Cremains of the Day: Good News: You Won. Bad News: You’re Still Alive

Many contests elicit entries by promising the chance of a lifetime. This one can truly deliver.

Bay Area residents of a certain age have, for years, been receiving cards of a most peculiar sort from the Trident Society. Next to an image of a happy family of five dancing on the beach are these words: “WIN A PRE-PAID CREMATION. Return this completed card today to be entered.” Left unstated is what, exactly, drove that family to burst into joyous dance. A solution to the problem of what to do about grandpa, perhaps?

An official at the Trident Society notes that the “Cremation Sweepstakes” is merely an incentive to spur people to return their cards quickly. Before … you know.

If you haven't received this card, it means you likely can't remember the days when Quemoy and Matsu were matters of national debate. Only those 65 and older are on the mailing list, noted a manager at one of Trident's several Bay Area locations. This was described as a gentle reminder, but perhaps it isn't: Receiving such a card not only reinforces the notion that once over the hill you pick up speed, but adds the dimension of fire waiting at the bottom.

“People get very excited when they win these,” claims another company official. “They win free cremations and that really puts a smile on their face.”

A June article in Time pointed out that by 2017 more Americans are projected to be cremated than buried. Cremation professionals' selling pitch of sustainability may well resonate with the San Franciscans of today. But, now as in the past, San Francisco isn't exactly the most sustainable of places. We drink water piped in from a pristine Yosemite Valley we saw fit to flood, and power our homes with electricity generated, none too cleanly, far from our city. Our trash is trucked miles away and, soon enough, may be loaded onto trains and carried farther still. And, when we die, we're decamped to Colma, that vast necropolis to the south.

San Francisco's relationship to the dead, for quite some time, has been “out of sight, out of mind.” In 1900, the Board of Supervisors voted to cease all burials within city limits. In the ensuing half-century or so, hundreds of thousands of corpses were exhumed from dozens of graveyards, some more than once, and deported to the Peninsula. The subterranean homes of the dead have been converted into the above-ground condos of the living.

The value of the Cremation Sweepstakes prize, incidentally, is $1,669. That'll do you for an eternity in the afterlife — or perhaps a month in a studio flat in this one.

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