Since I installed a powerful spam-blocker, most spam email headed my way finds an ignominious end in the electronic trash. Yet danger still lurks in my in-box. Several times a week I receive emails — from people calling themselves friends, no less — containing threats and hints of extortion if I fail to do what the sender requires.
Last week I got a real doozy. A woman I have known, admired and trusted for many years sent me an email with the subject line, “You MUST read this!” This seemed more urgent than the emails from people like Jubukkha Mugbombaba, the orphan of a former president of Togo, humbly asking for my advice on how to invest the 17 million dollars left to him by a father who was apparently too stupid to think of hiring a financial planner. It’s possible that Togo is suffering a shortage of financial planners at this time, but anyone who invites a woman who barely passed algebra to give investing advice has been running barefoot in the hot sand for too long.
In any event, I opened my friend’s email, which stated boldly:
“If this story doesn’t move you to tears, I can’t imagine what would.” Duly prompted on how to respond emotionally to what I had not read yet, I tried to open the attachment. This took some doing, as this email had been sent around the world many times and much clicking was required to finally open the blasted three-hanky saga. Finally, I began to read the story, which opened with a heartwarming scene of an innocent, happy six-year-old child whose cuteness was brought into starker relief because she had freckles, playing with her friends in a park. As you may already guess, the story turns dark and forbidding, as a freak accident maims the child, who falls into a coma. The doctors hold out no hope, but the parents refuse to believe that all is lost. Thankfully and expectedly, the story ends with a miraculous recovery, and everyone with a beating heart is emotionally drained from the harrowing tale.
If the email had simply ended on that happy note, all would be fine. But these emails never end this way. Instead, the sender, who does not trust readers to arrive at their own conclusions about the healing power of faith, miracles and prayer, ends with a threat:
“Now that you have read this, you have two choices: go about your business as if you didn’t read this heart-wrenching story, or you can forward this to 100 friends on your email list to prove that you don’t have anti-freeze coursing through your veins.”
While I am mulling over these options, I scroll down to see if there is any more. Sure enough, there is:
“If you are so cynical that you refuse to pass this story along, you will have a freak accident at 11:00 a.m. this morning, severing your right leg. No doctor, even at the Mayo Clinic, will be able to reattach it. If you forward the story to a minimum of 100 people, you will win the next round of American Idol and get a recording contract. The choice is yours.”
Call me reckless, but I didn’t forward the email. And I was puzzled that someone who took the time to write up such an emotionally riveting story, in all its details, would end it with an extortion note. I continued to work at my desk, watching the clock carefully, and wondered how my right leg could be endangered if all I did was stay at my desk and not move. My dog, Ken, often nuzzles next to my leg on the floor, but even if I didn’t give him a treat it was unlikely that he would sever my leg. After all, he is used to such small disappointments. At 11:01 a.m., I looked at my legs. They were both still there. I was safe.
This is not an isolated incident. And worse, sometimes the most innocent-looking emails often contain the most dire threats. I have learned to remain on high alert when reading any emails that feature photos of dogs in bathing suits and sunglasses on chaise lounges on the beach, cats wearing pillbox hats doing the rumba, and baby chicks with pacifiers in their mouths with their wings around each other in a group embrace.
These emails are guaranteed to wax sentimental about friendship and taking time to smell the roses, while reminding you that under everyone’s hard shell is a vulnerable person waiting to feel appreciated. These people know a thing or two about hard shells all right, because at the end, they go in for the kill:
“I sent this to you because you are my friend, and friends care about each other. Please send this email to five other women who you consider friends (you better include me in the list) within three minutes. Do not even go to the bathroom before forward ding this email, or something horrible will happen to one of your friends and you will never have another moment’s peace in your entire life. You will end up in long-term therapy, addicted to Zoloft, yet still somehow unable to sleep. Your children will run away from home, your husband will leave you, and you will end up alone, watching reruns of ‘Desperate Housewives’ for years on end. Remember, this is National Friendship Week!”
I humbly ask that all perpetrators of these emails think twice before issuing fatwas against people who won’t forward these otherwise heartwarming missives. I know that most of the people in my contact data base do not want me to forward them emails. Unlike me, they are too busy working at real jobs. However, I am willing to pass these along now and then — to the wealthy but clueless Jubukkha Mugbombaba. Maybe he’ll keep the chain going.
And if you don’t forward this column to at least 500 people within the next thirty seconds, you will develop a weird and unexplainable rash in an embarrassing place.
Happy National Friendship Week!
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here