An IT Expert Explains What Was Wrong with the Printer from ‘Office Space’
When Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) reveals that he stole the office printer, he, Michael Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar beat the shit out of the machine Goodfellas style with a baseball bat in a desolate field. Up until this point, the printer has plagued them with paper jams and the mysterious error code “PC Load Letter” — essentially, the printer had it coming.
Or did it? Sure, the printer gave them regular problems, but maybe they just needed to call a repair guy, which is precisely what I did. I reached out to Brian Schroeder, the owner of Ecological Toner & Service in Wisconsin, to see what was really wrong with the Office Space printer. Schroeder has been in the printer-repair business since 1996 and even dealt with the same model of printer in the film. He tells me that he knows precisely what was going on with that machine, and for him at least, “PC Load Letter” holds a lot of fondly frustrating memories.
Is “PC Load Letter” a real error code?
Oh yes. On those older machines, they had these generic error codes, and “PC Load Letter” was one of them. The “PC” stands for “Printer Cassette,” which is the paper tray and “Load Letter” means to load letter-sized paper. Unfortunately, a whole bunch of things could cause that error code, even if the printer wasn’t out of paper.
What else could it mean?
You’d also get that if you needed a part, like a paper roller. But it might not be the roller either. Paper is an organic product — it’s just mashed-up wood, and when wood takes on moisture, it can curl, bend and warp. Paper can do the same thing. In places where it gets humid, paper takes on moisture, which makes it hard for the printer to pull the paper.
On the flip side, in the winter, when the paper gets really dry, there’s static buildup and the pages stick together. All of those can create the prompt “PC Load Letter,” and I’d get calls about this all the time back in the day. That’s why people got so fucking pissed off, just like in the movie.
Assuming the Office Space printer didn’t need a new part, what could they have done to make it work?
Just pop in a new ream of paper. I used to tell people that back in the day, but they were already so pissed that they’d say, “Why would that work!?!? There’s already paper in there!” I’d try to explain, “Paper is an organic product” and all of that stuff, but they didn’t want to hear any of it.
Back then, if you were in this business, you died watching that movie. It was exactly what would happen in real life, with people tearing the paper out and slamming the paper trays and jamming the buttons. None of which worked.
Do you have any special affection for the printer beatdown scene in particular?
When we started our company in 2008, we had all these old piece-of-shit printers, and we had an open-house day where we were serving beer and food to our clients and part of the theme of the day was Office Space. We let people beat the living shit out of printers with golf clubs and baseball bats. They loved it. That rage people feel toward printers is pretty universal.