I was going through my work e-mail, by which I mean I was deleting it. As you Internet users know, most e-mail comes from ”spammers,” who are the mutant spawn of a bizarre reproductive act involving a telemarketer, Larry Flynt, a tapeworm, and an executive of the Third Class mail industry. Every day I get dozens, sometimes hundreds, of e-mails from these people, almost always trying to sell me one of four things: (1) pornography; (2) Viagra; (3) a product for the man who is not satisfied with his natural self and would like to increase, by as much as three inches, the size of his endowment; or (4) a low-interest mortgage.

Why are there so many e-mail ads for these products? Does anybody buy them? Is there a town somewhere, called Spamville, where the men consume Viagra and pornography in bulk quantities, then lurch around in a lust-crazed frenzy, their huge artificially enhanced endowments knocking holes in their walls, so eventually their houses fall down, forcing them to purchase new ones, using low-interest mortgages?

I don’t know. All I know is, I spend about half of my time on the Internet deleting e-mail. Fortunately, that leaves me with the other half of my time available to accomplish a much more important task: trying to remember my password.

The newspaper I work for, The Miami Herald, is owned by a large corporation that has a strict computer-password policy administered by people who were kicked out of the Nazi party for being too anal retentive. This policy requires us employees to constantly change our passwords, to prevent you outsiders from breaking into our computer system and reading our internal communications.

For example, you might see the electronic bulletin board where reporters and editors discuss sensitive journalism issues, the main one being how bad our cafeteria is. Do you remember, maybe 15 years ago, when that giant barge full of garbage from Long Island was being towed up and down the East Coast because nobody wanted to take it? Did you ever wonder what happened to it? Apparently, to judge from the comments on our bulletin board, it’s being gradually converted, ton by ton, into Miami Herald cafeteria entrees.

But as I say, that information is classified. To keep you outsiders from getting hold of it, we employees are required to keep changing our passwords until, in a triumph of corporate security, we cannot remember them even with the aid of Sodium Pentothal. Many of us have to put a post-it note on our computer with our password written on it, along with the word ”PASSWORD,” so we remember what it is. This is probably not a solid security practice, but if we don’t do it, we will be unable to get into the system and carry out the important work of deleting our e-mail.

So anyway, this morning I was at my home computer. I’d managed to log on and was deleting my e-mail when my 2-year-old daughter climbed into my lap and demanded to see Elmo. Elmo, like everybody else, is on the Internet, and if you go to his site, you can play the Laundry Game, where you help Elmo sort his laundry. This may sound pointless, but trust me, it’s one of the more productive things you can do on the Internet.

So the situation was this: I had a 2-year-old squirming in my lap, and a screenful of e-mail to be deleted. Somehow, trying to locate Elmo, I clicked the mouse on the wrong thing, and suddenly OHMIGOD, there it was, in color, a picture of four or five people, and what I believe was a very excited barnyard animal, all of them jaybird naked and engaging in some activity that, whatever it was, had nothing to do with obtaining a mortgage.

I can’t be more specific because I was frantically spinning my chair away from the screen and covering my daughter’s eyes with one hand while trying to click the picture away, but as soon as I did MORE pictures popped up, and then more, covering the screen with explicit images of people and animals and possibly, at one point, Elmo. I finally had to turn off my computer to make it all go away.

My point is, I could not have had this experience without the Internet. I want to thank everybody who made it possible, especially you spammers. Maybe some day I’ll meet you in person!

I’ll buy your lunch.