Message Not Sent

On Dancing Bears, Sarcasm, and the Imperfect Reliability of Electronic Mail

At certain times I begin to loathe the internet, resent my computer, and nurse a simmering, murderous hatred for my modem. I deplore the digital—when the digital proves itself something to be deplored. My resentment is all the more keen because I cannot imagine publishing The Syncopated Times each month without the assistance of this advanced technology. For my own part, I do not rely too heavily upon it to achieve this end; it cannot write for me or finish my jokes. But when it does not do what I demand that it do, I think wistfully of the days when I would type out eight drafts on an Underwood.

The Miracle of Email failed me twice within the week of this writing. Neither failure was what I would call “fatal,” but each was embarrassing enough. The lesser in magnitude of the two snafus was when I learned from Gary Price, the brilliant artist whose excellent work you normally see on this page, that he had not received my reply to his query as to whose birthday to honor for September. My response was most definitely sent, but it seems to have been consigned to cyber-limbo, possibly owing to the weight of the attachments I sent with it. Therefore, when I finally heard from Gary, it was too late to commission a drawing, and a “guest artist” (ahem) had to be called in.

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The thing is, Gary lives close enough to here that I could easily bicycle to his house. I certainly could have called him on the telephone. A postal card would have sufficed. But email is the default method of communication now. And it usually works great—except when it doesn’t.

A pattern of missed emails may lead to an antipathy that festers into outright enmity. At the very least one may look like a blithering, oblivious fool to the person attempting to communicate. I have lately received a thick envelope containing an extended rebuke of my supposed inattention to detail. I opened it to find a sheaf of documentation of my apparent editorial slovenliness: printouts of emails and attachments as exhibits of my incorrigible and feckless insouciance, topped with this maraschino cherry of a letter:

The August issue was a surprise to our club when our ad on the Jazz Club pages shows what appears to be three (dancing?) bears. Copy of the ad enclosed.

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I have also enclosed copies of information that I have been sending you since May.

I thought I was sending the information in time to make the correct issue. But it seems to be a hit or miss for me. I thought if I sent an ad to you by the 10th of the current month (July) it would appear in the August issue. It appears I sent you the dancing bears.

I know it is my responsibility to send the correct information on time so any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. I’ve enclosed a copy of our Jazz Notes.

Let me say that, being a native of Utica, New York, I am inured to sarcasm. I swim and thrive in it as our local carp prosper and multiply in the stagnant waters of the Barge Canal. For years the tendency here to crush all endeavor and belittle all enthusiasm was Kryptonite to me, but (rather too late in life) I got used to it. One can get used to practically anything.

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So I had to smile when I read the above note. I also discovered that, for that past whole year, I had not received a single one of the emails sent by its author. I was not the rightful target of my correspondent’s satire. It rather should have been directed at Bill Gates, Al Gore, or whoever is ready to claim responsibility for those communications going astray.

Regarding the “dancing bears”: when I do not receive updates from any of the various jazz clubs whose listings are on pages 34 and 35 of this paper, and those clubs have not updated their websites to reflect current and future performances, I sometimes choose to fill the white space in the ad with clip art. I do make every sincere effort when laying out the club section to find current listings, but I also have an abhorrence of blank space on a page. The clip art is not meant as a taunt to those clubs; it’s more a manifestation of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

If a club doesn’t want to see clip art or boilerplate in their ad, they should ensure that their updates are being received. I admit I don’t immediately reply to every email that requires a considered response but if you send me timely listings I will shoot back a quick note saying, “Thanks! Got it!” or something of the sort. If those emails aren’t landing, a postcard or letter will reliably find me.

Happily, Gary Price’s beautiful artwork will be back in the October issue and (thanks to the Miracle of Postal Mail) I have chased away the bears and replaced them with that club’s proper information. And I really do appreciate—and depend upon—my computer. All the mistakes in the present issue are indeed (my) human ones.

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