On Friday around 1 p.m. on April 23 of this year, I began to notice something really odd coming into my email. It was email from a person with the email name of firstname.lastname@example.org. I read it. My email site is open to all with only modest spam filters. Often I get email from people I don’t know.
The email was polite. It read “Thank you for contacting us. We are looking into your request, and should have an answer for you shortly.”
As that day wore on, there were repeated emails from jontap435. By midday there were 10 of them, all with the same response.
By 3 p.m., the number had sped up. Now there were 30 of them. They were coming in at the rate of one every few minutes now.
What the heck was going on? I replied to one of these emails. Please stop sending these emails, I wrote. I talked to some friends about this. They said they thought it was not spam but some kind of leak in a server somewhere. What was the name again?
“It’s from Google Groups,” I said.
“Well unsubscribe from Google Groups,” somebody said.
“I am not a member of Google Groups.”
“Well maybe somebody subscribed for you.”
“I don’t even know what Google Groups is.”
I went to Google, my trusty old friend, and searched for Google Groups. I came up to a page that wanted me to sign in. It also asked that I choose a particular Google Group to sign into, or, I could start a new group myself.
This had no business being in my email. I again replied to one of the emails, telling them to stop sending me this stuff. I also asked that they unsubscribe me.
Now I noticed that I was receiving email from other people like myself who were receiving this unwanted email. “Stop this!” one of them wrote. “It’s not me. I’m not the one sending it,” was another.
It seems to me that almost anything that happens to me that might require outside help happens on a Friday afternoon. By late Friday, with the number of emails now around 50, I called the resident techie at Dan’s Papers, Harlan Lax. It was just after five. I had just missed him. My God, I said to myself, make this go away.
The number of incoming emails from this person grew and grew. At 50, I thought, my computer can handle this. Also, I thought, with all this fuss from others, surely they, whoever “they” were, would fix the leak.
At 100, which is where it was by 10 p.m. on Friday night when I got out of a show at the John Drew Theater, I knew this was getting to be bigger than something I could deal with.
I tried dumping one of them into my spam filter. Perhaps that would stop them coming in. It didn’t. By Saturday morning, I estimated there were 120 in my inbox.
I didn’t want to bother Harlan on the weekend. At the rate this is going, the total would be about three or four hundred by Monday morning. I could wait until then if I had to. Three or four hundred was not going to do me in.
On the other hand, the whole thing was making me uneasy. An image came to mind. It was from the movie Titanic. The men were down in the engine room and the water was pouring in through a great gash.
It also occurred to me on Saturday morning that this was a much larger problem than just me. Obviously there were these others being affected. Maybe there was something in the news. A terrorist attack perhaps. A big thundering burst of something on the Internet, hit by hackers from China. There was nothing on the news.
Like everyone else, I carry my cellphone with me wherever I go. It’s in my breast pocket. People asked me during that Saturday what was wrong. I told them nothing was wrong. You look worried about something, people said. I was. I had an out of control smart phone in my pocket that, if not brought under control, would eventually destroy everything on my telephone’s computer chip. I was imagining my cellphone melting and leaking down my shirt.
I actually told somebody what the problem was. So call Google, they said. There was another person present. Good luck calling Google said this third person. There is no way to talk to anyone at Google.
Late Saturday night, another image came to my mind. It was also from Titanic. I had looked at dozens of different messages from people responding to jontap435. Several were from Schwab. They were hitting Schwab. All of these messages were cries for help.
“This is my eighth message trying to stop this.”
“I can’t stand this anymore.”
“Who is sending these things?”
The image that came to mind as I went to bed was that scene in Titanic where the great ship has gone down, it is three in the morning, and hundreds of passengers are wiggling around in the sea hanging onto flotsam and jetsam, trying to survive.
“We’re over HERE!” somebody shouted.
I could no longer hold off talking to Harlan and so called him Sunday morning. It was 10 a.m. I apologized for calling him over the weekend.
“No problem, what’s going on?” he asked.
I told him. I babbled away, almost crying. He was the captain of the Carpathia, the ship that had steamed over many hours after the Titanic sank to pick up survivors. Do something, I said.
He asked me to calm down. We’ll get to the bottom of this, he said. I thought—there is no bottom. It’s an endless surge of stuff coming, there’s been a tear in the side of one of the huge tentacles of Google which now had all this stuff streaming out.
I gave him my email information and password.
He offered to delete all the back messages since Friday, but the moment he said it I butted in. This wouldn’t do any good. It would wipe out the 1,000 or so already there, and all my other mail! (Gasp). But the gash would remain. The stuff would still be spewing into my phone.
I told him my idea about others finding the leak and stopping it. I particularly thought there would be strong young men at Google who could do that. Surely this originated at Google. We both thought this was happening at Google. Something would start to heat up, I told him, perhaps start smoking and catch fire.
Your thinking is from a different era, Harlan told me.
I know, I know, I sobbed.
“I’m going to chase down where this is coming from,” Harlan said. “I think I can do that. Then I can inform them what’s going on. In the meantime, I can delete all the bad mail they’ve sent and only that mail, not your regular mail. Give me the sender again. I’ll tag it. When did this start?”
Friday afternoon, I said.
You waited a long time to call me, he said. Well, wait one more day. I have got everything I need at the office.
Monday afternoon, it stopped coming. One way or another the leak had been repaired, and all I was left with was sitting on the deck of the Carpathia in the dark, cold and shivering, wondering how I could ever possibly prevent this from happening again.