"You've Got Mail."
Those are among my favorite words. I've never used AOL, but apparently that's the way its users are greeted when they open their accounts and new mail awaits them. I'm a sucker for a simple romance, so the movie of that same name is nestled in my collection of sappy romances. Meg Ryan's character sends out cosmic questions and various personal tales to Tom Hanks' character. He returns the favor. They leap out of bed in their respective apartments after snuggling with their respective partners every morning and hope to hear those three glorious words and find an answer to a question or perhaps face a new question to consider. Before heading off to la-la land at day's end, they check again. They write about the power and the glory of ordering coffee at Starbucks and how to defend themselves from thoughtless and mean-spirited strangers with carefully chosen, acutely sharpened words. They laugh at each other's foibles and mourn each other's losses. They become dear and close friends, virtual friends, anyway. I bet everyone in the world with an email account loves to hear those words, spot that glowing envelope, or find whatever symbol our Almighty Internet Provider has established as the indicator that our prayers have been answered. I bask in the glow of long-distance love everytime someone sends me an email. I think to myself, "Someone out in the big, bad, busy world thought about me, sat at their keyboard, and penned something just for me." Well, maybe not. Whenever I see these letters - "FWD" - my heart sinks. Whenever I see these words - "Read this and pass it on" - my heart sinks even lower. Whenever I come to the end of an email and read these words, "If you send this to ten people within two hours of reading it, then your life will never be the same..." - or anything along those lines - I hit the delete button. The ones that just make me laugh the hardest are the ones that promise money or some gift certificate or other monetary reward for forwarding email to my friends. Do people really believe that The Gap has someone glued to a computer screen watching to see how many email I send out with their name on the subject line? Will General Motors really send me a check because I clogged the email-boxes of friends and families with minutiae? Has anyone ever gotten one of those checks? Anyone at all? I certainly don't know anyone who has. I know someone who tells all her friends that if it's a forwarded story, a plea for prayer about a kidnapped or diseased child, an appeal to forward a letter to the White House or National Public Radio - if it's anything that hasn't been written for her eyes only, then please don't send it to her. At first, I thought that was pretty harsh. I thought, "She's gonna miss out on some interesting stories and accounts." I no longer feel that way. She's got it right; if it's junk mail, it's junk mail. It doesn't matter who wrote it or how important the cause. Junk mail in my email-box is no less annoying and wasteful than junk mail in my curbside mailbox. I feel the same way about those parties that women friends invite me to: Serving Dishes that will make me the consummate hostess, Make-up that will turn back the clock of my skin, Baskets that will clear up the clutter, Candles that will add both aroma and atmosphere, Kitchen Gadgets that will make plucking the feathers off the Thanksgiving turkey a real breeze, Books that will make my 8 year old actually want to read, Scrapbooking so that all these photos and sayings last for eternity, Cleaning Products that make mopping and dusting a delight - it's all the same. "You don't know what you're missing. This is the pineapple corer you've been waiting for. This camouflage/foundation will cover a multitude of Reese's peanut butter cups." I finally figured out that what I'm missing: at the end of those parties it's usually a sizeable chunk of change and that last square inch of space in my kitchen, bathroom, and hall cupboards that are subsequently filled with more gadgets that I don't need and don't ever remember how to use once I get them in my house. Once I read a catalog that informed its readers that the set of dishes being advertised therein was meant to replace the set sold in the last catalog. "So let me get this straight? Six months ago, you told me that those Tuscan-inspired dishes were the best that money could buy, and now you are telling me to get rid of that set and buy a set of Provence-inspired platters??? We are eating the same macaroni and cheese this year that we were eating last year!" Are there people out there who really buy that stuff? Pun intended. About five years ago, I decided I would politely decline every invitation to every one of those evening slam-shopping parties. If you want to have me over for tea and cookies, I'll be there. But I don't want to be surrounded by nervous women whose sole reason for buying what the pasty-faced, smarmy saleswoman is hawking is to help their hostess get the party gift - the basket of gadgets that she doesn't need either. Every now and then I will break down and accept an invitation from a friend just to assuage my guilty conscience and also to see if the sales pitches have changed. Nope, not at all. We are warmly welcomed, served recently frozen hors d'oevres on paper plates with diet soda in matching cups. We chat politely in the kitchen and take what feels like our last deep breath when we are instructed to make our way into the living room and be seated on enormous chairs with impossibly low seats; we are trapped. The presentation begins. We ooh and aah at the right moments, smile and nod on cue, and handle the proffered samples with care. None of us has forgotten the words repeatedly whispered by our wise mothers whenever they pulled us through fine antique shops: you break it, you bought it. When I know the squeeze is soon coming, I thumb through the catalog, frantically seeking the two cheapest items available for purchase and hope that someone else at the party (it feels more like an all-night interrogation until a sunlamp) is gonna spend a few dollars less than I am. After all, I don't want to be known as the cheapskate who kept Barbara from getting her third set of vanilla-coconut candles this month. Heck, she may be voted hostess of the month and get to choose a set of two 6x6 Holiday Spruce-scented votives for free. I guess it's that same thing when people send out those ridiculous pleas about the Gap email advertising campaign and try to make us feel guilty so that we will keep the chain going. Enough already, folks. Let go of the fantasy. The Big Company Gift Givers aren't watching. Very few people read forwarded email anyway. If I'm gonna go through the racing heart thing every morning and every evening, waiting desperately by the modem for my true love to send me some small tidbit or answer one of my cosmic questions, to declare his undying virtual love for me, I don't want to have to pick my way through your junk to find his jewels. Stop and think before you press that forward button. Better yet, promise me that you will never include me in any email recipient list that begins with those three dreaded letters: FWD. Go ahead make my day. Rock my world. Ring my bell. Tickle my ivories. Find my e spot. Compose something sensual, personal, titillating - and original. Then beckon me, draw me in, and hold me close; I promise I'll close my eyes and moan ever so quietly. I can feel my knees weaken already. I'll even tell you exactly how I like it. In the words of the leggy hooker with a heart of gold played by Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," (which is, of course, another of my favorite sappy romances): "I'm a sure thing." All it takes are those three little words. They send shivers down my arched and quivering spine every time I hear them: "You've Got Mail." Right now, you'll have to pardon me; I think I need to go take a cold shower. Gail