Repurposing Your Big Box
Before you begin, you must divest yourself of sentimental memories of your grand opening. The parking lot was full, cars circling, spilling out onto the surrounding streets. The customers waited on the sidewalk for hours, sprawled on folding chairs, bundled in blankets, gulping big gulps. They nearly crushed one another when the doors first slid open. They marveled at the brightly lit, orderly aisles, the bounty of merchandise–folded stacks of colorful apparel, pulsing electronics, sparkling baubles. Their heads jerked nervously about the vast space, eyes drawing distracted, random pathways from object to object. And then the purchases. A brilliant success.
That time has passed.
Other, bigger boxes will survive by selling cheap merchandise produced under unspeakable conditions, bargains cluttering the customers’ foreclosed rooms until desperately sold for pennies or abandoned.
But your poor box. Bad luck. Bad location. Bad timing.
Still, the building stands, an abandoned destination along a ghostly strip. Bones picked bare, the box itself persists. Stand inside your space. Contemplate its essence. Map it out, become the cartographer of the deadened landscape. Sketch it–equiangular quadrilateral, non-square (oblong).
Consider the ubiquity of rectangles. Observe how the consumer is drawn to this shape—doors, windows, beds, bed linens, towels, toilet stalls, gallery pictures, book covers, notebooks, shipping crates, football fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, handball courts, airport monitors, computer monitors, movie screens, television, television, television. Television in cabinets, sleek television on the wall, small television in the hand. And swimming pools, shimmering cool aqua rectangles to dive into, immerse oneself inside. Sure, other pool shapes have been attempted, but does the kidney really do it? Has it ever? It is not a rectangle. Any attempt to make round corners beautiful will ultimately fail. Time and taste will render them relics.
Understand that right angles rarely exist in nature. Space telescopes massive and powerful gaze back to the origins of time, the very first impulses of the universe, but they will not find a 90-degree angle floating through the cosmos. Deep sea exploration vessels sitting on the silent floor of the ocean record in the darkness fanciful beasts–giant uncatalogued cephalopods, writhing shape-shifters–but if they detect a corner, an ell-shaped configuration of metal oxidizing in the depths, they will have discovered the wreckage of a man-made object, an expression of human construction, geometric perfection.
Repurpose. Depurpose. Purpose.
The purpose of your big box was always only to be a box, a rectangle to be experienced, strolled through, walls to contain and comfort. The goods brought fleeting pleasure, manufactured satisfaction. The merchandise distracted the customers from this truth: they long for space within corners, right angles, a place beyond nature. They stare at boxes. They inhabit boxes. Simply that.
Empty the box. Open the doors and keep them open. Sell it.
Jane Armstrong’s work has appeared in Newsweek, The North American Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, New Orleans Review, River Teeth, Brevity and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She teaches at Northern Arizona University.