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Botched Printing

The strewn organs of the printer finally come to their demise.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie
The strewn organs of the printer finally come to their demise. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

The difficult printer proved to be just as difficult to de-gut, or, er, de-circuit. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie The difficult printer proved to be just as difficult to de-gut, or, er, de-circuit.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

For the past two weeks my printer has rested peacefully in the middle of my living room floor. I have refused to dispose of it in the hopes that it will serve as motivation for writing about our tenuous, complex relationship. The frustrations and joys of printer and Harmony mirror history’s not-so-perfect couples, from Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. We have sparred, lurching into attack with the fierce battle cries of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. We have also worked together during tenuous truces, like the French and the colonialists during the Revolutionary War (school being the war we must overcome).

And now, despite my printer’s sputtering to a quiet and stubborn death, it continues to mock me as a trip hazard, toe stubber, and generally useless contribution to the mess that is my apartment. It holds some sort of sentimental value, since I’ve owned the malicious machine since I was 14. Its printed words were the precursor to many a well-graded essay and well-comprehended reading assignment. But I do believe that since those early, innocent days, it has been malicious, and it has intended to twist my necessities for paper and ink to its advantage.

For this printer is like all printers, the spawn of some evil league of electronic tyranny, plotting to overwhelm mankind with a slow, manipulative series of paper jams, ink outages and electronic farces. The enormous cost of ink most likely has a hidden grasp of the U.S. stock market. The paper wasted in the printer’s jaws directly impacts the environment and trees. And those so-called error messages send many people on deadline to the brink of insanity. Well, I say that some day, one printer will flip that switch, and we will all live in a permanent hell of printer-controlled oppression. It’s only a matter of time.

Now, I’m not advising the reader to take the printer to the dumpster in an act of defiance (I mean, I haven’t even done that yet). But I am suggesting vigilance.

Do not let the printer’s one simple task — to print something — lull you into a sense of security. The printer will never simply do what it is told to do. Oh, no. Because in the game of printers, you win, or you run out of ink.

The following is a short epilogue to my printer, a confession of its sins and my frustrations. Let this telling of my past torments serve as a lesson for those in the never-ending game of printer and human.


 Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie On the fringe of madness for the printer has failed its promise.

Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie


I vaguely remember the day my dad brought you home. You looked so innocent and new in your cardboard box. I had the same giddy feeling any kid gets with new technology: an assurance of efficiency and quality, an excitement for how I would use you, even a sense of awe for your ability to print studio-quality photos.

These were lies, printer.

Why did I trust you? Even at 14, I should have known the web of deceptions spun by the machines. I mean, you knew. You rested in your cardboard box with a smirk in your circuits, an eager grin for the late nights and headaches you would wreak upon me, and any fool who dared to push “Ctrl + P.”

So I unwrapped you from your embryo of plastic and cardboard and brought you into this world, my desk. I plugged you into my CPU, the first of many computers you would pretend to work with, the first of your many victims. I unwound the umbilical cord that brought you to life, plugged you into my wall, and wrought a monster upon the Earth. After I pushed that large circular power button on the right side of your body, there was no turning back. They call it a “power” button for a reason. I had opened Pandora’s printer and was sucked into a vortex of paper jams and error messages.

You pretended to whir to life, making those busy click noises to signify your existence — then silence. Near the end of our relationship, I didn’t know which of these responses was worse because neither ended in a printed document.

And so began the odyssey of printer and Harmony. It is a tale of tribulation and woe. But here I will highlight a few of my trials, because the world must know the suffering you caused, printer.

Three weeks into our relationship, I learned you could not truly print photos. After spending 20 dollars on photo paper and excitedly loading it into your back, I discovered the Freudian ink blots you called pictures. Perhaps you were knocking back tequila the night before you printed these photos, printer, because you seemed to have barfed ink onto my 20 dollar paper. Thanks for that.

I gave up the endeavor of printing photos rather early on.

One of my favorite stories of our ceaseless battle was the year you growled. Yes, growled. Every time I printed essays for AP English, you would loose this terrifying, guttural cry with each movement of the document. It resembled a zombie choking on a corpse’s necklace — an unnatural, eerie cry that should have found its way into a Stephen King novel (it probably has).

For months, I simply accepted this new dissent. What was I to do? After all, I depended on you to plant words on blank paper, lest I fail my classes and become a vagabond. But one day the noises devolved into attacks. Your print jobs were blurry and smudged. The document’s movement through your center was slow.

You were spiraling both of us into printer hell, and I had to claw us out, one cartridge at a time.

So I boldly entered your innards with a flashlight. I peered inside your guts and dug out — a thumbtack! Yes, somehow you had acquired a thumbtack and shoved it in your bowels. To this day, I have no idea how it ended up inside of you. But after I removed this hidden thorn you returned to your standard inefficiency.

And among these years were the many instances of ink refills. In order to save money and avoid the uproarious price of ink (a plot from your printer brethren, as discussed above), my dad and I refilled the ink in your cartridges manually. One container of ink would last an entire year this way. But my sanity didn’t.

The countless times I filled your cartridges were moments in my life I wish to forget. I would click the latch that held them inside you, remove the impish container from its slot, and ready a paper towel underneath to prevent ink leakage. Then, like a surgeon operating on some war criminal, I would shove a needle inside the cartridge and squeeze new ink into the dried carcass of its ink bed. But, with the retaliation of any true rebel, the ink from your cartridge would seep through the paper towel into my skin.

Battle scars. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Battle scars.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

The ink would linger there for about a week as blots of blue, black and red on my fingers. War scars. If anyone asked, I would leap into a rant about my printer. But I soon realized that my anger was unwarranted and misunderstood. I recessed into a shell of seeming acceptance of printers, despite my overwhelming hatred for them.

Life continued. I graduated from high school and carried you with me to college. You lurked under my boyfriend’s desk like a Ring-less Gollum, muttering your click noises and occasionally printing without my command. I would simply plug in my computer, and like some forgotten spectre you would spit blank pages at my feet.

But I accepted this rebellious nature. After four years of mind games, we had reached a mutual animosity, one that was strong enough to keep you under that desk, rather than throw you into some unforgiving dumpster. I developed an attachment to my disdain for you. Our relationship functioned on hate, but it was a relationship. Most printers never develop such a connection to their human victims. Many people simply relinquish to a printer’s unwillingness and attempt to find another source for printing their documents.

But I stuck with you, printer. Together we weathered human event papers, reading assignments, and my first news articles. You moved with me into my new apartment, a sluggish, temperamental box of ink and circuits. I sometimes spent two hours trying to print one document from you, refilling the cartridges, fixing the paper jams, waiting for the document to send, pushing the error button, cleaning the ink cartridges. I was your caregiver, and you were my ornery nonagenarian uncle.

We never really worked well together. But we worked. And then one day you decided it was time to go. I had dragged out your departure for far too long with my desperate pleas for you to print just this one last assignment. I plugged in my laptop, pushed the familiar buttons, and looked up at you hopefully (you were placed on top of our entertainment center at this point). Nothing.

I moved my computer off my lap (which normally results in an error message), stood up and pushed the round power button. Nothing. I pushed it again. I shoved it again. I poked it repeatedly like a pianist hitting the same key over and over in some pointless song. But you were gone.

And of course, I had just refilled your ink cartridges.

The strewn organs of the printer finally come to their demise. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie The printer and its demise.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Reach the writer at or via Twitter @hhuskins

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