This, I think, is rich: I just got back from the FedEx on Queen Anne, where I had been trying to ship a box of products from Greenwood Space Travel Supply to a potential client, just as samples of my packaging work.
I had them in a paper bag, mostly a collection of metal pint cans and a couple of brown apothecary jars. I was worried about how to pack them so they wouldn't break, so I went up to the FedEx guy with the bag and asked him what kind of box I should use. He immediately pulled out—I think just by chance—the bottle of "Rocket Fuel," which has a label that looks like this:
FedEx guy: Is this really what this is? Rocket fuel?
Me [laughing, used to this reaction from being at the space-travel supply store]: Oh, no, no, no. Of course not. It's... made-up. Kind of a joke. It's actually full of sugar, which I just put in to give it some weight, but that's all it is.
FedEx guy: You can't ship this.
Me: But... it's just sugar! What, uh, what if I empty it out? It doesn't really need to have sugar in it.
FedEx guy: No. They would still x-ray it, and then you'd get a call when it was en route. I don't think it would make it.
Me: Hmmm. I really need to get this out... but I guess I don't have to ship the "Rocket Fuel" can. What about the rest?
The FedEx guy then grabs cans of nitrogen (N2) and neon (Ne), with their store-advertised "purity" of 78.084% and 0.0018% respectively (which was our way of being clever about selling cans of normal air, since that's their percentage in the atmosphere—which, of course, was our way of making more money for 826 Seattle by selling products that cost almost nothing to produce). Here's what the atmospheric gas cans look like on the shelf:
FedEx guy: Nope. You can't ship these either.
Me: But... they're empty! It's just air. And... nitrogen? It's, like, almost 80% of the atmosphere. There's nothing dangerous about nitrogen, even if it were pure.
FedEx guy: They look too much like bomb-making materials.
Me [going into dumbfounded mode]: Bomb... Neon? What? Is there anything here I can legally ship? How about this bottle of tap water?
I hand him a bottle of Certainty (tagline, "For when it's preferable to think you know more"), which looks like this:
FedEx guy: Nope. It still looks too suspicious, too much like bomb-making materials.
Me: But it's "Certainty." That's not even a thing. I just made that up. [That's not strictly true. It's a scientific term/idea, and we sell it alongside bottles of "Uncertainty." But it's like having a bottle labeled "Friendship."]
FedEx guy: It's just too suspicious.
Me [going into post-9/11, TSA-style super-dumbfounded mode]: So what you're saying is you can't ship any sort of containers, even if they're empty? You know that we originally ordered these empty cans and jars from a company, and *they* shipped them to *us*.
FedEx guy: They must have used a different vendor ["vendor"? I can't remember, some word like that, like a "service"].
Which I imagine he said because he couldn't bring himself to say, "It's the *words* that are *on* the containers that are dangerous"—even after I had opened them all and demonstrated the utter harmlessness/emptiness of the containers themselves.
I sympathize with people who aren't making very much and are probably forced to comply with arcane corporate rules and who have to deal with weirdoes coming in with cans labeled "Rocket Fuel." I really do. But... c'mon. How much effort is involved in *not* being part of the common-sense-negating, spirit-crushing, Bush-era fear-slash-stupidity machine? The terrorists win again.
Hopefully, actual terrorists won't learn to wrap their packages at home first. Long story short, I packed them up there at the FedEx counter, with their scissors and tape and some extra bubble wrap I bought, and then I walked down the street to the U.S. Post Office and mailed them from there, all sealed up. We'll see how they fare. I hope they don't have snark-sniffing dogs.