Review: Tamara Shopsin’s ‘LaserWriter II’

Maybe it was inevitable, rising up in a household restaurant that had a menu legendary for its unbelievable size, that Tamara Shopsin would discover herself drawn to limitless printed pages. Her new novel, LaserWriter II, is a piece of affection and wonder, with quirks and twists, following its barely autobiographical printer-repairing protagonist’s time at Tekserve, an Apple tools restore store in Manhattan that thrived from the late Eighties till the age of Apple’s personal retail presence. (Cupertino began up its photocopiers, and blurry reproductions of Tekserve and different impartial restore outlets flooded out, as Genius Bars.)

The ebook will trigger aching nostalgia for readers of the precise era: those that bear in mind opening up computer systems or taking them to folks with the know-how, those that recall PageMaker 1.0 or QuarkXPress 3.0 and the enjoyment of refilling toner cartridges oh so fastidiously, and people who wore an anti-static strap to keep away from frying laptop chips.

For a youthful crowd, the story is compelling, and the small print will learn quaintly traditionally in a means that, after I give it some thought, turns my bones to mud, and I blow away.

The phrase an Apple restore store doesn’t start to precisely describe Tekserve. It was the restore store for an excellent chunk of its three many years. It was extraordinary throughout many axes, together with the employees’s potential to restore nearly all the things and refusal to cost for telephone assist and rather a lot else. Shopsin instructed me that it was additionally an extremely variety place.


Tamara Shopsin [Photo illustration: Michael Schmelling]

For Shopsin, who labored at Tekserve for simply three months—however formative ones—within the late Nineties, this was a pointy distinction from the best way her father, Kenny, ran Shopsin’s Basic Retailer, the diner that he and her mom, Eve, began in 1982. “I grew up in my household’s restaurant that was an analogous unusual, excellent soup,” she mentioned. “However it was the other. It wasn’t variety like Tekserve; like, the shopper is fallacious. The place at Tekserve, the shopper is all the time proper—throw your pockets at them.”

Kenny threw lots of people out of Shopsin’s—one celebration a day, he as soon as estimated—for transgressions, comparable to being a celebration of greater than 4 or sporting neckties. He would swear. He lied to clients about being closed if he didn’t need to serve them. Tekserve’s homeowners and founders, Dick Demenus and David Lerner, took fairly a special strategy. “Dick and David have been simply so variety,” Shopsin mentioned. “The aim was to get the shopper out of there with their issues fastened—not spending cash. I really feel like anyone that used a Mac in New York Metropolis at the moment ended up in Tekserve. And the heavens opened up with happiness after they discovered it.”

Tekserve’s vibe was removed from the austere world of an Apple Retailer. [Photo: Shinya Suzuki/Flickr]

Her novel’s eponymous hero, the LaserWriter II, was the primary laser printer. Nicely, not the first such printer, nor even the primary Apple made, however the first price proudly owning—and subsequently a key contributor to the desktop publishing revolution. Launched in 1988, it had a few dozen built-in typefaces, some with daring and italic variants. You can feed it PageMaker layouts, and it might interpret PostScript and spit out WYSIWIG 300 dot-per-inch renditions with the velocity and basic accuracy that appeared implausible on the time.

We get glimpses of this magnificence all through the novel, and later variants and larger siblings. Shopsin’s love of this mannequin isn’t distinctive amongst of us who grew up or labored in workplaces throughout this era. The LaserWriter II allow us to strive issues out, produce stunning work, and get issues carried out. It might additionally produce monstrously ugly flyers and newsletters, however none of us blamed the printer.

Unintentional fiction

That LaserWriter II is a novel is nearly an accident. “After I set out, I believed this might be a nonfiction ebook, as a result of truthfully, I’ve by no means carried out fiction,” says Shopsin. “And it simply become this. Tekserve is basically essential. It’s deep in my coronary heart.” Shopsin requested for Demenus and Lerner’s blessings for the ebook as a piece of non-fiction, after which once more when it veered fictional. She interviewed various former Tekserve staff, thanked by their work-order initials within the acknowledgements.

The ebook follows Claire, a youngster who occurs upon Tekserve and is shortly employed. She is painfully introverted, however takes to restore intuitively, and is shortly promoted to engaged on printers. Shopsin makes it clear she wasn’t precisely Claire on the within, however she filters variations of her three months at Tekserve within the late Nineties by Claire’s impressions.

Because the novel explains, Tekserve’s coverage for printer repairs is to print an not possible 100 check pages to make sure the printer is match earlier than its return to a buyer. I used to be shocked by the profligacy: Toner was costly then! So was paper! However this was all within the service of the shopper. The novel’s structure echoes this limitless waterfall of output, leaving large areas of white house on the bottoms of pages the place the novel’s rhythm requires it.


Claire turns into knowledgeable at repairing printers. A slower printer-repair coworker shifts from passive-aggressive to mildly aggressive as Claire improves. An ex-employee who’s a whiz at repairing output units bestows undesirable, barely creepy consideration on her. She watches staff come and go—none are fired, however some stop or depart after they acknowledge their very own inadequacy. She makes a mistake for which she will be able to’t fairly forgive herself.

Shopsin designed LaserWriter II’s  cowl.

LaserWriter II is an effective, quick learn. In sure locations, it additionally makes use of a story gadget I discovered completely distinctive and shocking. Shopsin requested me to maintain it secret, so it’s contemporary for her readers.

So let’s speak about Shopsin’s Basic Retailer’s menu for a minute. It’s not a personality within the novel, but it surely was nicely acquainted with LaserWriter IIs and past. It had 900 items on its 6 sheets. The diner sat 34. There was no takeout permitted. In 2008, Kenny told the New York Times, “I spent nearly $3,000 on toner within the final three months.” Possibly the restaurant ran on toner as a lot as on the inventive depth of its homeowners and 5 youngsters.

Eve died in Could 2003; Kenny in September 2018. The current menu is somewhat shorter. Shopsin’s now lets folks order take-out. Tamara’s brother Zack cooks every single day the restaurant is open; she and her sister Melinda prepare dinner on the weekends.

“The shop has a special vibe now, principally as a result of Zack is a sweetheart, however it’s nonetheless a really particular place that usually offers me goosebumps,” Shopsin writes in an e mail. “Cooking with my brother is a good & pure pleasure.” In LaserWriter II’s acknowledgements, she thanks her brothers and sisters “for letting me have all of father’s toner after he died.” Her favourite printer is, naturally, the LaserWriter II, although she has owned a Xerox and now has an HP.

Shopsin’s main careers are as a graphic designer and illustrator. She avoids Twitter deliberately (and correctly). Her work will be discovered on her Instagram account, nevertheless, and as tiny bitmap chapter dividers within the ebook. It additionally seems in The New Yorker within the type of small thematic illustrations that seem all through every subject. One week, they have been fish whose our bodies have been partly product of pasta. (Sure, The New Yorker fact-checked her pasta-fish: “They instructed me, ‘Your tile fish wants one other fin.’”)

I by no means managed a visit to Tekserve, although I’d heard about it from the outpost of Kodak I labored at in Maine within the early ’90s. I stored 100 Macintosh IIfx’s and early scanners and printers working removed from restore outlets. We had many New Yorkers step by our doorways, they usually all talked about Tekserve. It appeared mythological.

However a pal in publishing did take me to Shopsin’s, an establishment that remained incomprehensible to me till I learn Calvin Trillin’s account in The New Yorker a number of years later. (Kenny cooperated with it as a result of the restaurant was about to maneuver areas.) I used to be flabbergasted by the menu. How might they presumably have sufficient elements readily available to make this many distinct gadgets? I appreciated the meals simply positive, and I used to be instructed by my pal I used to be in an establishment. I don’t bear in mind Kenny getting indignant at anybody.

That Shopsin’s is not. (The present incarnation, and oversize menu, is positioned within the historic Essex Market on New York’s Decrease East Facet.) And Apple doomed Tekserve when Steve Jobs determined Apple wanted to personal in-person repairs. Shopsin notes within the fictional account of LaserWriter II that Apple requested to watch Tekserve’s operations as a certified restore middle, after which abruptly tightened the figurative screws by requiring extra {hardware} be despatched to Apple for restore and reimbursing much less for work carried out on web site. That’s not fiction.

The Genius Bar within the early Apple Shops was clearly modeled after Tekserve and different impartial outlets, although Apple’s bars have been as company chilly as the remainder of the corporate’s austere design philosophy. A Genius was educated. A Genius wasn’t essentially variety.

Finally, Apple removed Genius Bars in favor of free-range tech assist in its shops. It shed simple repairs for Macs years in the past, whereas iPhones and iPads have been by no means designed to be fastened. Tekserve shut down in 2016, by then a shadow of itself.


Shopsin’s LaserWriter II captures an prolonged second below amber (or maybe below beige) and introduced previous reminiscences again to the fore for me, and some streaks of toner down my cheeks.