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January 2022 Issue [From the Archive]

Life Is a Box of Chocolates


Wise heads tell us we act first, or decide to act first, and reason afterward. What could be put down in black and white as to why we took up factory work is of minor value or concern. Yet everyone persists in asking why. Therefore, being curious, we decide to work in factories.

So much of the technique of the world today we take as a matter of course. Clothes appear ready to put on our backs. As far as we know or care, angels left them on the hangers behind the mirrored sliding doors. Food is set on our tables ready to eat. It might as well have been created that way, for all our concern. Let’s poke behind the scenes a bit.

Here is this enormous good-looking candy factory. On one side, reaching all the way up into the main entrance hall, stands a line of men waiting for jobs; on the other side, though not nearly so long a line, are the girls.

Upstairs, my eye lights on a sign which reads: hours for girls, 8 am–6 pm, saturdays 8–12. Whew! My number is 1075. The time clock works so. My key hangs on this hook; then, after I ring up, it hangs here. Locker key 222. The locker works thus and so. Didn’t I have no apron? No—but tomorrow I’d bring it and a cap. Sure.

Through piles of boxes and trucks and barrels, and Ida opens a great door like a safe, and there we are in the packing room. “Here’s your sample. Under the table you’ll find the candies, or else ask Fannie there. You take the paper cups so, in your left hand, give them a snap, so; lick your fingers now and then, slip a cup off, stick the candy in with your right hand.” And Ida is off.

A bell rings. “All right, girls!” sings Ida down the line. Everyone drops everything and out we go. Feet! take me back to the factory lunch room. It is a bare, whitewashed, huge affair, with uplifting advice on the walls here and there. “Any fool can take a chance; it takes brains to be careful,” and such like.

A gong sounds. Up we go to the icebox packing room. It sends the shivers down our spines, but already there’s a feeling of sauntering in like an old hand at the game. What’s your business in life? Packing chocolates.

A strange thing happens. All of a sudden I get more interested in packing chocolates than anything else on earth. A little knack or twist comes to me—my fingers fly (for me). I forget the time. I forget my feet. How many boxes can I pack today? That is all I can think of.

Ida comes along and peers in one box. “You can consider yourself a fancy packer now—see?” The president, the night of the election, felt less joyous than do I at her words.

One night I take my sleepy way to a lecture at the New School for Social Research. And it comes over me in the course of the evening what a satisfactory thing packing chocolates is. “The Role of the State in Modern Civilization”—some say this, some say that. A careful teacher guards against being dogmatic. When it comes to the past, one interpreter gives this viewpoint, due to certain prejudices, another that viewpoint, due to certain other prejudices. When it comes to the future, no sane soul dare prophesy at all.

Thus it is with much one studies nowadays—we have evolved beyond the era of intellectual surety. What an almighty relief to the soul, then, when one can pack six rows of four chocolates each in a bottom layer, seven rows of four chocolates each in the top, cover them, count them, stack them, pile them in the truck, and away they go. One job done—done now and forever. Every professor ought to have a fling at packing chocolates.

From “No. 1075 Packs Chocolates,” which appeared in the June 1921 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

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November 1921

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