Friday, August 8, 2008

Zen and the Art of Photocopier Maintenance

A recent garage sale in Hibbing, Minnesota turned up a literary find of the century. Amidst a stockpile of Glenn Miller records and moth-eaten clothing, was an unpublished manuscript from famed author, philosopher and recluse Robert Pirsig. The document, which chronicled Pirsig's time at a leading Hollywood talent agency, is more an examination of humanity, psychology and office space science. Following is an excerpt of Zen and the Art of Photocopier Maintenance that runs in next week's New Yorker.

I could see by my watch, without even taking my hand off the toner cartridge that it was eight-thirty in the evening. The building's HVAC system had just shut off for the night, meaning the copier room was about to get really hot really fast. And I had another forty scripts to copy and ship out that night.

I work in a nondescript office building in Century City, a sterile enclave of high rises, over-priced chain restaurants and Fox Studios. For a part of Los Angeles in which so many people work, it's remarkable that you can walk for miles and the only sight of human life comes in a Porche whooshing by on the Avenue of the Stars. But now it was after hours, and those cars aren't even there. It's just me and Chris slaving away.

We were both recently accepted into the agent training program, which means we work in the mail room. I have a Bachelor's degree in English and Mass Communications from Northwestern. Chris just finished his MBA at Stanford and worked for five years at J.P. Morgan. These skills matter not to our employer. They've decided the best use of our talents include sorting mail, cleaning conference rooms and covering for the receptionist while she's on her smoke break. (She went to NYU film school and wants to produce.) If you listen closely you can hear our brains atrophy. Of course, you'll need to filter out the agents' screaming and the assistants' crying to hear that.

But it's late now. They've all gone for the day. Dining at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Stealing clients most likely. Even if it's work, they'll be able to expense a meal that costs more than I make in a week. And then they'll complain about the service or the soup or the fold of the napkins. Whatever it is, I'll hear all about it while I do their expense report.

So I stay here, next to the Xerox 914, a machine that's ill-suited for the job required. But it's the only one that's working. That is until about five minutes ago. Somewhere between an All in the Family spec and a original screenplay called The Feminine Mistake (no doubt causing Betty Friedan grand upset) there was a paper jam. The display panel said the chaos began in the paper feeder. It lied.

The smell of fuser burn combined with my own ripe scent hangs in front of the machine as I try to repair it. It was at that moment my experiences on the backroads of South Dakota on my Suzuki T10 Twin 250 returned to the fore of my temporal lobe. I'd recalled in Phaedrus, Pluto focused on consciousness of the journey rather than achieving the destination. I had attempted to incorporate that into my mail room responsibilities. To live in the moment. But I couldn't get past that fear of "Stuckness" - that somehow this collection of wires and rollers and toner that lay before me was my destiny. That all I'd studied and learned and believed about Quality was simply a myth shoved into Reality's back corner. I was simply a slave to a culture of risk-averse executives, nepotism and verbal regurgitation.

I was in my moment of "Stuckness," and for a moment, I became a non-believer. Then the Xerox 914 started working again, and I forgot what I was thinking about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great ending.

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