Visions of Paper Shredders Danced in My Head

I may have made a mistake that could jeopardize my family's financial security. It was a tough decision that I handled without consulting anyone. I finally decided this was not the year to ask for a paper shredder for Christmas.

Paper shredders seem to be growing in popularity. Their purpose is to thwart data bandits who lurk near dumpsters, waiting to lift credit card numbers and other valuable information from carelessly discarded bank statements and other key documents.

My own safety precautions are pretty unsophisticated. I try to make sure those pesky unsolicited applications or new credit cards that arrive in the mail get ripped into pieces before I toss them. But a friend recently told me that ripping is risky. A trash thief who had discovered the torn pieces of a $5 check she had thrown away taped it back together and cashed the darn thing. My friend is now an unequivocal advocate for shredding.

Shredding isn't foolproof, however. The Iranians who stormed the US embassy in 1979 reconstructed shredded CIA papers and published them, much to the agency's embarrassment. An incinerator might offer a more secure disposal method, and I already have an incinerator. It's called the fireplace.

I have to be careful not to spend too much time brooding about things that might happen while I'm doing something else. Once you head down that road, you're on a slippery slope that leads to a host of lifestyle-altering paraphernalia: sophisticated alarm systems; sensitive detectors for chemicals and fumes; tricky devices for finding out who wants to reach you by phone.

The idea that life's pitfalls may trip me up occurs to me, but only occasionally. I've made it through another year in good shape, so I'll hold off on the shredding machine for now. Maybe someday they'll make one that eats up leftover wrapping paper.

* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of 'I'm Right Here Fish Cake' and 'It Came With the House,' collections of humorous essays. He lives in Portland, Ore.

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