you're "working" at home. Or

maybe you're "sick" or have

"jury duty." Perhaps you're

"hung over" or "depressed" or

"having family problems" or

"lazy." Maybe you're "shopping"

or "skiing" or "lying on a beach

drinking margaritas," or even

"plotting to overthrow the

government." Regardless, the

Hooky Email makes work avoidance

easier than ever. Hammer out

some lame excuse, press "send,"

and you're home free, all

without a thought to your boss

overhearing those rabble-rousing

revolutionaries shouting and

testing plastic explosives in

the background. It's soooo easy,

it makes you feel all dirty

inside... only for a second,

right before your third




The After-Work Plans Email: This

email features comments

regarding postwork social

gatherings, including times,

meeting places, pros and cons of

each time and meeting place,

each person's particular

nutritional and emotional needs,

scheduling requirements, etc.

Typical messages contain such

provocative prose as: "That

okay?" or "Maybe. Where?" or

"Probably. What time?"

Individuals on the cc: list will

also chime in with their own

particular tastes, time

restrictions, and personal

hang-ups. The information

exchanged boils down to a

two-minute phone call, but takes

about double the time of the

social gathering being planned.

In fact, studies indicate that

After-Work Plans Emails cost the

country billions upon billions

of dollars in wasted labor, and

the total time expended on such

email interchanges nationwide is

equal to the time it took to

plan and build the Great Wall of

China. But, conveniently, we

don't need a wall, we need a

beer, and the loss of billions

of dollars only makes the

After-Work Plans Email a more

effective revolutionary act than

all those bomb-building sessions

you've been wasting your sick

days on.



The Long-Lost Friend Email: Every

holiday season it happens again:

Long-forgotten friends and

acquaintances and friends of

acquaintances begin shooting off

"Hey, stranger!" emails like so

many high school yearbook

snapshots coming to life and

jeering in your face. Suddenly,

all your favorite revenge

fantasies are foiled - gone is

the vision of you, sweaty but

glamorous, screaming into the

mike: "This song, entitled 'You

Bitch,' is dedicated to Liz

Wurtzel, who, in high school, did

me the favor of stealing away

the only man I ever loved..."

Instead, it's "Liz Wurtzel!

Hi!" and in a split second,

seething gyrations are replaced

with a 10-minute summary of the

last 10 years. But you give it

your best shot, railing off

lists of spectacular

accomplishments and fabulous

friends, replete with

self-deprecating asides, all of

which are totally transparent

and pathetic, particularly to a

manipulative slut like Liz.

But still, the Long-Lost Friend

Email provides a rare chance at

a casual boast, a veiled jab, or

an insulting aside, and that

makes it utterly irresistible to

petty jerks like ourselves. We

know you're just as bad.



The Ongoing Flirtation Email: You

see him at a party. You know

where he works. You like his

shoes, and you need to tell him

so. You slam off a quick email,

edit it a few times so it's

light, funny, nonchalant. He

emails back. Such a sparkling

wit! You reply: one-up a few

insults, pay him a backhanded

compliment, and include a

humorous, somewhat zany

digression that reflects your

devil-may-care attitude (and

hints at your extensive

knowledge of Martin Amis). He

swoons. Soon, you're checking

your email every five minutes,

and your heart races every time

his name comes up. Your

productivity suffers, but your

job satisfaction skyrockets (not

to mention your mastery of coy,

witty prose). Finally, you meet

him for a beer. He's chafingly

smug and seems practically

illiterate in person. But you

have to admit, those Ongoing

Flirtation Emails made life much

more interesting, if only for a

little while...



The Virtual Boss Email: Your boss

doesn't like meeting with you,

talking to you, or seeing your

face, for that matter. So he

sends off the occasional oblique

remark, like "Ever come into the

office these days?" or "What

were you trying to get from this

project?" all in a tone so

remote from the daily workings

of the place as to seem

otherworldly. He also regularly

uses email to inform the staff

of sweeping changes as if

they're incidental, and attempts

to throw in a democratic feel

with exhortations to chime in

your vote:


I was thinking that maybe it's    
time to abandon this initiative   
you've spent months on and start  
from scratch. Just 'cause "new"   
seems "better" somehow. I might   
add that anyone who supports the  
"old" approach is standing in     
the way of progress (and soon     
they may be standing in the       
unemployment line). All in        


Such "emails from the edge" can

be utterly disconcerting, but if

he delivered such messages face

to face, your first reaction

would be to serve up a

piping-hot knuckle sandwich.

Instead, you smoke a pack of

filterless cigarettes, then

concoct an unreasonably

reasonable message like: "Thanks

for the feedback!" or "What a

great idea!" Thusly, the Virtual

Boss Email saves you your job,

and saves your boss a world of




The Invisible Acquaintance Email:

Everyone has them - an

acquaintance they'd just as soon

never see again. Maybe it's the

way he slurps his beers. Maybe

it's the way she talks endlessly

about nothing and start most

sentences with the phrase "I'm

the kind of person who..."

Whether it's guilt or a sense of

shared history that compels you

to maintain contact with them,

or just dumb curiosity about how

their lives are shaping up,

you're destined to suffer the

consequences: volleying back and

forth inane little updates, all

curiously devoid of concrete

face-to-face plans, despite the

fact that you live blocks away

from each other. A chickenshit

approach, indeed. Yet when you

consider the alternative -

sitting in a bar for hours,

repeating the phrase "Sooo...

how are... things?" - you

recognize the immense value-add

of the Invisible Acquaintance

Email. It frees your life of

hopelessly flaccid interactions

- aside from the occasional

cocktail party - once and for




The Ex Email: She dumped you two

years ago, the fucking piece of

shit. Because the parting was

bitter, you haven't spoken to

her since, except for the time

you saw her at that bar when you

were really drunk and you cried

and told her you'd always love

her. You don't love that bitch

anymore, though, and you want

her to know it. In fact, you're

happier than you've ever been,

and by all accounts your life is

a whole hell of a lot better

than hers. You won't rest until

her last image of you as a total

loser is replaced with your

current glorious reality! In

other words, you're still

something of a loser, and you

should probably just find a

therapist, but instead you find

her email address... She never

emails you back, of course.

There is no closure for losers,

but at least now you can say you




The Networking Email: Remember

the first time someone

introduced you to the concept of

"networking"? Remember how you

decided, right then and there,

that you'd never have a decent

job if it required calling your

mother's friend from LA who

sells medical supplies,

pretending to have some interest

in his "field"? Well, email has

made networking as simple as

Mrs. Smith's peach pie. So

forget those painful, fumbled

conversations in which your lack

of attention to detail and total

apathy towards work in general

become painfully obvious. Just

mix together a polite inquiry, a

little obsequious fawning, a few

proud statements regarding your

superior attention to detail as

evidenced by every second of

your life, and then drop a few

important names, preferably of

blood relatives. Voila! That

frustratingly mundane, totally

thankless job is yours!


The fact that email can make

social interactions efficient,

preformatted, and carefully

controlled only comprises half

of our Eudoraphoria - email also

provides a record of every

single thing you've ever said or

heard. Aspiring novelists and

diarists need not carry around

clumsy notebooks or little tape

recorders disguised as packs of

Marlboros - the full text of

their lives is one "Save As"

away. Those who've wondered

where the year has gone, wonder

no more. Every plan, every

fight, every flirtation, every

thwarted relationship, all of it

lies in the bowels of your

mailboxes just waiting to be

archived forever and ever.


Indeed, simply by perusing the

last few weeks of personal

email, we're struck with an

undeniable sense of longing and

melancholy, thinking of all

those poignantly innocent emails

from our early digital days,

trashed so carelessly, lost to

youthful ignorance and the

foolishness of the email



We'll teach our grandchildren to

avoid this mistake, if those

little bastards would ever


courtesy of Polly Esther


Polly Esther