Sunday, May 21, 2006

Of Shredders and Microfilming, Yet not about Being a Spy, Darnit!

Believe it or not, one of the worst jobs around my house is manning the shredder. As with most of our distasteful household tasks, we ignore it and let it become even more horrific; in this case, papers had piled up, cascaded down, and formed a small landfill. With my husband and the boys doing outdoor chores in the brisk and decidedly un-springlike weather, the task fell to me, the one practically upholstered in fleece and cowering indoors, surreptitiously inching the thermostat ever higher.

Shredding documents really is a crappy job. You can't watch t.v. and do it because the shredder is loud, you have to pay attention while feeding in the papers, and at my house, there is no t.v. in the room where the shredder is anyway. Oh, sure--I could move the whole operation into the living room, but I'd need a wheelbarrow, an extension cord, and I'd have to make too many trips.

Anyway, there were about 3 months worth of credit card and health insurance statements, restaurant and department store receipts, and other documents that contained numbers far too prone to identity theft to just chuck unmauled into the regular trash. I swear, it was like A Brief History of The Family of Nance, circa March thru May, 2006: What They Bought, What They Suffered From, Where They Ate and What They Ordered, etc. Very instructive. And very helpful to an identity thief.

It reminded me of my first job way back in 1977 when I was a bank teller. I was a "floater", which meant that I traveled from branch to branch, filling in for people on vacation. If no one was on vacation one week, I had to report to the main office and microfilm records. What a lousy job that was. Very reminiscent of manning my home shredder, but multiplied by fifty. Here's how it went: I went down into the creepy basement where they had set up an industrial microfilm machine. It was about the size of a stove. When it was on, it was enormously loud. You couldn't hear a thing. Someone could stand next to you and shout, and you wouldn't hear them. I had a floor-to-ceiling bank of shelves next to me full of drawers. Each drawer was full of bank slips: deposits, withdrawals, loan and mortgage payments. The drawers were about the dimension of a dollar bill, but 24" deep. I had to microfilm all of these documents by feeding in a stack at a time. That's all I did for 8 hours a day. It was ridiculous. I sat on this horrid old stool that they dug up for me, under a bare bulb. It was like a scene out of a 20th century Dickens parody.

Here's the thing: All of those bank documents...they were the originals! They had signatures, account numbers, and they were all still active. I was an 18-year old kid. I could have done almost anything with those. This was before computers, but I could have taken an account number to another branch and cleaned that sucker out. I had access. But I never even considered it. Apparently, neither did they. Who ever heard of identity theft 29 years ago, either? And...I was responsible for microfilming all of those documents. And changing the film in the machine. I had no idea if I was doing it right or accidentally exposing the film. No one ever even checked on me. Sometimes I wonder if anything ever even made it onto that film, or if anyone ever asked for proof of their payment on that 1977 Chevy Monte Carlo.

Every once in a while, I would think about writing something funny or evil on the back of one of those payment slips and feed it through the microfilmer. But I never did. I was so serious and virtuous back then. And easily cowed by authority.

Boy. Things have changed.


  1. Hey, Jack! Thanks for checking back. You know, I have thought about asking for one of my own deposits from back then, just for the hell of it. I even microfilmed my own stuff. And, I forgot to tell you about catching one of the execs hitting the bottle in the basement. He had a bottle of scotch hidden in an old file cabinet and used to sneak down there every day at about 3 pm to have a snort. He just raised the bottle to me in a sort of salute and grinned. Creepy.

  2. Oh, I love this post. I'm sorry you didn't write anything on the back of those payment slips, but understand why you didn't back then...

    1. Ally Bean--I'm so glad you liked it! The bank for which I performed this task has subsequently been taken over several times by other banks and is no longer a community bank. Who knows what has happened to those miles and miles of microfilm? The building now houses a community center, even. Such a long, long time ago!


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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