Feb 7, 2020

Spam I Am

By Ed Goldman

Today’s column is eventually about spam, and for all I know, it sailed directly into your own spam folder instead of your inbox. Let’s start with the day I was born.

Had I chosen a more serious life, my birth and given names would have gone to waste. My surname, Goldman, has allowed me endless punning possibilities, as the name of this column illustrates, one hopes.

If California’s nickname hadn’t been The Golden State, naming this column would have been more challenging. Let’s say its nickname had been even one of North Dakota’s staggering four: the Flickertail State, the Peace Garden State, the Rough Rider State or the Sioux State. And let’s further stipulate that if my surname had been, say, Finklestein—the title of this column simply wouldn’t have worked (i.e., The Finklestein Flickertail State).

To recap: Even though I wasn’t born in California, fate decreed I’d spend more than 80 percent of my life here, and I dutifully obeyed. I had no idea fate also decreed I’d live in a place where rents rise with the sun each day, but that’s fodder for another column, possibly my farewell one.

I was highly suspicious of this message: “An package containing confidential personal information was sent to you.” (“An” package?)

I had a column many years ago called Good as Goldman and, for about 10 minutes in junior high school, a rock band called The Goldmaniacs. The latter effort caved when it turned out the other two guys in the band could actually play their instruments, could each sing better than I could, and lived a few blocks from each other—while I had to ride my bike about eight miles to and from each practice. I asked why they couldn’t come to my home to rehearse every once in a while—and recall each of them saying, in separate phone calls, variations of “Because there’re two of us and only one of you,” and “Besides, we know how to play our instruments.” 

Well, they were basically nice guys and I harbor no ill feelings, these many decades later. In fact, I was genuinely sorry to hear they didn’t pursue their musical careers, that one flunked out of trade school for cheating on his lube-job midterm exam (by replacing pistons with points), that the other lost his license by practicing orthodontia on puffins, and that they both went bald at 35. But to repeat: I harbor no ill feelings. 

As for “Ed,” my given nickname, it’s provided me with a similarly exhaustive set of wordplays. In high school, I brazenly called myself Physical Ed and when I got my license at 16 years old, Driver Ed. I’ll have to admit, there was a downside to this. A would-be girlfriend called me Special Ed, which I found flattering until she signed me top for an individual education plan.

Then there’s the irritating fact that my name is also the commonly accepted acronym for Erectile Dysfunction.

All of this brings me, at long last, to today’s topic: Spam. Please note that each starred item below is a real thing.

In the course of my career, I’ve received a fair number of angry letters, sometimes with correct spelling and punctuation and no pizza sauce smears. I never actively used my spam blocker or folder until I started getting emails whose subject lines were obscene, racist, anti-Semitic or dubiously medical, “How’s your pee?”* being my most current favorite. I almost expected the follow-up to be, “And what about your queue? We’ll show you how to mind them both!”

I really didn’t mind the flood of invitations I was receiving to “Meet Hot Asian Girls,”* “Get to Know These Russian Beauties”* or, more age-appropriately, “Check out our Swingin’-Widows-Without-Walkers website!” (Okay, the real site is called Silver Singles*). 

Nor was I especially fazed by this probably-not-academic entreaty from one of the world’s most respected universities:  “Long & Strong: Harvard ‘hardening’ breakthrough for men!”*

I’ll even admit I was intrigued by the headers of two recent communiqués—”Organic Fungus Nuker-The Fungal Nuker Secret Is Here”* and “Dating Secret: Say THIS To Make Her Chase You”*—which I imagine is, “I stole the car keys from your purse when you went to the bathroom.” But I was highly suspicious of this message, which appeared to be from a genuine federal agency: “An package containing confidential personal information was sent to you.”* (“An” package? It were? This could be an serious situation.)

Other spam candidates revealed just how sloppily some mail houses target potential customers. Example: “Castle Dental Opens Its First Affiliated Office in Leander, TX.”* I suppose this would be useful information for me if (a) I lived anywhere near Leander, TX; (b) I had relatives in need of, say, an emergency crown replacement who happened to be traveling through Leander on their way to, say, the neighboring towns of Jollyville* or Pflugerville;* or (c) I was one of those people who feel perfectly fine about driving 50 miles to get a pedicure (“No one understands hangnails like Larissa!”) and therefore would think nothing of motoring across a thousand miles of highways dotted with tumbleweeds and also-ran armadillos to get their teeth cleaned.

Some of the other illuminating come-ons in my spam folder have included the following: 

– “MagiComplexx: Kill Your Pain Instantly with The Power of Christ”;*  

– “Dr. Sam: !4 NEW REASONS A HEART ATTACK SHOULD TERRIFY YOU”* (the exclamation point that precedes the all-caps headline is accurately reproduced here);

– “Diabetes reversed by… Stainless Steel?”*

1. I can’t imagine that something called the Power of Christ comes in a jar (though I imagine that the only required prescription is faith);

2. I would never buy a product from a “doctor” with only a given name. That goes for the aforementioned Dr. Sam as well as TV’s Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. I’m willing to give a pass to Dr. Ruth, however. She’ll turn 92 on June 4 and I think she’s earned the right to be a single-named icon, just like Cher, Madonna, Sade and Kermit.

3. I have a stainless steel sink in my kitchen. It doesn’t exhibit any signs of diabetes. Coincidence?

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).