what’s in your inbin?

email inbin

Do you hoarde, or do you delete?

37,369. THAT’S THE NUMBER OF EMAILS Ithaca Post Editor Luke Fenchel had in his Gmail inbin the last time I peeked.

After recovering from the shock that it is even possible for an inbin to hold that many emails without making the entire Internet freeze up, I wondered, what do our inbins say about us?

I retain emails I’ve read because I’m afraid I might need them someday, whether for the email address or the details in the content. I feel responsible for tracking other people’s information. I hang onto things. Those of us who fear the delete button also tend to rely on wall calendars and sticky notes. We plan. We cling.

I envy those who can forget, whether a dentist appointment, an oil change or Mother’s Day. Those people can read an email, delete it and never think of it again. Are they Zen, or irresponsible?

To better understand the psychology that underlies people’s habits, I did a little research, and, to spice things up and increase my column’s SEO potential, I included some Really Famous People in my inquiries.

Side note: Really Famous People tend not to respond to media requests from lowly unknown writers like myself. Take Steve Jobs, for example. I know he’s busy, but he’s got an entire office dedicated to handling his media requests, and still, no one returned my call. Same with Ellen DeGeneres. I’ll bet both of their inbins are embarrassingly overflowing. Bastards.

I did hear back from Penn Jillette, the tech-savvy, larger and louder half of the magician duo Penn & Teller. (Thanks, Penn.) Penn wrote, “I always keep my inbox at zero. With very few exceptions, once I open an email, I do everything I have to do with that email, and move it to an archive. Touch everything once.” And “Poof!” the emails magically disappear.

Locally, I heard back from everyone I queried, even the native celebrities. Like Penn, Central New York promoter Dan Smalls reads and replies immediately, “even if it’s the same band begging for another impossible opening slot.” Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton’s assistants sort her 600+ daily emails as they come in. I had to reassure an insecure staff person at her office that an empty inbin was not a reflection of a lack of popularity, and suggested it was instead a statement about one’s anal retentive characteristics. She said they do it to keep the server from crashing.

A wise person once told me that clutter represents delayed decisions. If that’s the case, Mayor Carolyn Peterson and musicians Sim Redmond and Jennie Lowe Stearns are serious avoiders: each of them has thousands of emails saved.

As a result of my extensive and exhaustive research which included Really Famous People*, I started to imagine that our inbins might say something about both our individual personalities as well as our relationships with others. I came up with the following rating scale correlating our emails with our personal lives:

0-10 (Penn Jillette-0) Either you are extremely efficient and very, very lonely, or you can perform magic. You are an all-or-nothing guy when it comes to relationships. You don’t tolerate bullshit.

10-99 (Dan Smalls – 25; my dad – 43) You have a Zen attitude toward attachment. Let it go, dude, let it go. This philosophy has pissed off your significant other on more than one occasion when you have thrown out an old newspaper before he/she read it, or washed a mug out when there was still a sip of coffee in it.

100-499 (Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton – 230; me – 165) You try to find balance, and you succeed most of the time, though you can be a little clingy. If you want love, it’s waiting for you; you just have to make time for it. (Doesn’t this sound like a good place to be? That’s because I’m in this category.)

500-999 You try to find balance in your life, and you fail most of the time. I can say anything here because I don’t know anyone in this category.

1000+ (Mayor Carolyn Peterson – 3700; Jennie Lowe Stearns – 5417; Sim Redmond – 2502) You are a somewhat anxious person who worries about making the people you care about happy. One of those emails might contain something really, really important, so you better not delete any of them. If only you had the time to go through all these emails and sort them, which you don’t, so you just hang on tightly and worry. Red wine helps.

37,000+ (Luke Fenchel – 37,369) You need a therapist. Or an assistant. Or both.

-Amelia Sauter

*Ashton and Demi could not be reached for comment.


fernet branca: the pipe cleaner

sink drain

I know what you're thinking, but it's just a sink drain.

A FEW DAYS AGO, I noticed a foul odor in my kitchen. My first thought was that it was emanating from the refrigerator, from one of my partner Leah’s lacto-fermentation projects, which can thrive happily and stink up the fridge for months. But when I washed my hands in the kitchen sink, a dead cabbage smell wafted up to my nose, and I realized that something was rotting in the drain.

I hoped the stank in the sink would be easy to extinguish, but Leah’s efforts proved futile. Throughout the day, she poured various substances down the drain: boiling water, dish soap, baking soda, vinegar, bleach. As a last resort, she tossed in a splash of Fernet Branca. If that didn’t improve the bouquet, she said, then she’d take apart the pipes tomorrow.

Since I wrote about Fernet Branca in an earlier column, I’ve been surprised to find how many people enjoy drinking this medicinal, menthol liqueur; One friend fondly reminisced how his great-aunt used to give him a spoonful for tummy aches when he was a child, his introduction to the healing power of liquor. Many people were shocked to hear that I, a lover of all booze, was not in love with this particular amaro.

My distaste for Fernet Branca comes from a bias: I am not a fan of cooling herbs. Perhaps it’s from having Vicks VapoRub shoved up my nostrils on a tissue torpedo when I had a cold as a child. Or maybe I used too much Ben Gay on torn ligaments when I was a cheerleader, when the coach insisted we do full splits at tournaments even when our bodies insisted we couldn’t. (It’s true. I cheered, complete with feathered hair, fringy pom poms and a short-short black and gold skirt. You can stop laughing now). Mint ice cream and mint juleps are on my most-hated list. Even toothpaste challenges me. Right after I brush my teeth, I can’t drink a glass of water without gagging. The only exception to my mint aversion is mojitos, which I can easily consume in large amounts. The muddled limes seem to castrate the mint and leave it powerless to offend me.

Which got me thinking: Maybe I’d be able to tolerate Fernet Branca in a cocktail with lime.

When I mentioned this idea to Leah, she suggested I start with a base alcohol that could compete with the menthol, like a peaty scotch. For this drink, I chose cognac. I added lime juice and sugar, and topped it with a splash of club soda, because, gosh darn it, bubbles are fun, and the Fernet needed something on its side.

The resulting cocktail was palatable and refreshing. The lime did the trick, and I felt relieved to tell my friends that I, too, had found a way to appreciate the highly regarded Fernet Branca. I don’t love it, but like any alcohol, it’s all in how you mix it.

And miraculously, when mixed with boiling water, dish soap, baking soda, vinegar, and bleach, Fernet Branca cured the drain of its malodorous ailment.

Pipe Cleaner

1 ½ ounces cognac

¼ ounce Fernet Branca

¼ ounce lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar

club soda

lime wheel

Fill a shaker with ice. Add cognac, Fernet Branca, lime juice and sugar. Shake. Strain into a double rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lime wheel.

-Amelia Sauter