Nothing can go wrong at Kinko's.

A simple statement laced with meaning. It's not just a random thought or a semi-obscure movie reference but a singular and personal truth.

'How can this be truth?' you ask.

Well, first of all, I'm the damned author, God on-high of this pathetic collection of words. So what I say goes. Secondly, I mention that it was personal. For me, that statement is the complete truth. Now we get to the tedious part, where I explain and you listen. Or not.

There are times in everyone's life where things just suck. If I were better at what I do, maybe I'd explain it a bit more elegantly. Give you a couple of spinning metaphors to turn your head around but I'm not that good. Besides, I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to mince words and sometimes...sometimes the simplest explanation is the best, even if you end up sounding blunt and uncouth.

But I'm rambling now. I do that...Sorry.

Life sucks sometimes. Okay, let's be a bit more honest. It more than sucks and oddly enough, it really sucks much of the time. We just choose to ignore it. There are days, I think, for all of us when we look up into the sky and wonder what the hell is the point of it all.

I won't go into God or heaven and hell, because religious bullshit tries my patience, all of that, just human constructs, fantastical inventions of the imagination to imbue life with a point, to make the mystery of existence less...mysterious.

That's just too heavy for me. Life IS pretty pointless most times. No matter how hard you try to derive purpose from it. Never before has that one Farside strip made more sense to me and I wonder...will I, like Edgar, ever finally find my purpose.

All the same, I sometimes question what good is there in living when there's so much death and strife that surrounds us. Yeah, yeah, I know. I sound like Morrisey...or perhaps the Cure on an off day. Hey, I'm not gonna claim to be as depressing as the Cure...In fact, I don't mean to be depressing at all but there are days...

Days when it seems the world keeps throwing shit on you and all you can do is cover your head and try to ignore the stink, and sometimes... Sometimes, you don't want to cover your head anymore. Those days when you want to find the bastard that's chucking shit at you and tear his fucking arms off. Ah, but there are rules and codes we must all live by. You can't tear people's arms off. That isn't polite. It's rude and leads to eventual litigation.

This modern life restricts us so. We bottle up our negative emotions, those things that made us "successful" as a species and everyday it eats away at us. The pounding litany of awfulness beats at our temples and all we can do is smile and nod. When we'd rather lash out, tear the thing that pains us to shreds and howl on the mountain top.

How very Jack London of me.

Okay, not really, but you can't fault a body for trying.

So, each of us seeks, in our own way, to fight our primitive desires. We struggle against it, our fingers curling around its smooth throat, always wondering when the strength in our fingers will fail. We search for an end to the fight. A light at the end of a tunnel, a way to purge the negative emotions from our bodies so that we'll finally find peace and that's what everyone is really seeking, anyway. Peace. We look for it in faith, philosophy or by beating the hell out of sand filled punching bags. And despite the depressing tenor of my earlier thoughts, peace can be found that way.

You can find comfort in the quiet recitation of a bible verse.

You can find joy in finally understanding what the hell Lao Tzu was talking about.

You can find grim satisfaction in your hand hitting the punching bag hard enough to make it sway wildly.

I'm not religious. Not terribly smart. I can't punch worth a crap. So, for me, Kinko's has always been the answer.

I've long forgotten the circumstances that lead to this but I've always believed that the circumstances don't matter. It's the feeling left behind. I do remember, vaguely, the day in question. It was a hot, frustrating summer afternoon. The kind of day in Michigan that makes you want to kill the sun. There was nothing to do and having nothing to do annoys the hell out of me. I was warm and sweat soaked and pissed off.

I was driving with my sister and one of her friends, and I'm not quite sure what came over me. I just decided, spur of the moment, that going to Kinko's would solve all my problems at the moment.

It stems back to my days as an art student and one night I spent in a Kinko's, pasting pieces of photocopied crap to a piece of illustration board. I have fond memories of that night. Don't know why, because I hated my time as an art student. Hate it even more now because I understand the futility in that night.

I'm a failure. A reject. I flunked out of art school. Okay, not flunked out. Worse. The art school I went to wouldn't let you continue on in the program unless you passed a series of reviews. I didn't even manage to get past my first. They kicked me out. I wasn't good enough for them. I wasn't good enough at doing the one thing I did better than anything else in the world. It crushed me. Still does to this day. In a way, I don't think I've ever recovered from it...don't think I ever will.

Looking back, maybe I was trying to capture a bit of my soul that I lost that day by going back to Kinko's. Maybe, that's what this is all about. Recapturing the confidence I had in myself before life smacked me down.

Oh, screw it. I'm starting to sound like one of those Barnes and Noble, folksy authors who ramble on, spewing trivial anecdotes with the promise that if you read it and buy into it, maybe you'll find hope. No writer can give you hope. Only you can. So fuck Tuesday's with Morey, fuck the Red Hat Society. All lies.

Trite platitudes aren't my thing.

So, Kinko's is a sanctuary for me. Discovered for the beauty that it is by my sister and I, one sweaty summer's day. Sure, the staff is rude. The place is usually filled with people I'd sooner punch than talk to, but that's not really the point. Within the tangled layers of minor annoyances, there is beauty. It is a place that is inextricably linked to us and us to it.

Yeah, this isn't just about me and my weird failings. It's about me and my sister and our attachment to a retail copy outlet. Funny old world, isn't it?

About my sister, her name is Jane. She's a diminutive teenager, twelve years younger than me and infinitely more mature than I have ever been in my short twenty nine years on this planet. I've always thought she deserved to be born in a different era. She'd love to hear this...but she looks antique. Not to say she looks old. No, she looks like she belongs in the roaring twenties. She's my tiny silent star. Clara Bow and Louise Brooks smashed together and dragged through the ages, until by some miracle, she ended up here. Unlike me, she's motivated. She's not content to hunker in the comfortable lull of loserdom. Jane has goals. She's smart. Too smart for her own good sometimes but I guess it's better to be too smart. Who likes a dumass? I mean, really. She's going to go to the University of Michigan and to do that, she's had to put herself through hell. See, many people think genius is effortless, but it's not. You're born with talent but you can't coast on talent alone. My failure is evidence enough of that. No, you also have to have ambition. Jane has ambition and to get what she wants, she's worked her ass off. Just like all the other bright figures in history worked their asses off. This work takes a toll. To be the person she is and achieve what she wants, she has to endure amounts of stress that'd put lesser people, like me, to shame. She has to keep those grades up. She has to study till her eyes cross. The girl gets no sleep, eats only when she can...all to reach that brass ring. The one I could never reach. Not because I couldn't really, but because I didn't want it enough.

I admire her.

And when that stress becomes too much...it needs an outlet. Just like when I get to thinking about my own situation. When I look back...I've come to terms with what I am. I don't mind that I'll never make a red cent off what I write or what I draw. I lie to myself and say, it's all about the art. That stupid, selfish untruth that all down and out artists tell themselves so they don't have think about what a waste of carbon and water they are. The fact is, I'd love to get paid for what I do but I never will. Why? Because I didn't want it enough. I didn't fight for it. I let it go. I'm a coward but I've come to terms with that. So now, enjoying life has to be enough and when I get to thinking those thoughts...sometimes unbidden, from my own mind, sometimes in the guise of someone I love, pointing out just what a waste I've made of things.

When those times come for either of us, the phrase, "Hey, let's go to Kinko's...", is enough to set things to rights. Our trips to Kinko's are always spontaneous. We never, EVER, plan, because planning just ruins stuff. Life happens in the moment. Why stoop to try and control it. It is in spontaneity that magic is born. Our kind of magic, anyway.

Why? I'm getting to that! Jesus, you're impatient!

There's a moment of exhilaration, as I pull my car into the appropriate lane and she looks at me and I grin.

"Where are you going?"

"...To Kinko's."

And then she smiles back and giggles, turning up the stereo, which is inevitably playing They Might Be Giants. We've discovered no better music to go to Kinko's by than TMBG. It's about a twenty minute drive from where we live but Kinko's calls and we obey. We go in, braving the evil that is Kinko's employees. We get that little plastic card thingie, which replaces the boxy gray thingies they had before for keeping track of you copies. As we approach a copy machine, we both know then, that soon the magic begins.

Usually, we like to take the copiers nearest the window, on the right hand side as we approach 'em. Mostly because they're out of the employee's direct view and we can jack ass around better if they don't watch. The two copiers on the right hand side, near the window. They're ours and if we could scent them like a jungle cat, we would. But again, with the possible litigation, we don't...shut up.

Right, back on target. Having selected a copier, we insert the card thingie and crack our knuckles. Okay, I crack my knuckles, Jane just worries about her lipstick. That being done, Jane and I prepare our game faces and then proceed to copy them. Yes, we copy our faces.

'OOooooooooh! That's ALL?!' you decry.

How the hell do we derive justification for our existence through the random photocopying of your faces?

I'M GETTING TO IT!

It's not just our faces we photocopy, though the danger of getting caught in the act by an employee and the reprimand that'd follow on its own presents a singular glory. No, that's not all we do. The face copying, it's just the beginning of the ritual. The warm up to the main event.

From there we dig out whatever junk we can find in our purses. Our pockets are turned out and anything of interest found within is used. We've been known to remove bits of clothing and jewelry to accomplish our purpose. To create art...with a capital A! Yep, we enjoy making fun of the avante garde. We giggle with delight as we make collages out of receipts and spoons and headache medicine. All the while pretending to be important artists, sometimes playing with the idea of continuing the joke and setting up a viewing of our "work" in a gallery. What we do is silly. The last time we went, we photocopied a spoon with a trail of mints behind it. When we were done, the mints ended up looking like pills of some kind. Jokingly, we've named the piece Judy Garland.

Jane, for reasons unknown, always has a string of fake pearls in her purse. We used that one too and the spoon. The piece we made turned out actually very nicely, with her pearls wrapped around the spoon, both shiny from the light of the machine as it passed them by. You can imagine that during this entire affair, much sexual innuendo was bandied about the possible connotations of her having a pearl necklace in her purse. Hey, I never said we were sophisticated.

We gather these odds and ends together and place them carefully on the glass. Then we copy away, talking the entire time. Mostly about unimportant stuff. We joke, make many movie references. We run to find more rubber bands, because when making photocopy art, you can NEVER have enough rubber bands. We bicker about what to photocopy and where. Laughing like a pair of goons the entire time.

See that?

No, really. Didja see that? Because that's the important part.

The talking and the laughing.

I hate to get sweetly sentimental but going to Kinko's is bonding time with my little sis. More than that. As I place a bunch of quarters on the glass, it harkens back to that time before. When I still had the hopes of being a real artist. When I harbored a belief that I was special and that the talent I was given meant something. It's a time for me to talk and goof with her. To laugh and remember a time when I wasn't the person I am now. We can be who we want then and there, with no one else to judge.

And people do judge.

I mentioned society's rules before. The arbitrary code of conduct put upon us by the generations that have gone before. Oh, things do change. That's for sure. Older rules ARE thrown out but are neatly replaced by brand new ones.

No matter how we strain against it, who we are is determined and controlled by those shackles around us. Those rules. The ones that say if you don't make money for a thing, it and you have no value.

We have to be a certain way. Act our age. To fit in and even those rebels amongst us-those highly original punks and goths, who flout the rules-even they are judged and guided by their own set of standards. No matter how different they are from mainstream society. Rules are what bind us. Rules keep back chaos. These same rules also bar us from our freedom.

I hate those standards.

I loathe the expectations those standards bring and all the stupid labels and regulations that go along with them.

I hated being an art student because of that, people telling me how I should draw, what I should think, as if they had any right to tell me how to express myself. I'm in that situation now. Where I have people telling me what to do and how to think and how to be...and I don't really care about any of it. All I want. All I've ever wanted, was the pure contentment of making my art. See, I've come to a conclusion about that now. I was broken before...lying to myself, saying it's all about the art. It's not that for me at all anymore.

Sometimes, I just want to be free. Like the woman in that one story...the Yellow Wallpaper. I feel like sometimes, I'm crawling around in the room of my life, peeling off the wallpaper hoping to set myself free. But really, I'm only caging myself further and further. It's maddening. I just want to float, flower to flower, bouncing lightly on the wind. My wings spread wide, with no place to go and no one to tell me how to fly.

At Kinko's, I can do that.

I can be the artist I want to be. I can be who I am. I can be as blunt and uncouth as I want. I can swear like a sailor and not be told it's not lady-like. Fuck happy talk! I can bray like a jackass if I want. And there's no one there to stop me.

I can be who I want and not want what I'm not, and that's okay.

It's even better that I have someone to do that with. I go to Kinko's, I laugh. I goof. I make illogical bits of art from photocopied flotsam placed on the clear glass of the photocopy machine. And to put it simply. I am free and that's enough.

I could attempt to quantify it better. To put more words to the feelings of contentment and joy I get from these episodes of dual lunacy but that cheapens it.

It's no answer to life. No overwhelming purpose to be found in what I just told you, just the comforting notion that there's one place in the world where I can go to when I'm feeling uncertain.

For some, that might be Tiffany's.

Others, it might be Cheers.

For us, it's Kinko's.

I think we're all searching for that place. I'm just lucky I found mine. Kinko's brings a measure of peace when I need it. My heart is less heavy after having gone there. In Kinko's, I'm at peace and that's more than anyone can ask for.

So, I end it where it began. I hope you all out there find your place, so that you can say with equal firmness-Nothing can go wrong at Kinko's.

Or something like that.