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We're supposed to see them as poor, deluded dumbasses. Still, I have had this offer three times in my life. For three weeks, I'm telling you: No strings attached. And I figured she knew something I didn't, because — well, because she was older, and she did. When the ex-husband opened the sliding glass door one evening, the room was positively strung from end to end.I didn't like the real-estate agent, who later got me into a bidding war on that worthless hulking edifice, and I didn't ponder it much longer. Mostly because, for some reason that I can no longer fathom, I believed in a world where real estate, even semi-crumbling late-20th-century real estate in a perpetually depressed housing market, was the only really good bet to make with my money. But in the fourth week, she lent me the key to her condominium in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The next time was when I was about to get a divorce.

I recall that when the realtor walked me through that part of the building, she looked at that sign and said, "Don't I wish! I didn't know if she was referring to the real-estate deal or to the sexual convention of no-strings-attached relationships, the more common meaning.

No one referred to it as an abbreviation then — there were no "NSA" advertisements on Craigslist.

I recall that I hadn't heard the term "no strings attached" from a woman since the bank teller. I had in mind a trip to the dog track, some drinking, and some wild-ass stringing. When I finally saw her again, it was on shift, and she smiled broadly, like nothing had changed. I knew what that meant, too: What was wrong was me?

Again just three weeks later, when things began to go sour, I reminded her of the term: "I thought you said 'no strings attached,'" I whined, sitting in the front seat of her crappy Buick Regal. I got it right there and then: I was a piece of string, and god damn it if I wasn't attached.

Back then, NSA brought to mind foreign intelligence.