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first person

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Illustration by Kumé Pather

My social network has expanded exponentially. Not online but with my land line.

People are reaching out to me almost daily. I assume they are people. Some of them do seem a bit sketchy not the types with whom I would choose to associate under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances. All the callers are like the government, concerned about me and my ability to access financial resources for their benefit.

SPAM – a contraction of spiced ham – is a canned pork product first developed in 1937. During the Second World War, it became known sarcastically as an acronym for Special Processed American Meat or Stuff Posing As Meat. Today the brand name subs in for unsolicited scams and thus Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages in emails and phone calls. Emails are easy to delete; phone calls are spurts of noise pollution.

I have hung up on the cautionary female voice from “Visa Security” warning me about an unauthorized charge to my card so many times that my finger starts to cramp whenever the phone rings.

Canada Revenue is so concerned about my outstanding financial obligation they are going to notify the police to drop around and arrest me unless I rush to a store, grab an armful of prepaid cards and recite the numbers to them. I am tempted to go out to pick up some fresh lettuce and milk then call back and chant off multiple series of phoney numbers at high speed and hang up. Instead, I tell the mutt on the other end of the line that’s wonderful. I have not had any in-person visitors for some time.

Or, if the caller congratulates me on winning a fabulous unexpected gift for which I need only pay the administrative fee, I gently place the phone on the desk and walk to the kitchen for coffee. I can vaguely hear, “hello, hello” then silence, then a hum as he (it usually is a he) hangs up. Hey buddy, you waste my time and I will waste your time.

Depending on her mood and spare time, when a friend of mine receives these calls she may not hang up immediately. She says she does not hear well and has her SPAM caller repeat everything slowly and precisely sometimes spelling out certain difficult words. If the request is for Bitcoin, she pretends not to know what that is and asks questions to get a detailed explanation. Often, she corrects him. The caller usually hangs up first.

Monty Python’s SPAM comedy sketch is set in a greasy spoon diner where every menu item features spam, some come with an extra slice of spam, and it’s a great analogy for unsolicited emails and phone calls that just keep coming.

As a holdover from childhood, I am partial to occasional well-fried slices of SPAM that are crispy around the edges. Something like four minutes on each side at medium-high heat in a frying pan coated with butter. Delicious with a little Maille Dijon mustard. And yes, my cardio is fine. So far.

Recently, I got the grandma call. “Hi, guess who this is,” said a young sounding male voice. “I have no idea,” I said. “Oh, come on silly, it’s your grandson.” In our youth, neither I nor any of my cousins would ever have considered calling our grandmother silly. It could have been fatal. She was five-foot-10 and 200 solid pounds with long arms and large hands. She could reach out of nowhere to whack you when you mouthed off. I don’t take to being called “silly” either.

“So, when is your birthday?” I asked. No response. Click. Must be one of those outages again. Dear grandson hasn’t called back either. Kids these days never keep in touch unless they want money. Besides, I don’t have a grandson.

As if that wasn’t enough, I got a call from the beyond. A high-pitched female voice already knew who I was. “Please hold on for a call from your husband,” she said. Hmmm, this should be good. I hung on. A serious male voice said, “Hi hon, how are you doing?” First off, my husband never called me “Hon.” Second, he died last year. I felt compelled to tell the imposter, “My husband is dead and if you call this number again you will be, too.” No call back yet.

So why don’t I ditch the land line? It is an enhanced emergency services locator should I need to call 911 because it will display both an exact address and apartment number rather than GPS area tracking. It does not need charging which is handy when my cell battery is low for a plethora of electronic and human reasons. The sound quality is crisp and clear on the land line, especially useful when I am working at home.

And where else could I sample such a diversity of human inventiveness? It is truly the spammer’s strength. Many are perversely creative in their trolling skills to identify and manipulate our most basic emotions of fear and greed. Pity they focus on the negative and not the positive as many display PhD degree level knowledge of psychology.

What will the next SPAM scam be? I await a call. It will be short at least on my end.

L.D. Cross lives in Ottawa.

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