It began innocently enough, in the early days of last winter. I was shopping on, searching for just the right gift for a friend, when I spotted a handcrafted ceramic bowl. I placed my order and didn’t give it another thought.

Until weeks later, when Wuhan, China, kept turning up in the news, thanks to the novel coronavirus. As time went on, the news from abroad became increasingly dire. Somewhere in this mix, I recalled that my bowl was coming from China. But what are the odds that it would originate nearby?

Remote to none, I figured. And why should it matter, in any event?

But with accounts of a pandemic looming in the back of my mind, I had unwittingly granted magical powers to both the virus and the bowl.

To humor myself, I looked at a map. The Chinese town in question was 500 miles from Wuhan — well beyond any reasonable standard of social distancing. I knew the virus couldn’t just hitch a ride on pottery and survive two weeks in transit. Still, these were troubling times, and I felt less than comfy with the whole idea.

So I decided to email the vendor and nix the order. Next day, the vendor confirmed my cancellation and PayPal issued a refund — case closed.

A month later, as Covid-19 bloomed furiously throughout the Northeast, I got an email from China. My order was about to ship, it said, and would arrive in two weeks.


Apparently I would soon get a handcrafted bowl from China, at no cost, despite my efforts to the contrary. I contacted the vendor again, reminding him of our exchange and the subsequent refund. He assured me that the shipment would be stopped.

By now, it was spring, and I, along with much of the Northeast, were in lockdown —  masked, sanitizing our groceries, and otherwise engaging in strange new behaviors. An unwanted shipment from China would be an ironic asterisk to this winter from hell.

Of course, the vendor was unable to stop the shipment, which eventually found its way to my doorstep. Alongside newly purchased bags of groceries, the package sat unopened in my basement for several days. But days turned into weeks, then a month. I hadn’t forgotten the package, exactly, nor had I made peace with this unintended souvenir of the plague.

Then last week, having acclimated to the raft of Covid precautions we now routinely undertake, I finally opened the box.

With so much preamble, you might think I was expecting evil spirits to fly out — something that would account for the prolonged meshugas of the proceedings. Suffice to say, the package contained nothing more than a ceramic bowl.

By now, however, that bowl had stalked me sufficiently that I could no longer think of it as a gift for a friend. The only gift would be its banishment from my life — and an end to this loopy drama.

And, in that spirit, I happily tossed it in the trash.


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