Sharon Lough's Writing for 10/09/98

Luddite Love at the All-Night Copymat

Chris is a watchmaker and repairman by trade. He can repair timepieces but can't synchronize the clocks in the house. His own watch is ten minutes slow; mine is five minutes fast. We have heated arguments over whether we'll be late for dinner or when our favorite TV shows start.

I spend hours "glued to that damn glass tit," his pet name for my PC. I tried to explain the glory of the Internet, the many wonders of the World Wide Web. But he is not impressed by personal home pages, up-to-the-minute news, and online catalogs. He even fails to see the sordid appeal of nude celebrity photos. "This is it?" he asked, when I first showed him the online world. "This is what all the fuss is about? This is nothing!" For him, the Net is the epitome of the Gertrude Stein quote, "There's no there there." He is befuddled and mystified by modern technology.

I insist on going with him to the local 24-hour Copymat to help him make copies of legal documents. His attorney has asked for copies, and literally hundreds of them need to be made: tax returns, deeds, canceled checks.

Chris is mystified, both by copy centers and high-speed copiers. As we walk into the Copymat, he picks up several pens from a brightly-colored display.

"This is great--they're giving these away." he says excitedly.

"No honey, they're for sale."

"We're supposed to buy them? How come they leave 'em out like this." he is disappointed.

"It's a retail gimmick. You look at all the pretty colors and you want to buy them."

He grunts in disgust and puts the pens back.

I realize it's a good thing I went with him. I can just see him stuffing his pockets and walking out the door, only to be accosted by security guards and arrested for shoplifting. I suspect hardened criminals are not kind to middle-aged men who are caught stealing yellow highlighters.

I realize the Copymat is another world, a planet illuminated by a glaring fluorescent sun, littered with seductive arrays of stationery supplies. The air smells faintly of toner and is filled with the soft drone of Xerox machines. Here, Chris is a lost being and he needs me. I am his Sherpa guide for the new millennium.

We stack our papers on the work table in the midst of the self-serve copiers.

"Do we have to pay for these too?" he asks, gesturing towards the pile of paper clips.

"No, those are free."

"They never give away anything good," he mutters.

The documents are yellowed and dog-eard, held together in thick stacks by rusted staples and old paper clips. Chris attempts to remove one of the staples with a bitten-down thumbnail. I locate the staple remover and pull out the bent, rusted staple with a single deft movement, a technique perfected by years of office work. Chris is in awe.

"How did you learn to do that?" he asks. He looks at me with newfound respect.

Chris and I approach the copier and I realize this is more complicated that he expected. He doesn't understand how document feeders or paper guides work, and the complexities of paper size. Realizing it would take too long to explain, so I say, "Let me do it" and start feeding the standard-sized pages. Having recently gained twenty pounds, he is not fully aware of his circumference. As he stands in front of the machine and leans forward to see what progress we're making, his protruding paunch presses the "Start" button, resulting in extra copies, blank sheets, and blinding flashes of light when I lift the copy cover.

Chris's uncanny ability to accidentally get in the way is infuriating. "Please stand back." I say through clenched teeth, my temples pounding from the last blinding flash. Chris moves maybe about a centimeter away. Not wanting to nag, I reach around him rather than tell him to move. This is not easy because of his girth, and my shoulder and neck begin to ache. It's this sort of thing that now seems only mildly annoying, and mostly endearing, that will send me into screaming fits of rage in a few years.

We are about halfway through our task when we see a strange couple (even stranger than us). They were both dressed in matching white sweat suits. Everything they wore was white, including their shoes, even their eyeglass frames. The woman had short white hair; I wondered if it was natural or if she had bleached it to match her outfit. All their clothing was incredibly clean too, there were no scuff marks on their shoes and the woman's purse. It was bizarre. I wondered if they were members of a mind-control cult.

I was dying to know what the white couple was copying. Religious leaflets? Maybe their cult group distributed pamphlets with blank white pages as some sort of existential statement. I wonder what the Copymat charges for blank copies? Is it the cost of a standard copy, or the cost of a blank sheet of paper? They could charge for a color copy, since white is technically a color, and substitute a blank sheet, and make a tidy profit. Do people go to the Copymat and make copies of nothingness?

I nudge Chris and whisper, "Look, two white people. I should go up to them and ask, 'How do you get your whites so white?' like in the laundry detergent commercials."

"They probably use Clorox," he replies and returns to checking the copies.

As I complete our task, I try not to stare at the white people. They are still there when we leave.

"You know, these actually came out pretty good," I say, looking at the documents when we get home.

"Mmmm." Chris is on his side, dozing, the cat curled against him. His shirt is undone and in the lamplight the strawberry-blond hairs glisten against his pale, freckled skin. He looks like a very hairy cherub or the world's most Rubenesque Adonis.

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