“I‘m goin’ in!” I fancied I was regaling everyone at work with a bit of performance art. “If I’m not back in fifteen minutes, send in a search party!”
I was unjamming the temperamental school main office copier. I’d fed a sheet into the slot on top and it sucked it right in, which it was supposed to do. Then it made a grinding noise and started beeping, which it was not.
Machines don’t like me. The office time clock frequently cries out in pain, buzzing violently if I push in my time card at even the slightest bit of an angle. The TV remote turns on me in an instant as soon as my husband leaves the room and is not there to console it. It gives me nothing but a blue screen.
“You’re an idiot,” my friend Ed said. “Machines don’t have feelings. If they don’t work right it’s because you’ve done something wrong. It’s your fault.”
The paper disappeared into the copier and got lost. After the grinding and the beeping and smoke subsided, I looked around for potential saviors. Everyone was busy. And I respected that. I’m not one of those “drop everything and help ME” sort of gals. I was perfectly willing to at least try to work it out myself.
Oh, look! There are little diagrams on the inside of the copier door here. With step-by-step instructions for solving almost any kind of jam. I can do this!
My colleagues were not too busy, however, to be amused from the safe distance of their respective posts. We’re good multi-taskers around here: we get our work done and make fun of each other at the same time.
I looked at the color-coded instructions, which corresponded with the same-colored levers and knobs on the parts inside.
Oh, and they’re numbered, too! You push down lever 1 before you pull out the big... ummm...the big… MECHANISM inside. Then you twist around knob 2 and that should free up the paper....
I peered in. Hmmm...according to the little red zigzags on the light-up screen on the top, the “mis-feed” was right where I was looking.
(Note: I didn’t mis-FEED the paper to the machine, the machine mis-ATE it.)
No problem, there were other places in the machine to try. There was switch 3 and toggle 4 and twisty-thing 5, and... Hey! You can separate THAT part of the copier from THIS part of the copier altogether and...
“What the hell are you doing in there?? I have a pissed-off parent waiting for this!”
It was Mack, waving around some guidance-counselor-y piece of paper. I was in the machine up to my waist, trying to discretely untangle my sleeve from twisty-thing 5.
“I’m fixing the copier; what does it look like I’m doing??” I couldn’t turn myself quite far enough around to meet his eyes as I said it—being stuck and on my knees and all—but I did speak loudly and tried to sound as convincing as possible.
“Well, what did you do to it??”
“What did I do to it? I fed it a piece of paper and asked it to do its job is what I did to it. Frigging machine hates me. Every time I try to make a simple copy...”
“Machines don’t hate people,” interrupted Mack. “If you treat a machine gently, if you don’t bang on it and try to force it to...”
“OK, look,” I finally freed myself and eyed my hand circumspectly as I drew it out, the better to make sure I still had all my fingers.
“OK, look,” I staggered back to a standing position, forgetting my knees aren’t what they used to be.
“OK, look!” I shook Mack’s hand off my arm as he reached out to make sure I wasn’t going to buckle and fall back to the office floor.
“I didn’t do anything to this stupid machine this morning that twenty other people didn’t do too. It just got tired; it decided it had enough, so by the time I came along, it...”
“Machines don’t get tired, and they don’t decide anything,” Mack corrected again.
“OK, Mr. Copier Psychologist, you fix it, then! I hear your the best. Go ahead and live up to your reputation!”
“Yeah! Mack thinks he knows everything!” Pupil Accounting Secretary Marisol shouted from her desk in a show of female solidarity.
“Could you fix it please?” I abruptly switched strategies, remembering that catching-more-flies-with-honey thing. Plus, I was exhausted from my two rounds with the hot hulking hunk of a machine.
I held Mack’s important paper and his manila folder and his cup of coffee and stepped back with just a hint of ceremony. He lowered himself, grumbling all the way, to the hard linoleum floor. He wiggled. He waggled. He cranked from left to right, he turned on and off all the switches and dials and levers I had already messed with. He opened and shut another door or two that I hadn’t even noticed.
“There’s no paper in here,” he concluded. “Are you sure you put a piece of paper in here?”
“Of course I’m sure!”
“Well, there’s nothing in here; you must be mistaken.”
“Mistaken? How could I be mistaken? I put it there,” I pointed, “and it sucked it in and started coughing and here we are!”
“Machines don’t cough,” said Mack. I threw up my hands.
“OK, enough!!” Marisol pushed back from her desk, got up, and marched over in her spike heels and tight pencil skirt. “J,” she said, “put down the X-Acto knife, and Mack, stop dropping Pop-Tart crumbs into the copier.”
We stepped aside, and she bent over at the waist—always an event—and reached down to a narrow little door all the way at the bottom and toward the back of the copier. She opened it with a practiced flick of the wrist, and there it was. My paper. With nary a crumple. She handed it to me with a smile, smirked at Mack over her shoulder, then whirled around and whacked the door shut with the back of her high heel.
“Wow, Marisol, thanks!” I said. “I never even knew that door was down there.”
“Doors Schmors...” said Mack. Wait...let me do my copy first, please, before this cranky parent kills me.”
“Oh, all right,” I said, and stepped out of his way.
Mack fed it into the copier, which made a grinding noise and started beeping.
I love my life.