Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tweakers Vs. Shredders (2004)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 17 - This originally appeared in Punk Planet # 61.


Bred for destruction, the Aurora AS702MX shredder looks like an expensive German breadmaker. A polite notice above the automatic intake alerts the user that it can eat “maximum 7 sheets paper only”, as if this number were something to be ashamed of. Above this, there is a discrete slot for credit cards. The shreddings drop into a metal basket with a soft chime, like pine needles falling into underbrush.

The Aurora replaces my old Achiever PP5/2 “personal paper shredder”, a more proletarian hardshell plastic thing that got me through some rough times in the 1990's. It was on this machine that I first inhaled the intoxicating scent of sliced paper, first felt the gratitude of destroying collection agency notices sent on behalf of a former therapist. Many failed short stories and bad column drafts and unspeakable lyrics were fed to this machine. Only in 2002, after eight years of faithful service, did the Achiever finally make a stuffed groan one night and die as it lived, destroying evidence. I placed the dead shredder on a high shelf in the closet (later to sit next to its understudy, a $5 Achieve knockoff that conked out on its maiden voyage). In a perfect world they would make a very large, very scary shredder for the sole purpose of shredding broken shredders.

The new AS702MX is a cross cutter, and this difference is important. Strip cut shredders slice in vertical lines, leaving tantalizing clues, like thousands of skinny jigsaw pieces. If one feeds a piece of paper the wrong way into a strip-cutter, entire sentences and phone numbers can survive its blades. The Iranians are still piecing together 25 year old shredded documents fished out the US embassy, slowly recovering state secrets. Cross cutters, in contrast, make two simultaneous cuts - horizontal and vertical. What fills the basket is confetti, as useful for ID thieves as an urn of ashes. I've come to understand the sheer joy of negation that drove Ollie North to jam his own shredders during Contragate.

But things have changed since Ollie's day. Meth has followed crack into the heartland. The future has arrived and it belongs to the tweakers. And where crack detracted, creating only more crackheads, meth bestows its followers with powers of heightened concentration and patience. There is now a vast underworld composed of people who can sit comfortably for days or weeks sifting through bank statements and medical records and ATM receipts, temporarily several powers more observant than I am. Without the destructive capabilities of the Aurora I’d be lost. It is serious business. No crumb on the paper trail is too insignificant.

During a recent week's haul of incriminating evidence, for example, I shredded the following;
- An untouched and undated city of Pomona job application, question four ("police officer applicants only, are you at least 20 years and 9 months of age?") reminding me that there was an afternoon a year ago when I had seriously considered applying to become a cop, the only city job available to someone without a college degree. I think I'd convinced myself I could do this job ironically, my sarcasm so thorough and so deeply penetrating as to be invisible to the other members of the training academy. No way is anyone else going to get their hands on this. Shred.
- Lyrics and mixing notes for an LP that never came out, ripe for blackmail in some way I can’t quite decipher. Shred.
- A letter from a guy in Italy who got stiffed on a 7” my band was supposed to record years ago, highly incriminating. Shred.
- Forms from Apple One, the temp agency who got me a one day paid gig last year, sitting in a room quietly, drinking coffee and staring at a telephone with a lumpy heart. What would someone on meth make of that afternoon? Shred.
- A fake, junk mail check from a mortgage company for $46,209, which I fed the Aurora nervously, despite the large THIS IS NOT A CHECK imprint, hopefully not making a dreadful mistake. Shred.
- A pathetic tally of band shirts sold on tour four years ago (IN – 4, MI – 2, OH – jackpot! – 11) that made me appear uncharismatic and unelectable. Shred.
- A flyer from a New Years Eve 1997 concert after which I quit music forever, this bad memory coded in the artwork so as to be instantly accessible to anyone high on their own neurotransmitters. Shred.
- Two letters from bands to my defunct record label, already ceremoniously ripped in half so that their badly written PR became cryptic prose ("and methodically crushing all lesser / legions of fans from coast to / intense metal onslaught that will liquefy"). Shred.
- A scrap of paper that read FUCKING HILARIOUS in someone else’s handwriting. Shred.
- A Hawaiian Airlines Visa Platinum "Acceptance Card", bearing a sexy silhouette of a hula dancer, that, along with a flimsier plastic Household Bank silver Mastercard "Acceptance Card", seemed ready made for some speed-deranged seventh grader to use for a wild weeklong spending binge. And who picks up the tab? Not me; Shred.
- An accidental blank sheet of paper, even this somehow incriminating. Shred.

Halfway through, I hit the motherlode. A ripped scrap read “your PIN for cash access is 9155”. Below this, I found the Federal Tax ID # of my old business and a notice from Domain Registry Of America listing the exact day my website ownership expires. Worse still, just below this strata I found old diary notes from tours past kept in a scribbled shorthand that was meant to render the writing indecipherable to thieves and peekers. That's embarrassing, but it's all academic now. Because I shredded that shit.

Then there are the receipts. These are the worst, so tiny they must delivered one by one into the gnashing gears, each a fragile window onto the core of my personality. There are many of them. I used to think I generated so many receipts on account of I don't wear a watch, and the best way to tell time in public is to check the printouts on the bottom of receipts. I understand now there is something a bit more pathological at work. Florida senator Bob Graham was ridiculed last year for keeping an obsessively detailed journal of his life, complete with all daily expenditures, no matter how mundane. I understand this journal now. It's addictive. I don't want to part with these mementos of transactions past, but what choice to do I have? How would I be able to live with myself if other people knew that I ate something called a “lentil loaf” on 6/9/02? That, on 12/11/02, my business checking account stood at $12.74? That, on 12/24/02 at 4:46 in a Publix food mart in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida I bought Twizzlers, a 6 pack of Evians, 2 chocolate Yoo Hoos, a Florida map, a tube of Powerpuff Girls toothpaste, and something suspiciously labeled B SHOP MUESLI? That my cashier was named Denise? That the bottom of a Pizza Pirate receipt reads only AAAARRRRGGGHHHH MATEY as it is fed into the jaws of death, erasing all proof that I purchased a particular pizza from a particular driver on a particular date, forever and ever and ever until the universe collapses in on itself??