Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Just when I thought that fruit stickers were the most annoying detail of domestic life, there comes the shipping sticker.

You know the ones – the barcode labels attached to every box that arrives at the doorstep.

I’m noticing this now because, as is the case for many of us, my pandemic life is keeping me out of stores and turning me to the internet for shopping. The problem is not the stickers that ride into the house on the boxes; the problem comes when those sticker-y boxes ride back out of the house.

Earlier this week, a box arrived at my door. On the inside was a pair of bright-orange sneakers; on the outside of the box were no fewer than six barcode stickers – little bits of directions and addresses and other delivery information in that mysterious language of fat and skinny black lines. There were two big labels ones on the front, little square ones on the sides, and two long thin ones on the bottom.

I thought bar codes were supposed to save us from all the stickers. The sticky grocery price tags of my childhood were replaced by non-gluey bar codes or shelf signs, ostensibly to reduce the food industry’s glue bills when really, it’s easier to hike the price of a box of cereal when bar codes allow that to happen with a keystroke on the computer.

Fruit, though, is lagging behind. Stickers abound in the produce aisles. It’s one thing to remove the Chiquita sticker from a banana (and stick it on my forehead, as we’ve been taught to do); it’s quite another to remove a sticker from a thin-skinned fruit. Try to peel a sticker off a pear and you get a hole in your pear. It’s a good thing someone decided to sell blueberries in plastic boxes, saving us from peeling a tiny sticker off of every last berry. Imagine the carnage with raspberries.

Sadly, the orange shoes did not really fit. And before I was tempted to give them a spin outside in case I was wrong about that, I took them off, stuffed the cardboard and crumpled paper back inside each one, filled out the return form and put it all into the box. Taped it up and stuck on the return label.

And there, at the bottom of the label was the warning: Be sure to remove all previous bar code labels from the box. To fail at that might send my shoes into a confused orbit of conflicting bar codes. They might land back on my doorstep.

And so the peeling commenced. First, find a corner to lift and pull gently. If I’m lucky, the glue gives up and I get a clean peel. More often, it’s stubborn glue and when I peel, I remove the top layer of cardboard skin, exposing the wrinkly corrugated part. A careless finger can poke right through that; more tape is needed for mending. It was so much easier when I could try on shoes in the store.

Going forward in this pandemic way of shopping, I will remind myself to first try on what’s in the box. If I’m not going to keep it, I should remove all the stickers, promptly. Because if that box sits under the bed for a few days, those sticky little suckers dry up and are almost impossible to get off.

All that for a pair of sneakers. Who needs new shoes, anyway?

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