A brief rant

From 1978 to 2011, the CBS news program 60 Minutes ended with a segment called “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.” I’m not a big fan of television, and I didn’t watch the program many times, but I saw enough of those segments to have occasionally resonated with the rant that was the topic of the evening’s conversation. There are a few memorable quotes that came from the program:

“If you smile when no one else is around, you rally mean it.”

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”

“Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done.”

Still, the segment carried the quality of an older man complaining about the ways of the world. I don’t want to be such a person. I don’t want to sound like Andy Rooney. However, increasingly I find myself going on and on about something that really isn’t that important.

I felt a rant coming on last night as we wrapped some gifts to send to our grandchildren. We tend to be a bit late in our Christmas preparations, but with the efficiency of the US postal service the packages should arrive in time for Christmas. If not, our grandchildren will get some nice presents after the actual day of Christmas, which will help to spread the season of celebration.

One of the challenges is getting the packages to fit into the boxes in which we are shipping them. It seems that the boxes in which toys are packaged are never the same size as the boxes we can find that are suitable for shipping. As a result, I’ve become adept at adjusting the size of the boxes. Most cardboard boxes can be cut down by an inch or more without affecting their structural integrity. I use a steel ruler and can make a nice, straight crimp in the corrugated cardboard. The pictures on the outside of the box aren’t exactly the same with the corners having been moved, but in most cases even those aren’t affected that much.

The reason that this works, however, is the subject of this morning’s rant. It works because virtually every box in which toys are packaged is 30% larger than needed. Most children’s toys are packaged in boxes that are significantly bigger than the toy. The pictures of the toy on the outside of the boxes are bigger than the real toy inside. It’s an old marketing trick - make the customer believe that they are getting more than they are. Most of the time, the toy boxes simply have air in the empty spaces and the contents rattle around inside. Other times, cardboard packaging and a few wire ties keep the toy in place and the box is filled with extra corrugated cardboard. One of the boxes I cut down last night had elaborately folded cardboard on two sides of the toy to keep it in place. There was a full six inches of space filled with a cardboard fixture at the bottom of the box and about four inches on one side of the box. Since the box needed to be reduced by only about an inch in order to fit, making the modification was pretty simple. We will still be shipping a significant amount of volume that is filled with air and cardboard. I suppose you could argue that this cushions the toy from possible impacts in shipping, but such protection is hardly necessary for a cardboard box, wrapped in Christmas paper inside of another cardboard box with other toys and a few packages of clothing. Most children’s toys are relatively unbreakable anyway.

And while I’m on the topic, I wish that boxes containing children’s toys would limit the pictures on the outside of the box to the toys that are actually in the box. One toy that we purchased has pictures of other toys and accessories on the outside of the box that makes it look, at first glance, that the box contains many more toys than are actually inside. The “accessories” that are pictured on the outside of the box would all fit inside of the box if they packaged the toys sensibly, but in reality, they would require the purchase of more boxes and spending more than twice the amount of money as the toy that we did purchase.

That, too, is marketing. The toy company is trying to create a desire for the purchase of additional toys. And grandparents are probably more easily seduced into making such purchases than parents.

There, if I inserted a few “Did you ever wonder why . . .?’s into the text above, there is almost enough for a script for “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.”

The truth is that while I am not generally filed with complaints, there are a few things about life in today’s world that seem troubling to me. Not every change constitutes progress. Not every innovation is an improvement. Still, I don’t want my children and grandchildren, or anyone else for that matter, to hear only complaints from me. I’d rather avoid the label of being a grumpy old man.

There were things about yesterday that were absolutely wonderful. The weather really warmed up. It went from temperatures in the single digits to above freezing. By mid afternoon, I was working outside and the snow was melting. In the morning we went into the hills to select our Christmas tree. We won’t be entertaining many guests this year, so a small tree was just right for us. As we walked around the hills in comfortable weather, there were plenty of clumps of small trees from which one could be harvested and still leave plenty of trees to thrive. Looking for a six foot tree instead of an eight foot tree gives one lots of options that were passed by when others were choosing their trees. Cutting a Christmas tree on a sunny day with plenty of snow on the ground is a treat. And the smaller tree was easy to erect and will be simple to decorate over the next couple of days.

In general, life is good. Still, if they let me do the designing, there are a few changes I’d make in the packaging of children’s toys.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!