Oh Those Pesky Plastic Peanuts

Islit open the package with a kitchen knife and there they were, plastic ''peanuts'' covering everything. I tried to scoop off enough of them to get at what was underneath, but they wouldn't go. They stuck to my hands, my shirt, my hair. And I couldn't brush them off. They clung to the counter, the cabinet doors.

''Help,'' I cried in pathetic despair.

My wife, Lucy, finally arrived. ''Electricity in the air,'' she said.

I marched to the phone. ''I've had it with these things,'' I said. ''I'm going to call the company - the president.''

The person in charge of complaints - not the president, naturally - was a soft-spoken man who probably held the phone as far away as possible from his ear as I discharged my grievances. ''Let me assure you, sir, that we share in your concern,'' he said. I paused, momentarily taken aback. ''We really want to address this problem.''

''They used to just scatter,'' I moaned. ''Now they stick to everything. I can't get them off my hands!'' Silence. ''Couldn't you, please, find something else?''

''Believe me, sir, if there was a better product, we would use it. Our research and development branch gives packaging its highest priority. It is constantly experimenting with new materials. But we welcome your concern. In fact, should you have any recommendations....''

''Old Ping-Pong balls,'' I said, waking in the night. Peat moss? Spanish moss? Shredded cardboard, newspaper, shredded documents? The Pentagon! Washington alone should be able to supply the whole packaging industry.

Meanwhile, needed household items kept coming - mixing bowls for our son, some dessert plates from Italy - in boxes popping with ''peanuts.'' Deliveries, once looked forward to as minor but important bright spots in the day, were now dreaded as times of crisis. Weeks went by. Months. No comments on any of my suggestions. Then one day a letter from that company:

''For some time we have been working to improve the quality of our packaging material. We are therefore pleased to inform you of the following:''

''Ah, ha!'' I exclaimed.

''The polystyrene packing peanut was the finest packaging material on the market. It had no equal. Whether it protected a delicate vase or a lamp shade, it ensured that your order arrived in perfect condition. However, we now have a peanut that is far superior. While maintaining its properties as a packaging material, the product is also biodegradable. Made from starch, it dissolves in water. Simply place these peanuts in your kitchen sink, fill with water, and let nature do the rest. Or if you wish to dispose of large amounts, take them outside and hose them down, or release them into a pond or stream....''

''Hallelujah!'' I shouted. We poured the peanuts into the sink and watched them melt away to nothing. ''More!'' I cried. ''Give us more!'' It was a victory for perseverance - on everyone's part. I wrote the company and congratulated them.

A month went by, and one day two large packages arrived from the same store: a vegetable juicer and a mini-Cuisinart. Christmas in March! We eagerly tore open the boxes.

It was raining, so I took the peanuts outside and dumped them onto the lawn. The wind scattered them, driving them in under the hedges and whirling them up into the branches of the spruce trees.

'' 'Blow winds, and crack your cheeks!' '' I shouted. ''One more minute and.... Zap!'' Clouds of them swirled off across the blueberry field beyond the stone wall, past the flower garden and the apple trees. I marched back into the house.

''They've re-called the starch peanut,'' Lucy said. I grabbed the letter from her and dashed into the rain. It might take me a month, but I would find every one.

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