What's one surefire way to reveal that you're hiding an illegal pet lizard in your dorm room?

Order boxes of live silk worms to your Smith Union mail box, of course.

"The student who came to pick up the boxes would say, 'That's for my lizard?but don't tell anyone!'" Mailing Services Supervisor Ben Scott said, noting that each month's shipment was often accompanied by a trail of silk worm excrement.

Believe it or not, live lizard food is not the strangest thing staff members at the Mail Center say they have encountered while working on the ground floor of Smith Union. With some 419,130 pieces of mail passing through the mail center just last year, Scott and his colleagues are bound to handle a number of unusual deliveries with some regularity.

While most of the packages they receive are nothing out of the ordinary, some are confusing, funny, or downright gross.

According to Scott, unusual smells from the mail center can often be traced to unclaimed fruit deliveries waiting to be picked up in the non-air-conditioned mail room.

While staff members continue to distribute second and third package notices in the students' mail boxes, the fruit sometimes begins to rot on the shelves.

Worse yet is when the rotting shipments contain perishable goods other than fruit?like raw meat.

"There was a meat box in here for a long time. Eventually, I just took it and threw it in the dumpster," Scott said.

The mail center also handles a number of unique shipments each year that are not packaged in boxes or envelopes?or packaged at all, for that matter. Staff members handle everything from whole coconuts to full-sized pumpkins, so long as the oddly shaped items have a readable address label and the appropriate postage.

"You can pretty much send anything through the mail as long as it's stable," Scott said.

Just ask Andrew DeBenedictis '08, who once received a 10-inch section of a two-by-four in exchange for the blue package slip he found in his mailbox. According to DeBenedictis, the block of wood, sent by his brother, included only his address, the sender's address, nine stamps held on by staples, and a six-word greeting.

DeBenedictis said that when he called his brother for an explanation, his brother said that he had heard the postal service would deliver anything with a stamp and wanted to test the theory.

"Apparently, my cousin had also been lucky enough to be on the mailing list and received a similar 'package,' inscribed with 'maybe this'll work...'" DeBenedictis said.

For students traveling long distances to campus, the Mail Center is often a good way to get their heavier belongings to Brunswick. While it has become more common in recent years for students to ship their bikes across country, the mail center has also seen an increased handling of surf boards and even full-sized kayaks.

The heaviest student delivery to come through the mail center, however, was a 600-pound crate containing everything from skis to a fully assembled futon. The package was left at the loading dock, where the student opened it with tools borrowed from Facilities.

Although the Mail Center does not open and inspect packages, there are a number of items that are prohibited. For example, the Mail Center will not deliver alcoholic beverages, so students on campus looking to join a Beer of the Month Club must rely on Hannaford's selection instead. Likewise, the mail center won't handle firearms, even if they have been unassembled.

Senior Lincoln Pac, who hunts in his home state of Montana, has found a way around the mail center's restrictions on hunting rifles?carry-on luggage. The solution is not ideal, however, as carrying a weapon on-board is well within reason for suspicion.

"After I declare and check my possession, I'm permanently 'red-tagged' as a lone male traveling with a firearm, which means I get the full body frisk at each and every checkpoint," Pac said.

Afraid of having it crushed in the mail, Pac has also carried with him on the plane a stuffed bull trout.

"I don't recommend transporting any animal remains that are any 'fresher' than taxidermied fish," he wrote.

"I once thought it might be a good idea to bring some very nice tenderloin and backstrap plank steaks from a white-tailed doe I had shot over Christmas break back to Bowdoin for a Mac House barbeque. What I didn't think through was the 17-hour flight first from Bozeman to Seattle and then to JFK. Needless to say some thawing did occur and some mess was made," Pac added.

For the majority of students, however, the Mail Center is still the preferred way to get most items to campus. According to Scott, September is the busiest month, when students are still getting settled and realizing what they've left at home.

"This month alone we've handled 42,275 pieces of mail, of which 25,027 were packages," Scott said, adding that that his staff handles about three times more deliveries in the first month of the academic year than during any other month.

According to Mail Clerk Karlene Saucier, the influx of mail makes for a busy first few weeks, especially between 10 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., when the Mail Center experiences a constant rush of students.

"We manage," she said. "I don't know how, but we do."