Thank you so much for e-mailing us at Pantheon Communications Advisors. Unfortunately, I will be away from the office and on vacation until Feb. 16. I will be completely unplugged with no Wi-Fi. I look forward to responding to you when I return.
Obviously, this away message does not apply if you are more important than I am. If you are richer, more powerful or more famous than I am, you will receive my actual e-mail response shortly after you receive this away message. As you know, away messages are the most dishonest form of modern communications. When we say we are away on vacation, we actually mean we are on vacation from people who need us more than we need them. If you are the sort of person I normally suck up to, you should know that my sucking up takes no breaks. For you, I am totally plugged in.
If you are a global celebrity or anybody who has won a lip sync battle on late-night TV, my reply to you will come within 5 minutes. If you are the guy I shouldn’t have dumped in high school, the response will come within 2 minutes. If you are a program officer at a foundation that gives out large cash prizes for socially progressive work nobody has ever heard of, you will probably receive my response before you have even finished typing.
Thanks so much for reaching out. Get together soon?
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Dear Valued Customer,
Thank you for trying to log in to your account. As you are a loyal passenger who has achieved Double Platinum/Immortal Sun God status, it is our pleasure to help you redeem miles for free rewards travel.
We are now going to walk you through a series of security procedures that will make it impossible for you ever to gain access to your miles. You are going to spend the next 47 minutes desperately trying to comply with our security checks. Please be assured: There is no possible chance you will be able to complete them successfully.
To get started, we are going to send a 37-digit verification code to a phone number you last used during the Reagan administration. Please teleport yourself in time, find the chocolate-toned three-piece suit with the Qiana fake silk shirt you thought was attractive at that time, and retrieve the verification number from the car phone in your old green Trans Am.
Great! As our next security measure, we will now ask you five completely subjective questions about matters you haven’t thought about since the last time we asked them, around the dawn of manned flight. Please answer these questions in two words or fewer:
1. What are your three least attractive physical features?
2. Why does God allow evil to exist?
3. In retrospect, which rock group’s success is more inexplicable, Journey, Boston or Supertramp?
4. Who are you, really? I mean underneath all your masks.
Sorry. You’ve used all your attempts. We have destroyed all the miles you have accumulated out of contempt for your technical incompetence.
Soulless Large Airline
• • •
Dear Friend I Have Not Seen for 40 Years,
I am so touched to know how much you value our friendship. It’s deeply gratifying to know that my behavior in the one driver’s ed class we had together has been such an inspiration to you throughout your life.
From the first paragraph of your note, I never predicted that in the second you were going to mention the book you have coming out next month. Yes, I agree, the Trump immigration policy provides a perfect peg for me to write a column on your history of Dutch basket weaving in the 16th century.
No, I’m afraid I don’t have an e-mail address for Terry Gross, the host of “Fresh Air.” I agree, they’ve done shockingly little on the late Renaissance Flemish craft movement.
And finally, while I don’t personally know the admissions officers at Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, I’d be happy to write an early recommendation for your infant. No, I don’t mind doing this today, rather than waiting 18 years. As you note, you never know when early onset dementia might hit me.
• • •
Thank you for reading this column. I hope you don’t mind if over the next week I bombard your inbox with 36 customer surveys so you can pointlessly rate your experience. In these e-mails I will provide the following options to choose from. Reading this column was:
1. The most exalted experience of my life, evidence of the universal goodness of mankind and the enrapturing beauty of the universe.
2. Like staring into a black pit of pure evil, a lineage-shaking trauma that will haunt my descendants from generation to generation.
Thanks for the feedback!
David Brooks has been a columnist with the New York Times since 2003. He is the author of “The Road to Character” and the forthcoming book, “The Second Mountain.”