I am standing beside the photocopier on the first day of classes, in my second quarter at Portland State University. I’ll be teaching University Studies 220: Understanding Communities. I am running off syllabi, course concept worksheets, attendance rosters.
The photocopier whirs, and the smell of warm toner fills the space; the smell goes to the memory place where smells go, behind my low ribs. Suddenly I’m back in MIchigan: It’s probably 1984 or 1985. I am small. Photocopiers aren’t common in offices yet, so I’m with my mom in the copy shop waiting for her to place an order: page by page, stack by stack. She indicates where a fold should go in a pamphlet, or how big the margins need to be. When I tire of pacing around her legs, helping to choose colors of cardstock, I sit on a cracked vinyl chair by the glass door and the smudgy windows, and count floor tiles, then ceiling tiles, then boxes of paper. I count and count. I read labels. The place smells of heat and the shipping smell of pallets, and toner.
I come on this errand because I am good. That’s what people say about this bookish, obedient child — that I am a Good Kid. Also, I am too small to be left at home. Also, there is an ice cream store at the far end of the strip mall and I am willing to be patient.