Jane Armstrong

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.