This 2006 essay captures the unique voice of Josie Rubio, a former Columbus Monthly staffer who died last week.

Editor's note: Columbus Monthly lost a dear friend last week: former magazine staffer Josie Rubio, who died from complications from cancer on Tuesday. Josie’s unique voice attracted a wide audience when she wrote about her struggle with cancer in a disarmingly funny New York Times essay in August, but her wry literary style wasn’t a revelation to us at Columbus Monthly, where she published many witty and forthright personal essays during her 10 years with the magazine. To honor Josie, we’re republishing this classic 2006 piece about her mother’s eccentrically punctuated emails.

There it was on my computer screen at work, an e-mail notification of an incoming message. This one, however, bore a surprising subject: “Porn.” I looked again to make sure I hadn't misread it—perhaps it was an innocuous e-mail titled “Corn,” “Scorn"—even “Pom." I glanced toward my keyboard, then back at the screen. Nope. Porn, all right.

How did this get through the filter? Most spam gets caught, and the possible legitimate messages are filed away in a folder to be read or deleted. Plus, the IT guy always is doing something mysterious-sounding, sending out an e-mail notice that the EFG is clogging the subfilter and that he'll be working on the Gamma-X W-server for the next few hours, in case we notice a problem with the Subterfuge Tree. 

To most of us, the computer is either "Working" or "Not Working," and the latter, frantic complaint from a harried employee is always answered by, “Did you restart your computer?" If we did, we then get an in-person visit. I once asked the IT guy what was wrong, eliciting a response in computer speak. I nodded and deduced that the machine was "Not Working" and soon would be "Working." I was right.

The reason this mysterious piece of correspondence had found its way through the e-mail filter, however, was that its sender is someone on my safe-list—my mother. My sweet, innocent Catholic mother who usually sends me e-mails about her beagle and feel-good forwards (warm and-fuzzy tales that usually include kittens, puppies, patriotism and angels, though not always all four) had just sent me an e-mail titled “Porn.”

 I thought about asking the IT department if it could be a virus, but if my mom was indeed distributing internet porn, I certainly didn't want to be judged. I clicked on “Porn” and read the following missive: “I had a problem with AOL. So I called them and I got these strange icons for Porn!!! I logged into Turner Classic Movies, and I got THESE!! So AOL says I have to upgrade my AOL to 9.0 and install spyware because that is how I got these!!1 Do you believe this!!!!????"

Though I was vaguely relieved to know that my mother was not peddling smut via the World Wide Web, it was disturbing to think of her being bombarded with obscene photos while she innocently tried to see if a good Cary Grant movie was going to be on.

The punctuation and use of capital letters aren't unusual for her e-mails, but they definitely conveyed her indignation. My mom's writing style is exactly how she speaks; she's always in a hurry and talks a mile a minute. So when she types, this translates into an endearing array of multiple exclamation points and question marks for emphasis, as well as words in all caps for extra urgency. Her fingers furiously whip across the keyboard, occasionally turning one of her trademark exclamation points into a “1” during the creation of her prose.

Despite her troubling situation, it was heartening to see her use terms such as "icons" and "spyware," considering that when she purchased her first computer, I got a frantic call from her (as she does not have an IT department). "All these windows are up—how do I get them to go away?!" she asked. (Or, as my mom would type, "How do I get them to go away???!!!!11")

She lives in the suburbs of Cleveland, so I couldn't exactly hop in my car and drive over to see what she was talking about. I assumed my role as a computer expert and started to give her advice. "Click on the edge of the window," I said. "There should be a box with an ‘X.’ "

"What box? I just see windows!"

“The windows have something you can click on to make them go away," I said.

"No, there just are windows!" she insisted. “They're coming at me on the screen."

Confused, I paused for a moment. Coming at her? Then it dawned on me: "Mom, that's your screensaver," I said. "Push any button and that will go away.”

She already had mastered the sewing machine many years ago—a mechanism with which I have yet to make peace. And when the early '80s arrived, she wisely waited until Beta recorders had faded before purchasing a VCR that used VHS tapes.

So it wasn't long before she conquered the computer, her scanner and her fax machine—for the most part. To rid her computer of the porn, she called her uncle (our family's IT department). “What were you looking at?" he asked suspiciously when she told him about her dilemma.

Later that day I was informed, via e-mail, that her computer was now porn free. The title—though still to-the-point—was not as sensational: “Computer."

Her latest e-mail's subject line was more animated: “I don't need Akasha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1" Akasha is the name of my cat who likes to catch mice and bat them under pieces of furniture to leave for me as a surprise. The exclamation-point-riddled epic relayed how she and Spot, the beagle, had captured two mice in her basement. “Spot caught one and I caught onel!!!!!!!!!!!" she wrote.

I wrote in my reply e-mail that she might be mentioned in this magazine. Her response: “WHY???"

This story originally appeared in the May 2006 issue of Columbus Monthly.

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