Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Advent Day 16: Printer Pachinko

Photo by DEAR on Unsplash

I bought the HP DeskJet 1050 printer four years ago. The seller was leaving Florence for good and sold the printer at the bargain price of just twenty euros. (This was before I understood that home printers are basically vehicles for very expensive ink cartridge purchases that continue indefinitely, and which seem to run out well in advance of the number of pages printed on the boxes they come in.) I was happy to set up the grey plastic box, install the correct drivers, and buy the right ink cartridges. Zoom! It was perfect. While the printer never has found a dedicated home, it lives under my desk in our common area, which is unfortunate as our historic apartment is plagued by drifts of lint and dust. It is lovely to live in a palazzo d’epoca except for these recurrent (and tolerable) nuisances related to light, heat, air conditioning, heating, dust and lint. (We also have tons of space, terra cotta floors, a frescoed ceiling, exposed beams, and the best neighbors in town.)

In any case, the printer has been churning out pages for us as we need them, here at home, since 2017. Permission slips, receipts, forms to sign, and the like. I’ll be honest – it’s been a trooper. The scanner works great for copies. One of the hinges is broken, and a melted crater atop the lip betrays a brief turn as an ashtray. But I’m thrifty, and it fit the bill: print stuff occasionally from home. 

I like devices to be as transparent as possible in my life. They should work without much fuss from me. Cars, printers, cellphones, washers, dishwashers. Luggage. I’m the first to admit I have a bit of an obsessive-compulsive streak, half due to nature, nalf nurture. If a picture hangs crooked on a wall, I must straighten it. Sloppy clothes drive me nuts. Clutter on a desk will be tidied, and soon. Paper is recycled; the fridge is ordered. I’m not like this 100% of the time. Sometimes it seems seasonal. But when the bug bites me, it bites hard, and in few scenarios is this more apparent than when a small item needs repair. Socks are mended, screws tightened. I won’t do tasks always right away, but when they arise, they tend to be tackled in quick succession.

The printer had been working fine. It seemed a little neglected down there in its hovel, but chin up, HP DeskJet 1050, you get to print from laptops with USB ports and occasionally make interesting copies. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided I was frustrated with the ruse of the very expensive ink cartridges, and purchased a set of refurbished ones from Amazon’s Italian site. The cartridges arrived and looked legit. I read the amusing insert that came with them, written in charming international English that reminded me of the approximately nine zillion work emails I received and wrote back in the day from international employees and students. (Excerpt: “If the cartridge is not recognized by printer, you can use attached rubber eraser to clean the flex tape till it appear bright as new.”) Ridiculars! as an outraged Chinese student once emailed me to complain about a store’s return policy. 

One Saturday morning, everything looked good, so I popped in the new black ink cartridge while our kids bounced around me and Jason watched me from his usual chair. I tried to print a test page. The printer emitted a terrible sound and did something unusual with the paper, chewing it down faster on the right side than the left. 

Hmm! I fiddled with it. I didn’t see anything obstructing the paper pathway. Jason got down and looked at it with me. He saw nothing. I groaned and looked up the user manual online and started their troubleshooting steps. I had gotten through most of them, testing a print page each time, with no luck. After I finished step 10 of page 8, in which I was running Q-tips dipped in first rubbing alcohol, then water, I gave up, feeling some remorse about the substandard, and extremely linty, housing situation. 

Must have something to do with the new cartridges, Jason pronounced. It wasn’t doing that before, was it? 

I shook my head sadly. No, it was not. It was not doing that.

It’s not my nature to give up on these things (being cheap, Finnish, slightly OCD as described above). But the score was HP DeskJet 1050 – 1, Monica – 0, and it wasn’t going to budge. Penalty kicks, while tempting, didn’t seem like a good idea either. (Once, when I lived in Seattle, I owned a bubble jet that so enraged me for its capricious output that it was the first thing I tossed into the pit on a trip to the transfer station of Bellevue. I still remember the feeling of relief when its light grey plastic shattered atop the debris in the steel container.) I have a deeper appreciation now now for the adage “there is no away to throw away.” Careless discards haunt my dreams, swirling in the Sargasso Sea with all the floating shreds of plastic bags, KinderEgg toys that may have amused a child for a hot minute, and nurdles. I felt defeated at the hands of the HP Deskjet 1050, but it had already ruined the better part of a sunny Saturday and my mood, so I stowed it back in its hovel and prayed for patience and acceptance. 

The next Monday we ordered a new HP for sixty euros from Amazon that can print wirelessly! It arrived quickly in a shiny new box; however, it came with no ink cartridges. When I had just spent 40 euros on ink for the ol’ HP workhorse! And of course these ink cartridges were a different size and style. Once more I felt defeated. A note with the new printer said that after we set up we could register with some entity called “Quink” for two months of free printer ink. (Small print: subscription automatically renews.) I put the new printer box next to the decommissioning printer to work through my feelings about the old printer, throwing plastic into the Sargasso Sea, and an expensive annual subscription with Quink. The two printers sat under my desk for a few weeks. The path forward was not clear. I hoped it would become clear soon.

Yesterday I found myself at home all day due to circumstances beyond my control. Buoyed by my recent good luck with the Velveteen Laptop (whose recovery is now near complete), the new printer and the dusty old printer caught my eye. I’ll give it one last go, I told myself, before I declare it dead weight and toss it overboard. I tried printing some test pages again, but the rollers continued to scream and munch down on the right side, as though the printer were trying to grasp the margin with its jaws. I sighed and poked around a little more. Finally I took it all the way out into the light and, out of curiosity, turned it upside down. 

Hmm what are these two small tabs? I pressed them gently and a rectangular door opened. There, tucked tightly into a slot, twinkled a euro twenty cent coin. Astonishing. A coin had dropped into the paper tray and made its way, pachinko-style, down to the bottom of the printer, where it wedged and obstructed paper from smoothly rolling. I carefully removed the coin. I closed every little door. The printer page printed perfectly.

I placed the new printer, still in its box, safely in our upper storage. I wondered what Jung might have made of the twenty-cent coin – what message, if any, was it meant to convey or augur? And when in the world had the coin rolled down there? I thought about the concomitant ink cartridges and our Western assumption that their refurbished cheapness was the cause of the suddenly protesting rollers.  I got motivated and found another half-dozen things to fix with glue (a stool, a magnet), needle and thread (Jason pajamas, Victor pants), and a twist-tie (an annoying rattle on my bike).

I’m tickled it’s been recovered for another year or two of service. HP DeskJet 1050 – 1, Monica – 2.

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One Response

  1. Perhaps you can frame that 20 euro cent coin like US restaurants sometimes frame the first dollar bill they earn. Why? No particular reason other than to remember an old printer that actually worked petty well!

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