Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A dose of Spam Zen

It's been a while since I've done Spam Zen. Most of my spam these days seems to contain only sentence fragments butting up against each other, which makes it harder to mine them for insights. Once in a while, though, I get something with actual sentences, however non-sequiturish they may be. So let the meditation begin...

Sometimes a mortician for a dolphin sweeps the floor, but some insurance agent always buries a fundraiser of an industrial complex!

This line has more elements than one of those sleeping-pill commercials with Abraham Lincoln, a deep-sea diver and a beaver. (Oh, the symbolism in that combination!) So let's consider what symbolism we can derive from our cast of characters.

First we have the mortician. A mortician's function is twofold: first, to assuage ceremonially the grief of those who have lost a loved one, and second, to make that loved one appear as though he were still alive, and to fix him in his mourners' memories in his natural state. In both cases, death is both the stock in trade and the enemy of the clients. Should death suddenly cease to exist, the mortician would be out of business. This makes it tempting to think of him as profiting from the misery of others, but any actual mortician would tell you the opposite. They side with their clients' families, against an enemy which has already defeated them, at least temporally. (Spiritually, of course, they may not be defeated at all. Christian immortality and the resurrection of the body add a whole 'nother dimension to this.) The dichotomy between the need for death and the conflict with it is reminiscent of the relationship of a dentist toward candy.

Typically morticians work on human beings. So when he performs the same duties for a dolphin, what does it mean? (Assuming it's a literal dolphin, and not a football player from Miami.) Among the animals, dolphins are often thought to be second only to Man in intelligence (come to think of that, you could probably say the same of the football player), a kind of lesser (and unthumbed) human race. Nevertheless, they are not and cannot be human. So if a mortician does his work on one, is he implicitly denying the natural superiority of man over cetacean? Or is he merely being charitable to a lesser creature out of magnanimity?

In either case, he seems not to want the fact to be made public. He sweeps the floor, perhaps to hide the evidence of his cross-species labors. This would seem to support the second hypothesis, as he wouldn't be so furtive if he wanted to make a statement in favor of equality. He would shout from the rooftops, or perhaps from the sea floor, depending on whom he was trying to convince.

But he is foiled in this by the insurance agent. Like the mortician, the insurance agent both profits from death and seeks to disarm it, but for opposite reasons. The insurance agent's profit is derived not from death itself, but from the fear of it, whereas the actual event of death costs his company money. It is thus natural to see the agent and the mortician as opposing forces in a dualistic sense, a kind of yin-yang of the Rotary Club.

The use of the word "bury" is telling, as that's usually the province of a mortician, yet here we see the insurance agent doing it. Is it possible that he's trying to get an edge on the mortician by doing the job ahead of him, or is the fundraiser something that the mortician would rather not see buried? A fundraiser is at bottom an act of altruism, much like embalming a dolphin, which suggests that the two opposite forces are nonetheless parallel in their actions. To be simultaneously parallel and opposite is self-contradictory, and so the stuff of which koans are made.

The fundraiser itself presents another interesting conundrum. On the one hand, it is a vehicle of charity, a means for an entity with no merchandise except generosity to continue to dispense that generosity. But is there anything less evocative of generosity than an industrial complex? The whole nature of the complex is the buying and selling of goods: it's a marketplace in which the one-way exchange of the fundraiser is completely out of place. It may be that this unnatural placement of the fundraiser is what impels the insurance agent to bury it, to hide its deformity.

So here we see the fundamental difference between the mortician and the insurance agent. The mortician is embarrassed by his act of kindness out of modesty, whereas the insurance agent is apparently ashamed of an act of kindness which he himself presumably didn't perpetrate. The one regards charity as essentially good but not an occasion of pride, while the other regards it as essentially bad and worthy of shame. We come at last to the conflict: woe unto those who call good evil and evil good. The mortician, who does good, has no cause to fear death, while the insurance agent, who does evil, derives only harm from that final journey. And so cosmic justice is maintained.

Now where did I put those sleeping pills? Maybe the beaver has them.

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