hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 20, 2012

Giving the gift that keeps on giving

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Curses. I’ve been hijacked!

Not in the sense that terrorists took over my flight and held me hostage. That would have been an easier situation than having my computer hacked.

Some lunatic out there confiscated my e-mail address and did me no favors. To the thousands who have received an e-mail from me over the past 10 years, no, I am not selling Viagra. And no, I do not have an approved store online.

Trust me. I’m not patronizing such an enterprise over the holiday season, nor have I become the angel of mercy during these blessed times.

How the outlaws out there ever got hold of my password, I shall never know. I have security protection, for all the good it did me. Then, one morning I went to my computer to check my e-mails and got whip-lashed.

My own priest, God bless his innocence, responded. He thought I had the devil in me and was ready to lend an ear.

“If there’s a problem, I’d be glad to sit and talk it over with you,” he said.

“No problem, Father. A mouse entered my computer and is driving me crazy. Don’t believe everything you read from me.”

“I don’t,” he said, “especially some of those stories you may write when you stretch the truth. I realize you’re getting old and …”

The guy sounded like my therapist. I see the Viagra ads on TV like you do. Years ago, you would never see this bunk advertised on television. A person’s intimate moments are private, and who am I to intrude?

It was just about a year ago when I bought a third computer for Christmas. This comes from the guy who refrained from the electronic age. I frowned upon all the hand-held gadgets and computerized toys like iPads.

The desktop computer has lived to a good age and is ready for cyberspace heaven. Windows 96. It ranks up there with the Edsel automobile and cassette tapes.

One laptop was serving both my wife and me. We would work in shifts, but when an executive position came along in our church, my wife got elected and it got to be a tug-o-war. So I gifted us with another more updated laptop.

Never did I encounter a problem. Sure, I’d get spam like everyone else. But nowhere near the junk mail she was getting. I was the user who prided himself on a clean e-mail slate. Occasionally, there would be a travel ad, maybe one for the theater, but not every commercial hullaballoo around.

Just when I was coasting along smoothly, on came an avalanche of fury. I was suddenly violated.

One e-mail arrived from a woman named Joyce whose naiveté sends me for a loop. She writes, “Tommy. I know sometimes I am assertive and can be on many occasions abrasive, but do you really think I need an online store dealing with Viagra? Have a happy holiday and all the nights leading up to it. Enjoy!”

In church that Sunday, I was besieged by a number of curiosity seekers who wanted to discuss the issue in private. I was both chagrined and humiliated, whichever comes first.

“No, George, I am not patronizing and promoting an online store for Viagra. What you read from me was sent by someone else called a hacker. I’ve been bamboozled. A virus. There’s a fly in my ointment.”

In some ways, it worked as an advantage. I received an e-mail from someone I thought had passed into eternity. We’ve had no communication for more than a year. And the minute he gets a Viagra e-mail from me, he surfaces and commiserates with me.

“Everything going well with you and Nancy?” he wonders.

“Couldn’t be better. She does the Christmas shopping. I sign the cards.”

The Viagra list goes on. I heard from a couple of single folks l’d love to match this Christmas. And one of my Sunday School students e-mailed to ask if this was something she should buy online.

“No, Alice. It’s not for kids. Just hit the delete button.”

Let it be known that I was the last guy at my newspaper to abandon the electric typewriter and switch to computers. Since that time, I’ve come to the realization they’re a fantastic item, especially with “spell chick.”

At any given time, they can make a mistake so great that it would take technicians several months to cure the problem.

Once my tsunami subsided and all was going well for the holidays, we hit another snag. This one happened to be with the new computer we bought back last Christmas for my wife.

Just when she was enjoying the last laugh over my dilemma, some hacker got into her system and sent out personal ads for Victoria’s Secret.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.