There’s been talk of paper. A lot of talk. Unfortunately, it’s on the loose. First, on August 8, 2022, the FBI raided the Mar-a-Lago home of an elderly politician. They were hunting for paper. You can bet—as sure as the day is long—they bagged their prey. Then, months later, officials found paper in the garage of a politician more elderly than the last.
Many academics have begun questioning, with somber solemnity, where we went wrong in raising this generation’s senior citizens. Don’t they know about Sizzler’s early-bird special? That’s how old-timers waited for death back in my day. God help us; they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
The first time I saw paper must’ve been around 1989. I was four years old, still nursing, and, I’ll admit, a bit wet behind the ears. That doesn’t mean a boy forgets his first encounter with paper. I may not remember the exact day, but I’ll never forget how it felt the first time I laid eyes on a piece.
It was white, clean, crisp—full of endless possibilities. I saw it after mom arrived home from buying that month’s groceries. She’d gotten herself a ream at Sam’s Club; she was a preschool teacher in those days. Later, at Kinkos, she put the whole ream in one of those big printers you used to be able to rent for a quarter. The outline of a teddy bear appeared on each sheet after the printer finished its job. Turns out the kids had some coloring to do the next day. Serves them right, I suppose.
That was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with paper. In grade school, particularly on boring days, I would fold a piece in the shape of an airplane. Then I’d hook up with my friends in the hallway to find out whose piece of paper could fly the farthest. It took meticulous, proficient skill to not only get the paper in the air but to keep it flying for more than a second or two. I never mastered the art, but my best pal Joey did. To this day, I’ve never seen a person throw a paper airplane longer or straighter. The kid was a natural.
In the ninth grade, I landed my first girlfriend with a piece of paper. I was sitting in second-period biology, feeling legit with my hand-me-down puka shell necklace and frosted tips. I looked chiller than an outdoor freezer.
With surprising courage, I ripped a sheet out of my Mead spiral notebook and wrote, “Do you want to be my gf? If not, it’s okay.” Then I followed the customary junior high protocol of not talking to the person I liked. I had Joey give her the paper. Two periods later, in between classes, she told Joey yes. I felt euphoric.
The next day we learned she said yes to Joey’s question asking if she’d read my note, not if she’d be my girlfriend. As soon as she learned her answer and subsequent laugh had been misunderstood, she found Joey and made her feelings on the matter a bit more clear. “No, gross,” she said. “Why would I ever do that?” She then wrote “NO” on a clean sheet of paper and told Joey to make sure it was delivered posthaste. I got it. It felt much nicer than what was inside my Mead.
After high school, I knew the rest of my life would revolve around paper. It followed me everywhere I went. I doodled on it in college, read Louis L’Amour’s words from it, and hoped to one day hold a piece with my name on it once I graduated from the local university. Of course, not everything works out the way you planned. I did use a heftier form of paper to wrap sandwiches for customers at the deli where I worked for more than a decade.
With technology here to stay, I’d almost forgotten paper existed. Today’s geriatric politicians appear to have the opposite problem: they never learned or (most likely) forgot technology existed. Where are the grandchildren? Someone needs to sit these boomers down to explain how and why encrypted technology exists. Or maybe a millennial staffer could show them how much money the government they happen to lead spends on cybersecurity every year. Either way, an intervention is needed.
To their credit, if it wasn’t for all this talk about paper being found where it shouldn’t have been, I’m not sure I would’ve had the opportunity to reflect on its integral role in my life. Funny how things work out.
As to my thoughts on the matter at hand, it may surprise you, given the ample experience I just described, but I’ve never seen a piece of paper marked “Classified.” I don’t know the first thing about how to handle such a relic of the past that, obviously, can be easily misplaced. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I’d have much of an opinion if I did. It’s the human relics I worry about.