When I was around twenty-two years old, I was living in Corvallis and working at a Kinko’s. I had doggedly climbed my way through the copy-center ranks from cashier (worst job, because people) to DocuTech operator (best job, because seclusion plus disproportionate sense of importance), and I had an evening shift that suited my desire to never see the light of day before 11 AM.
One night I was doing my thing, which mostly involved sitting on a stool occasionally pressing buttons and rolling my eyes at panicky student orders for one copy of their precious thesis (this is why every DocuTech operator was an asshole: theses could only be reproduced on the highly-accurate but also high-volume printer/copier machine, which was typically devoted to big runs of manuals and whatnot, so every time a bug-eyed master’s candidate would show up babbling about how they needed a copy and it has to be perfect OMG we’d heave and sigh and gesture at our very important work of sitting on a stool pushing buttons like the shitty little ten-cents-above-minimum-wage-earning gatekeepers we were), when the machine made a wheezing noise and ground to a halt. I did my best to locate the problem, but I was exactly as mechanically-minded then as I am now, which is to say I probably opened a few drawers and panels and peered briefly at its mysterious steampunk innards before shrugging, closing it all up with a bang, and dialing the Xerox tech.
Our Xerox technician worked on call, which meant that if we had an after-hours emergency, he got paged. I don’t remember what time it was when I called him, but I do remember what he looked like when he showed up. Not happy. Not happy at all. He was an older man who was working into his retirement years, and he had probably been sitting down to dinner when his belt buzzed to life. He came in with a scowl on his face, walked briskly up to the machine, slammed open a drawer, and instantly removed the accordian-shaped piece of paper that had caused the jam. He then spun on his heel, and without a single word to me, strode back out the door.
I’m sure he eventually forgave me and we went on to have as jovial a professional relationship as it’s possible for a pink-haired twenty-something and a silver-haired fifty-something to have, but I have never forgotten that incident. The toe-curling embarrassment of having interrupted his evening for what turned out to be the easiest problem in the world to solve. The enduring and possibly-useful lesson: always make sure you’ve truly exhausted your efforts before tapping someone else. But also, the lingering fear: what if it’s just a piece of paper?