Is This You? Copy machine chatter

Strange as this is going to sound, I know many of the things running around in my head seem to be strange, I have had some ... let’s say ... different meetings around copy machines. Not printers. Printers don’t elude to meetings and conversations like copy machines do. Copy machines tend to make it necessary to wait for multiple copies to collate which takes time. Time that’s sometimes spent just chatting. Like —

It was during a copy machine conversation a long time ago I learned about the new four digits added to our zip codes. You know, 89316-0000. The last four numbers were to be used to route mail to your specific post office box or house or business. I was intrigued by this new information. Not that it was so life altering, but the story that went along with the knowledge was pretty interesting.

As I was making copies of a test for a teacher he was telling me he and a friend were going to give this new zip code idea a try. He lived out here in the West and the other person lived on the other side of the Rockies. The “letter” would be mailed with just a zip code with the extra four digits as the address. And the return address would be just a zip code with the sender’s extra four digits. One letter would be sent from east to west and one from west to east.

A few weeks later I learned the letters were sent and were delivered. Amazing as it was at that time, the new system actually worked. I began to use the extra four digits until several years later I was sending out a pile of bills from a business and the clerk — in a big city not the town where I live — informed me the Post Office had stopped using the four digits. She stoically informed me that new strict rules established by her postmaster and for national security reasons those last four numbers were no longer allowed on mail! She took a big ol’ black marker and unceremoniously but with exaggerated flair, marked out the information on each and every letter I was mailing. I thought at any moment men in black coats would come out of the back room and haul me away. I still occasionally use the extra four digits, if for no other reason than to giggle at that whole circle.

Another copy machine conversation I remember let me learn about a side of life I had no knowledge about. Divorce. Like the song D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Yeah, try to get that out of your head.

I worked as a secretary in an office that had a big IBM communal copy machine that was fickle. Look at the machine wrong and it spit out paper with black lines or the toner compartment would burp out a cloud of black that covered everything in its path. Many hands used the machine so it was nearly always in need of a visit from the repairman who lived in the next state. But like a good trooper he would show up and fiddle with Bertha — the machine — and we would talk as he worked his magic on Bertha.

It was during one of his visits he told me he was in the midst of a divorce. At that time I didn’t know anyone who was divorced. I was young, times were different, and divorce wasn’t as prevalent as it seems to be now. I’m always wanting to learn and I have no shame so I asked him stuff about divorce. What did it cost? About $1,500. Did he have to get a lawyer? Yes, to protect his stuff. What did the lawyer cost? More than he had. How long did it take? Way too long to suit him. It was quite a conversation. We talked about why he was divorcing. About kids and cars and money. The point being at the end of his visit he thanked me for talking. He said he felt better getting to talk. Guess I should have sent him a bill for that hour, huh? I learned stuff and he left feeling lighter all because of that copy machine chatter.

But there’s a touch more ...

Then about 25 years later I was talking to a guy from a neighboring town who was in our living room installing a satellite TV system in our home. He and I were talking about jobs we had enjoyed over the years. He told me that some years ago he worked for IBM as a service guy. Wait for it ... yes, you guessed it, we think he was the same guy I talked to so many years ago. So chat it up when you can with all those great people you meet. Find out how small the world really is.

Trina lives in Eureka, Nevada. Her book ITY BITS is on Kindle. Share with her at


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