Where's Gutenberg when you need him?

I’ve heard for years that “no good deed goes unpunished,” but it seemed like a clever phrase being passed off as wisdom, something you might get in a fortune cookie on an off night.

Now that I am trying to print 50 form letters at home on behalf of a tiny nonprofit for which I volunteer, I’m realizing the truth of it. What should have taken 20 minutes with my state-of-the-art computer and top-of-the-line printer and should have cost next to nothing is now on its third day, and the bills are mounting. Midway through the second frustrating day of trying to do this simple job – using the new printer I had to buy after my old printer broke while removing a jammed envelope – it hit me that I could have done the whole thing with an old typewriter in an hour or two.

Why, oh why, did I give away my typewriter 25 years ago? Because the paperless future was here, that’s why. We’d never use paper again. Which is puzzling, because I buy paper five reams at a time now, something I never did when I typed. But with today’s high-speed printers, it takes only 50 “Lost Puppy” posters here, a few hundred school play notices there, a few maps to grandma’s new house, and suddenly I am Office City’s new best customer.

Losing my old all-in-one printer, scanner and copier was traumatic. It was like losing an old friend – a cranky, ill-behaved, tantrum-prone old friend, but a friend none the less. After five years, I finally had it working exactly the way I wanted – except for color printing, which it refused to do unless I expected something to print in black and white. And except for the cartridges that seemed to run out exactly when I was in a rush to get something printed, and that cost more than the printer itself to replace. And except that it copied when I wanted it to scan, and it scanned when I wanted it to copy. And except for its inability to print envelopes without jamming.

But I loved that printer. When it finally breathed its last, I had three expensive backup ink cartridges left that will never fit any new printer. They will sit in my desk drawer beside cables and chargers for other devices I no longer own, adding to my cemetery of expensive, obsolete technology.

But there was good news. The new printer I just bought will solve all my problems. It is wireless and doesn’t need to be tethered to my desk, so it will give me more desktop space. Sue and I can both use it from anywhere in the house. At least that’s what it said on the box. All I had to do was install some simple software from the enclosed disc and I would be in printer mail-merge heaven.

And that is still the dream. At the moment, my computer shuts down every time I hit “print.” I have installed a new driver, new firmware, new settings. I have even spoken to a Level 2 technician; still nothing. After two hourlong sessions, he promised to speak to a Level 3 technician and call me back. I think he was crying – something about his wife and kids and his college loan. I didn’t catch it all, but he sounded like a man at the end of his tether. I hope he gets help.

That was 10 hours ago. I’m still waiting for his callback. Maybe the company fired him because it cost more for him to help me on the phone than the company made from selling me the printer. From now on, every phone conversation with that company will be a money-loser for both of us.

I think I’ll just take the printing job over to Office City and let them do it. I hear they give a break to nonprofits. I just hope doing a good deed doesn’t put them out of business.

You can reach Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.

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