Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Generation Gasp, July 21, 2012

The Generation Gasp
By Claire and Jim Castagnera
July 21, 2012
      When I was a kid, Spam was on the lunchtime menu at least once a week.  The pinkish, molded meat slid smoothly from the can with the curved edges.  Mom sliced it and sometimes fried it, before putting it between two pieces of Wonderbread, along with a little mustard.  Decades later, a lawsuit ensued, when the Muppet people interjected a villain named Spam into one of their feature films.  I don’t remember how either the movie or the suit turned out.  I do know that Spam is still on supermarket shelves.
       If the folks who sell Spam objected to a Muppet by that name, they must really resent that junk email bears their product’s moniker.  And I guess they have long since abandoned the battle, because when I open my AOL account, “Spam” is one of the categories of email that greet me.
       I liked my email spam a whole lot better 20 years ago, when the Internet was just getting started.  As a middle-aged male, I mostly got links to porno sites, invitations to check out loose women of approximately my age in my geographic region, Russian and Asian cuties who would marry me to get a Green Card, and exotic devices and chemical concoctions capable of enlarging certain of my body parts.
        Today, the spamsters still have my number… which is now 64.  The most common message in my daily AOL “Spam” folder is usually a variant of “Pills from Canadian pharmacy!”  I usually just delete these missives, but for the benefit of you readers, I opened one recently.
“Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success.
Buy high-quality pills and save your money!
Canadian based pharmacy is open 24/7.
The same high-quality meds as at your local drug store.
Instant worldwide shipping, friendly support guaranteed.”
        I don’t get the first sentence of this message.  My suspicion is that the writer is not a native English speaker.  “Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success” just doesn’t cut it, where pharmaceuticals are concerned.  Anyway, I haven’t worked up the nerve to click through to the website.
        And about those “dating sites”: I now get the occasional solicitation to meet “over-50” women in suburban Philadelphia.  “Cougars” are what they are sometimes called.  Beyond the fact that my good wife would murder me in my bed, I have refrained from surfing those sites for another very good reason.
       Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me for a member,”  Well, at my age and in my physical condition, I wouldn’t want to date any “Cougar” who’d want to be seen in public with me.
         Writing this has given me an appetite.  Claire, will you please pass the Spam?
    Like most people my age, I've dealt with spam my entire life.  I grew up when the internet was just beginning to become a part of daily life and, just as with television or the phone, people were figuring out how to maximize advertising space.  Because we can't ever just enjoy something, ad-free.  Ads are an American duty.
    But while my middle-aged father was chuckling over the contents of his inbox, I, at age eleven or so, was scandalized.  We shared a computer as a family (this was before five year olds carried their own cell phones and ten year olds started getting laptops "to do homework with"), but I did have my own AOL screen name and email address.  My parents gave me a half hour on the computer every day.  I'd sign on and patiently wait while the computer dialed - literally, dialed -  through to the then-elusive internet.  It was like magic to me.  Very slow magic, but I didn't know that then.  This was all before wireless, after all.
    "Welcome," my computer would chirp, in whatever voice I had chosen for that week (getting to choose your welcome voice was a trendy eleven-year-old sort of thing to do back then; I don't even want to know what the trendy kids do now).  I would open my email with great anticipation, usually to find a smattering of emails from my one and only friend with internet access, some chain letters threatening my life (thank goodness those seem to have fallen out of fashion), and the aforementioned spam.
    I'll never forget the one time I actually clicked on one of those spam advertisements.  I was checking my email, dutifully deleting like I usually did, and chatting with my mom, who wandered in and out of the room - probably to make sure I wasn't instant messaging any nefarious strangers (this was also before Facebook, when putting personal information online was still verboten).
    Then it happened.
    I accidentally clicked on a link in a spam email.  And not only was the link dirty, but it was absolutely chock full of pop-ups.  One after the other, naked women and various other naked things popped up on my - I mean my family's - computer screen.  One after another after another after another.
    My mother never noticed.  She continued talking to me, oblivious to the strip club performance playing out on the screen, as my face got redder and redder.  Eventually the computer froze, pop-ups and all, and, in a state of panic, I had no other recourse but to pull the plug on the computer entirely.  My mother never batted an eye.
    I'm fairly certain the entire experience scarred me for life.  I have more spam filters on my email account than I need, but I still can't surf the internet with someone looking over my shoulder.  You just never know when they're gonna get you.

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