The Paper Shredder.





It was February in Aurora, Illinois, but Jim was wearing Bermuda shorts and deck shoes.  He had just returned from an all-inclusive Mexican Riviera cruise.  A little motion sickness, or hangover, or some mixture of the two still lingered.

He negotiated the icy steps of his front porch and unlocked the door.  There was some resistance when he tried to push it open, and it took him a moment to realize a small mountain of mail had accumulated under the slot during his absence.

He was still wired from the plane ride from LAX, to Denver, to O’hare.  There had been weather delays, and now it hardly seemed worth going to sleep at all.  He had to be at the office in four hours.

A Scotch was in order – just a little something to take the edge off while he went through the stack of mail.  There were credit card offers, money market opportunities, term life insurance quotes, refinance deals, reverse mortgage mumbo jumbo – whatever snake oil the banks and the marketers were pushing at the time.

Jim took a good draw of the single malt and fed a fistful of pages into the paper shredder.  “Got to protect your identity. Everybody wants a piece of old Jimbo,” he said out loud.

It was a commercial grade shredder capable of devouring twenty pages at a time, and it hummed and whirred as the paper was systematically reduced to ribbons.  The sound and the Scotch pulled Jim into a sleepy, introspective state of mind.

His thoughts returned to, Debby, the woman he had met the second night on the cruise.  Like him she was divorced, mid-forties, and just getting back into the dating scene.  Unlike him, she was fit, funny, and outgoing.  But there was something she must have liked about old Jimbo.  They drank red wine and laughed. They danced.  They sang a pretty good rendition of, “You’re the One That I Want,” at the Karaoke bar.  And on that last glorious night,  she came back to his room with him.

In the morning, they discussed what the future might hold for them while their mostly uneaten Rice Krispies got soggy, and eventually ceased to report their trademark snap, crackle, and pop sounds.

“It’s not like we live light years apart,” Debby had said.  “Albany to O’Hare is probably  a three hour flight, tops.”

“And I still have some frequent flyer miles.”

“Who knows, Jim.  Maybe we can make this work.”

“We’d be crazy not to try.”

As Jim put the last of the mail into the shredder, he understood there was no truth to any of those words.  For the most part, people blow through this life like scraps of paper on a gusty day.

He opened up his wallet and took out all his cash – five twenty-dollar bills and a few singles.  He put the bills into the shredder one at a time.  Then he shredded his drivers license and his social security card.  He took his college degrees down from the wall and fed those into the machine too.  He took the caricature portrait of himself  from his suitcase – a sketch a street artist had done of him in Mexico only a few days before.  He noticed how square the jaw line was.  That’s what caricature artists do – they pick out a few key features and exaggerate them. Old Jimbo with the square jaw, but no backbone.

It was starting to get light out.  He had a meeting in a few hours.  Twenty more years of meetings and corporate drudgery.  He noticed the warning sticker that was affixed to the shredder.  It was a simple drawing of a hand inside a circle with a line through it.  Its intent was to advise people not to get any appendages too close to the paper feed slot.  Jim suddenly felt inspired.  He held his left hand flat and pressed it into the slot.

The mechanism inside got hold of his fingers and pulled them into the rotating blades.  There was no blood.  There was no pain.  The shredder steadily devoured the rest of Jim’s hand, then his arm, his head, neck, his other arm, his torso, and finally, his legs and feet.

A small light on top of the machine began blinking red, indicating the bin was full.