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Special to The Times

Did you ever want to know that there are 17 uses, aside from the obvious, for Bounce dryer sheets? Do you yearn for the Irish prayer of the day? Do you need to know the definition of a True Friend, or want to read the latest USA-chest-pounding poem written by “a veteran”? Me neither.

But I am being bombarded with the above-described e-mails, and many others, by a most unlikely source: my mom. She’s spamming me.

And if that’s not bad enough, there’s an additional rub. It will continue, clogging my computer system and working my last nerve, because I just don’t have the heart to tell her to stop. I will bite my tongue, I will hit delete, but I will not break the news to her that she’s contributing to the vast flow of Internet garbage.


I’ll digress here for just a moment, for background’s sake. My mother, who will be 73 this summer, hails from rural Kentucky. Like many of her generation, she’s not too comfortable with technology. Others in the house have usually been called on to set the VCR, hook up the new phone answering machine, put the cassette (yes, cassette) in the boombox.

Never did a computer cross the threshold. My father still has a manual typewriter from the ‘40s, and not because it looks cool.

So when my mother announced a couple of years ago that she intended to buy a WebTV and learn to e-mail, I was stunned and more than a little skeptical. She’d never even typed. She has spent her life running a household and caring for a husband and five kids. Now, my siblings and I have scattered around the country and, well, we’re all guilty of not writing home.

It did seem like a great, immediate, inexpensive way for her to keep in touch with all of us. (My Depression-era parents still think twice before picking up the phone to make a long-distance call.)

She actually bought the contraption and had a handyman install it. We all encouraged her, and she sat down and learned to use it. She programmed in all of our e-mail addresses and, man, oh, man, she was off to the races.

I can’t stress enough how all this -- every single bit -- is nothing short of miraculous. It might be equaled on the independence and empowerment scale only by her learning to drive a car in the ‘50s and rediscovering makeup once all the brats had moved out of the house.


I have no idea how long it takes her to sign on and peck out an e-mail, but e-mail she does. And I love to get them from her. They’re these amazing stream-of-consciousness updates on family, local happenings, milestones, vacation plans.

For my birthday last year, she sent me the most charming, most touching e-mail I’ve ever received. It consisted of the lyrics of a birthday song from a television show I used to watch when I was a kid. How does she remember these things? I could just imagine her sitting at her TV, singing that little song to herself as she tapped out the words on the keyboard. I laughed, I cried, I blessed e-mail.

And then she learned to forward. I rue that day.

I am now forewarned of the following: Don’t get back into your car while filling up with gas because static electricity could cause a spark, and BOOM. Duly noted. But I’m also showered with the latest jingoistic quotes making the rounds, sappy poems about friendship, various chain letters, cautionary tales, propaganda and jokes.

Bless her well-meaning heart.

She takes a stab at humor, too, from time to time. An excerpt from the latest ditty on friendship goes like this: “Friend, when you are blue, I’ll try to dislodge whatever is choking you. When you are scared, I will tease you about it every chance I get. When you fall, I will try to keep from laughing. When you are worried, I will tell you horrible stories about how much worse it could be and to quit whining. When you smile, I’ll know you finally got some.” (I’m convinced she didn’t read that last one).

I have to hand it to her for this particular e-mail, because even the chain letter coda is funny. “Send this to 10 of your closest friends, then get depressed because you realize you only have 2, and one of them is not speaking to you right now.”

It’s a common blunder, I’m told, by people of all ages who are new to the Web. They are fascinated by what they see and don’t have the mental filter in place yet to know that most of it is useless or fake or some combination of the two. They usually wise up sooner rather than later.


Or someone prods them into it.

With my mom, I can’t do it. I can’t even broach the subject. It would be too damaging, too discouraging. And so I suffer. Maybe it’s a tiny bit of karmic payback for my teen years. If so, I’m probably getting off fairly easy.


Antidotes to spam

Note to self: Subtly suggest some cyber diversions for Mom that won’t offend her or me. Wrap them in the guise of teaching her more about that weird and wacky world. “Hey, Mother,” I’ll say, all pseudo- nonchalant, “have you checked out....” Fluffy animals, goofy animation, an e-card for every reason (or no reason). She’ll love it, and I always get a kick out of singing cows. Good thing. I’ll probably be seeing a lot of them. She can sign me up for the free “word of the day” e-mail. Edifying! She appreciates

the absurd, and just downloading the latest story on the amazing Bat Boy should tax the WebTV and her patience.

And, if all else fails, I might just start spamming her back. And get ready for the kick in the whatever when she figures it out.