Thursday, 19 March 2009

The pen is mightier than the printer

The outcome of my broken dishwasher disaster was both embarrassing and agreeably economical. Embarrassing, because when the technician finally arrived and I plugged the thing back in to illustrate to him its broken-down-ness, the blasted thing worked! We stood there together, me with my mouth gaping in bewilderment, as it went through its 20-minute ‘quick’ cycle, at the end of which he turned and looked at me without saying anything but with a ‘Well?’ expression on his face.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to believe me. I would not have been hand-washing dishes for the last week if my dishwasher was actually working.’

‘Yeah, right,’ his expression said, although he remained mute.

This reminds me of when my friend Melissa’s VCR (in the days when we had those) wasn’t working, and she called a technician in, and he did her the gigantic favour of plugging the thing into the wall before switching it on. As he wrote out the invoice for the call-out fee, he said, ‘I’m charging you for stupidity,’ which I thought was a bit mean but very funny (and perhaps justified).

But I swear – I swear! – my dishwasher really, really was broken. And my technician was one thousand percent nicer than Melissa’s, and took pity on me, and said, ‘I’ve marked down this appointment as cancelled.’ So my dishwasher is working now (or maybe ‘for now’, who knows) and I didn’t have to pay anyone to make it do so.

Then my printer malfunctioned. It’s a lovely thing, my Canon, and has given me many months of flawless service, so this was a source of some concern to me. I looked at it very carefully as it battled to print, and I realised that one or more of its rollers might have become damaged (or, knowing the pit that pretends to be my study, so clogged with dust and other debris that it just gave up the ghost). It was really trying to print, but it wasn’t grabbing the paper properly, and it kept jamming.

In an attempt to learn from experience, I unplugged it and set it aside for a few days. But this morning when I plugged it back in again and fired it up, it encountered the same problem.

Now, anyone who’s taken faulty computer equipment to the their local nerd herd will know the rigmarole. Is it under guarantee? If so, it will have to be sent to the manufacturers in Outer Mongolia and you will have to do without it for at least three months. It’s not under guarantee? Then we’ll open it and tinker about with it, and we’ll probably get it working, but it’ll very likely malfunction again some time soon. And for that privilege, we will lighten your wallet so substantially that you will feel it in your sphincter.

With nothing to lose, I hoiked the printer into the kitchen, put it on the counter, switched on the overhead light, and began undoing screws. They are complicated little buggers, these electronic things, and pretty soon I was swearing and sweating, so my housemate Dean came through to help me.

‘Here, hold this torch,’ I said. ‘I want to clean in there. I think that’s the problem: it’s just dirty. A quick clean and it’ll be working fine again.’

Dean pointed the torch where I’d shown him and then frowned. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said.

He’s a winemaker, I thought. What the hell does he know about printers?

‘Really?’ I said, and I was about to add, extremely snarkily, ‘And I suppose you have a better idea?’ when he said, ‘There’s a pen in there.’

And there was. With a bit of careful manoeuvring, Dean was able to extract the pen, which had jammed itself firmly in the rollers, and lo and behold, my printer is working again. Perfectly.

There are several lessons and metaphors in this, and they include the irony of a pen causing a printer to malfunction (some sort of protest?), and the other irony of the fact that there are never any pens in this household when and where you need them – although now, of course, I know where to look.

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