Collector's Items

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - "Wireless doorbell," read the subject line, and I had to smile in anticipation. It was yet another missive from that vast community of loons flocking around the Net and sending forth what I fondly consider the finest comic relief available from that curse we call e-mail. I'm talking about weird e-mail here - genuinely strange communications from the genuinely strange (who, strangely enough, all seem to have AOL accounts).

About a year ago, I started to collect the stuff, the way other people hoard rare books or Barbie dolls. It helps that I get 150 e-mail messages a day. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. We connoisseurs of crazy communiqués don't go for those come-ons from allegedly naked teen-agers or for those tacky schemes to make "Serious Money Without Ever Leaving Home!!!" To qualify for the weird e-mail collection, there are certain criteria that must be met.

First, it has to be sincere, like the regular correspondence I receive from a fellow who is secretly the president of IBM. (We're keeping it from Lou Gerstner so he won't feel threatened.) Or like my "wireless doorbell" message.

This was from someone seriously seeking "a person who can program a new sound onto a chip with a Walt Disney or Looney Tunes melody." If I didn't know anyone with this capability, could I recommend a kit?

Second, the writer must be truly clueless. One favorite item in the collection came from a PR person who was inquiring about the fate of a press kit and video sent to Computerworld that showed an 8-year-old child "mastering the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy game." Did I plan to cover this news in an upcoming issue? Or this poor thing: "I feel like an idiot. I searched for Ben & Jerry's e-mail address and Computerworld came up. I just wanted to say thanks for the most delicious Pistachio Pistachio ice cream." (We do aim to please.)Finally, it should be just a tad otherworldly. Evidence of alien transmissions from the home planet are a definite plus. Take the one from a man blaming the Y2k bug on the "X-Factor," described as "the possibility that something totally unexpected can occur or intervene, be it angels, space aliens, the Second Coming or a Global Spiritual Awakening generated by intense cognitive dissonance."

So the next time you're growling about that useless, annoying e-mail, lighten up and listen for a moment. Hear it yet? Ding dong....

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