Don't get me wrong: I love computers. I've just deposited a check into a machine outside my bank. My travel agent has just confirmed, instantly, the availability of a flight between two cities thousands of miles away. And I'm now writing about it on a word processor. But I'm beginning to suspect my love is (as the poets used to say) unrequited. Love, after all, presupposes two individuals who understand each other's identities. Well, I've done my part: I've gone to great lengths to understand the computer. The computer, alas, has yet to return the favor. I now have irrefutable proof that, far from understanding me, the computer doesn't even know my name.
I first suspected something was amiss several years ago. That's when an envelope landed on my desk addressed to Christian S. Monitor. It even had our proper internal newsroom address: Mail Stop P214.
In it was a warm and personable letter. ``Dear Christian Monitor,'' it began, ``You may have won [or words to that effect] one of our $10 million lottery prizes.'' It went on to explain that its records showed Mr. Monitor was exactly the kind of carefully selected person who would benefit from this prize. It seemed to know Mr. Monitor rather well. I tacked it up on the bulletin board, and we all had a good chuckle.
Today, however, it is my sad duty to report that the buck hasn't stopped there. This sort of creeping disindividualism, it seems, has invaded the highest offices of the land. Last week, a first-class letter arrived on my desk from Sen. Paul Laxalt. It bears the gold seal of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle. It is signed in blue pen by the distinguished Nevadan himself. He warmly informs me that ``it is my distinct pleasure to announce that you have been accepted for membership'' in this gold-seal group. Only one thing is missing: my name. It is addressed simply to ``Senior Columnist P214.''
But how did he happen to single me out for this honor? The noble senator, having foreseen my question, answers in the next paragraph. ``Your name,'' he writes, ``was placed in nomination at our last membership meeting by Sen. John Heinz. It is his hope and mine that, when you receive your formal invitation from Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole next week, you will respond as soon as possible.''
I spent the intervening week imagining that august meeting. No doubt they went over the names one by one. When they got to the P's, my name came up. ``John, are you sure this P214 fellow is our kind of guy?'' asks the noble Nevadan.
``I can assure you, Paul, that Bob and I conferred on this one -- you're right, it's a kind of foreign-sounding name -- but Bob says he's known Senior for years.''
Simple as that. It all depends on who you know. So the process rolls on, and the list of names grinds its way slowly through the staff. And true to his word, I've just now received my invitation from the distinguished Kansan himself. It's printed on cream-colored card stock, embossed with that same gold seal. It is lettered in Old English type. ``President Ronald Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, and the Republican Leadership of the United States Senate,'' it reads, ``cordially invite Senior Columnist P214 to become a member of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle.''
Now, that puts me in a ticklish position. Being the responsible sort, I tend to RSVP when people ask me to do so -- especially when they ask in Old English type. But what should I say? The senator has asked me to select (from a list of names, all of which begin ``Honorable'') the ten I'd most like to be seated with at a dinner in Washington on April 14. He'll do everything he can, he says, to seat me with one of them. I'd like that. But who else is to be at the table? Will I be sitting between Mr. Resident and Ms. Occupant? Does he know that I once had dinner with Senior Editor L674 and found him rather a bore? Is Mrs. P214 invited? What social-security number should I use on the acceptance form, and should I apply for a new one under this name? When, exactly, was Mr. S. C. P214 born?
I find it all a bit awkward. But I know they're doing their best, and I really do appreciate the personal touch. So I'm sending them (as they request) my personal check for $1,000 to cover my 1986 Inner Circle membership.
But I really don't want any confusion. How embarrassing it would be, after all, to be told at the door, ``Your name's not on the list: You haven't paid!'' How awful to have to argue my way in and settle for a hastily felt-penned name tag when everyone else has Old English print.
So, just to be certain they can match my check with their list, I'm signing it with a signature I've been practicing all week: ``Senior C. P214.'' Must remember to tell my automatic teller machine to keep an eye out for that check. . . . A Monday column