There it is in the headlines again. Another dead baby. Another dead mommy.

          Or speaking some incredibly lifelike language of their own. The catalog teems with effusive synonyms for authentic: "Wonderfully realistic," "so realistic," "so-lifelike," "incredibly natural-looking," "so natural looking," "extremely natural-looking," "you'll marvel at its realistic appearance," "leaves so convincing you won't believe they can't turn brown," "natural dried-look," "'Fresh' from an English garden," "totally realistic and carefree," "that natural look you love so well," and "New and improved with even more lifelike fullness." What makes them so lifelike? Petals innovation in the artificial plant industry: poured vases of acrylic that looks like water--Water Illusions.

          Admittedly, the flowers in the catalog do look very real, and so does the water, but we wanted to make absolutely sure. We called the customer service people at Petals. Do they really look real? "Yes, definitely," said the customer service lady. "They look very, very real in person. They look so real, that people order them, and they look so real that they try to water them." While this doesn't speak well for Petals' customers', it certainly sounds convincing. But doesn't dust settle on the acrylic-aqua, ruining the effect? "Dust gets in everywhere," Petals admits, and recommends that every faux-flower owner purchase cans of their "ozone friendly Artificial Flower Kleaner," to spray away the dust. Can this be done inside? "No, we recommend that you use it outdoors, since it has a very strong odor."

          How realistically lifelike.

          "Mailorderous" is an occasional Public Domain feature by Dara Moskowitz reporting innovations from the world of direct mail catalogs. "Petals" can be reached at 1 Aqueduct Road, White Plains, NY 10606-1097, 1-800-920-6000, http://petals.com

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