here to help

A few days ago I had the privilege of trying to help a guy with his correspondence school homework. It was for a business class on public speaking and he had to prepare an “audience audit,” identifying some factors and putting them on a checklist and such. He was so lost. I grabbed a couple of books that had stuff sort of about the assignment, but from what I know about school I know that my interpretation of what the question seemed to be asking might be nowhere close to reality, what with all the jargonized meanings of those simple little words. And there’s also the fact that I didn’t want to just do the guy’s homework for him. In the end I tried explaining what they might be looking for, but I had to recommend he email his instructor since that was going to be a lot more specific than me.

And then yesterday a patron was printing stuff off from the Word computer and he snapped his fingers at me to get me to come help. He’s an elderly Sikh man who doesn’t know a lot of English and he wanted to know why his document hadn’t printed. I told him I didn’t know and I’d have a look. At the print station he was demanding the 25 cents that was in there on his copycard but it only said 15 cents. I told him it looked like the card wasn’t in there. “Of course it is! What you think I am? Stupid?”

So I peer inside and don’t see anything. “Are you sure you don’t still have it?” He gets all in a huff as he checks his pockets and pulls out the card and gives it to me. It has 25 cents on it. His document isn’t on the queue to print though. So I ask which computer he was at and we go take a look.

The computer he was at is logged out. I foresee problems. Our workstations don’t save anything when you log out. I know deeply this man has not emailed himself a copy as a backup. I ask him to show me the document he was trying to print, hoping against hope he had it on a USB stick. He logs in and opens Word to a blank document. “Yes. Print now!” he says and hits the little print icon.

I say, “No, the document you were working on is gone. That is blank. You need it to be there to print it.”

“Print now?” He hits print again.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll need to find what you were printing again. Did you download it from the internet?” He turns back to the blank document. And hits print. I ask him what he was trying to print in the first place, while he ignores me to keep hitting print.

He takes his card and storms over to the print station. Now there is a list of documents from his computer waiting to be printed. “Aha!” he says, and I say “No, those are all the blank documents you just printed just right now. None of those are your document.”

He sticks his card in and tells it to print one of those documents. I stop short of physically restraining him. A blank page emerges from the printer. He gets mad, in Punjabi.

I ask him again what he was trying to print and he finally shows me a piece of paper. I suggest that he could photocopy it and he says “No! Different!” pointing at some highlighted bits that needed changing.

“Well then, you’ll have to type it again.”


“Type first. Then print.”

“Okay okay,” he says, as condescending as is possible when you’re frustrated speaking a language that isn’t your own. I used that voice all the time in Chinese, when I was sick of people thinking I was stupid. “Hao hao hao,” I’d say. Sort of a falling dismissive kind of lilt to it.

He didn’t have enough time to finish typing his whole document but he did get the changed bits typed. I think his plan is to cut them out at home and tape them over the old paper and then photocopy it. I helped him print those bits. Even though he blamed me for printing that blank page and wouldn’t pay for it.

One thought on “here to help

  1. i love this! I have no comparable idiot stories. Though I do chuckle inside when people try to order a sandwich AND soup AND a salad for the “U Pick Two” lunch special.

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