Friday, October 10, 2008

If You Can't See the Forest, it's Because There are No Trees

So, it’s my day off today, and I’m feeling like I should really go plant a few trees following what we’ll simply refer to as an incident that occurred at the Grad Office this week.

I showed up for work on Tuesday only to be greeted by a thick dossier situated prominently on my chair. You can think of it as a really fat file full of stuff that needed to be copied, if you’d like, but I feel it might trivialize the tale. The sticky note affixed to the top of the folder outlined the parameters of the assignment: a stack of 35-odd pages needed to be transformed into 60 sets of double-sided copies, sandwiched between the provided covers, bound utilizing equipment I was to obtain from an unfamiliar part of campus, and then delivered to a cross-campus professor.

I chalked all this up as mostly good news. The overarching message I gleaned form the communiqué was that the assignment was clearly anchored on not one, but two, out-of-office field trips, and I’m all over that kind of work. Sure, there were all those copies; regular readers know that I’m not very adept with office tasks of any kind, and copy machines in general are far beyond the scope of my expertise. However, well into my third semester at the Grad Office, I’ve acquired a modicum of basic skills that afforded me a guarded confidence in my abilities to perform the task.

So, I ran a test round, making sure I was all good with the double-sided format, and everything looked great. I programmed the copier to do it’s thing 59 more times, grabbed my noodle bowl, and headed off to the English Department to use the microwave, giving Dr. S., the professor for who I work, a confident thumbs-up style report on my progress as I passed her in the hall.

The next time Dr. S. saw me, I was on my knees, staring helplessly into the bowels of the copy machine, surrounded by a sea of printed matter, the shredded remains of extracted paper, and a rapidly cooling noodle bowl.

Evidently, the copier suffered a massive shut-down of it’s internal organs while I was nuking my noodles. Fortunately, it seemed to produce around 15 complete sets of booklet innards before it went on the fritz. These I’d dutifully sandwiched and stacked, grateful that all was not a complete loss. Scattered in dubious clusters across the floor was a disturbing amount of superfluous partials—papers I recognized from the project, but in no discernable order.

I’d managed to extract at least three pages from the copier’s innards before Dr. S. found me. I could see a fourth jammed paper, but just couldn’t quite reach it. Dr. S, trained for such an eventuality, showed me how to pull an entire appendage straight out of the core of the machine as removed the stray sheet with a surgeon’s precision.

The copier’s status screen gave us the go ahead to proceed, claiming it would get back to work if I’d re-scan all the originals. Everything seemed back on track until the copier reported that it would NOT get back to work due to a numerical discrepancy between the originals I just scanned and the ones previously entered. I went into a bit of a panic at this point, so I shut down the entire system, fired it all back up again, and scanned my current batch of originals—plus or minus, who knew?—deciding to compare the resulting set of copies against the pre-accident products, in a calm, page-by-page analysis.

The results were shocking. The post-accident booklet contained a page that the pre-accident editions did not—folks, we gained a page here, and, judging from the context, a key one at that. Book by-book, I removed all the pages from the discrepancy onward, thinking how ironic it was that if we weren’t doing this job double-sided to save paper, I could simply just print off copies of just the missing page and insert it in place, instead of recopying what amounted to roughly a fourth of fifteen booklets.

At this point, the copier randomly decided to start printing the materials on legal-sized paper, causing no less than half a dozen emergency stop-the-presses type situations, most subsequently followed by an intense jam session.

By now, the volume of printed matter strewn across the floor was so great, I was beginning to become overwhelmed and confused. Were the corrected editions in this pile, or the other one? Were these good copies or rejects? And where was that noodle bowl, anyway? I knew my co-worker, A, was about to arrive and I wasn’t sure if I should be grateful that reinforcement was on the way, or embarrassed to be seen like this.

“If you’re smart, you’ll turn around and run,” I said, as A appeared at the door.

A gave a knowing glace around the office—she’s seen this sort of scene before. She assumed an air of confidence, and suggested that she take over the copying while I established some sense of order on the floor.

Half way through copying her 3rd booklet, A seemed on a roll. The small office fairly hummed with the sounds of productivity—or maybe that was just how the copier sounds when it works. Whatever the case, you know why it all came to a screeching halt.

Dr. S. appeared about this time and blamed all the trouble on the advanced operations of double sided copies and had us switch to single sided sheets. A suggested I go get the binder while she continued to work on the machine, figuring a finished book or two might buoy our spirits. More than ready for the anticipated field trip, I bolted from the office.

The grad assistant in the department which housed the binder looked a little dubious when I requested the equipment, and went off to get Professor So and So.

I smiled warmly at the stout, stern professor as I introduced myself. “I called earlier, about the binder. I know we asked to use it over here, but we’re in the middle of a—er—situation—and it would really help us if we could use it on site”

“Is this the kind of thing we normally do for you folks?” Prof S&S boomed.

I wasn’t sure if she meant taking away the equipment, or using it in the first place, so I just smiled really big and said I was quite sure it was pretty routine.

Prof S&S handed the equipment over with no small amount of chagrin, causing me to I walk really slowly on the way back, because I wasn’t sure what would become of any of us if I dropped the binder. This gave me time to study the machine, and I kind of got a bad feeling that something wasn’t right.

I knew enough about comb binding to know that the whole process pretty munch hinged on having plastic comb pieces. There didn’t seem to be any visibly included with the machine, and this worried me. I convinced myself that they must be housed somehow inside the apparatus, that perhaps they popped out somewhere when you turned the crank on the side.

“Where are the combs?” A asked when I returned.

“Umm…inside the machine?” I tried.

I trudged back to the office of the irate professor, taking no glee in the bonus field trip.

“We have to supply the materials, too?” Prof S&S boomed when I reappeared in her foyer.

She thrust a box in my general direction, suggesting that I pass along to my department her sentiments that we invest in our own equipment.

“For the one time a year that we use it?” Dr. S exclaimed, aghast, scribbling rapidly on a note pad as I relayed the message.

“I’m sweating,” A panted from the underbelly on the copy machine as I entered the office.

M, a third graduate assistant, appeared at the door. “If you’re smart, you’ll turn around and run,” A and I said, in unison.

“We’ve been working on making booklets for three hours. The copier is down, and there’s a whole department mad at us,” I added helpfully.

M replaced A at the copier. “Which department?” she asked.

“The Dean’s Office,” I replied.

“Oh—that’s a big one. I was hoping it was just a little department.”

A and I looked at each other nervously as the binder groaned against the heft of the product. We ended up having to punch the pages in small batches, which didn’t line up properly.

I finally held the single, jagged booklet aloft three full hours after I found the dossier. Exhausted, I examined the reams of waste product which surrounded me. I imagined the legions of sacrificed forest as I calculated the tax dollars it took to pay three grad assistants to produce the sad specimen I held in my hand. I wasn’t quite sure what the booklet was for, but I imagined it must be pretty important.

Meanwhile, A examined the actual contents of the booklet for the first time. “Hey!” she said, noting the course number printed on the cover, “I took this class last year. I never opened this book once.”


RockinBlueGlasses said...

A bit of an ironic twist there at the end.

Catherine Wannabe said...

Did you happen to be wearing a yellow hat with marmalade stains at the time???


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