R A C H E L A. L E V I N E
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24 H o u r s O f S P A M
The names listed below represent only a portion of the SPAM I received over the last 24 hours. As a fiction writer, I am somewhat bewitched by the mysteries these fictional names present: Fay Bruno, Mildred Bunch, Richard Harris, Seth C. Mendoza, Kerry Jones, Doctor Marion Coon, PCJ Vilpponen, Michael Flatter (twice), Kelli Draper
Mystery #1: Who Makes Up These Names? Is it a person or is it some kind of random naming generator, akin to a computer’s random number generator? Is this something like Mad Libs? Is someone flipping through the phone book?
“Seth C. Mendoza” fills me with particular delight. The addition of that middle initial is almost enough to get me to open that email. I hesitate, hovering the mouse just over his name (all three) before I stop myself. But that middle initial keeps teasing me. Surely no one making up a false name for SPAM would bother with a middle initial. But, alas, they do. It turns out Seth C. Mendoza is selling quality watches very cheaply. And perhaps, just perhaps, I am not the only person to whom he is offering his wares.
“Doctor Marion Coon” leaves us wondering as to both the gender of the sender and the nature of the doctorate. It seems however that the doctorate is only there to get us to open the email. But if I am going to purchase a fine quality watch, I think I have the right to know the answer to both of these questions and so do you.
Mystery #2: Do Some Names Work Better Than Others? I spent only a few months writing copy for a direct mail company (before the place was raided and the owner jailed…but that’s another story) where my words were not evaluated based on their ability to please the ear but on the quantity of product sold. If an ad with a catchy slogan did not sell, the catchy slogan was history. So, I have to wonder if Fay Bruno sells more than Mildred Bunch? Of course, Fay is selling pharmaceuticals and Mildred is selling penis enlargers, so I would imagine we would have to give one or the other of them some kind of head start. (Which one, I cannot guess.) Mildred Bunch is surely a high school librarian in sensible shoes, whereas Fay Bruno is an Italian grandmother standing over a steaming pasta pot. Who would you buy from? I don’t think I would want Mildred knowing much about my sex life whereas Fay, with her lusty Italian heritage, would probably not be shocked by anything. Mildred, being well read, might know a thing or two about the various drugs being offered.
Michael Flatter has sent me a second email in the past 24 hours even though I did not respond to his first. Perhaps others did respond and so, in his excited state of success, he has decided that I might change my mind and join the rest of the hoards who are snapping up his Viagra pills at a discount…if he only gives me another chance.
#2A: Why Aren’t More Common Names Used? Richard Harris is a common name. Amid the millions of spam sent, some percentage of us will surely know someone with this name. Using this logic, why do we not see emails from John Smith, Bill Johnson, and the like? I don’t know anyone named PCJ Vilpponen and I would venture that you don’t either. (A name surely created by tossing some Scrabble tiles.) But again, since we do not know if a score is being kept, we do not know if John Smith has had his chance and failed so spectacularly that PCJ Vilpponen could not do any worse.
If I had to guess, I would say that the names that are almost common are the ones, to my mind, that probably work best: Kerry Jones, Jodi Vogel, Sophia Roberts. But I could be wrong. What I am sure about is that some names are much more convincing than others. I stared at the name Kelli Draper for several minutes as it became increasingly familiar to me. Do I know a Kelli Draper? Have I ever known her? What is she selling? Nothing. All she said was “Happy Holidays.” How can I ignore this innocuous email? Better open it to be sure.
Mystery # 3. When Is SPAM Not Really SPAM?
How is SPAM different from direct mail catalogs you never asked for? I am thinking of the Walter Drake catalogue that has found and followed me from one address to the other for the last twenty years or more. By now I have to admit that I look forward to it. Some of the art work in the catalog must be decades old. (That dirty toilet bowl never fails to disgust me yet I check for it with each issue.) And yet it works. Eventually even I broke down and actually bought something. (I won’t say what, so don’t ask.)
Mystery #4. What To Do If You Are Sending Yourself SPAM. I seem to be offering myself all kinds of deals lately; a new web site, drugs, jewelry, and cheap travel opportunities. I am guessing that the idea here is that most people, seeing their own name as sender, will become either confused or intrigued (or both) and open the email. Truth be told, I was both confused and intrigued the first time I realized I was sending myself SPAM and was just a little curious as to what I could possibly be selling myself. Not surprisingly, I was not offering myself anything more or less interesting than everyone else was offering me and so I ignored myself.
Mystery #5. Can We Ever Be Smart Enough? My grandma Fanny, who shared a room with me from the time I was 5 until I was 18, used to say “You can never be smart enough.” By this she meant that no matter how smart you thought you were, something would happen that would make a monkey out of you. Before she died in 1998, at the age of 93, she kept repeating that she wished she could just see a computer once in her lifetime. She would not believe me when I reminded her that she had, in fact, seen my computer when she was at my house. It was so inconsequential looking, so unimposing, that she never even bothered to remember what it looked like. I’m sure she imagined something that whirred and clacked and flashed…the so-called bells and whistles. She died still believing she had never seen a computer. And who’s to say she was any the worse off?
I have to agree with my Gram about never being smart enough. I can program a computer and even make my living doing so. And yet at least once a day I feel dumb as a stump. I still hit “reply all” to emails that probably shouldn’t even be sent to anyone at all. I have managed to use my phone to * 69 myself (which is not even legal in the contiguous 48 states). Let’s face it, the Cyber Age keeps us all humble. So go ahead and open that email from Karen J Ahrns or Dr. Kim Evans or even Samantha Harry. I won’t tell if you don’t.
Copyright 2018 Rachel A Levine