Do you remember Kinko’s? Well, way before we all had in-home printers, the internet and evites, there was Kinko’s. Kinko’s was the one stop shop for your printing and information dissemination needs. Kinko’s provided both self-service and full-service photocopying and printing. You could order wedding, birth or graduation announcements. You could also print your resume, college research paper, or garage sale flyer. And of course, for people on the fringe, conspiracy theorists, and folks trying to “secede from the Union,” Kinko’s enabled you to print your very own conspiratorial pamphlets. In fact, the Provo Utah Kinko’s had a veritable revolving door of constitutional originalists, Bo Gritz wannabes and John Birch Society types. They were earnestly determined their message would save the world.
I know this because when I was in college I was employed as the Provo, Utah, Kinko’s greeter. Because I am fascinated with the people, even when I did not believe what they have to say, store greeter was an excellent fit. My tasks as the Kinko’s greeter included a loosey-goosey list of responsibilities:
First and foremost, the second I heard the Kinko’s door ding sound, and in an attempt to put people at ease, I looked toward the door, made eye contact, and smiled. I would say “hello” and then ask the customer how I could help. As they walked to one of the self-service copy machines, most declared,
“I am fine. If I need, help, I will ask.”
Then I would assist the ones who wanted my help. Inevitably, I would assist approximately 87% of those who initially said they were fine.
From across the store they screeched, “Miss! Miss! The machine is broken!”
Now standing two inches from my face, they demanded, “Kinko’s Girl! Greeter Lady! Hey You! Miss! Your stupid machine is broken! Listen! Can’t you help them later? I need help now!”
Calmly, I would respond, because responding calmly was my job, “Yes. Yes. How can I help you?”
Pleasantly, I would offer to help. Then I would walk over to whichever machine was jammed, and unjam their jammed up paper, plug the machine back in, push the big green button for them, or whatever. Once I was able to help them and once they were able to calm down, most of the customers were friendly, or better, friendly enough. And sure, even after getting the machines running again, I would occasionally get the indignant shouts of,
“Ma’am! Your machines suck! You wasted my time! Seriously, what the hell?” They would stop just long enough to make sure I was listening and continue, “I do not care if the machine is working now! This is your fault! I am not paying!”
“Ok.” I would sweetly say, knowing I was not the one ringing them up.
Frequently, but not as much, I would direct a customer to the blue recycling bin.
*WAIT! Before I go any further, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession: The Provo, Utah Kinko’s did not recycle paper. At the end of each work day, the employees were instructed to combine the paper from the blue recycling bin with all the other trash.
One day I stood outside in the back of the store. I looked on. Indignantly, I asked, “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope.” Some dude answered as he dumped all the paper from the blue recycling bin into the dumpster.
Another aspect of my job was being a customer companion — for real. I was akin to today’s “emotional support animals.” Yes. I was there to offer the customer comfort during their photocopying journey. As a comfort companion, I met a lot of bland folks, moderately interesting and a few who were exceptionally compelling. No matter my interest level, as they worked the photocopier, they shared their hopes and worries and I validated them. I affirmed that yes, the church activity they were promoting would be well attended, and yes, I thought they would get at lest a B+ on the last minute paper they were currently printing, and of course I thought their baby shower game would be any fun.
To myself I would think, “No. I would not enjoy your mind numbing baby shower game.” To them, I smiled reassuringly and said, “Everyone will love it.” It was my job.
One perk: when no one was looking, for no reason other than to amuse myself, I would also make photocopies of my face.
Consequently, when I wasn’t holding hands, unjamming copy machines, or making photocopies of my face, I was deconstructing everything else with my friend, Stephanie. She was in charge of wedding announcements. Honestly, talking to Stephanie was the highlight of my day. We had friends in common. We had beliefs in common. We had deep conversations regarding god, marriage and mortality all while she filled out a stationery orders. (Bonus: She and I are still friends.)
Beyond talking to the lovely Stephanie, and being the Kinko’s customer comfort human, the best part of my actual greeter job was the unexpected.
Once, in a cloud of recycled body odor and Patchouli oil, a dreadlocked and barefooted group (yes, I let them into the store without shoes) from the Rainbow Family wafted into our Kinko’s. They were holding a piece of paper for which they wanted help to make copies.
Inspired by the moment they asked, “Do you have any colorful paper we can use?”
“We can use all the colors.” I eagerly responded.
As we made their copies, they earnestly told me that they were trying to get the word to the locals out about their latest gathering.
“We are meeting in the Canyons above Provo.” [insert giggling pause here] “Woah! Today is our first day in Provo. We got her just over an hour ago. Dude, we really like it. It is beautiful!” [insert long, earthy, contemplative pause here] “You should come camp with us. Do you want to? You would love it.”
However intrigued I was, and I was, I did not got the Rainbow Gathering. I did, however, continue to listen. Many customers asked me to help edit their documents. Kinko’s also offered computer rental where a customer could type and print a paper. One customer told me how vitamin C and peppermint oil cures cancer. Then they asked what color paper would work best to help promote their message.
Then, there was the one summer day when a very nondescript middle-aged caucasian man walked into our store. He walked over to the southwest corner of the self- service copy area and began making copies. A few minutes later, he hailed me over. I walked over to him. Out of the corner of my scanning eyes, I saw that he had several photocopied copies of newspaper articles.
“See. See this.” He said, pointing a tiny local newspaper article on one of his photocopies.
The 50 word local newspaper article was circled. He continued,
“You see. I have to let people know. You really need to know. We all must now!” He said in a calm panic. Before I could respond, he continued, “The government no longer respects the constitution. They are lying to us. They are going to steal our jobs, our homes and our loved ones. We will take up arms if we have to. We are going to have an insurrection. We will secede from the Union. Do you have a gun? You really need to have a gun. Utah has great gun laws. You should buy a gun today.”
“Secede from the Union?” I quizzically thought.
Before I could actually process what he was saying, or even ask him to explain what he meant, he blurted,
“It is a movement. We are true patriots. We are fighting the communism that is infiltrating our society. We are working together to take back our country or start our own. The government wants you to be a socialist. We need to take over the government and form our own,”
I struggled to take everything he was saying. All of which he seemed to based on a 50 word local newspaper article. He asked if he could leave some copies with me. I said,
When he left, I threw away the copies. went home and learned about secession and was even more taken aback. His message seemed nonsensical. I went back to work the next day wondering what happened to that man. I never saw him again. Nevertheless, he was not the last to ask for my help or the last to evangelize his fervent message.
That was twenty-five years ago.