Tonawanda News

October 11, 2013

ADAMCZYK: Packing a sunset into a mailing tube

The Tonawanda News

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?)

If a society has the technological wherewithal to pull it off, a system such as this can be admirable, and perhaps better than that set-up we occasionally (and only momentarily) admire of societies allegedly less further advanced than ours (i.e., some Third World arrangement, or what we were like, four or more generations ago), of using it up, wearing it out, making it do or going without.

Are ideas like that, appropriate for places and situations but not exactly transferable in time? Of course they are. 

Chris Matthews, he of the “my questions are better than their answers” political talk show on television, has recently written a book about Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, two master politicians of the 1980s with opposing views on pretty much everything but somehow assured that Washington got things done. The book is evidently an homage to the good old days when old coots in a closed room arranged to paper over a lot of political discontent, over drinks, and get legislation passed and signed. 

And boy, apparently, do we need that now, I guess.

The essayist Gerald Early has noted that, in 2,000 years, America will be remembered for three things: baseball, jazz and its Constitution. A clever line, to be sure, but all three manage to hang on without much direct interest from the public these days. The U.S. Constitution is not the first of its kind and won’t be the last, and it is even no longer the model for aspiring free societies these days, the aforementioned strivers typically preferring Canada’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a starting point.

As far as constitutions go (federal, municipal, that of the local garden club), they reach the end of their usable lives when all the loopholes have been found. 

An unpopular but loud minority (aptly named, in this case, the “Suicide Caucus”) can hold government interned for days, weeks, and use the U.S. Constitution and time-tested Congressional procedures to do it. The Republican Party, reading the demographics and concluding it won’t capture the White House for at least a generation, endeavors to reduce the presidency and pumps up the power of the Speaker of the one gerrymandered place in government the party may hold sway, the House of Representatives.

I get all this by looking at mailing tubes, then and now? Yeah. The old one is not built for the way we live and move today. It had, and has, its uses, but basically it belongs in the attic or in a museum, like a political party I can name.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at