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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cardboard Gold

Today's New York Times features an essay by Ann Beattie, in which she discusses her lifelong infatuation with boxes.  She speaks of an irresistble desire, whenever she finds a halfway decent box discarded on the sidewalk, to salvage the container for future use--whether for moving supplies or storage (or both).  I can relate.

Since I permamnently (knock wood) moved out of my parents' home, I have changed residences some 12 times--or, on average, every two years.  Indeed, at four and a half years, my stay in my current abode marks the longest period of relative immobility since that first relocation some 23 years ago.  The first several moves were between locations within New York City.  Invariably, one of the most stressful aspects of the move was gathering a sufficient number of boxes in which to pack things.

You must understand that, in New York, one had to be resourceful in locating suitably sturdy (and relatively uninfested) containers.  One factor working in my favor was the city's strict recycling laws, which made of box disposal a rather onerous undertaking: One could not simply dump boxes in the trash or on the sidewalk; one had to break the boxes down, flatten them, and tie them up in tidy bundles.  Many a store owner would gladly pass along boxes to anyone who requested them simply to avoid such chores.

Liquor stores were usually a good source.  Their boxes, usually built to hold about a dozen bottles of wine, were of an ideal size for packing books: Big enough to fit a decent number of volumes (particularly paperbacks), but not so big that a full box was unliftable.  The only catch was that these boxes included cardboard dividers (to hold the bottles), which were essentially useless and necessitated a moderate amount of recycling activity on the part of the box recipient.  A small price to pay for such vital supplies.

Of course, once one moved, then one had to deal with the recycling issue on the arrival end: Remember, for a budget-conscious New Yorker, as I was throughout my young adulthood (oh, who am I kidding--as I still am today despite no longer living in New York), apartments were small, space was at a premium, and storage space was virtually non-existent.  As much as I would have liked to hold on to my hard-won box-stash for the inevitable next move, I had to discard boxes as quickly as they were unpacked--breaking them down, flattening them, tying them up with sturdy twine. . . . Not AS unpleasant a task as finding the boxes in the first place, but certainly less enjoyable than naked jello wrestling. . . or a colonoscopy, for that matter.

I had what I thought was a great idea for a website: BoxExchange.com.  On this site, people could post the date they were moving, the area to which they were relocating, and the approximate number of boxes they would be using.  Then, other people who were moving could contact the poster if they were in the market for lightly used boxes, thus saving people both the stress of acquiring and the aggravation of breaking down and recycling boxes.  This website never took off, mainly because I couldn't convince FOS--the only person I know with programming skills--that it was a worthwhile endeavour.  His loss.  We could have been the Larry Page and Sergey Brin of the box-acquisition search-engine industry.

I imagine the website would have been popular only in New York and perhaps a few other heavily urban areas.  Since moving to California, I have taken the easy way out, heading down to the ubiquitous public storage spaces, where one may simply purchase boxes of all different sizes, shapes, and personalities.  But despite the fact that finding them is relatively simple now, I maintain my lifelong appreciation of the sturdy, well-proportioned box.

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