What does an adult do with a lunch box?
That’s the question I faced when two shiny new metal boxes from Dark Horse Comics arrived at my house. Possible uses: purse, storage container, bookshelf display item.
I decided to try each out as a purse first, bringing to mind Sandra Bullock’s character in Hope Floats, who carried her stuff around in a silver construction worker's pail. When I ventured out into public, I thought, both boxes would have something to say to people in the know: One features the logo from the movie Serenity on one side and the title character, a Firefly spaceship named after the fictional Battle of Serenity Valley, embossed on the other. The other lunch box is more obscure, taking its design from the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial whose hidden code triggers the super-weapon training of River Tam, a key character and primary focus of the Serenity film.
Of the two designs, it’s difficult to choose a favorite. The logo lunch box is more conservative, with an almost too-simple design on front and back. The sides feature colorful examples of the bills that change hands in the Chinese- and U.S.-influenced economy of Serenity, where a galaxy of planets have been terraformed to support human life.
The second box has a more girl-friendly pink-and-yellow-stripes color scheme, with a particularly pretty sunburst design on one side. Both sides, one embossed, feature the three blue girls who sing the cutesy Fruity Oaty Bar song in the film. The blue is an odd contrast to the pink and yellow, but the overall look is bright and sassy, and would appeal to girls who’ve never even heard of Serenity.
And, judging from my forays into public with lunch box in hand, most people are indeed not familiar with Serenity, or else they kept their interest to themselves. As I went about my day, I thought of the lunch box that held my wallet, cell phone, and Carmex, and kept the corners of my eyes alert to any curious glances from nearby strangers.
I got some good-natured ribbing from the IHOP guy who rung up my bill (he asked me if I was heading off to work with my packed lunch), but no exclamation of “I love that movie!” or even a knowing glance. To be fair, I only took the lunch boxes out a few times. I also did not flaunt my unusual purse choice, feeling acutely self-aware as I rode the escalator up to a movie theater, ate at a restaurant or sat in a pew at church.
After using the boxes as totes (but not as actual lunch boxes, though they would easily fit my sandwich, bag of chips and nectarine, plus a paperback), I tried the Fruity Oaty Bar box as storage. It works great for smaller items you want to keep but that need to be stored rather than displayed: ticket stubs, greeting cards, photos, anything that can fit into an 8-by-7-by-3 3/4-inch container. The boxes also would be great for holding spools of ribbon or writing/coloring utensils, and other craft-related items.
My complaints about the boxes are pretty evenly balanced by their coolness. Most notably, the thin piece of metal that keeps the lid attached to the logo box (which spent more time out on the town as a purse) occasionally slid so that one side came unattached. I simply had to slide the piece back through, and kept an eye on it before taking the box by its handle to carry it.
The Fruity Oaty Bar box’s lid has always appeared slightly crooked when opened. I’m sure I could bend it a little to straighten it out, but I’m not concerned about it right now. Also, one side is printed upside-down, though that’s sort of cool and makes it seem more special.
The boxes had no trouble holding a moderate amount of items – including a small Bible and notebook for church. The boxes themselves are rather light and do not add much weight for carrying. An unscientific test (holding a Serenity box in one hand and an Empire Strikes Back one in the other) confirmed my suspicion that these new lunch boxes are lighter than the ones I used as a child. They can be a bit cumbersome for anyone using them to tote around items during trips to the grocery store or restaurant, but being able to look at everything in a flat, open container makes finding your keys a lot easier than when you're digging around in a more conventional purse.
One unexpected feature that was perhaps my favorite, but could be considered either helpful or a detriment, is the fact that cell phones do not receive signals when encased in a metal lunch box. This means you don’t have to bother with turning off your phone during a movie or meeting. This also means, of course, that if you’re expecting a call, you shouldn’t leave your phone in the lunch box. It worked out great for me, as someone who uses her cell phone very little but likes to have it around in case of emergencies (like trying to find my mom at the mall). When I set my phone to vibrate, I tend to forget to turn the ringer back on anyway.
For my uses – primarily the indulgence of my Serenity fandom and a nifty alternative to shoeboxes to store souvenirs and Christmas ribbon – the metal lunch boxes will do a great job. I’d recommend them to any Serenity fan (and I’d recommend Serenity to any non-fan, by the way), with a mild disclaimer that they’re not as sturdy as the lunch boxes you took to school when your favorite movies were The Empire Strikes Back and Gremlins. They don’t come with a Thermos, but then again, maybe adults don’t need one.