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.