- Jim Campbell illustration
The grating of the machine, the paper particles swirling in the air — I can still hear it rattling in my dreams. As a college freshman, I took a work-study job in the school's administrative building as a glorified paper shredder for one semester. My task: sort out old student documents from banged-up filing cabinets to either a) meet their end in a paper shredder or b) move to a new storage unit.
Entering the building for my two-hour shift three times a week, I'd weave through the maze of cubicles and fake plants to my boss' desk. She would usually just look at me like, "Oh, you again," and point to the next row of filing cabinets to empty out, too preoccupied with moving up the university ranks to care about the help.
I went to a school where one was perpetually confronted with the Pacific Ocean. But in that office, I spent most of my time in a darkened shredder/supply closet blasting my iPod and feeding the insatiable machine with aging pages. Fun came when I experimented with how many pieces of paper the shredder could handle at a time before backing up (about 12).
The tall plastic bin that caught the accordion-like scraps filled up far too quickly, so every five minutes or so I'd smash the contents down with my feet, like stomping grapes into wine. Eventually, when the bin became too full, I'd have the privilege of dumping its heavy contents into a trash bag and hauling it off to the recycle bin outside the building.
To the rest of the office workers I was little more than hot air. When one of them had to share space with me in the "closet" to do something like make a copy or hunt for extra pens, most did their best to avoid eye contact.
The next semester, I thankfully procured a work-study job where people noticed I was alive and there was a lot more time to study. Now when I see someone shredding paper anywhere, I acknowledge them. They do exist, after all. ♦