come not between the nazgul and the photocopier

So last night I go to the copy shop down the street to make a few Click Clack Gorilla’s to bring along to the Lee Hollis reading we were planning on going to later that night. The shop is self-service, but the Copy Man was impatient, wanted to look through all my papers, didn’t want to let me touch the machines. “I’d rather do it myself,” I told him. “No no. These are my machines. I know them better than you do. Trust me, trust me,” he repeated over and over, until I finally gave up and handed him the originals. He made the copies and shooed me out of the store once I’d handed over my five euros.

I got home disgruntled; I’d stopped going to the copy shop across the street because that Copy Man had always insisted on looking through all my papers too. Friends had assured me that at this shop the owner would leave me alone, that I could copy all my zines without having to worry about Copy Man’s prying eyes. Strike two, I grumbled to myself as I biked home. I grabbed a beer from the house and sat down in the kitchen to collate the covers with the freshly copied innards. Which is when I noticed that he’d fucked them all up. Copied them all backwards and upside down. I let out a scream of rage, cursed his name, and gnashed my teeth at the thought of having to go back and talk to Mr I Can Make Better Photocopies Than You You Insolent Fool again the next day.

It took me all afternoon to work up the energy to bike back over, expecting, fearing a battle, but around 5 o’clock I forced myself onto my bike and over the bridge to the copy shop. I waited patiently in line while the Copy Man bound a book for another customer, sent a fax for another customer, waited until there was no one left in the shop except for me, Mr. Copy Man, and Copy Man’s Friend, who was sitting at a computer looking at flickr photos of Turkey. He shuffled a few papers around importantly before looking at me and asking how he could help me today.

I had decided to remain calm. To approach the situation calmly, rationally, politely, against every instinct, against the already angry pounding in my chest. I explained the mistake and requested my money back. He insisted he had done it correctly, that they should flip up and over, not open up like a book, “You never said this was supposed to be a book,” he insisted, “I’m not giving you your money back,” he brayed, “There is no mistake.”

“Well, if you had let me make the copies myself, I would take responsibility for the mistake. But if you recall you wouldn’t let me copy them myself, and you copied them wrong. I did tell you this was a book, and I want my money back.” His shoulder was a shut door, a brick wall, a dead end. And somehow, what I’d meant to, hoped to make into a short, polite business exchange was turning into the battle I’d feared.

“You’re not getting any money from me. Too bad for you!”

“You made the mistake, and I want a refund!”

“No! Never!”

“I’m not leaving until I get my money back!” We were screaming at each other now, cheeks glowing like hot coals.

“Then you can stay here all night,” he hissed. “There’s no money here for you.” He walked away from me and into another room, attempting to act casual, attempting to ignore me into leaving. Instead I stayed put and smsed Calamari for back up, the phone shaking in my hand. All the while Mr. Copy Man’s friend sat at the computer, looking at photos, ignoring us both.

After a few minutes the Copy Man came back into the shop, and I walked toward the shelves of fancy colored paper. Round two, ding! “Well, if you’re not going to give me the five euros in cash, I’ll just take five euros worth of paper then.” Another customer had entered the shop. He didn’t notice. His whole face was a bed of smoldering coals now.


“Then give me my money back. I hardly have any money, and I give you my last five euros to make some copies, you fuck them up, and now you won’t even give me my money back so I can make new copies?” Go home and tell everyone you know about the evil copy man who takes advantage of poor students, I thought at the blonde now making copies by the window. “If you aren’t going to give me money, I want five euros worth of paper.”

His face was burning now, the coals had worried themselves into flame. “FINE!” he screamed, slamming open the paper drawer of the nearest machine. “Here, take some paper. I’m doing this of my own free will. Take the paper and leave or you get nothing!” I looked at the thin stack of white paper in his hand and laughed.

“That’s not five euros worth of paper. Five euros worth or I’m packing my bag full of the expensive colored stuff.”

He slammed half of the thin stack back on top of the copier, offering me the remaining sheets. “Take it and get out.”

I laughed again. “I’m not bargaining with you. Five euros, not some measly little pile of paper worth fifty cents.”

“Get out.” He pointed at the door, and my phone rang, Calamari, calling about the sms. I told him what was going on, while Copy Man got desperate. “…and now he has his hands on my shoulders and is trying to physically push me out the door,” I said into the phone. “I’m on my way,” the phone said back.

“Make your phone calls outside!” Copy Man screamed. His computer friend had finally gotten up and gave pushing me out the door a try as well.

“Don’t fucking touch me!”

“Please go, please just go outside,” Copy Man’s friend said softly. I went to the door and planted myself squarely in front of it, determined to block any arriving customers from entering and screaming my story at every passerby. “Here,” Copy Man’s friend said, opening his wallet, “I’ll give you the five euros, will you leave if I give you the five euros?”

“Yes of course I will. All I want is my god damned money back.”

He handed me a folded bill and as I biked off I could hear Copy Man screaming behind me, his friend the target now. “What the hell do you mean you gave her the five euros?!”

“Well she left didn’t she?” his friend replied. Copy Man screamed again. I couldn’t make out what he said, but it sounded like the angry, frustrated shriek of a Nazgul, short one ring.

I waited for Calamari on the corner, face still red, blood pounding like freight just under my skin. Haven’t been having much luck with copy shops lately, I thought, leaning forward on the handlebars. Maybe it’s payback for stiffing the copy shop in Mülheim–Karma, come to wag a pretty, slender finger in my face. Then I reconsidered. There’s no way that Karma is a capitalist.

0 Comments on “come not between the nazgul and the photocopier

  1. Remember those old hand-crank mimeograph machines, the kind that had the dark purple in mirror image on one side? You’d stick the paper on a roller and crank out your copies. No flash, just a bit of smudge stain on the fingers. I’m feeling old. It was back in Grade 6 and 7 in the early 70s we used to do that.
    All that to say I’m glad you stood your ground. 🙂

  2. I am also glad you stood your ground, because a shoddy product is not a product worth paying for. There are return policies for nearly all other goods rendered, so why not this one? I would have done the same thing.

    However, I have to be honest and say I take great issue with your swift denial that Karma was involved. “Stiffing” the copy shop back in Mulheim was not an effective way of “damning the man”–in fact, small thefts like this actually damn the “little man”–the man who, like you, is just trying to get along in the world (and, like me, wants to have a paying job in order to accomplish that). Though I have never worked retail, I am fairly certain that (in the USA, at least) workers, not store owners, are blamed for small thefts like a load of photocopying that wasn’t paid for. In fact, in the restaurant industry for example, the server is almost ALWAYS liable for any missing monies. So stiffing a server or even a worker in a small copy shop probably penalizes that worker and not the faceless corporations you are trying to undermine.

    So, though I am not your mother and certainly not trying to sound like the ethics police (though that’s exactly how this is sounding), please think carefully about whom you are actually harming when you flout the rules.

  3. Jill-
    Just a quick note to mention that the incident at the copy shop in Mülheim was not something I saw as “getting back at the man.” Though I do take issue with monopolies and the fact that they enable business to charge whatever they damn well please (this was the only copy shop in town, and 40 cents per double sided copy is a price I have yet to see anywhere, ever). When is what they are doing considered theft then? Because it wouldn’t take a lot of screw turning to see it from that perspective.

    I didnt have the money to pay for the copies that day, so say I had said oh I’m sorry I dont have the cash because I didn’t notice that you had a seperate row listing double sided copies at the bottom of the price list, I, fool that I am, just looked at the price for normal old copies, silly me. Then what would have happened? The copies were made, the service rendered. I walk away head hung low sans copies and they keep the papers and throw them away. That doesn’t make any sense either. I’m not sure there was any “winning” solution in that situation.

    And I wouldn’t write your comments off as sounding like “my mother”–why write off intelligent criticism and communication as “motherly” as if being motherly or being critical were negative things? The only thing that reminds me of a parent in the comment is the fact that I don’t think you trusted that I have thought about things like this, and that my actions are based on a critical and long-thought-through set of thoughts that I would gladly talk your ear off about someday in person, though not in the internet, because it’s the internet, legal reasons, etc etc.

  4. Ah, so in your Mulheim blog I interpreted your use of quotation marks around “walked off to go to the ATM” as an act of deliberate deception, and I missed the part about you having to leave the zine behind (maybe I did what my students do and I glossed over the sentence with “pfand” in it because I didn’t know what it meant). For this error I am very sorry.

    As for the rest of it, this is something we will have to hash out in a different forum.

  5. Lovely well-written story.
    Thanks for sharing it.
    As far as the copier Karma… um, I whole-heartedly believe that you are getting hit for what you did in Muellheim. What goes around, comes around.

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