No Free Lunch: A Sunny Tale from the Dark Side


 Free Pre-Paid _________!” That is what the envelope promised. On a slow day any sign of a jackpot makes my blood race.

Unfortunately, the blank wasn’t blank. The word “Cremation” filled the space. The blood stopped racing. This was about the finish line.

So nice to hear from you, I thought to myself. I imagine there are people who get mail so rarely even the prospect of a free cremation makes them feel cared about. I am not one such.

As a senior, you receive this sort of “pre-sorted” mail. The Post Office is going under water with the cost of delivering cheap advertising. But I think the sender had a different notion of the phrase “under water.” More like drowning or not coming up for air. Ever.

They call themselves the “Neptune Society,” named after either the Roman god of the sea, or the planet most distant from Earth. I suspect they mean the latter, since cremation is a long trip in one sense and a short distance in another. Distance from life, I mean.

I’m not going to give you their address and phone number or website. I don’t intend to promote their business and have no association with them. No “satisfied customer” am I. Were I, I’d have trouble commenting on how they perform their work. You can take the latter statement from the point of view of the deceased or the bereft. Either way, you don’t watch them do the job unless you ask. I’m not sure who would want to.

The sealed envelope looked back at me. The word “Free” still beckoned. Thin, manilla, not quite square paper; not at all remarkable. No epic resided therein. I opened it.

“Dear Gerald,” the salutation read. Too personal already. I was born in an era of Mister and Miss, doctor and sir and madam. Some languages honor relationships by having formal and informal modes of address. In Germany, I’m told, people make a big deal about going from the formal mode of address, “Sie,” to the informal word for you, “du.” The mini-celebration includes clinking of glasses and sharing a pint.

I prefer “Gerry” anyway, but don’t tell them or I may start getting mail with my nickname.

The letter covered two sides of a single, small, folded page. The bold letters in the middle said:

Simple, Economical and Dignified…

It just makes sense!

Note the end of the second sentence. Another exclamation point, as in the Free Pre-Paid Cremation! come-on. The letter was full of them. I, Gerald, was also told about a “special code” reserved for me — ME! — on their website. Right. All codes are “special,” including those that assume, as P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

The letter further stated I was “…under NO obligation.” Relief flooded my sensory organs. Not under water and not obligated. Two of my favorite states, right after euphoric and joyful.

Side two included the following:

Like we said: “Cremation just makes sense.” If you are not interested in spending your family’s inheritance on embalming, caskets, vaults, markers, fancy funeral homes or cemetery property, then we have the answer!

I have an alternative, illegal I’m sure. Cellophane or a plain brown wrapper. In my community we recycle garbage, so this one — and I do mean the Gerald one — should definitely go in the oversized “recycling” can and not the regular garbage container.

I neglected to mention the two non-bold words appearing below the Free Pre-Paid Cremation!” lettering on the envelope, in a smaller font: “Details Inside.” Those words sounded ominous, as in “the catch.”

A second page announced the bait and switch in the upper left corner of what the author called a “confidential data card,” the same size as the letter:



The point being the good folks at Neptune, whether on another planet or at sea, hoped I would send them the card and participate in a drawing. They also wanted my phone number, doubtless to listen to their pitch of all the reasons “It just makes sense.” No exclamation point.

Neptune assured me, as the word “confidential” implied, “no information (about me) will be released,” placed not too far from the name of last month’s winner of the cremation sweepstakes, “Eddie Munoz.” I think I must not understand the word “confidential.” Or “information.” Or “released.” Or else they really did mean me alone, not poor Eddie.

I have nothing against cremation, but the idea of sweepstakes to win free ones seems a little creepy. Perhaps I’m being a bad sport in advance, figuring I won’t win if I enter. So, to prove to you I’m an OK guy, all my good wishes to the winner.

Here’s to you, Eddie. You deserved your victory. You are the better man. Look for me undersea, or on another planet, or on the other side. No cellophane wrapper required.

The photo of Neptune was taken in August, 1989 by Voyager 2. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.