My Nutty Shrink-Wrapped Existence.

Living with plastic in the throes of more plastic.

Robert Cormack
The Haven
5 min readJun 17, 2024

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“Sometimes life gives us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging.” Dar Williams

Why is everything we buy shrink-wrapped these days, whether it’s our food, our sundries, or something as insignificant as a nailfile? My wife bought a nailfile the other day. We spent a good fifteen minutes trying to get it out of the packaging. I’m sure the doctor had an easier time removing my appendix.

When Winona comes home with groceries, we set aside all the shrink-wrapped items. Some will have to wait until the next day, since she can only stand so much of my threatening to throw every item outside. She eventually guides me to a chair, petting my head like I’ve just retrieved a duck.

It’s usually solved in half the time it takes me to get the shrink wrap off a mouthwash bottle.

“We’ll do the rest tomorrow,” she’ll say, leaving me to watch some British mystery. It’s usually solved in half the time it takes me to get the shrink wrap off a mouthwash bottle.

I don’t even bother unwrapping a new toothbrush. I just use it as is. Same with the gum stimulators. I find the packaging is just as effective — possibly more so — and technically I’ve paid for both.

Winona, on the other hand, figures most things out, mostly by putting on her reading glasses. Sometimes there’s a little diagram showing how to twist a top or find the perforated lines on the back of the box. These things I miss because I don’t put on my reading glasses.

Half the time, the instructions are in deplorable English—or possibly Swahili. It seems to me the manufacturers don’t care if I know how to open something or not. They think I have the brains of a monkey. I’m sure it says that somewhere in small type: “You won’t figure this out. You have the brains of a monkey.” They probably laughed about that for a week.

Noting my frustration the other day, Winona bought a gizmo specifically designed to open molded plastic packaging. Unfortunately, it was encased in molded plastic, requiring me to get the garden shears to open it. I broke the gizmo in the process. Now I just use garden shears.

Even accent chairs come in boxes that — at first glance — couldn’t hold a small rodent.

The worst moments come when my wife orders stuff online. Even accent chairs come in boxes that couldn’t hold a large rodent. Yet, all the pieces are there, each wrapped in plastic with little numbered stickers you line up with other numbered stickers which line up with other numbered stickers.

My job is to bring all these numbers into what the instructions call “harmony.” This takes about 20 hours. Once everything is harmonized, you have an accent chair that collapses on impact. Then you spend 20 more hours driving six-inch nails into all the connecting pieces, and throwing it in the basement.

Winona, meanwhile, has been out finding curtains, which she now wants to hold them up next to the chair. “Where is it?” she says.

I point to the basement.

“What’s it doing in the basement?” she says, going downstairs with the curtains over her shoulder. A scream follows, with Winona running up again. “It’s the wrong green,” she wails. “Now I’ve got curtains and no chair. Put it back in the box. Wrap it up and I’ll go print the return label.”

I push and shove, stomping on the pieces, until Winona comes back with the return label.

With crowbar in hand, I go downstairs, remove the six-inch nails, take the chair apart, then try cramming everything back in the stupid box. I push and shove, stomping on the pieces, until Winona comes back with the return label.

“What in heaven’s name are you doing?” she says.

“Putting the chair back in the box,” I reply.

“Well, take it easy. We won’t get our money back if it isn’t in its original condition. They’re very specific about that.”

“Sorry,” I say. “I’m just not cut out for harmonized chairs.”

“Oh, give me that,” she says, grabbing my crowbar.

In minutes, Winona has the chair parts, Styrofoam and plastic all mashed in the box like a Smores. She smacks the return label on the top and off she goes to the post office.

“Why are you getting so upset?” she says. “It’s just a chair.”

A week later, another chair arrives, this one packed so tight it takes two of us to pull it out of the box. I swear and threaten again.

“Why are you getting so upset?” she says. “It’s just a chair.”

She calmly removes the chair pieces, holding them to the light, then starts dancing around the room like Crazy Horse on the warpath. “It’s still not the right colour!” she cries, as Crazy Horse would have done if he’d ordered a chair that was the wrong colour.

I have to take Winona by the arm and sit her down.

“Now, now,” I say, “there’ll be others.”

“Of course there’ll be others, you idiot,” she says. “They have over five hundred models and colours. I’ll go look again. And please don’t damage that chair putting it back.”

“I won’t, honey,” I reply.

Winona comes back with another return label and sees my improvised war dance.

I cram everything in the box, giving it a good kick and stubbing my toe. I hop around the room like Crazy Horse. Winona comes back with another return label and sees my improvised war dance. There’s still plastic wrapping all over the rug. Some of it’s bubble wrap. We each take a piece and pop the bubbles.

“Does that help?” Winona asks.

“Actually, it does,” I say, grabbing another.

We keep popping until we feel better. Then Winona pats my head like I just retrieved a duck again. She puts the label on the box, using enough packing tape to cover a small aircraft carrier.

“We’ll find the right chair,” she says.

I keep popping bubble wrap.

I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t.

I’m even thinking of buying a whole roll. Why not? It’s not expensive. And it feels good. Right now, it feels really good.

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Robert Cormack
The Haven

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.