Monday, September 21, 2009

Shreds of My Existence

Not too long ago, the police department of the city in which I live sponsored a shredding event. Citizens could take up to ten boxes of records, receipts, and refuse in to have the contents shredded under the purview of the people sworn to ensure that our credit numbers wouldn't float away into the hands of criminals.

Although I thought this was a great idea, it's not exactly the way I like to see my tax dollars spent. I also realized that given the material being shredded, there wouldn't be a lot of time or effort expended to separate recyclable paper from old carbon receipts. I decided I would tackle the separating and shredding process myself.

That was how I ended up climbing into the attic and discovering that, while I had been diligent about saving evidence of my business expenditures, I had also lost track of way too much time. I had receipts dating back to the earliest days of the Reagan administration, which meant that I had carted these boxes unnecessarily through no less than four moves.

Even more enlightening was how even the flotsam of life has changed. Before computers, we were awash in carbon paper from credit card imprinters (which, interestingly enough, you can still purchase). These decades-old receipts all had long-lost credit card numbers on them, plain as day. What wasn't plain was the reasoning behind some of the purchases I'd made and long ago forgotten. I marveled at all the money that seemed to flow through my hands in my bachelor days, seemingly as plentiful and unmemorable as water.

It was also an agonizing reminder of how old I am (or, to put it in a sunnier way, how much life I've lived). I had:

• check stubs from projects I'd forgotten I'd done
• prescription receipts from illnesses I've long been cured of
• flight coupons from airlines that haven't existed for 20 years
• restaurant receipts from meals with people whose names (and even affiliations) were mysteries
• W-2s from too many companies that are out of businesses

It wasn't so much like walking down memory lane as it was walking through a graveyard of events that seemed very important at the time, but were just — especially after I subjected them to the voracious blades — shreds of my existence.

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