10/14: It’s 3:00 in the morning. Nine Inch Nails is blasting from the Kinko’s stereo. After xeroxing his butt for a couple hours, a drunk, scraggly friend of my Connection strips naked and starts posing for photos taken with the passport camera. The photos are enlarged with the color copier and laminated along with left-over hole punches and crayon shavings in a sixteen foot long strip of plastic. It’s dubbed the Vomit Slide and the drunk scraggly friend takes it back to his college dorm to use as a “water” slide. But first my Connection and his scraggly friend parade around the store with it like a Chinese Dragon.
12/24: My friend and I locate the storage space for color toner cartridges. We steal red, brown, green, and blue cartridges, mix them, and insert the new colors in the self-serve copiers. We make turquoise, rust, purple, gray, and tan copies. The colors shift as the toner powders mix as copies are made. We clean out all the “wrong” colors by morning except an ugly combination of blue, brown, and red.
My Kinko’s experience began as a Graveyard employee. Every night my co-worker would let his friend come in and make thousands of self-serve copies for free. Then when we would finish all of our work we would goof around with the scanner and make a few color copies. But nothing big. I started to wonder about the mechanics of a copier and enjoyed the challenge of clearing jams from it. I also marveled at the ecological contradictions of Kinko’s: how they tried to push recycled paper and claimed to recycle enormously. Yet the amount of paper wasted on a huge copying job gone wrong used far more paper than Kinko’s would ever recycle. I got the idea of mass-producing a book out of paper and other materials I found in a set of dumpsters in an industrial park where I lived. I collected interesting scraps and figured out how to xerox onto odd size sheets of paper. By this time I was no longer working at Kinko’s but had a friend working Graveyards at the other Kinko’s in town. He let me do whatever I wanted in exchange for a pizza, or Taco Bell, or donuts. Eventually friends of mine started coming with me at night and we worked out a system, I vacuumed, my friend took out the trash, and we split the cost for a dozen donuts for the employees. My dumpster book project took on epic proportions: I had to figure out how to xerox onto odd paper, different kinds of plastic, and how to get other materials through a copier. It became a standard part of my copying procedure to have to clear a jam every few copies. I developed intimate relationships with the fuser, the toner cartridge, and the sorter.
One night I put a recycled color copy in the paper tray of a self service black and white copier. Color toner melted and smeared across the first sheet and left ghost images on the copies which came afterwards. They looked kind of like abstract expressionist paintings. I collected about a 100 rejected color copies and ran them through the black and white copier to see what would happen. They smeared and melted onto each other. They looked great. At the same time I experimented with the limits of what might pass through a copier. Vinyl doesn’t. Sandpaper doesn’t. Construction paper, newsprint, 100 year old encyclopedia paper, offset color separations and the fiberglass material Federal Express envelopes are made of do, however. One time when I cut a sheet of fiberglass envelope down to 8.5″ x 11″ and stuck it through the copier it jammed and melted. When I pulled it out of the copier, a strange pink chunk of rubber came with it. I had no idea what it was until I looked inside the copier and saw a chunk of the paper path lining missing.
At the same time I was experimenting with copiers, I co-edited a zine, and we made two issues for free totaling around 100,000 copies, on the large 5090 xerox machines in one night. Other people shared my Connection, with projects ranging from Acid Jazz promotions, petitions to increase ethnic diversity on the local college campus, a sports magnet entrepreneurship, and other projects. Different people had different relationships with the employees. They would bring their Connections drugs, food, music, or vacuum like us. Often non-employees did more work than the employees, who were themselves working at Kinko’s in order to get paid for doing their own projects. Of the Graveyard crew at the Kinko’s where I did my work, one person was a comic artist, one edited a zine, and another did engineering work on the computers. Sometimes after all of the paying customers left the employees would blast Bob Marley, smoke pot out back, fall asleep, or throw things around the store. We instinctively would get out from behind the counter when a customer’s car would pull up. And we did what we called The Cat-in-Hat around 5:30, a super-quick clean-up before the next shift arrived.
What are the ethics of bringing to light a matter of secrecy and illegality? Why do anything to jeopardize the Connection, or even the possibility of the Connection? How does one talk about the mechanisms of an “underground” activity without bringing it to damaging light?
I hope to neither expose a secret practice nor romanticize people’s actions by shrouding myself or other Kinko’s pirates’ identities in mystery, as heroic individuals confronting/disrupting the power of an evil corporation. If you’re reading this for tips on how to fuck over the Evil Corporate World, for ways to continue the Unabomber’s cause, or even for practical ways to take advantage of Kinko’s, you won’t get much here. I don’t know how to create situations like this one. I’m trying to learn how to find uses for situations already there. The Kinko’s Connection exists as noise in the system of information reproduction, as particular noise in various particular places. I don’t want to talk about this noise, I want to bring it. And there is a lot of noise.
So I choose to remain anonymous for two reasons:
1. Concerns for the security of my friends’ jobs at Kinko’s and potential legal action against me.
2. To question the context of reproducing and distributing information of any status whatsoever along the spectrum of Kinko’s and Connections.
Consider “me” a character in an act of sociological speculative fiction. “Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To makes ourselves unrecognizable in turn.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1000 Plateaus.)
My first impulse when I realize the extent of my Connection is how great it is that I can make free copies of my writing, and free copies of my zine!!! As time has passed I’ve become more interested in the purely xerographic aspects of copying however, and how the materials and processes of information reproduction reflect on both the circumstances of illicit Graveyard production and on the self-representations of Kinko’s Copies. Kinko’s provides possibly the most extensive international corporate network of information access and production in the history of human information distribution. At the same time, Kinko’s has a huge profit margin and regulates the form and content of information through the choice of paper size and stock, the mechanics of machines, and copyright restrictions. Information that passes through these material definitions also go with a set of political circumstances. The green button on a copier connects to a network of surveillance, attention to truth, detail, and particular structures of discourse which constitute our contemporary relations of power.
When you place an “original” in the feeder of a copier you expect versions of that document to reproduce as closely to the original as possible. The truth of the document is determined by the quality of the copy. Yet Kinko’s usually produces as many mistakes as it can quality copies. The Connection phenomena functions as one form of “mistake” in the massive production apparatus of Kinko’s. Barter transactions, copyright violations, the kinds of customers who use Kinko’s Connections, are the inevitable noise of a reproductive model of Kinko’s business. The improper circumstances of my Kinko’s experience lead me to an improper understanding of Kinko’s philosophy: play instead of work, mutation instead of replication, barter instead of money transactions, toxic instead of a “clean” layout, and, most importantly, deformation over information.