Michael Harper (drummer; machine operator, Kinko’s)
Income: $20,000 (1998)
Health Insurance: none
Michael Harper reflected on his life. “Drums are the only thing that matters. Hitting a drum resonates through the air into everybody’s ears and head. And if the sound system is loud enough, it also vibrates their chests. But it’s not a career. You can’t bank on it for a living.”
Harper earns only $10 to $100 a week drumming with the band Furious George and humming along to their song “Sorry Ass Sucker,” while they play the C circuit—Coney Island, Continental, and CBGB.
So Harper works at Kinko’s for 40 hours a week, $10 an hour. “I run jobs. People bring in their stuff. I copy it.” He works at the Kinko’s at 53rd and Lexington, where he wears an official Kinko’s shirt with the red dot over the navy blue i and stands from three to 11 p.m. in Kinko’s pale gray interior, listening to a disco mix. A rough day is if a copy machine burns. Then “one machine has to do the work of two.”
Harper, 29, who kind of looks like George Harrison, has seniority at Kinko’s. When he went to apply for his latest Kinko’s job, they were thrilled that he needed no training. “I worked at Kinko’s in Michigan for two years. Then I worked at three Kinko’s when I first came to New York. That was three years ago.”
Harper came for the weekend. “New York blew me away. I knew I had to move here.”
First he worked at the Kinko’s at 34th Street. “They were training me to be assistant manager for the Kinko’s opening on Duane. I didn’t like being a manager there so I asked them to put me back on overnights. That’s where I met this guy George who needed a drummer for his band. A lot of music people get discovered at Kinko’s ’cause bands are in there all the time copying their stuff. So I quit Kinko’s and played in the band. Then I got a job at the Food Channel for two years, $12 an hour.”
The Food Channel job almost did him in. “I was master control operator. I had to sit in a room with all the equipment that broadcasts the signal. It’s called baby-sitting the signal, a safety net to correct any mistakes before the show is supposed to air. They kept showing the same fucking shows year after year. Watching the same shows over and over, I snapped.
“I quit when I got a part in a movie for two days. I got a bunch of money for that. Then I was paid for cowriting a song for the band. The movie and the royalties gave me $1500 out of the blue. So I quit the Food Channel and just kind of tooled around town for four months, kind of slacked.
“It sucked. Every day I’d scrape together change and buy booze. I live uptown, 110th, and the bodegas sell 50 cent cans of beer. I would just go and drink all day. During that time I was also interning for no money as a sound effects editor apprentice at a place that does sound effects for movies. I’d been there about two months. They said, ‘We can set you up with a five-week gig at $700 a week.’ Then that position got cut from the budget of whatever movie it was. I got so destitute that I had to get a job really quick. I did what I knew I could do, went back to the basics—Kinko’s.” Kinko’s is flexible. “I can take off four to eight weeks a year to tour.
“I studied English and sociology at Central Michigan. My mom’s one of the last of the housewives. She’s been working at clothing stores in the summers. They go to Florida in the winter and hang out around Tampa. My dad was a tool-and-die maker for Saginaw Steering Gear. My sister’s a human resources administrator. My brother’s an archaeologist.”
Harper lives with his friend Joe—”We met at Kinko’s on 12th Street”—on Central Park North and 110th. “Before that, I lived with another guy on 35th Street for eight months. I got kicked out because I was having sex and he could hear it. He said he was trying to find his way back to God and hearing the sex distracted him.”