In a Box

Big Box Butt (rear-end of Target)by Sarah at ProgressiveKid

I was standing in line at a big box store to return eco-friendly bulbs that did not fit in my light fixtures when I noticed an odd odor that wasn’t necessarily unpleasant. It was more like unsettling. I looked around and noticed that I was surrounded on both sides of the aisles by shelves and shelves full of insect-killing products. There were bee killers and wasp killers and pest killers and ant killers and termite killers and fly killers and mosquito killers. And from the boxes and tubs and tubes and spray cans was emerging that eerie smell that I was now able to identify succinctly as Toxic.

A young clerk was manning the cash register. During his entire shift, he was standing in close range of the Toxic smell. The poisons that were created to kill bugs of course do not know not to affect humans. They are poisons and, as such, they poison life, whatever its form. At the same time I was freaking out about what must be happening to his body, I was struck by the easy and shameless commodification of death, at how smoothly we could sell and buy the means to erase life, as if those means were no more innocuous than frozen peas or metal screws.

The woman in front of me in line was buying plants and, I was briefly relieved to notice, organic potting soil. But then she asked the young clerk if he had some plastic to protect the inside of her car. He obligingly handed her a fistful of enormous plastic bags with which to line her trunk, even though the plants were all in boxes, and, well, a trunk is a trunk—no one needs to sit in it and so how clean does it need to be?

I fled the store with my refund and inhaled deeply in the parking lot which was lined with gigantic pickups and SUVs and had steamrolled over a former forest at the top of a now perpetually windy and treeless hill.

At my next stop, another big box store, where I was looking for a dress for my daughter, I passed by an array of T-shirts that, in sequins and cursive embroidery, proclaimed the wearer (presumably a girl since we were in the girls department and there is no longer any gender crossover in clothing stores) to be born to shop, to be a spoiled princess, and essentially to be shallow, pea-brained, and obsessed with shiny objects and poodles in diamond collars. I was so disturbed by the messages being communicated (via those shirts made in Malaysia, for certainly no more than 5 cents, at great expense to the local economy and local water supply since they were not organic and therefore required the aerial spraying of chemicals originally designed for warfare but now used to eradicate the bol weevil by defoliating the cotton plant) that I swooned and had to grab onto a nearby rack of greeting cards that made Father’s Day jokes about men and their remotes, fishing poles, and tool boxes.

This is when I went into a full out-of-body experience and, perhaps from sheer wishful thinking, transported myself to a position high above the big box scene, with its miles of asphalt and its absence of horizon, from where I could see at a great distance this nonsensical and hideous horror we have created for ourselves.

What are we showing our kids about life? What do they see, without realizing that they are seeing it because they are in it and their perspective is only shelf high? What are they learning about life and about their own worth, potential, and role across the ages of this planet? What are we telling them about what they can be and about what they should be? How did this happen? How did we turn a paradise into a nightmare toxic both to the body and the soul, a nightmare from which there is no waking without radical and almost impossible-seeming transformation?

I cannot spare my child this. There is no alternate view except for one I paint in words. This is the moment at which we must summon our imaginations. Because it is only in an imaginary reality that we can offer our children something better, something beautiful and more free.

I perceived a whole new meaning to the phrase “think outside the box” and wanted to amnend it to “think and feel outside the box” and then to “smash the box, and then to, more thoughtfully perhaps, “recycle the box,” since there’s no need to toss out perfectly good cardboard, no matter what it might have packaged in its first incarnation.

Photo © Dean Terry (Creative Commons License)

©2007 ProgressiveKid. May not be reprinted or redisplayed without permission.


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