Help me figure out this mystery e-mail

I can’t remember the last junk e-mail I received, the one advertising discounted little blue pills or a chance to refinance my mortgage at “historically low rates.” And I haven’t missed it.

I don’t know what’s changed…maybe the filtering technology has improved to the point that the spam idiots aren’t getting through, or maybe a fear of criminal prosecution is sidelining them. In any case, my various e-mail accounts aren’t plugged up with junk like they used to be only a few short months ago, although they’re still overwhelmingly full of legitimate e-mail. Yes, at least from where I’m sitting, the e-mail world is getting a little better.

So it is odd in these halcyon days when something I didn’t expect slips through. I call these unexpecteds “Zen mail,” (you’ll see why in a minute) and I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I know where they come from.

I’ve seen three of four of these types of messages in the last few months — maybe they were once spam that got chopped up in a filter, maybe they’re someone’s idea of a joke, maybe they’re what was first referred to as “ghosts in the machine,” or maybe someone is trying to tell me something in code. That last possibility has such James Bond-ish overtones as to almost make trying to figure them an interesting pastime.

If anyone knows where these types of messages are coming from, how and why they get to my (and probably your) e-mail inbox, I’d be curious.

In any case, here’s one that I got a couple of weeks back, and I thought it was interesting enough to keep:

>From: “Casandra Ashby” >Reply-To: “Casandra Ashby” >To: Laurie >Subject: hand 6240 bodice rippers >Date: Thu, 15 Jul 2004 00:22:38 +0600 >

“Furthermore, bubble bath defined by rattlesnake starts reminiscing about lost glory, and chestnut around play pinochle with freight train around. If beyond blood clot try to seduce for deficit, then around hole puncher beams with joy. Laurie, the friend of Laurie and trembles with toward gonad. And compete with the dark side of her taxidermist. When you see cyprus mulch behind, it means that near tomato hibernates. Still seek her from toward pickup truck, learn a hard lesson from her gypsy from with photon beyond grand piano.”

My first thought was that I’d seen less straightforward stuff in the legitimate writing of Gertrude Stein.

Now what to do? Treat it as some sort of unpleasantness that got mashed in a filter and delete it? Look for the deeper Zen meaning in the message? Try to figure out if someone is attempting to reach me via a complex code (good luck — I often don’t understand people when they use small words…) and apply the appropriate secret agent skill? Nominate Casandra for a creative writing award?

Hmmm…if you know, please fill me in on how this type of message managed to get through to my inbox, and when you tell me, I’ll share the technical revelation with everybody else in a future column.

If it turns out that your humble correspondent (that would be me) was the only recipient of Ms. Ashby’s mysterious missive, I shall withdraw to the study and try to figure out the appropriate response, which includes: