Box Top Hell

In early March, I had Bill’s car detailed while he was in China. I emptied the car – a relatively minor task as his is only driven to a parking lot every day. Whereas with my van, I need multiple bags to empty it as the inside looks more like a rocket ship that has been on a five-year mission with no link to outside resources or disposal systems. I cleared everything but the ice scraper; it was lodged so tightly under the front seat that I couldn’t get it to budge. I left it for the detailer to deal with. It wasn’t until a little spring snow storm that we realized the scraper wasn’t in the car. I called the detailer and told him it was missing. His voice was hesitant. I confirmed that it was bright orange and asked him to hold onto it for me. He agreed. The snow melted and the ice cleared for a few days, and I never made the left-hand turn to get the scraper. It snowed again. It melted again.

Mid-April after another light snow, I finally stopped in on a Saturday morning. The detailer wasn’t there but the mechanic who had space next door was working, and he came out of the office that they shared. I explained my mission, and he told me to have a look around.

Standing outside of the detailer’s cleaning bays was set of metal shelves, the kind you build and place in your garage for storage. On the first shelf was a collection of at least 25 ice scrapers covered in a light coat of snow! I immediately understood. “Oh my gosh, these are his Box Tops!”

Box Tops. Those little pink rectangular ¾” x 1” shapes you cut out of cereal boxes, cake mix boxes, toilet paper packaging – aka: garbage, collect them for your school, and send them in with your kid. Then some poor schmuck neatly trims each one of thousands and tapes them to a piece of paper, submits them to the Box Top Company, and receives pennies per Box Top. Actually, I just researched the value, and it is 10 cents per Box Top that the school gets.

Liam’s school has a Box Top fundraising program, so I thought it would be good for him to be responsible for cutting them out and collecting them. Every time I opened a package with a Box Top, I put the empty in a large clay crock in the hallway next to the mudroom. In open view so we would see it. In open view so when it overflowed we would trip on the garbage.

Weekdays were scheduled with activities and the calendar never included “Box Top trimming.” Occasionally, on the weekends I would get the scissors out and set up a Box Top trimming station, but Liam would get a couple trimmed and complain: sore fingers cutting the cardboard packaging. I would finish.

Fourth grade progressed this way: September through June. Ten months of “this would be a good job for Liam”; then I would trim them. Out of desperation, Bill also picked up the overflowing packaging occasionally and trimmed the pieces out of the garbage. We persisted and by the end of the year had a small baggie full of Box Tops. When the school newsletter announced the end of the Box Top campaign for the year, Liam took them to school. Relief was imminent: from homework AND from Box Top collection.

At the end of last June, I pulled out forgotten backpacks that had been shoved into corners of the mudroom. The annual unloading of backpacks from the school year ensued. In the outer pocket of Liam’s backpack was the baggie full of Box Tops. I cussed. I threw them away. I officially declared the Malcolm family incapable of collecting Box Tops.

This last school year, Liam’s efforts were focused on using his agenda book, making sure the right books came home each night, packing all the homework to return to school the next day, plus reading, writing, and arithmetic. And I wrote a check to cover the Box Top assignment, plus extra guilt dollars. I’m confident the school made off much better financially by driving the Malcolms into Box Top hell.

Yes, the ice scraper collection clearly reflected a task my detailer simply could not get his head around. I felt for the guy, but I was not happy to see no bright orange scraper on the shelf. Wishing I had made this left-hand turn weeks ago, I stepped into the messy shared office hoping it might be inside. Propped in plain view on another set of metal shelves: Bill’s orange ice scraper. I bet that bit him every time he walked through that door.

Our big clay crock holds wooden swords and bows and arrows now. Medieval weaponry. Much less stress than Box Tops.