Bubble Wrap


Unless you’re super-human, how many times have you looked into your closet or storage shed and said, “I’ll hold onto this in case I need it someday…” or, “I’m not ready to part with that now…”? Guilty of such utterances, I yearn to streamline, clean out, lighten up. But the unlit corners of my house hold so many boxed-up treasures – aunties’ costume jewelry, uncles’ neckties, dad’s CD collection, trophy ball caps, a multi-generational fabric stash, and a clutch of old toothbrushes kept to assemble that fleet of model airplane kits never built in the 1970’s but retained for when we, someday – but not too soon – have grandchildren to dote upon. So many forgotten mementos and inherited bits linger under the protective motto, “Save for later.” Honestly, I can’t let go.

Friends called to say they would be running errands at the Container Store and would I like to join them? Here was a chance to get out of the house, socialize, and roam the aisles to see if there was anything I couldn’t live without. I hopped in the car to meet them. This store sells promises of ease and happiness if you’ll just buy enough clear plastic bins to organize your life. I would not be tempted. While I do not disparage Organizing, are you really buying a solution or a bandaid? I digress.

While my friends shopped in the tempting, high-traffic aisles, debating the merits of toy-sized, candy-colored sticky notes with barely enough surface area to inscribe a scratch, I wandered into the deep recesses of the store, past so much tantalizing bait: the haute mode laundry bins (lipstick on a pig), the myriad of waste baskets where you think, “Gosh, if it looks like a hilarious panda, maybe my kid will actually toss his trash in it,” and the diminutive laundry racks recalling the days of hand-washed lace doilies. Open to the possibility of a bargain, I headed for the sale rack of tattered gift wrap and clever luggage tags, and found myself in the neighborhood where plain shelving, lackluster bins, and the decidedly un-sexy things are sold. Or so I thought.

I heard it before I saw it – the distinctive, randomly effervescent pop-pop-pop of bubble wrap. Pausing at the end of the aisle, I peered around the end-cap. There were, against the wall in the furthest corner of the store, industrial-sized rolls of bubble wrap – the kind you buy by the yard if you are shipping a Ming vase, a Monet, or just making an outfit for your kid to go outside and play.He was probably about 13 years old, no doubt in the store against his will while a parent shopped for a sibling’s dormitory products. Clearly in his own private reverie, he held the edge of the roll in his hands at waist height, poppety-pop-popping like a virtuoso pianist at Carnegie Hall. His tousled mop of hair swayed over his jolting body in sync with his private percussion.

I’m no store security expert, but I’m pretty sure that when you smash all the air out of the The Wrap, you’re essentially wrecking the product. Where this falls on the retail morality scale of just tasting one grape to eating the whole donut before you get to the register, I’m not sure – but it’s not my problem, not my kid, not my profit margin. I’m more interested in his abandon. There’s no one else at the back of the store; it’s just me, and the ecstatic teen reveling in a heady cache of staggering proportions.

Have you heard? Bubble Wrap manufacturing will be changing – it was in the news. I tell my friends and they’re shocked. They ask, “Why? Is it an environmental concern?” The Sealed Air Corporation is going to a pop-less format. Un-poppable! Unthinkable! To say this is the end of an era is quite possibly the largest understatement of our time. In this store, stack-and-save central, does this kid even know how fleeting is his joy? He’s riffing away in his own world, in rhythm with so many bubble-popping aficionados who have gone before him. This satisfying and profound expression of tactile pleasure and audible joy unites generations and appeals across geographic boundaries.

He goes on for some time, and then his private serenade-for-one is apparently done. He’s spent. His hands fall to his sides. He sighs and swipes his hair off his forehead. I follow his gaze as he notices another roll just off to his right. Eager hands lead the way as he sidles the few quick steps towards greater pleasures. This transition is like moving from a weedy clavichord to the pipe organ at Radio City Music Hall. These sonic eruptions are deeper, more resonant, slower. This is the bubble wrap for the Big Items. Each clear plastic cell is the size of a ginger snap with the padding capability of a marshmallow. I listen in wonder as the measured and deliberate andante profundo spills forth.

I am aware that I’m gawking. I shouldn’t linger but half of me can’t believe how naughty he is, the other half is a bit envious. He stops. He turns slowly and sees me at the end of the aisle. He murmurs, “Oh, sorry —” and quickly moves off. I can only laugh. He was having fun in the moment…using it up and letting it go. Good boy.

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