Note: It was exactly one year ago that I came up with the idea of starting a blog where each post would begin “Remember When” and would discuss another technological change, pop culture death, or safety scheme by which I chart my age, much like the rings of a tree. Metaphysics tells us that time is an illusion. If that’s true, than it is one of the funnier illusions out there. I hope that my meager efforts here have at least pointed that out, and I sincerely thank everyone who has been patient enough to read these efforts, and those kind enough to say something nice.
The 21st Century has midwifed a number of routines into my life. There is the routine for organizing my garbage into categories of biodegradability. And there is a routine for corralling the power cords and chargers into a pile that can be seen from space. But the routine that has had the greatest effect on my life is the routine of annihilating each and every slip of printed material that contains my social security number, address, or name.
When I was first put on notice that “[t]hou shalt not steal,” I pictured thieves taking loaves of bread, or a misguided youth absconding with someone else’s bicycle, or a particular sibling eating another particular sibling’s Halloween candy without permission and shamelessly leaving a pile of wrappers underneath the sofa. I never pictured crystal meth addicts diving through dumpsters in search of credit card statements and receipts.
But I picture it now.
My first shredder was advertised as being able to shred six sheets at a time. It cost $25, fit neatly underneath my desk, and worked fine for about two days. Then I tried to shred one of those credit card offers, around three inches thick, and the poor shredder seized up somewhere around the gummy adhesive for the fake card with “Your Name” on it.
The second shredder cost $50, was a stronger and shinier model, and was able to handle ten sheets at a time, plus credit cards, compact discs, and fresh mozzarella. And it would have worked out fine had I been able to keep up with all the identity-theft worthy correspondence that arrived in my mailbox. All I would have had to do was quit my job and spend sixteen hours a day shredding. But life being what it is, I let the junk mail pile up beside the shredder, another pile among piles.
My wife, of course, got sick of seeing all of the paper piling up, and would just tear the pages in half and throw them in the trash along with the chicken bones. Tearing the pages in half! You may as well FedEx your identifying information directly to the identity thieves. So I would find myself picking through the trash, like a cat, pulling out the halves of the documents with my name and scraping off congealed chicken grease.
Then I would take the stained halves of personal documents and put them in the shredder. The first few pages would go through all right, and I would relax a bit, but then the congealed chicken grease would clog up the blades and the shredder would seize up with a mechanical cough. The halves that I was shredding would protrude from the shredders locked-jaw like Steve Buscemi’s legs at the end of Fargo.
In addition, the halves and other documents that I did not get to place into the shredder are left in a pile, a pile that my wife later re-throws in the garbage, triggering another retrieval by yours truly, another ad hoc lecture by yours truly about the identity thieves lurking just outside the windows, and another trip by yours truly to the customer service line at Staples.
They say that third time’s a charm, and that is certainly true with respect to the shredders in my life. Sure, shredder number three set me back $200, takes up half of the basement, and when in use makes the house shake and lights dim. But it handles thirty sheets at a time, even those thick envelopes full of credit card offers and those airline promotions that look like real airline tickets to everyone except TSA workers. The blades are titanium and are arranged in a criss-cross pattern that virtually pulverizes whatever I run through them, including the large electric bill I’ve been getting every month.
And the poor, poor identity thieves are left with nothing but a cloud of paper molecules…and whatever they can find on the Internet.