Tonawanda News


October 11, 2013

ADAMCZYK: Packing a sunset into a mailing tube

Tonawanda News — Years ago, 1970 maybe, I bought an artwork, poster-sized and on paper. It arrived in a tube, in the mail. 

I found the tube the other day, a sturdy and heavy rolled piece of cardboard with reinforced metal plates on the ends. Waterproof, dent-proof. You could use this thing at batting practice. You could fill it with concrete and build a bridge support. You could spend all the money in your wallet on postage alone.

Compare it to the container of some historical maps I recently received: a single piece of light corrugated cardboard, bent into the shape of a narrow prism (triangular, so it won’t roll away), the ends tucked in with cardboard tabs, a one-piece protective system that won’t last forever and wasn’t meant to. A printed notation suggests it’s recyclable. 

(Here comes the rueful comment from the wizened, elderly gentleman on how things have changed, and not for the better, as witnessed in his observations about mailing tubes, their past and their future.)

The old one was a product of a society that knew how to make things, yessir. The newer one is by people who know how to use things. No reason in the world a mailing tube needs to be reinforced the way that older one was (still is, actually). Oh, you could reuse it, over and over, and it would have likely acquired identifying stickers in the manner of those old valises of well-traveled people you see on Turner Classic Movies, but its working life has had nothing to do with shipping art objects around the world more than once.

The methodology these days is to buy an item, use it, then toss it and see it mashed into something else. Thus does nothing overstay its welcome or go-out-of-style date, jobs are available at each step in the circle of manufacturing life and everyone has some access to the best available product. (Be honest, what’s more valuable to you, the perfume for sale on the back cover of a fashion magazine, or the magician’s aid known as the Samsung Galaxy cellphone on the back cover of Time?)

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