Mystery box wasn't tasty, but at least it didn't explode

I arrived at the Mail Tribune Monday afternoon in relatively high spirits, ready to cover the cops swing shift after a lovely weekend of fun activities.

To my surprise, there was a large, navy-blue box sitting on my desk. Ooh! Presents! I love presents! Hoping the box contained something edible or useful, I went to rip it open. Then became immediately suspicious. The package was taped shut on all four sides. We're talking a hefty application of clear strapping tape here. It was seriously sealed.

Yeah. So?

Umm. Nothing. Really. Except our mail and packages are pre-opened before they make it to our desks or mail cubbies. It's always been that way. Never asked why. Just assumed it had something to do with a security policy.

I took a closer gander at the box. It was sent Priority Mail with a blaze-orange "FRAGILE" sticker affixed to the top. I checked the delivery/return labels. They were penned in blue ink, and the scrawl was barely decipherable. I didn't recognize the address. Nor do I know anyone in Newberg.


I decided to check with a colleague with great insights and a longer tenure in the news biz — Paul Fattig. Paul sits catty-corner to my desk at the beginning of what we lovingly call Damnation Alley. Paul has seen the good and the bad. A few years ago he received a package of pecan pralines in a similarly sized box. He generously shared his bounty with us all. Perhaps it was my turn.

"Hey, Paul," I said. "What do you suppose this is?"

Mr. Fattig peered over to my cubicle wall, eyeballed the package, and immediately requested I remove it from the newsroom before breaking the seal.

"I saw that," he said. "I'd appreciate it if you'd take that out into the parking lot before you open it, Sanne."

I reminded Paul he was a Marine and suggested he do the honors.

"Perhaps you can fling yourself on it if it starts ticking," I said.

Nothing doing.

"Take that thing far, far away," he insisted. "Or at least give me a head start out of the building."

Lest you think we're both paranoid wienies, I think Paul would appreciate it if I mentioned that journalists rate somewhere below politicians, defense attorneys and BP executives in many people's minds. We also have unfortunate interactions with loons.

Possibly because newspapers are the banner-bearers of freedom of speech, people feel free to say whatever they like to reporters. We stink. We suck. We're in collusion with the Republicans. Or the Democrats. Or the devil.

I once had a fellow leave a succession of blistering messages on my voicemail regarding my pedigree and my pending demise. My wrath-monster was upset about a story featuring a Rogue River man who'd been shot in the back while riding his lawn mower. The bullet was nearly spent before it hit the poor fellow and he was miraculously not badly injured.

Police had few leads, and the chief was hoping a little press might nudge potential witnesses to come forward. But my public-awareness piece ignited the fury of "Dennis." Who doesn't love a homicidal maniac who wants to be on a first-name basis while he plots your exit from this mortal coil?

Dennis began each message with a cheery greeting. Then quickly devolved into frothing mania. Dennis spewed more and more (expletive-deleted) language and dire threats with each successive message. He promised to hold me personally accountable if my reporting started a chain of copycat lawn-mower-rider shootings. He knew how to find me, blah, blah, blah.

Dennis' mother must have taught him some manners, for he did politely state he regretted being unable to apologize for his intemperate language. Then he'd take that back. Unfortunately, my voicemail kept doing pre-emptive strikes before Dennis could fully vent his spleen — or rip mine out through the phone lines. I always wondered whether being cut off at the 20-second mark added to his ire. After all, don't we all just want to be heard?

I was new to the newsroom back then. I distinctly remember bolting to my feet, pointing at the phone with an accusing finger and stammering, "Dddeath threat!"

I think I was hoping for a hug — and a police escort. What I got was a brief smattering of applause from my cohorts.


Turns out this is not an unusual occurrence. Paul has stories that would curl your hair and tickle your ribs. We all do, I suspect.

But back to Monday's mystery box. Since Paul made it clear he wasn't going to deal with my potential grenade, I pulled out the scissors with a sigh. Paul retreated only as far as his desk and — cool customer that he is — began typing away. He was apparently more afraid of missing deadline than being blown apart.

Slipping one of the blades under the lip of the box and through the plastic tape, I said a little prayer. Slice, slice, slice, slice. The four sides were free. Next to pop the top off. Using the tips of the shears, I flipped the lid off in a single motion.

No kaboom. No powdery substance. No dead rodent. Not even a box of "Oops. My bad" candy from Dennis. (Police never discovered who fired the .22 caliber bullet. They suspect it was an accidental ricochet from someone varmint hunting or target-shooting in nearby hills. Happily, there were no more attacks on hapless gardeners in Rogue River. Or journalists.)

Nestled in blue velvet sat an etched plexiglass plaque from the Society of Professional Journalists. First Place. Pacific Northwest. Excellence in Journalism Competition. 2009. Column Writing. Sanne Specht. Mail Tribune.

"Well, that's very nice," said Paul, with a smile. "Congratulations."

Paul's desk is littered with similar awards. His are nestled in, under and behind towering stacks of yellowing reporters notebooks, government reports and Oregon history books.

Trophies are nice, we agreed.

But not nearly as exciting as loons. Or as tasty as pecan pralines.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

Share This Story