The subject of the latest installment of the Squeaky Wheel is going to seem like a relatively minor thing for me to be grumbling about, but it directly relates to a pet peeve of mine, one that’s shared by most veterans of my former industry. My sore spot was poked when I spotted a recent New York Times article describing how an entrepreneur in the Belgian capital of Brussels is handing out foldable temporary tents for homeless people. Great idea! But according to the headline, the tents are made out of ‘cardboard’. I suspected otherwise.
After seeing the headline I read the article for more details. Apparently the city has outlawed fabric tents on the streets, thus the need for a new idea, and the material being used is described as cardboard, but it is not. I was a boxman (a veteran of the box industry) for many years and my kind of box — the brown kind that Amazon uses by the millions — is not cardboard, it’s corrugated, and that’s what is being used for the homeless tents. A cardboard box is the type that holds your Wheaties or your shoes, and a tent made from that material wouldn’t be much of a shelter.
But the bottom line is that I wasn’t surprised to see the terms misused. People have referred to corrugated boxes as cardboard boxes so often through the years that it has become a fait accompli. In fact, according to some sources the term ‘cardboard box’ has become a kind of generic name for all kinds of boxes, as crazy as that sounds. But my point is that most people still look at a corrugated box and think ‘cardboard’. (I’m right, aren’t I? If I asked you to describe the box you got from Amazon you’d call it a cardboard box, wouldn’t you? Hah! I knew it! Sorry. . .got a little carried away.)
But aside from the name thing it’s really nice to see that someone is providing homeless folks a sleep space, proving once again how versatile the material can be. Corrugated boxes have been around for a long time, and as a basic shipping container they’ve never really been bested. In addition to that very essential use, innovative packaging engineers have turned corrugated into everything from coffins to furniture, so I wasn’t too surprised to see someone helping the homeless with a tent, but come to think of it that’s not actually completely original. Street people have been living in makeshift housing for ages, using either abandoned appliance boxes or tiny shelters they’ve put together from scraps. But I guess the new tents are a little more uniform and attractive, an important point for city officials but probably not so for the homeless themselves.
Speaking of Amazon and boxes, I found this Little Guy available for sale there, and imagine my surprise when I also discovered that there’s a similar character on social media — and online games too — known as Boxman. He shows up all over the place, and if you go to YouTube you’ll even see videos of people dressing up like him and doing goofy things. (Nothing too surprising about that.)
I also found some music about the Boxman character and just boxes themselves. (Not to be confused with music boxes, which are a whole different thing.) But below is the video I chose because I couldn’t resist. It’s a little bit funny and very thought-provoking, and it doesn’t take an old boxman to know that’s a helluva lot of boxes!