There are times when I am quite diligent about cleaning out my inbox on my assorted email accounts, and there are times when there are several hundred pieces of junk (what Google Mail calls “Promotional,” which is a handy euphemism). But whether I have been tidy with my inbox, or relatively lax, I almost never do anything about my Sent box. Who does? Unlike, say, sales people, most of my outgoing mail is responsive not proactive. Almost all the subject line headers in my work Sent box start with “Re:” Students want a return receipt when they send an assignment, or need an acknowledgement that I’ve seen their note about being late or absent. I attend meetings at school but I rarely if ever initiate them, so my acceptances go into the sent box, the invitation goes onto the calendar, and the rest magically disappears. Then, one day, two semesters later, I’m scrolling through the Sent box and find stuff that’s more than a year old, and it’s usually highly cryptic. “No problem.” “Thanks, see you Monday.” “Sorry to hear that; hope you are well soon.” “I’m available Mondays and Wednesday after 2 pm.”
This morning I found one that didn’t have a message at all, just a subject line. it looked like this:
Hotel Manager: The hotel staff would like me to give you a message.
Dr. Howard Bannister: Oh, yes? What is it?
Hotel Manager: Goodbye.
Dr. Howard Bannister: That’s the entire message? — “What’s Up, Doc?” dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1973
I don’t remember what it was about; I probably needed a new debit card or something, and he said he’d take care of it, but he knew he would forget, and I would remember but I would never call because a) I hate calling people and 2) I was at school where I don’t have a personal land line and we call the building “The Fortress of Cell-itude” for a very good reason; namely no cellphone reception, ever. And I couldn’t even remember what whats her name’s name was, and he probably did because he often remembered service people he liked, especially females. And chances were good he had her name and number (probably with a doodled star next to it) in his Moleskine notebook somewhere.
That’s what I found. Unbelievably tiny, in the greater scheme of things, and not particularly poignant, either, as small things can sometimes be. Short, unimportant, sardonic, everyday. But packed to the brim with the complex interrelationship that was our lives; of course I remembered and needed to remind him; of course he had the number; of course he’d get the call done; of course I’d make a joke in my email subject line, like a wink across the state at him in the midst of doing the other things that occupied us, school and work and bank cards and so forth.
Aaron Altman: Ok, I’ll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time. — “Broadcast News,” dir. James L. Brooks, 1987.
That’s all I got today. That’s the entire message.