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" /> You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Liz Andra Shaw

Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

March 3rd, 2012
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I work as an administrative assistant. Some days are depressingly boring and some days are insanely funny. Some are both. Some experiences unfold over a span of days, weeks, or months. Today’s story took place over a year’s time. Maybe you have to be a bored office drone to find this funny. I’ll let you be the judge.

Once upon a time, I ordered a paper cutter. What I asked for was a guillotine-style cutter. What was ordered was a rotary cutter. I don’t really like rotary cutters. I understand that there is almost no way to cut off your thumb with one, a definite plus when you are a klutz. Still, I don’t like them. They don’t cut as cleanly. They don’t cut as many sheets as once. And they don’t have that satisfying slicing sound. What’s the loss of a thumb or a pint of blood in comparison to the thrill of the metal-on-metal sound of a guillotine cutter?

I tried to make friends with the rotary cutter, I really did. It just didn’t work for me. Still, it’s what I was given, and I had to make due. I used it for 3 years until it began to chew up the paper instead of cutting it. I reverted back to using scissors, but now someone with some juice in the office started to complain about the cutter. Seems it ripped up some of her scrapbook paper. Just to be clear, we don’t do scrapbooks in our office. She was using it for personal reasons. Still, I’m not so proud that I didn’t pull her up on my bandwagon. Now I had someone on my side saying we needed a new cutter, and so the request was made.

The first suggestion from the Duchess of Supplies was that we install the replacement cartridge that came with the rotary cutter. I made an exhaustive search, but no replacement cartridge was found. The Duchess came to my building to do her own search. We even enlisted the retired Duchess of Supplies, the one who had ordered the thing in the first place. No luck. Foolishly, I started a mental celebration. I was finally going to get my guillotine!

The second suggestion, however, was that we order a replacement cartridge. Ugh. I love our very frugal Duchess of Supplies. We work for a non-profit, and, given the current economy, there’s not a lot of money to throw around. I really wanted a guillotine, but I’m a good soldier, so I got together the information on the replacement cartridge. Twenty dollars for something that wouldn’t work very well, when a new guillotine was only twenty-seven. Common sense finally prevailed, and the Duchess agreed that a guillotine would be ordered for my building. This was roughly one year ago.

Fast forward a month or so to mid-April. Deliveries from Staples came. I searched each one eagerly, but no guillotine ever arrived. About six weeks after it was agreed that the guillotine would be ordered, I emailed the Duchess of Supplies to ask about it. There was a lot of waffling before she admitted that she put off ordering because it was a big expense, and then, well, she forgot on the next few orders. She assured me that it will go on the next order. I was ecstatic. I could almost hear that lovely slicing sound…

Another month goes by. Several deliveries came, but no guillotine. Again. I called the Duchess of Supplies and asked her if she was messing with me. She swore that she ordered it. She even got a copy of the order form showing it was submitted. The Queen of Ordering, who is over the entire agency’s supply orders, confirmed with Staples that they got the order. Moreover, they claim that they delivered it. I couldn’t believe it. We paid for a guillotine, but I’m still stuck with the crappy rotary cutter. Eventually Staples agreed to deliver a second guillotine.

I should mention at this point that I have a problem with office supplies. Left unsupervised, I would order the entire Staples catalog, three of each, even if I had no use for some of the items. Then I’d do it again next month. Heck, I would even buy rotary cutters; I just wouldn’t use them. Knowing about my weakness, you can probably envision the joy I experienced the day my guillotine finally arrived. I was Cinderella as the Prince slips the glass slipper on her foot, Sleeping Beauty as the Prince wakes her with a kiss, Ariel as she receives the kiss of true love from the Prince.

OK, it’s probably mildly disturbing that I’m comparing a guillotine-style paper cutter to a Prince, but over-the-hill administrative assistants don’t rub elbows with many real Princes, particularly when they work in behavioral health. Believe me when I say that this delivery was one of the highlights of 2011 for me.

I happily used the guillotine cutter well into the early fall months, and I’m happy to report that I still have both thumbs. Life was as close to perfect as it gets in my job. Then something inexplicable happened: I got the urge to clean. This is not something I undertake lightly. Our building has frequent scorpion sightings, so my usual inclination is to let sleeping dust lie. On this day, however, I must have been a little bit crazy or a lot bored. Probably both.

We have a printer the size of a small rhinoceros. This thing does everything except my laundry. If I could fit it into my car, I’d even be willing to take it home to try it out with the laundry. I love this printer. It is, however, positioned in the back room in such a manner as to create an almost inaccessible corner. Almost. We manage to store the boxes of paper, a paper shredder, and a spare toner cartridge in this corner. The trick is getting them back out when we need them. With all that stuff piled up back there, the corner is a hotbed for scorpions, which is generally just fine with me. Anywhere is better than under my desk. Except on this day.

I don’t know why, but on this day I had wedged myself through the narrow opening and was standing back in that corner trying to straighten things up without getting stung. I was feeling like dead girl walking, so I was moving quickly so that I could get back out into neutral territory. I reached for the box with the toner cartridge and that’s when I saw another box behind the printer. It was a box for a guillotine-style paper cutter, and it looked brand new. I reached out to pick it up, praying that it was just an empty box. No. It was heavy. Just the right amount of heavy to be a paper cutter. A tsunami of guilt washed over me. Forget that the thing only costs $27. I was raised Presbyterian. You’ve heard of Catholic guilt? Well, they’ve got nothing on Presbyterians in the guilt department. Presbyterians do everything decently and in good order. Lying, even inadvertently, even if it’s only for a mere guillotine, is a reflection of the total depravity of the soul. Unlike Catholics, such as the Duchess of Supplies, I don’t have the option of Purgatory. They don’t take Presbyterians there. I had stolen a guillotine paper cutter, and even though I didn’t even remember doing it, I knew I was going straight to hell.

I confessed my sin to the Duchess, and, like any good Catholic with the option of doing a few centuries in Purgatory instead of going to hell, she recommended lying. “Someone else probably put it behind the printer while cleaning up,” she said. “It’s not your fault. Hide it so that no one knows we have two.”

“Shouldn’t we return it to Staples?” I asked. I could already feel the flames of hell licking the soles of my feet.

“Naw,” she replied. “It’s been months. They’ve forgotten it.”

Against my better judgement. I went along, hiding the cutter under my desk behind a paper shredder. Months went by. Every time I shredded anything, I saw the box sitting there and was swamped again with guilt.

The story has now caught up to us. On Monday, the Queen of Ordering sent out an email to everyone in the agency asking if anyone had an extra paper cutter that they could give to a new program. Finally! I could achieve redemption. I replied to the email, saying that I would send one over. I took it directly over to the Duchess for delivery to the Queen.

I can’t begin to tell you what a relief that was. It didn’t relieve my guilt about stealing a paper cutter from Staples, but at least it would be useful to someone instead of being stuffed under my desk. The rest of the week was a blur – end of the month, emergency mailings, and a couple of new intakes kept me distracted.

Yesterday, I had to make a run to our administrative building to drop off the last of the emergency mailing, and I had a chance to chat with the Queen of Ordering. This is where things got strange.

“Knowing your reputation, I had a funny thought when you emailed me,” she said. “I thought that it would be just like you to stick that old rotary cutter in a box and try to pawn that off on me.”

“Oh no,” I protested. “I wouldn’t ever make anyone suffer through the misery of using that thing.” I gave a dramatic shudder to demonstrate my sincere innocence.

“OK,” she said. “I’ll look forward to getting the cutter from you then.”

“I already sent it over with the Duchess,” I said.

She gives me The Look. You know the one. It’s the one that only a Queen can give you.

I withered under The Look. “Monday… I sent it… Honest…”

“Liz,” she said, “that box had a rotary cutter in it.”

I sat stunned. Somehow I had escaped hell for the sin of stealing a paper cutter from Staples only to find myself, a Presbyterian, stuck in Purgatory for crimes against the Queen.

I don’t know how the old rotary cutter got into the new guillotine box. I don’t know how that box got behind the printer. I only know that you can’t make this stuff up.

Note: all names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. No cutters were actually stolen from Staples. 

I am grateful to GlennFleishman on Flickr for the colorful picture at the top of this post. (I wish my workroom was this pretty!)

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  • Annabelle says on: March 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm


    Oh, no! I think I’d be tempted to pretend I had never had anything to do with any paper cutter of any kind at that point.
    Annabelle recently posted..Sunday RoundupMy Profile

  • Cindy Brown says on: March 5, 2012 at 6:50 am


    I used to be an Executive Administrative Assistant and so I relate to your story. Like you implied, it could be that only those of us with toner running through our veins could find this funny. I did! 🙂 And I love how you use the Duchess and Queen terminology. Cute.
    Cindy Brown recently posted..You’re Under Arrest for WPIP: Wearing Pajamas in PublicMy Profile

    • Liz says on: March 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm


      So glad to hear that you found this funny. Thanks for commenting, Cindy! You made my day.
      Liz recently posted..You Can’t Make This Stuff UpMy Profile

  • Ellis Vidler says on: March 6, 2012 at 4:37 am


    Fun story. I’m a veteran of office supply wars, and it did put a smile on my face. 🙂
    Ellis Vidler recently posted..Lost Confederate GoldMy Profile

    • Liz says on: March 6, 2012 at 7:45 am


      Thanks Ellis! Office supplies do make the world go round 🙂

  • MJ says on: March 9, 2012 at 8:21 am


    I share your sentiment.. I’m not an admin assistant but i saw a guillotine paper cutter sitting out in the hallyway for weeks before i decided someone was throwing it out and took it.. I’m glad i did since our division’s is dying a slow death but every time i use it i have a small pang of guilt– since this guillotine works wonderfully!

    • Liz says on: March 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm


      You can’t feel bad for too long once you hear that wonderful sound of the metal against metal as the paper is sliced. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, MJ!
      Liz recently posted..World Building: Time on AlykanMy Profile

  • Milda Felicione says on: March 14, 2012 at 10:41 pm


    That’s what I get for wanting to save money, I suppose.

  • Eula McLeod says on: March 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm


    Hahaha!!! So funny, Liz! Thanks for the laugh. (p.s. I’ll check with my Anglican priest son to find out how you can get out of purgatory. You’re welcome.)
    Eula McLeod recently posted..DetourMy Profile

  • Monica Aniston says on: April 5, 2012 at 12:09 am


    Fascinating article. I wish you best of luck within your authoring career. I noticed a great capability there.

    • Liz says on: April 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm



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Liz Andra Shaw

Journey into the Creative Mind of a Writing Reader