This summer, I had a steamy romance full of lust, hate, passion, depression, and boundless joy.
No, no, no. Not that kind. I fell in love with a trinket vending machine. There it is, all red and glassy with little things encased in brightly colored plastic bubbles. WOW! Just, look: Look at this. I can get a flying bird man with a rocket pack! Or a pocket-sized Martian holding a vibrator (no, wait, a microphone)! Or a big, red funny-looking squishy thing! Or a ROBOT! I can even get a hi-intensity flashing LED!
Wait. What the hell am I going to do with a hi-intensity flashing LED? Oh, who cares. It doesn't matter. All I want is that little silver robot that looks like it is perfectly poised to snick into position and slide down the chute into my palm. Wow! What a miraculous mechanism. What a handsome, enchanting machine. Fifty cents. Is that all? Okay. Here goes. Fifty cents, thwink thwink, turn the handle, roll little plastic bubble, rollll down the chute, come to mama! But, I do not get the little robot. No. I get a big, red funny-looking squishy thing that smells like burned rubber and two hi-intensity flashing LEDs on little necklaces. What the heck? I’m too old to go to raves. I’ll fall down and break a hip. Plus, I want the little robot. And I want it bad, and I want it now. Next time, I'll get it next time. I begin to stockpile vast amounts of quarters in a scary, General Patton kind of way.
I go to the machine every Sunday morning, pockets clunking with change, pretending I am there to buy the Sunday paper. One morning as I stand outside waiting for the store to open, a man joins me. We chat about the weather as our eyes burn holes into the back of the teenage boy who lounges behind the counter ignoring us in a really obvious way and waiting until it is precisely 9:02 a.m. to open the door. For no good reason, I point to the robot in the vending machine and I say, “See that? I really want to get that robot. I’ve been trying for awhile.” And the man gets a wild gleam in his eye and says, “You know what? I’d GET that robot for you if I could!” He looks like he is going to grab a rock and break the window, and for a mad moment I feel like screaming out like a gun moll, “Yeah! GET it, Johnny, GET IT!” and I kind of wish I am wearing an angora sweater like Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without A Cause.” Then, the teenage boy swings the door open, our moment of middle-aged crazy fades, and we shuffle into the store shame-facedly.
There are many such Sunday mornings. I take to disgustedly tossing armloads of plastic bubble “treasures” into my back seat. 1,200 hi-intensity flashing LEDS on little necklaces, 4,000 stupid malfunctioning plastic tops, 500 mysterious, stinky rubber balls. My outlook is bleak. And then, then one beautiful day, there is a breakthrough. I get three robots. The next time, I get two martians. And suddenly, I know it is time for the machine and I to break up. We can go our separate ways—-me a little poorer and my backseat fuller, it a little richer and its glass case more empty. Take a look at the machine in this photo. It was full when I first saw it.
Recently, I dropped by the store to grab a Sunday paper. And, I thought I’d check up on the machine—see how it was doing. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I swear it was just for old time’s sake. I’ll say this for the machine: It was looking well. I popped a few quarters in, and I’ll be damned. One hundred percent GOOD stuff poured into my palms. I tested the machine. More good stuff poured out. I peered into the machine looking for hi-intensity flashing LEDS on little necklaces, stupid malfunctioning plastic tops, mysterious, stinky rubber balls. THERE WERE NONE. And then I thought, “Damn. I bet I cheered up the guy who fills this vending machine.”
Suddenly, I could see him dragging himself through his route, unshaven and dejected, servicing machines that always remained full of stupid, unwanted plastic crap. And then, one week, somebody suddenly started buying his stuff. The level in the machine of stupid plastic crap went down and down and down! The college fund of his children grew and grew and grew! He started whistling around the house, lost weight, looked years younger, and the romance came back into life for he and his wife. They took a cruise with the kids, and when they came back, he was full of the milk of human kindness. He swore to himself that he would never fill a machine with stupid plastic crap. No. Not ever again. And, he has kept his word. His machines brim with REALLY COOL plastic crap. Each quarter MEANS something and buys a treasure.
At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m looking around for quarters for parking meters. Hey, by the way, do you need an LED necklace?