As I work diligently pecking away on my laptop, writing newspaper columns in which I try to avoid presenting incriminating evidence, and answering questions about the ferry and the airplane and the one-room school for people in New Jersey and Timbuktu, and chatting with the Chicks Who Fish — and, I confess, occasionally ordering items not sold on Main Street — messages sort of randomly arise on the side of my screen.

By messages, I mean commercial solicitations, and by random, I mean gosh-darned random. I just got a pop-up advertisement suggesting I might wish to purchase a ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector. I kid you not.

This brings to mind Marvin the Martian sputtering about his Illudium P-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

The unnerving part about these advertising pop-ups is not that they are necessarily offensive, although that recurring raw-egg-in-the-avocado image is revolting and should be illegal. The sketchy part is that the ads are frequently the result of online shopping, queries, searches, or conversations, which would be sensible, except that these queries and such are not my queries. Other people, on other computers in this house, may have looked up a few constellations or queried whether a set of binoculars could spot the moons of Jupiter, and the next thing you know I am getting hustled to buy a Space Modulator.

Big Brother is out there, and as best I can make out, Big Brother is hammered.

The persistent harrying supports this suspicion of robotic insobriety. The advertisements behave very much like drunk people: they rave, they lecture, they repeat themselves, and one idea does not necessarily follow another with any discernable logic. They nag. The advertisements on my screen for rivets have been incessant (I guess somebody looked at rivets, once). If I don’t hurry up and buy some rivets soon, I fear somebody will be coming to my house and kicking down my door.



One of the more unpleasant pop-ups was an ad for a remedy intended to help your dog to stop eating, uh, how to say this … poo, and it comes with breath freshener. I should hope so.

We don’t even have a dog.

Look at the image, though, to get your only-natural questions answered, and soon you are receiving ads for other veterinary remedies such as Hoof Treatment. We don’t have a horse, either. Send me an ad for something to get the cat to shift out of the way.

I did smile over the Lemax Water Tower Village Accessory, which has nothing to do with anything in my home, family, or occupation, but it was cute. It looked to be part of some kind of Christmas display set — a little toy village, I would surmise. Okay, no harm in that. A water tower, though? On sale, limited time only, all by itself? Maybe that is how people assemble their decorative holiday arrangements; I don’t know. If I had a crèche scene I would definitely want to include a water tower. Maybe I should order one, keep it under wraps until next December, and sneak it into the Bethlehem manger-with-ox-and-lamb set-up my friend has on her Hoosier sideboard. You certainly can’t beat the price.

Big Brother thinks I might want a device that fits onto my table saw but which also seems to have a USB port (that stumped me); stainless flatware with a multicolored patina; a thingy that lulls you to sleep by shining a blue light on the ceiling; and a special device, purpose-built, to trim Brussels sprouts. I don’t like Brussels sprouts. No way my husband was shopping for one of those, either.

Sometimes there is a logic, such as with the “pancake pen.” Now, admittedly, I do not require, nor do I suspect that anybody requires, a pancake pen — yes, that is a real item — but after checking the fine print I did notice it is sold by a company with which I have done business in the past. So, that one does not count as creepy online merchant stalker behavior.

There was an ad for a device to measure the moisture content of firewood. We bought one. Win one for the algorithm.

I began to wonder how long it would take for a purely random online query to generate an ad, so I typed in some random searches. Georgia Bulldogs. Methyl ethyl ketone. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness. James K. Polk. We will report back.

I fear our trusty office computers, or Big Brother, indulge in a bit of free-associative daydreaming. If you look up local band instrument repairmen online, or order a kit to build an AM radio, then clearly you must also be a ripe prospect to purchase rainbow cutlery or might need a toy water tower. Also free shipping! Or not.

I think I’ll do my shopping in Rockland instead.