Forwards by Jesse Tangen-Mills

For the next 60 seconds, set aside whatever you’re doing and take this opportunity! Let’s see if Satan can stop this.


My grandfather sends forwards. I don’t think many other 87-years-olds use the internet, although in the future they clearly will. In this way my grandfather is a fantastic innovator, one of first octogenarians connected to the World Wide Web – a phrase which to write now even feels like an anachronism, and yet in other ways feels appropriate.

But he hasn’t bought the whole digital highway kit and caboodle. He tried Facebook, didn’t like it. People he didn’t know kept sending him invitations to be friends, and his wife for the last sixty-five years, agreed that it’d be best he left the social networking to his grandchildren. And he doesn’t read the newspaper online. The New York Post, the cruelly clever, irresistibly perverse fifty-cent tabloid comes in his mailbox every morning, wrapped in a clear plastic bag. Like a lot of other people he prefers the big print, the pictures, the ease of page-turning; unlike most other people he’s willing to pay for that.

So what then does he do on the internet? E-mail. Not sure how many times a day he checks his e-mail. He occasionally sends a picture to me, or a brief message, sometimes sent by grandmother who I imagine hovering behind him while he writes out her request. His correspondence is sweet really, and, incredibly, free – unless you count all those weird algorithms processing everything we write to sell better. Then again Gana un Viaja a Miami hoy ads are a walk in the park compared to forwards.

From what I remember forwards were more common in the early years of the internet; at least it wasn’t considered a faux pas to send every person in your mailbox an anonymous letter, which in an eerie Lacanian way, is a little more than a voice. Masculine and authoritative. It’s the same voice that weasels onto comment boards, quietly seething below the surface of legitimate text, typed under boyishly jocose names. They burn with hostility and prophesy.

And then there’s the other voice. It’s God: all-knowing and mute like a shush. At some time these forwards became vertical ticker tape. And while the voice is still present, its presence only limited to a few lines, rather than a few hundred words, normalizes some of its fantastic presence. While most other people have stopped this practice altogether, the internet newcomer, my grandfather has not. It’s still new to him.

God does know if you don’t have 20 people to send it to.

It’s the effort and intent that counts. This is a powerful Prayer. Couldn’t hurt can only help…

I used to delete all the forwards he sent, but as he gets older and inevitably closer to being a memory, I keep them, thinking I’ll one day read them again, only differently. I imagine showing it to my future children, maybe forwarding the collection to them. Do you want to know what he was like?

This is a good read about the Muslims taking over countries all over the world. 

Of course the kids then won’t understand what it must be like for someone who’s never sat in front of a computer before, to jump onto the internet and experiment; I’m not even sure I do. Then I also thought what a horrible memory to keep. Are we our politics? Are we baton-holders of ideas bigger than we are? Are we anything else? Regardless I can’t stop myself from trashing some forwards. It’s almost a reflex, an unconscious click.

When Muslims approach 10% of the population, they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions.

Fox News, local TV news and the New York Post, have riled my grandfather’s conservative political rhetoric and it has grown belligerent recently. While my wife and I were having lunch with him, he told us that if Obama wins a re-election there was going to be a revolution. I’m still wondering what kind of revolution this would be.

What’s weirder though is his adoption of ecumenical twenty-first century American racism – defined by culture, rather than genetics, and mostly xenophobia under various guises. They don’t speak English. They take jobs. They don’t work. My living in Colombia runs interference on this discourse that he uses from time to time because Colombians – by which I mean the 45 million or more people living here – are supposed to speak Spanish and don’t actually want to be in the United States in the first place.

If you are driving at night and eggs are thrown at your windshield, do not stop to check your car, do not operate the wipers and do not spray any water because eggs mixed with water become milky, and block your vision up to 92.5%, and you are then forced to stop beside the road and become a victim of these criminals.

Colombia in a weird ways isn’t as far from my grandparents’ world of outer borough white New York City. The Caribbean has been a presence in New York since the 50’s and 60’s. My grandparents warmly received my friend Richie Ramos, living the econo-apartment condos next to their house, when he came to their door to call for me. We’d go to the nearby schoolyard, where kids for whatever reason meet, until they’re old enough to go to bars. Mexico however has always been far away, until say the last decade or so. Back then, the only kid I remember for my mostly Hispanic high school in Manhattan was this kid Tláloc, who fit none of our TV-bred stereotypes of Mexicanismo (although I wouldn’t learn the origin of his name until years later). To hear my grandfather even mention Mexico, this place that felt as far away from New York as Argentina, is estranging.

In thirty years, if they get their way, the United States will have the economy of Zimbabwe, the freedom of the press of China the crime and violence of Mexico, the tolerance for Christian people of Iran, and the freedom of speech of Venezuela.

Waiting with my wife on the non-U.S passport line (always at least three times longer than the citizen line), we could hear CNN’s news hum about Mexican cartels: they function like sleeper terrorist cells. You don’t know who they are. They could be anyone. But mostly they are Mexican. I’d hear more about these dangerous and ILLEGAL people, their crafty ways plotted to pick of the crumbs of the crumbling welfare state. The FBI, not exactly the champion of the downtrodden, much less the foreign, released data that indicates a rise in hate crimes, particularly against Hispanics.

A few weeks ago my grandfather forwarded me – and fifteen other family members – an e-mail from actor Robert A. Hall, who plays the coroner in CSI. After having had “his legs blown off” in Vietnam and after serving in the Massachusetts Senate, he’s “tired.” According to this open e-mail he’s been working hard since he was 18 and hasn’t had a sick day in seven or eight years. I guess part of this hard work was acting for TV. Grueling. See, that’s why he’s 63 and tired, the chorus of another disturbing forward.

I’m tired of illegal aliens being called “undocumented workers,” especially the ones who aren’t working, but are living on welfare or crime. What’s next? Calling drug dealers, “Undocumented Pharmacists”?

I went to California for the first time in my adult life last summer. A friend from high school had moved there. I had just seen that episode of Mad Men when Don visits California. California exists as another world, a palm tree-lined other world. It’s this way I understand California –a colony. If there are any doubts about this just listen to the gross anglicization of names like Los Feliz (phillies?) or Altadena (who?). A lot of people, I think, find this inviting. It just makes me want to go to Mexico.

We tried. We took a train to San Diego, then the trolley that brought us to El Cajon (where my family and I lived when I was two for a few months). From inside this hard plastic interior, this nameless brown shell of a trolley, we saw an enormous Mexican flag, perched on a hill. It was Tijuana. Although we were scared to think what could happen to my wife crossing back in, we realized it was impossible. My wife had left behind her I-94 card, the little white one visa holders get when they enter and are told to never lose it. Never knew what that was for. If we went to Mexico, she would potentially run the risk of not being allowed to re-enter. But we were so bent on crossing these supposedly paradoxical worlds that we walked halfway across the foot bridge. There were high fences and video cameras everywhere. Below us cars sat still in neat lines, waiting to be granted entrance.  That was the closest we’ve ever been. It’s closer than my grandfather’s ever come, except for the news, the newspaper and forwards.

Forward this to as many people who you believe would think this is equally as cool, it says. I guess in the worst of cases my grandfather thinks I’m cool.

Like the comment, the forward is anonymous. When it is signed, like the one written by Robert A. Hall, its legitimacy is dubious. I suspect however there are other hateful forwards and forwards from God, from others that are “tired”, in languages neither I nor my grandfather can speak.

Someone will always try to go forward; depending on where you are, it might seem backwards.


You are required to pass this on NOW!!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.