I love shredders.

Part 1

We only just got one. I mean do you really need a shredder when half the planet doesn’t yet have electricity? We have a lot of stuff though I must admit we could use a better table for the printer in place of the coffee stool it now sits upon but you can’t have everything. Which is why we didn’t have a shredder. Ripping was fine. We usually only ripped the spread sheets (Excel now joining the ranks of brand-names-as-nouns with Kleenex, Scotch Tape, and Bic. And do you know that here, if it is fried, roasted, or baked, and has wings it is called Kentucky?) Ripping is fine. It’s a physical activity during the work day, good for the wrists and fingers which we usually forget to exercise even though they really need it because of the mouse story. Let’s just say that we rip when have to and crumble when we don’t and sometimes we just throw it whole. I have a waste paper basket (good word, first time I use it) that is a large copper container that you can plant a tree in. So it’s the whole-sheet format most of the time, crumbling if I might need the document before the cleaning man comes, or ripping if it’s a definite no (which isn’t always the case and that’s when the Scotch Tape comes into the picture.)

One day, and it really was one day, Francis said – and I quote – we need a shredder. No one had EVER said we needed a shredder. Now the accountant was saying it. I couldn’t get it here fast enough. They brought it that same afternoon but imagine… not only was it made in Spain with Spanish instructions which we could have lived with (although not happily ever after) but it had a Spanish plug which no one can live with unless you live in Spain which happens not to be the case. The very next day a new one was brought with a national plug. It was put together quite quickly and was comprised of (1) the thing that shreds (2) the thing that holds it, and (3) (quite literally) the waste paper basket. It had one button which 3 positions: On, Off, Reverse. It was marked with a sign that indicated that cd’s could also be shredded which we found to be an attractive feature since not less than 3 days previous I had to destroy 10 cd’s which contained our year report and which I did by stove-top melting after trying to rip them and ending up with a room full of silicon splinters and a hand full of silicon scratches. There was also a mark that indicated “Maximum 15 pages.” There was absolutely nothing to it. It was our shredder and we turned it on.

I am not familiar with shredding etiquette. It seems that it is done in episodes for instance after the year report all drafts go in. Or once a week perhaps when you clean up the desk. It doesn’t seem that you do it every day unless you are the accountant which is why the shredder is next to his desk. It was on this particular morning that I said to Areej, “You gotta clean up this pile” to which she answered that she had been ripping but that her hands got tired… to which I answered, “WE HAVE A SHREDDER” to which she said, “WHERE” to which I said, “NEXT TO THE PRINTER ON THE COFFEE STOOL BY FRANCIS.” Thus we started our first shredding episode. I said to watch out for staples. If the thing shreds cd’s you would think it can handle a staple. Still we weren’t taking chances. I counted out 15 pages and said, “This is what 15 pages feels like.” I went on staple patrol and Areej started shredding. Maybe Areej was nervous, maybe she had some secret papers in her pile, and maybe she was just assuming that all was going well when she took a stack that was clearly more than 15 pages. It was clearly more than 50 pages. Noise. Then silence.

Part 2

When Reverse didn’t improve the situation it was decided to remove the top from the bottom so as to manually remove the paper whereupon it was discovered that this was not possible. The thing that shreds is not friendly. It is a serious set of teeth with the sole task of destroying. Its grasp is mighty. Pliers and tweezers pulled out the obvious problems but the teeth did not let go. It was then decided that a screw driver was called into action as the back had to be removed which was done with ease. Inside we found the plastic box containing the razor teeth that makes shredders shred. Again tweezers and pliers were used until most of the spaces between the teeth were clear with the exception of 5 on the left, 3 in the centre, and 5 on the right. These were identified as the problems. At this point we decided to use a skewer: to insert it into the clogged spaces and force the papers out the other end. It was a decision made obvious by the fact that the skewer passed easily through all the other open holes. Simply push through. Apparently not as the skewer got stuck in the shredder. When the man from DHL came to collect his money for delivering the above mentioned (but corrected) cd year reports, he found 2 intense women with pliers and tweezers bent over some unknown machine that had a skewer sticking out of it. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t ask a question, he didn’t offer manly advice. He took him money and quietly went on his way. With a hammer now in hand, using a phillips screw driver and a metal file we managed to remove the skewer from shredder. It had been eaten by something according to the bite mark. It was then suggested that the paper in the spaces had to somehow be dissolved: either by fire or by liquid. Machine oil was chosen. Eventually the paper softened and with the screw driver instead of a skewer we could push the paper out of holes 1 and 2 on the left and 2 and 3 on the right. We agreed this would be a good time to put the pieces together and try it again. It didn’t work. Determined to clear the remaining spaces, we applied more oil and hit harder. Small pieces loosened and came out. With all holes cleared except 2, we tried again. It didn’t work. And it was then that we noticed that the motor wasn’t working… that we had burned out the motor and that the paper, liquid or solid, had nothing to do with the fact that the shredder no longer shredded. That Areej had simply given it a heart attack.

We were not laughing anymore. Our nerves were chewed. Our hopes of success eaten.


We called the shop and told them exactly what we had done. They immediately came, removed the now offensive item, and replaced it with a new one. Areej wrote the check and I made a large sign that MAXIMUM 15 PAGES. We still don’t know if it handles staples.