A Look On The Lighter Side: Brushing away some seeds of discord

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Nowadays, even just taking in the mail can be a heart-stopping adventure. How many days must I let an official-looking letter sit before it’s safe to handle? On the other hand, if I don’t open it right away, what might go wrong?

Packages are even worse. We got one last week and neither my husband nor I could remember having ordered anything that hadn’t already arrived.

The day it came my husband stood quite a while on the porch, staring at it.

“Well, what does it say on the label?” I finally asked him. “Who is it from?”
“It’s from ‘Fulfillment Center,’ ” he replied. “So tell me — do you feel fulfilled? Never mind, don’t answer that. But I just can’t think what this might be.”

“Me neither. Maybe it’s some magic seeds from China.”

Because just when you think this year can’t get any weirder, you have to worry about mysterious seeds being sent, un-requested, all over the United States — apparently from China.

And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued some very scary bulletins, saying if you get these mystery seeds, don’t plant them; don’t even touch them. They might harbor a plant disease. They might be dangerous hybrids. They might even be poisoned!

I don’t understand the fuss. I know we’re not on the best of terms with China these days, but what could a few little seeds do to us? It’s not as if they were magical dragon’s teeth, which if planted result in soldiers springing up from the earth, ready for combat — right?

My husband has a different theory. “I think the worst thing they could do to us would be to send us seeds for kudzu. Soon after that, we’d all be covered in vines, unable to move.”

“Sounds relaxing,” I said.

According to some reports, the seeds might be part of a scam, inexplicably called “brushing,” which involves somebody somehow writing fake reviews to “game” that part of a distributor’s system.

I don’t see how it helps any vendor’s rating to have hundreds of people saying “Get these things the hell out of my mailbox.”

Our mystery box finally turned out to be laundry detergent, ordered so many months ago that we had forgotten all about it.

But it triggered a memory for me of a different box arriving during an earlier scary time.

The smallish box had arrived in my mail, un-asked for, in the fall of 2001. We were all still in the raw days following 9/11. On top of that, just one week later, various places had begun receiving letters with a mysterious white powder — a powder that in several cases turned out to contain spores of the deadly disease anthrax. True, those seemed mostly to be going to news organizations, but nobody could say for sure what in the world was going on.

So here was a small cube-shaped package in our mail.

It was addressed to me, by name, but I didn’t recognize the sender, and I hadn’t ordered anything from anywhere.  So what could it be?

I left it on the porch while I tried to figure it out.

As the day wore on, I grew more and more concerned. Who would bother to send a package for no reason? Maybe it was anthrax.

Maybe it was a bomb!

Should I submerge it in water? I’ve seen them do that with bombs, on TV, but sometimes, the package is rigged to explode if you simply move it, so what should I do?

I called my husband, still at work, and demanded that he come home to help me manage this crisis.

He humored me, bringing along a magnifying glass to help him scrutinize the package.

After more than 10 minutes, we were none the wiser.

Suddenly, I lost patience. I took a broom and with all my strength, I swatted the thing out onto the steps.

We heard a little cracking noise, then nothing. No puff of spores. Certainly no explosion.

When we finally unwrapped it (of course, I made my husband do that), what did this parcel turn out to be?

It was a Christmas tree ornament, delivered with “Our very best holiday wishes” by that infamous terrorist organization, Habitat for Humanity.

Or rather, that’s what it would have been if I hadn’t successfully smashed it.

So here’s a word of warning to all you Chinese mystery seeds. I’ve got my fighting broom all oiled up and ready, and I’m not afraid to use it. You want to talk about a “Brushing” scam? I’ve got one right here, waiting for you!

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