It was like those classic murder mystery novels. The kind that circles around the looming question of whodunnit until the culprit is caught.
Except, the only thing dead was the copy machine. And as far as the mystery… there was none. I was the culprit. And I was caught next to the copy machine long before it broke by the quirky woman who works the front desk.
In my defense, I was trying to figure out my boss’s responsibilities while still managing my own. With her out for the week and me being the intern, her responsibilities became my responsibility by default. This task – involving the copy machine – included.
“It would be a good learning opportunity,” she said as she packed up for the day. “Check the Trainual, it will have all the information you need.” (Notice the definitive, it will.) And then, she left.
With an hour or so still to go in the day and my work finished, I started on hers, opening a new tab and skimming the Trainual.
The list was daunting, to say the least. The tasks seemed to multiply – both in quantity and size – as it became more obvious that I had no idea what I was doing.
Then, I saw it: Make a copy of the resource for everyone attending the event. The task was big enough to feel like an accomplishment and small enough to go home on time.
I closed the tab and got started.
I don’t know why I decided to simply figure it out. I just wanted to get some of tomorrow’s work done today before heading home.
At the time, I was balancing two internships, a full load of 400-level English courses, and a full-time little kid job (you know – the kind you get hired for at 16). My only motivation was sleep. And maybe a free moment to read a book that wasn’t assigned (I was an English major, after all). This felt like my chance to earn back an extra 10 minutes for my choice of the two.
Full disclosure: I had never used a copy machine before – not even the kind built into your home printer. And I really couldn’t tell you how I came up with this time budget or even where this confidence came from.
Fuller disclosure as someone who has since learned how to operate a copy machine: It’s not as straightforward as you would think (or at least as I thought). They have more buttons than functions, a hard-to-read screen that glitches when you press too many things too fast, and a temper.
Frustrated, tired, and my extra 10 minutes long-gone, I pressed the only button still un-pushed, making the machine tantrum.
The scanner hissed, the screen blacked out, and I did what anyone would do. I panicked.
Barely 20 at the time and this being my first job (if you can even call it that) that didn’t involve restocking shelves or serving tables, I was pretty sure places fired people over situations like this. Especially if they are unpaid interns working unsupervised who neglected the directions.
That’s how it worked at my little kid job, at least. About a month prior, I had watched someone get fired after breaking – as my boss put it – “expensive equipment in avoidable circumstances.” Then, there I was, doing the same thing.
And the worst part was this really wasn’t like me.
I know full well that I am the product of all the postmodern novels I have ever read – the Infinite Jest’s and Catch 22’s. And because of this, distrust pretty much anything I’m not familiar with – the copy machine included.
Typically, this distrust works in my favor, causing me to overcompensate so that I don’t make a mistake. I would glue myself to Trainual, enunciating every syllable until I had built the confidence to do as it said. Even then, I would still check each action against the directions and worry whether I had done it correctly.
This seems a bit much – I know. But in case you didn’t know (apparently, I didn’t), simple tasks are incredibly difficult and time-consuming when you have no idea what you’re doing. Case and point, the copy machine.
Two hours into a 20-minute task, there seemed to be no chance that I could resurrect the copy machine. And how exactly I managed to break it by pressing buttons alone, I didn’t know.
At this point, I felt emotionally drained and resigned to the fact that I killed the copy machine. I decided that if I couldn’t fix the machine in the next few minutes, I would go home. Just face the consequences in the morning.
In a last-ditch effort, or maybe just finally swallowing my pride, I reopened Trainual.
Could there be a note in there that would save my internship? Something that says it’s not broken, just pretending to be dead?
Without even scrolling down – yes. There it was. A passcode that, when entered, wakes the machine from energy-saving mode.