Hello! Over the past couple weeks you’ve probably received dozens of e-mails from websites about changes to their privacy policies. But your privacy is also important to me, just as I hope mine is important to you, which is why I constantly strive to be as transparent as possible. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with my updated policy.

I record your first and last name. If no last name is forthcoming, and if you happen to be an attractive barista 15-20 years younger than me, I will search online until I find you on Facebook or Instagram. However, if no online presence can be detected, I will return to your place of employment, work up my courage over the course of eight hours, and attempt to engage you as you wipe down tables at closing time. “Hey, have you heard about that Game of Thrones random name generator?” I’ll say. “Here, I’ll do yours since you’re busy and can’t see my laptop screen from way over there. All I need is your last name and your age, because if you’re still in high school we have a problem.”

I also record your birthday and will wish you a happy birthday every year on Facebook, otherwise known as my virtual memory (MVM), by typing “HBD,” an acronym that thoughtfully takes into account your busy social-media life. However, I will not collect your birth year if you opt out of providing me with that information. But seriously, what’s the big deal? We seem to have watched the same TV shows growing up and accidentally memorized the same baseball statistics, so I don’t understand why you’ve always danced around the subject. Do you think I should be keeping my own age private? That I’m only hurting myself at parties when I say things like “Everyone’s heard of Knight Rider, but remember Street Hawk, the one where Rex Smith played a cop who rode a high-tech motorcycle?” Now that I think about it, that’s a really good point. Thank you for sharing that information.

Other data I collect includes photos you’ve posted online from our college years, when anything seemed possible in our to-be-determined adult lives, but not photos you’ve posted from the past five years, a period in which you seem to have accomplished all of your goals while managing to hold onto the same breathtaking smile you had 20 years ago. Honestly, no one needs to be reminded of your natural radiance, and that includes MVM.

Lastly, I will never ask for your Social Security number. That’s because I already know it. I shouldn’t, but you shouldn’t carry your Social Security card in your purse, then leave the purse on my kitchen counter while you use my bathroom. Identity theft is real, and you failed this particular test.

Norman Rockwell’s “The Gossips” (1948)

I share gossip with third parties. For example, if you give me any hint of how much money you make, and my internal algorithm concludes that it’s far more than what I make at my non-dream, far-from-a-career job, I’ll casually bring it up in conversation with our mutual friends. But if you never give me a hint and never talk about what you do for a living, I’ll tell those friends, “I bet he’s got a trust fund. Or he’s a drug dealer who doesn’t want to show off, but where’s the fun in that?”

I read all the “spoilers” for the big-budget comic-book superhero movies, because by the time I finally see Avengers: Infinity War or Deadpool 2 I’ll have forgotten what the spoilers were, just like how I forget everything that happens in those movies less than 24 hours after I’ve watched them, so don’t worry — their secrets are safe with me. (Please note that any spoilers you’ve collected and decide to share about the new Han Solo movie, which I still haven’t seen, will immediately void this section of my privacy policy. No exceptions.)

If you’re a stranger making a FaceTime call on public transportation without the use of earbuds, I’m legally allowed to interrupt your broadcast to acquire the following information: “Whose face is that? What is your relationship with said face? Would you categorize your faces’ shared backstory as ‘complicated’ or, better yet, worthy of its own six-episode ‘limited-event’ cable series?” However, I will refrain from saying anything to your face since I don’t want to be punched in the face, an exchange of information that will be seen by other faces close by and possibly many more faces on Facebook Live if one of the faces close by decides to record it on his or her phone and spread the word. An embarrassment like that could lead off Good Morning America on a slow news day. No thanks.

Similarly, I will not share my opinion of the amount of space you take up on public transportation. I would love to ask if your backpack is past its terrible twos and that’s why it no longer has to sit in your lap on the train, but I have no idea what your life is like. (In other words, I haven’t walked a mile in your shoes, but may I suggest something with better arch support than Chuck Taylors?) Maybe you live with your wife and three kids in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom fifth-floor walk-up — you can’t get any space in private, so you’ll take as much as you can get in public. Life is short, so whenever that prerecorded voice on the train casually announces that “Doors are closing,” I start to regret how much time I’ve spent noticing who’s taking up two or more seats. Or gossiping about a frenemy’s income. Or reading movie spoilers when I could be reading books. I sometimes think, Do I read spoilers just so I can pretend like a good friend’s told me a deeply personal secret he knows I’ll keep private no matter what? Maybe if I didn’t gossip so much, I’d have more friends. Maybe if I was more willing to share feelings, not information, I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Please don’t share the last half of the preceding paragraph — I overshared. Please respect my privacy during this difficult time.

My cookie policy remains unchanged: I like them. I try to avoid buying them at the grocery store, but if you put one in front of me I won’t refuse it. And if you leave some in the break room at work, I’ll stuff two of the macadamia-nut or M&M kind in my pocket when no one’s looking and walk away without a hint of remorse. Have you noticed how a free cookie can turn your whole day around? It doesn’t even have to be a fancy one. Actually, I do draw the line at the Keebler “soft batch” variety — those are cookie-cutter cookies, if you know what I mean. I’m not a kid anymore. My taste in cookies is more sophisticated now, a morsel of information I’ll be happy to share with attractive baristas 15-20 years younger than me for the considerable future.

About the Author

Robert Cass

Robert Cass lives in Chicago. For Popdose he's written under the Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback banners and collaborated on the series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.

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