Acronyms R Us
Tired of not getting your point across? Frustrated at the lack of attention paid to your vitally urgent cause? Do you feel like a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness? Well, what you need is an ACRONYM!
That’s right, ACRONYM: Alphabetically Coordinated Readout Organized to Name Your Movement.
There are many examples. When people are fearful of having dangerous things forced upon their communities, like toxic waste dumps, nuclear power plants, mental institutions or affordable housing, they don’t make long, windy speeches about it. They use an acronym: NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard. It fits easily on a sign, and everyone knows what you’re talking about.
Successful organizations have known for years how to use the power of acronyms. Like NATO. Most people don’t even know what that stands for. But we won the Cold War because it was easier to say “NATO” than to say “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”
The U.S. Government routinely uses this concept. If you apply for federal aid to secure your mortgage, you don’t go to some gray, faceless bureaucracy. You go to your old pals FANNIE MAE and FREDDIE MAC. Now what could be more warm and accommodating?
So stop shouting your message into the wind. Get results, for a change! Get an ACRONYM!
Click on the link below, fill out the questionnaire, and briefly describe to us your most pressing concern. We will craft for you the perfect personalized acronym, guaranteed to bring results.
You’re only a click away from changing the world. Find the key. Find your ACRONYM!
* * *
That’s what popped up on my screen last week, blocking out the final paragraph of an article I was reading. I immediately looked for the little “x” in the corner to make it go away, but there didn’t seem to be one. I tried dragging the ad to the side, but it wouldn’t move.
I clicked off the article and refreshed it. Everything seemed okay for a minute, and then the ad popped up again.
Now I was getting pissed off. I went to another article on the website. The same thing happened.
“Henry!” Denise called from the kitchen. “Dinner’s in five minutes!”
“Okay, okay,” I muttered.
I went to a different website, a sports-news site. It popped up again.
I restarted the computer and used another browser. Same result.
“All right!” I yelled. “Get off my ass!”
I usually don’t speak to my wife that way, but this thing had really gotten to me.
“I’ll be there in a second,” I called out in what I hoped was a calmer voice. “I’m having Internet problems. A weird thing is happening.”
Denise appeared in the doorway.
“What’s the matter? Were you hacked or something?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to get rid of this ad that keeps popping up.”
“Can’t you just click it off?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Now, why didn’t I think of that?” My “get off my ass” voice was creeping back.
“Let me see,” she said, ignoring my tone and moving behind me to squint at the screen. “Acronyms? That’s what they’re selling?”
“I guess it’s the new hot thing. Can you find an ‘x’ anyplace?”
She examined the ad for a moment.
“Maybe there’s one hidden somewhere, but why don’t you come have dinner? You can figure it out afterwards.”
It kills me to leave problems unsolved, but it seemed like I’d better do it.
“I suppose,” I conceded, getting up from the chair.
When something upsets me, the first thing that goes is my appetite. I couldn’t enjoy dinner, even though Denise makes a great chicken marsala. I treated her to a harangue about pop-up ads that she patiently listened to, nodding her head at appropriate times.
“I know it’s how they make their money,” I went on, “but really! Why do they have to tease you by letting you start whatever it is you’re reading and then get in the way? Sometimes you actually have to subscribe to some goddamn thing or other before they let you continue. You can always unsubscribe, but it just infuriates me.”
“Mmm,” said Denise supportively.
“Then there are the ads that bounce around to avoid your cursor. You have to trap the damn things to get rid of them. How is that a good way of selling something?”
“It isn’t,” she said.
“The whole thing is ridiculous!”
I couldn’t wait until I’d finished the coffee. I had to take it with me into the den, and I was sure Denise was glad to see me go.
The ad was still on the screen. I noticed it was framed by a pattern of interlocking squiggly lines. Could they contain the hidden “x”? I spent the next ten minutes clicking on every square millimeter, to no avail.
My eye was again drawn to the ad copy. I wondered who their target audience was. Social activists? Seemed like a pretty small demographic.
My cursor hovered over the link they wanted me to use, almost as if it had a mind of its own. Should I try it? Maybe the next screen would give me the option of canceling. Against all better judgment, I clicked.
Bright, kaleidoscopic colors filled the screen. Then a message appeared:
WELCOME TO ACRONYMS R US!
Congratulations! You have made, perhaps, the wisest decision of your life. But before we offer you the key to success, we’d like to offer you our thanks.
THANKS: That Heartfelt, Appreciative, Noble, Kind Sentiment.
See? That’s how easy it is for us to do this. Now, let us show you how much we can do for you.
Fill out the simple questionnaire (you must include your email address), and within twenty-four hours, we will contact you with your personal ACRONYM.
Get ready. Because your cause is about to get real!
I looked for a button that said “Cancel,” but, of course, there was none. Now what? This wasn’t just clickbait. This was click coercion.
The questionnaire asked for your name and email address. It also asked for your home address and phone number, but they weren’t mandatory, which I found mildly encouraging. Then there was a space for you to describe your supposed cause, and that seemed to be it. At the bottom was a “Submit” button.
I decided to go for it. For the name, I typed in A. Cronym and then made up an email address. Now I had to fill in my cause, which was obvious.
To the depths of my soul, I typed, I loathe pop-up ads. And yours is a particularly heinous one. It can’t be legal for people like you to pull this shit, and I intend to contact the FCC. (I wasn’t going to do that, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to threaten a little.) You want to know what my cause is? Well, here it is, you sons of bitches: Screw pop-up ads! Especially yours! And screw you!
I hit the “Submit” button.
Nothing happened. Then a notice came up, saying Invalid Email Address.
Well, I certainly wasn’t giving them my real email address, but I figured an old one that I didn’t use anymore would do. I hit “Submit” again.
I half expected to see Invalid Name this time, but, evidently, the program they used didn’t pick up on irony. What I saw were the words: Thank you! Your ACRONYM will be arriving soon!
Then, miracle of miracles, a beautiful “x” button appeared in the top right-hand corner. I gratefully clicked on it, and that was that.
* * *
“So I finally managed to get rid of it,” I said to Denise as we sat on the couch with our glasses of chardonnay, watching CNN. I didn’t tell her how vitriolic my message was because I didn’t want to worry her, although I wasn’t too concerned myself.
“I’m pretty sure it’s just a scam to harvest email addresses,” I said.
“Do you think they’ll really send you an acronym?”
“No way. But I’ll bet I get a ton of spam, which I won’t see because I never use that address.”
We watched the news for a few minutes. PETA was suing SAG-AFTRA over alleged cruelty to a horse on a TV series. The Chicago police had discovered a secret chapter of NAMBLA, a group of pedophiles called the North American Man/Boy Love Association. And of course, there was lots of news about COVID.
“They were right about one thing,” Denise said, “you can’t get away from acronyms. By the way, what are you going to do if it pops up again?”
“Probably report it to the FCC; it’s about all I can do. But let’s hope it never happens.”
I slipped my arm around her and drew her close. She snuggled against me.
“What do you say we turn in early tonight,” I whispered, “and make lots of varied erotica?”
She pulled back her head and looked at me.
“Lots of what?”
“Lots Of Varied Erotica. Known by its acronym, LOVE. Hey, I can do it too.”
“You’re such a jerk,” she said, and then gave me a long, deep kiss.
* * *
We spent the next day as we’d been spending most of them lately, in different parts of the house. Denise was on her office computer, remotely teaching her fifth-graders. I was in the den, embroiled in Zoom meetings with various creative groups. I’m an account executive for a large advertising agency (no, we don’t produce pop-up ads), and we’re currently pitching three major accounts.
The pressure was on, and I needed to focus 100 percent on the different competing campaigns, but I found my mind wandering.
I kept wanting, as ridiculous as it sounds, to check my old email account to see if they’d replied. I’d told Denise they wouldn’t, but maybe they would. I was starting to regret the vicious tone of my statement, and I wondered how they’d react to it. Would they be hostile? Should I be worried?
The final meeting ended and I immediately checked for emails, but there were none. Well, they did say within twenty-four hours.
It bothered me for the rest of the afternoon, but I resisted the urge to keep checking. Finally, just before dinner, I tried again.
There it was, sitting alone in my in-box, an email from Acronyms R Us. I anxiously opened it.
Hello, it read. We found the tone of your reply to be offensive in the extreme. So offensive, in fact, that we’ve decided to give you special attention. Instead of one acronym you’ll be receiving two!
The first is PAPUA: Prohibit All Pop-Up Ads. We hope you find it useful.
As for the second, be aware that you’ll be receiving it in due course.
That was all it said. No yours truly; no nothing.
Not only did my appetite evaporate this time, but my stomach started doing flips. I told Denise about it over dinner, a magnificent pork roast that I could barely touch.
“It does sound kind of dark, I guess,” she admitted, “but what could they do? They don’t know where we live. All they have is that email address, and you can always shut it down.”
“Stop worrying and have some ice cream. We’ve got Häagen-Dazs strawberry cheesecake.”
“Yum,” I said unenthusiastically.
* * *
Over the next two days I ate very little. I kept asking myself why oh why did I act out of anger? Nothing good had ever come of it before, and I dreaded what would come of it now.
I tried to hang onto the notion that, as Denise said, merely knowing my unused email address gave them nothing. But how could I be sure? After all, how did they manage to put up an ad that you couldn’t click off?
Yes, I could cancel the email address, but I hesitated for two reasons:
Number one was, maybe it was too late. If they had the technology to create that pop-up ad, it might be child’s play to trace that address to mine.
Number two was, I’m a masochist. A part of me really wanted to see what they’d do.
The second night, I had a dream that I was sitting in front of my computer when the email arrived. I tried to open it but my mouse was gone. I looked and looked for it before discovering it had been right there all along. Then, when I tried to click on the email, I couldn’t because my hand was shaking.
Finally, after an interminable number of attempts, I succeeded.
The email burst open. A gnarled hand reached out from the center of it and grabbed me by the throat. As I felt my breath being squeezed out of me, I saw what it said:
Hey, asshole, here’s your acronym! It’s RIP!
I woke up screaming, which scared the crap out of Denise.
“That’s it,” I said, “I’m apologizing.”
* * *
The first thing I did the next morning was pull up their email and hit “Reply.”
I am so sorry, I wrote. I was angry and frustrated and I let it get the better of me. Your acronyms are extremely clever, and PAPUA perfectly encapsulates my feelings. Please accept my thanks, and I hope you’ll find it in your hearts to forgive me for my regrettable outburst.
Then I sent it off.
“Do you feel any better?” Denise asked me at breakfast.
“I feel like a coward,” I said.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. I was able to concentrate on the Zoom meetings and we got some productive work accomplished. Then, holding my breath, I switched over to the email account.
It was there, as I knew it would be. And just like in the dream, my hand shook as I opened it.
Having second thoughts, are we? it said. Well, that’s to be expected. As for our intentions, nothing has changed. Incidentally, “A. Cronym”? Come on!
That was all.
Dinner was another struggle. This time it was a terrific lamb casserole that I forced myself to eat.
Later, we sat watching CNN with our glasses of wine.
“I can’t take this,” I said as Denise looked at me with concern. “It’s not like there’s a specific threat I can report to the police. What am I supposed to do?”
“Well, as I said before, they only have an email address, but what are you afraid will happen?”
“I don’t know. And that’s what frightens me. It won’t just be another acronym. It’ll be something else, far worse.”
“Really. We don’t know what they’ll do. We don’t know what they’re capable of. We have to be prepared for anything.”
She regarded me archly.
“You do realize that you just recited the paranoid’s creed.”
“So what? I don’t care how it sounds, I can feel it in my gut.” And I could. Like a corkscrew turning in my stomach. “I’m getting a security system tomorrow,” I decided. “Cameras and everything.”
“We need to watch out for suspicious packages. They could send us something lethal, along with an acronym for it.”
“Henry, you’re starting to scare me.”
“And a gun. I can’t believe I’ve gone all these years without a gun. Maybe I should get a couple of them.”
She gaped at me.
“What’s the matter with you? You’ve turned into some kind of psycho!”
And I had.
I was suddenly aware of how deeply I hated myself. Hated my craven cowardice in apologizing to those fuckers. I’d prostrated myself before them, crawled in the dirt like a lowly worm, and what did it get me?
Nothing had changed, that’s what they said. Nothing except that all my dignity and self-respect were gone.
A black mood descended on me. I looked around at our living room and saw only the trappings of a barren, useless existence. I felt a strong urge to start breaking things. A low growl came from my throat as Denise’s eyes widened.
I rose from the couch, gripped the edge of the coffee table, and overturned it. It fell with a satisfying crash, our wine glasses and two vases full of flowers cascading to the floor and shattering. I looked around for more damage to do.
My eye found the TV screen. I wanted to smash it in. Then I saw what was on it and my mouth fell open.
It said Acronyms R Us.
For a wild moment, I thought it was worse than I feared, that they’d somehow gained control of our TV. But then I saw it was real. It was part of a CNN news story.
The words were on the screen behind a news anchor who was talking about a college prank that had gone viral.
“Earlier this week, a group of students from Princeton managed to hack into several popular websites and insert a pop-up ad that people had a devil of a time getting rid of,” he was saying. “The ad seemed to have no place on it to click off, but actually, the location was hidden behind one of the letters in the text. The FCC and Department of Justice are investigating it, and no charges have yet been filed.
“In other news…”
I gazed in disbelief at what I’d done. I looked helplessly at Denise, who was in shock.
“What the hell came over you?”
“I wish I knew,” I muttered. I looked around again and shook my head. “I must have lost it there for a second, but did you hear what he said? It was a goddamn college prank. Isn’t that something?”
“Oh, it’s something, all right.” She was already moving about the room, gingerly picking up shards of broken glass. “It’s something you need to talk over with a therapist, and soon. This is a whole new side of you.”
I set the coffee table upright and started to help her look for pieces of glass, feeling the shame that seemed all too familiar.
“Maybe it’s the pressure at work,” I tried. “We’re pitching three major accounts and we can’t do it in person, so…”
“Anger management,” she said. “We’ve got to get you into anger management. Nip this thing in the bud.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed.
“Go get the vacuum cleaner.”
I dutifully stepped into the kitchen, fetched it from the utility closet and brought it into the living room. Then I had a mischievous thought.
“Do you know what the word ‘anger’ stands for?” I asked as I plugged it in.
She dumped her accumulated pieces of glass into a wastebasket.
“Is this going to be some kind of acronym?”
“Of course. Do you want to know what it is?”
She sighed. “I’m sure I’ve got no choice.”
I turned on the vacuum cleaner.
“It stands for Aggressive Negative Gut-wrenching Expression of Rage,” I shouted over the noise.
“I married a lunatic!” she shouted back.
I had the feeling that, somehow, things would be all right.