The Toronto Star

This is basically fluff, but I like to think it's enjoyable fluff. The Star originally rejected it, but then they contacted me and said they would, in fact, run it.

 

I suspect that it might have been tacit compensation for running Dreams on Hold under my real name.

The Toronto Star, Apr. 9, 2002

Down to the wire and cursing technology

When the crunch is on, why won't printers ever go fast enough?

Michael Kanert

SPECIAL TO THE STAR 

My thesis was due at four o'clock that afternoon. I needed to print one copy for each of the four professors who would be marking it, and to do that I needed a working colour ink cartridge for my printer. The brainwork was nearly done; I just needed technology to hold up its end of the agreement.

 

It was late in the morning when I told the clerk at the computer store that the cartridge he'd sold me printed blue ink instead of yellow. But rather than offering to replace it, he told me that if I'd opened the box, I'd have to mail it to the manufacturer. Eyes wide in disbelief, I told him I'd put $50 in his pocket not 24 hours earlier and demanded a better response.

 

He decided to check out my story. Totally oblivious to my need for haste, he fiddled for what seemed like an hour before he finally came to a conclusion. "Yeah, geez," he said astutely. "It looks like the yellow's been replaced with blue."

 

And still, he refused to replace it. Lacking any more time to argue, I put my cartridge in his hands, told him to contact the manufacturer himself, and headed 10 minutes down the street to buy another cartridge from a different store.

 

By the time I got home and finished my final round of edits, it was nearly 2:45 p.m. Eyeing the clock anxiously, I hit "Print," selected "No. of Copies = 4," and resigned the fate of my academic year to the hands of technology.

 

Time was tight. I needed eight minutes to walk to campus, and another seven to reach my faculty office—15 minutes in total. At 3:15, I started to get a little nervous and checked on my print progress. My thesis was 15 pages long, and I expected it to be near completion.

 

It was on page 5.

 

It was at about this point that my mind snapped. [Ping!]

 

It had taken 30 minutes to print five pages, and I had 10 more pages and only another 30 minutes to go. I didn't even have one complete draft that I could photocopy—I had four copies of pages 1 to 5. It was impossible. Cursing my massive full-colour diagrams and delicate gradients, I approached the brink of total despair.

 

If it can be said that I bloom under stress, in that moment I became a rose garden.

 

I shut the printer down and ordered a single copy of the rest of my thesis, contemplating which pages I could delete to save time: Nobody really cared about the bibliography ... The introduction wasn't particularly important .

 

I pushed my luck and got out a full draft by 3:40, all pages included. With three more copies of pages 6 to 15 churning out behind me, I jammed everything into my bag and hurtled out the door. I would go to my faculty office and beg the secretaries to wait. It wasn't like my thesis wasn't finished. It just hadn't finished printing.

 

I knew that my argument wasn't going to work, but I would try.

 

As I sprinted past the copy centre at the edge of campus, I noted it was only 3:45 and considered my options. I made a split-second decision and made an immediate beeline for the doors. I stumbled in to find half my faculty already there, waiting for their theses to print.

 

I handed my stack of pages to one of the clerks and asked her to run the whole thing through the colour copier. She asked me if I really wanted to do that. I told her yes, yes, of course.

 

She told me it would cost $1 per page. I blinked. The single copy in my hands had already cost me nearly $100.

 

I extracted the four pages that absolutely needed colour and told the clerk to make three copies of each while I used the black-and-white machines to do the rest. She finished, I paid, and I spent the next few minutes putting everything back together as the clock ticked. Delicate gradients all but lost, printed on two different kinds of paper, my thesis was finally done. I had five minutes left.

 

As I was about to head out, I noticed that one of my friends was still at the counter. He told me that his print job had crashed the copy centre computer. I gallantly offered to wait. He selflessly told me to go on without him. I hesitated. We stared into each other's eyes like soldiers in the path of an unstoppable enemy before I bolted out the door, feeling like I'd left him there to die.

 

I offered the following explanation to everyone who tried to approach me as I cannon-balled down the street:

 

"Thesis! Due! In! Three! Minutes!"

 

I slowed down a little when I came in sight of my building, but a look at my watch put me back in motion, and I catapulted up the stairs and then down again to the faculty office in the basement.

 

It was 4:01 p.m..

 

Panting hard, I asked the secretary at the desk if she was still accepting theses. She said yes. I felt as if she'd lifted a mountain off my back.

 

I thanked her profusely and slapped my four copies down on the counter as she checked off my name on a little list at her side. Then I collapsed into one of the chairs outside the office and taught my lungs how to breathe again. It was over. Six months of work, and it had all come down to the last 45 minutes.

 

Five minutes later, my friend from the copy centre arrived, completely out of breath and looking like he was about to expel all his internal organs through his mouth. It was all he could do to heave out a heartfelt "Theh yuh" when the secretaries gently told him it was okay, they weren't leaving, and he should sit down and catch his breath before he asphyxiated.

 

As he recovered, we both laughed at how we had nearly been undone by ill-timed technical glitches and the fact that I still had three copies of my thesis printing out at home. Then, his body at last restored to working order, he got up, walked back into the office, and triumphantly handed in his thesis at 4:15.

 

Michael Kanert did, in fact, graduate from engineering physics at Queen's University in Kingston.

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