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?

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Rhea
Rhea
8 years ago

I just love your writing. Every time.

Kim
Kim
8 years ago

Though I have finally reached a career goal by working in editing, there are still not many office-related victories as satisfying as clearing that fucking copy machine.

Cheryl
8 years ago

HA! I’ve worked on a DocuTech too! Only difference is that I was technically the Graphics Manager, but had ended up learning pretty much the entire business before I moved on to bigger and brighter things, so running the DocuTech ended up part of my job too. I hated pulling jams from that god-awful machine – they built it in such a fashion that I have yet to see any other copier or printer as difficult to unjam.

Donna
Donna
8 years ago

Yes….just yes.

jen
jen
8 years ago

I nearly threw away a perfectly functioning food processor because of this just yesterday. I actually went online to Amazon to price it out to see how much I’d need to save up to replace it when a review caught my eye. The reviewer explained how the lid can be put on it and not work, even though it seems like the lid is on correctly but it isn’t. I went back over to the processor, looked at the lid for a second, replaced it correctly, and boom, the damn thing worked.

So yes. Always good to really exhaust your efforts.

Maggie
Maggie
8 years ago

Love this! I too worked at Kinko’s many moons ago and you described the docutech operator to a tee. Ours was also hot, so he was a god to the rest of us. Although, the color copier operators were almost on a par with him. It is such a fear of mine to ask for help with something that turns out to be a simple fix. SO afraid of looking stupid. Why is that?

Valria
8 years ago

I absolutely loved the docutech.
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Lisa
8 years ago

Ahh… the Kinko’s years. I worked there in college too, mostly the early weekend shift- 7:30 am- 3:30 pm. I started out as the cashier too & worked my way up to “Weekend Supervisor,” which meant I usually ran the Docutech too, and our other big machine. I still shake my head in amazement that I actually got to work that early every weekend, as I was right at 21 & had almost always been out until the wee hours the night before drinking with friends. It was such a fun job, though & I loved all my co workers. To this day, when the copier at my current job jams, I feel like I should be the one to fix it. Sometimes I actually can!

Courtney
Courtney
8 years ago

“What if it’s just a piece of paper?” What a great euphemism to apply when faced with a problem!

Kristin H
Kristin H
8 years ago

This reminds me of the time I called a plumber to come and see what was wrong with my washing machine, which wouldn’t turn on. He looked at it, plugged it in, and charged me $60.

cindy
cindy
8 years ago

Exactly!

sara
sara
8 years ago

I’m actually a dispatcher for copier service technicians. So I especially love this.

Once I insisted comcast send someone to fix my internet. They wanted to troubleshoot over the phone and I flat out snapped saying that I tried everything. When they got there they showed me that the power strip wasn’t actually plugged in to wall. Yup, Im an ahole!!

Annie Stevens
8 years ago

My father was a Xerox technician in DC, then in Denver. Those pages drove him nuts (one at three a.m. resulted in electronics and plastic pieces bouncing off the bedroom wall).

However, I will like to point out, Dad and all his coworkers were grumpy, grizzled guys. Like, seriously. It might have just been his disposition; most of them didn’t even like computers. Or printers. Or anything that buzzed. They got paid pretty decently to fix accordian papers. They would come home and jabber at it, but seriously, in spite of the inanity, they enjoyed saving the day.

Side note: I was a printer technician on machines that quit being manufactured after our company bought them; no parts, technician had to travel an hour to get to us, et cetera. I managed to fix most of the problem for a high volume Christmas card order with some tools from the cosmetic apartment before the technician, but as I proudly walked away he showed up, peeked in, and I heard “WHO LEFT THE TWEEZERS IN THE MILLION DOLLAR MACHINE?!” Ahem.

Annie Stevens
8 years ago

OH. By the way, Xerox built a machine in the 60’s that had a built-in fire extinguisher triggered by fishing line once it melted.

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