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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Last Man to E-mail Is Confused

October 11, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

I began e-mailing a couple of weeks ago, after originally vowing to become the Last Man in America to e-mail.

I didn't want e-mail. I wanted U.S. mail. I wanted people to pick up a pen or a pencil or a burnt-siena Crayola and write me a real letter and lick a real stamp and have it delivered to me by a real, non-disgruntled postal worker.

That way, I could find something in my mailbox once in a while that wasn't sent by a credit card company trying to sell me life insurance.

Well, I held out a long time.

I prided myself on avoiding being anything

Everybody kept asking me, though, "When are you going to get e-mail?" "Why don't you have e-mail?" "Are you ever going to drag yourself into the 20th century and get e-mail?"

I responded that I would gladly drag myself out of the 20th century, just as soon as humanly possible, and that I didn't think it was necessary to e-mail even if Cindy Crawford, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Fairchild, Katharine Hepburn and every woman in the Ice Capades absolutely refused to correspond with me until the day I broke down and got e-mail.

Put that in your and smoke it, I said.


A few weeks ago, they made me go to PC training class. It's one of those things they do in my company now, just to torture employees.

I begrudgingly showed up. My class had a total attendance of two.

"Why is the class so small?" I asked.

"Because you're the last two in the building to take it."

The building being 10 stories tall, I felt suitably ashamed. I also asked the other person in the class what she was doing after class, she and I obviously being compatible.

Our instructor showed us the proper way to begin, by explaining that we needed to xydotz our blitzforks with a gazdorp until the modunk on our interlocitors gave us the zymorg sign.

I asked where the on-off switch was.

The instructor looked at me with enormous pity and told me e-mail was so simple, a 5-year-old child could do it. I immediately placed a Times classified ad looking to lease a 5-year-old child.

A couple of hours later, I was licensed to e-mail, like 007 to kill.

I had a new password to go along with my old password, which a few hours later I was informed would not work unless I used a third password, which needed to be six letters in length and anything but the capital city of New York or Montana.

"You mean I can e-mail now?" I asked.

Absolutely, my instructor said, and to prove it, she asked me to e-mail anybody anywhere in the world. I promptly e-mailed a woman in the Czech Republic. I believe my message went by mistake to a woman at a Banana Republic, who was very sweet and took my order for six pairs of socks.

My instructor went out for coffee.

I had many more questions about using a PC, beginning with, "What does PC mean?" I have incredible difficulty with all this technical talk.

What I really wanted to know was, "What about this Internet thing?"

"What about, 'What about this Internet thing?' " my instructor asked.

Apparently I had made my question a little too broad. I had neglected to mention that I didn't know if the Internet was some service where you could quickly pull onto the Information Superhighway or whether it was some service where you had to slip a floppy disk into a sliding drawer so you could play games like John Madden Football and Leisure Suit Larry's Casino.

My instructor went out for whiskey.

"You are an idiot," she muttered as she left.


For the last few days, I have been coming into my office, sitting in my seat, staring at my computer and begging it to tell me what to do next. I do not know one key from another.

The guy two desks over, Terry, is getting sick of giving me tips on how to make my computer do certain tricky things, like not blow up.

The guy at the next desk, Tim, sits there like me, plotting the exact moment when he intends to shoot his PC with a shotgun, like a skeet.

Me, I'm past that.

I am now getting e-mail from all over the world, from people with addresses that sound goofier than most California vanity license plates. I reply if I can, but with my luck, Fairchild will message me and I'll accidentally send the reply to Hepburn.


Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail

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