The Shredder

Posted on November 23, 2011


We’re all young and idealistic once. For me, it lasted almost 2 hours after starting my first proper office job.

I turned up fresh-faced and eager and was shown to my desk. It looked as though the last occupant had left in a bit of a hurry. After being left alone to “get accustomed”, I found a half-drunk cup of tea and a half-eaten Chinese takeaway under the impressive pile of reports and e-mails. This person must have left even more quickly than I first thought. I was introduced to a disabled Jehovah’s witness with a history of coal mining, an eccentric, ginger millionaire with a desk full of empty files (I assume he emptied them on my desk before I arrived) and a terminally angry, if not unfriendly, man in the throes of an abusive relationship with his phone; he was hitting the windowsill with it.

Tackling the problem head-on, I washed the cup, scraped the Chinese into the bin and picked up the first piece of paper I came to. In itself, standard office toilet paper, but written on it in the writing of the criminally insane were the words “Do we commodes? Clean or dirty?” I looked up, expecting everybody to be laughing at my expense but everything continued as it had before. I resolved to solve this mystery.

I turned to the eccentric, ginger millionaire and asked him if the phrase “do we commodes?” meant anything to him. As an ice-breaker I wouldn’t recommend it and I got the best possible response I could hope for under the circumstances; he ignored me. Not to be defeated, I tried the coal-mining zealot and the last angry man but with the same effect. What could I do? I had now been there an hour and had so far managed to achieve nothing but a reputation for talking about mobile toilets. Everyone around me was confidently talking into phones, saying things like “never mind that, leave it to me, “and “don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for”.

Suddenly, it came to me. Nobody knew what this cryptic message from the past meant. In trying to tackle my first job like a model employee I had managed to make myself look like a head-mental in a suit. Feeling despondent, I searched around for the answer…and found it.

Calmly and with an air of authority I didn’t feel I stood up, walked over to the shredder and dropped the paper into the blades. The alarm did not sound and I was vindicated. One job completed! Over the course of the day my confidence grew as I fed the life-work of my predecessor into the teeth of the shredder. So great was my belief that when I was asked how I had got to grips with everything so quickly I replied “don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for”.

I don’t know why I thought I was going to get away with it. But I did. For 12 glorious months, I drank cup after cup of lukewarm tea whilst feeding my urge to shred anything with a pie chart on it. To this day I have no idea what my role was supposed to be or whether a chain-smoking man sitting in an office in Frankfurt lost his mind waiting for the answer to the question “Do we commodes? Clean or dirty?”

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