In some families, the father brings home the bacon. When I was child, my father brought home the mail. In our apartment building, each family was only given one key to their mailbox slot in the lobby, so my father would bring up the mail as he came home from work. It was always an exciting moment when we heard the jiggle of his key at the front door. We would gather around my father, not to greet him, but to see the mail he brought in.  My father would even play a game with us, hiding the mail behind his back, and sneaking into the bedroom, making us follow and beg.

I’m not sure why the mail was such a big deal in those days. It wasn’t like we were in the Army, waiting to hear from loved ones.  Perhaps mail was more special in the days before email and IM.  Now, having a “pen pal” in Belgium is as easy as emailing V-Grrrl.  Years ago, it was a thrill to get a letter from abroad.  Despite the internet, I still love getting “real” mail.  I was so excited when some bloggers sent me Christmas cards. You can’t hold an email in your hand, but with a greeting card – you know the other person once physically held the same piece of paper.

In my youth, the mail represented the outside world. My father was a bit of an “accidental tourist.” Although he didn’t travel that much, he subscribed to five travel magazines.  I loved to rifle through the pages of the travel magazines he would get in the mail, looking at all the exotic photos.  Once, for my birthday, he got me a subscription to National Geographic, but that magazine was dull compared to the glamorous travel photos in Conde Nast’s Traveler magazine.  I had little interest in seeing ferocious tigers in Africa.  I dreamed more of being in the exclusive African RESORT with the models and fine cuisine.  

Email is clearly today’s “mail.” I love getting emails! In fact, I’ve gotten to know some of you better through reading your emails than reading your blogs. Feel free to email me whenever you want to scold me for making fun of therapists and therapy!

I’m not as keen on IM.  I’m uncomfortable chatting with someone I can’t see or hear.   The pace of IM is always too fast, and I hate writing “u” for “you.”  I also have no skill in having two IM conversations at the same time.  Once, I sent the wrong message to the wrong person.  About a month ago, Charming but Single taught me that I can be “hidden” while on IM.    I’m just saying.   As a little hint.

The first time I chatted online was several years back, when I was still on dial-up. My dial-up service was a small (and cheap) local ISP called LA Freenet. They only covered the LA area. It had so few customers that they listed everyone who was on at the same time; it was usually about twenty people. There wasn’t much to do online in those days. I did nerdy things like read Usenet forums. LA Freenet had a primitive text-based chat system, but I never used it. I didn’t have much interest in interacting with anyone online. It seemed a little creepy to talk to a stranger.

One night, I was reading some boring forum about “movie gossip,” when I got a ping from some other LA Freenet user named ag704, inviting me to chat.

“Hello” said ag704.

“Hello.” I typed. I paused, unsure if I actually sent a message over the internet.

“Did you see what I just wrote?” I asked.


“OK.  Just checking. I never did this before.”

“You did fine. Just write in that little box and press enter. I just learned how to do it myself.”


Being an avoidant personality even back then, I felt nervous. Who the hell was this person?

“Are you also on LA Freenet?” I asked.

“Of course I am.  I was just chatting with some other members, but all they talked about was Star Trek.  Are you into Star Trek?”

I was a fan of “The Next Generation,” but decided not to say anything about it.

“I’m not a crazy fan or anything.” I wrote.  “I don’t go to conventions.”


Was this person a man or woman? I wanted to ask, but thought it was rude.

“How did you know I was on here?” I asked instead.

“They list everyone who is on LA Freenet. I was looking for someone who didn’t talk about Star Trek to try out this chat thing.”

“So, you found me.”

“It’s Passover tomorrow, so I figured I’ll talk to someone with a Jewish name.”

“Neil Kramer is not necessarily a Jewish name.”

“Are you Jewish?”

“Uh… yes…”

“I thought Neil Kramer sounded Jewish.”

Now I was getting nervous.

“And who are you? What is your name?”

“My name is Sophia. Sophia Lansky”

This was the start of my first online chat.  We never chatted again, but we sent emails to each other for the next two months.  So, maybe my fear of IM has something to do with the fact that I end up marrying the women I chat with.

A Year Ago On Citizen of the Month: Ms. Neilochka