Thursday, June 07, 2007

Use Exact Change

Use Exact Change
Alan Green

All I wanted was a cookie. It was late and the nearest store was a 7-11 up the block. I didn't want to go up there. The motel I was staying at was pretty nice--not the Hilton to be sure, but okay. However, the neighborhood wasn't that nice and the idea of walking a couple hundred feet to a convenience store in a strange city in the middle of the night did not appeal to me. So, I went to the vending machine in the hall, dug some change out of my pocket and plunked three quarters into the slot.

I've always disliked vending machines. They have the advantage. They sit there all day and night waiting to exercise their power. You need what they have and they know it. They're supply, you're demand. You have the munchies in the middle of the night and are willing to pay a buck or two for something that would cost fifty cents at a real store (even a 7-11), but because you didn't have the foresight to purchase a box of crackers the last time you were in such a store you must now settle for a preservative-filled snack dispensed in the middle of the night from a soulless machine.

But, anyway. I've always disliked them. They stare at you with their giant plate glass eye and wait for you to decide. They wait--you ponder. Wait--wonder. What's sure, though, is that you won't walk away without making a purchase, and this is souce of the vending machine's smugness. 'Go on. Buy something,' it seems to say to you. 'You're hungry and I'm your best option, your only option. Buy a snack.' I hate dealing with them so I try to make this quick as possible--I settle on the 'Aunt Domima's Chocolate Chip Cookies', put three quarters in, push B, then push 7.

Fucking goddammit! Nothing! Nothing happens! I can't fucking believe it! God damn it! This fucking piece of shit machine has ripped me off! Fucking piece of shit! It just stared at me through that giant plate glass eye and waited. It knew it was going to rip me off and watched while I put my money in. But, I kept my cool. On the inside I was raging, but on the outside I had to stay calm. I knew what it was thinking: 'I can wait. I can wait all night. You're going to freak out. You're going to call me names, punch me, maybe even throw a fire extinguisher through my giant plate glass eye. How about that one over there? Just unhook it off the wall and throw it. You want to. You know you do.'

I wouldn't give it the satisfaction. I pretended to not be bothered. I wore an expression which perfectly said, 'Hmm. That's not usual. My my. Whatever has happened?' Then, calmly, utilizing my one advantage over this vending machine--human intellect--I pushed the button marked 'Coin Return'--and my three quarters fell through the machine's soulless innards and were duly deposited in the 'Coin Return Slot', from whence I retrieved them. Ha! Take that you dumbass machine! But, I was careful not to gloat. To claim victory here was to lose a battle of wits--the machine surely expected that I would have thought that my money was gone forever, and therefore, upon retrieving it, I should be elated. However, I did not give it the satisfaction. I pretended that I had fully expected to get my money back and proceeded as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I simply re-deposited my three quarters and, again, selected B and 7. Nothing whatsoever happened. 'You motherfucking piece of shit! You fucking goddam sorry-ass hunk of garbage!' I screamed inside my head. But, on the outside, to the machine, I was careful to present the same 'Hmm, that's funny' expression. And, I'm glad I did. Because this hot babe had come up behind me and she had seen what was going on.

"Machine take your money?" she said.

"Yeah. But it gives it back," I said. "Watch."

I press the 'Coin Return' button and the three quarters drop out just like last time. I scoop them up and show them to the hot babe. "See?" She nods and looks at me--not impatient, but I get the message. "I just want a cookie," I told her, and pointed to Aunt Domima's cookie in space B7. I step out of the way so she can get what she wants.

She nods again and says, "Well, why don't you try again?"

I shrug and put the coins in, this time deliberately--one quarter, two quarters, three quarters. Then, with equal deliberateness, I press B. I press the button firmly (but not hard) making sure to divide the motion into three easily understandable parts: inward press (clearly indicating that this is, in fact, the button I mean to press), hold and pause (for emphasis), followed by a smooth, crisp withdrawal that any vending machine would recognize as meaning 'I'm through making my selection now'. Then I repeat the process for the 7 button--nothing. It doesn't work. Both the hot babe and me are staring at the cookie through the giant plate glass eye, but nothing. Not for one second, then two seconds, three seconds, still nothing. When four seconds had passed I exhaled and felt defeat in my stomach--where my snack should have been by now. The cookie doesn't move. The curly rod doesn't turn. I'm not going to get my cookie.

After five or six seconds it has become an exercise in futility so I turn to the cute girl and say, "See?"

She isn't looking at me. She is studying the machine. After a moment she says, "You need exact change."

I looked and sure enough there was a sign with little digital letters that said 'Use Exact Change'. Motherfucking son of a bitch! You stupid piece of shit! Why wasn't the sign bigger? How come the sign wasn't next to the coin slot? Fucking idiots! Who the fuck designed these fucking pieces of shit machines anyway! Fucking fuck! And, what kind of a price is that! Seventy cents for cookies?! That's stupid! No, not 'stupid', but 'Stupid'. Why ask for seventy cents when seventy-five cents is so much easier? Goddammit! You just put three quarters in and, badabing badaboom, cookies. But, no! They had to make it seventy cents then run out of fucking nickels so that when I paid with three fucking goddam quarters I couldn't get my fucking cookies because the stupid ass machine was out of fucking nickels! Fuck!

Of course, this was all on the inside. On the outside I was super-cool. "Oh, yeah," I said. "I didn't see that. Funny."

She dug two dimes and a nickel from her pocket and gave them to me. After a second I handed her one of my quarters. I didn't figure it would be cool to just take her money. "Thanks," I said looking deep into her beautiful eyes.

"Sure," she said, not looking away.

Feeling pretty strong put two quarters and two dimes into the machine and, glancing at the super-hot babe, I pressed B then 7. Nothing. What? I put in the exact change--like the sign said. I, we, waited a second--still nothing. Maybe the machine needed a few seconds to count the exact change--we didn't breathe. Nothing. B7 wasn't moving. I was too tired to cuss, mentally or otherwise, so I just slumped.

"You know what I like?" the hot babe said.

"What?" I answered.

"Those." She was pointing at Uncle Gar-Gar's Garlicky Assorted Crunchy Snacks. "Those are really good," she said.

"I don't know. I really wanted a cookie." I said.

She shrugged. I got the point. I had to make a decision. It was easy. I pressed 'Coin Return' and got my money back. Gar-Gar's were seventy-five cents so I put the coins in the slot and pressed C and 2. Immediately, the spindle turned and the Crunchy Snacks fell to the bottom of the machine. I smiled and looked at the hot babe and was surprised to see her smiling back. I opened the big door and got my Gar-Gar's.

We smiled at each other for another couple moments, then it got awkward. "Well, thanks," I said. "All I wanted was a cookie, but I guess these will do." I stepped aside so she could buy her snack.

"Sure," she said as she put a dollar into the slot. The machine ate the bill up and she pressed a couple buttons. "You know what goes good with those chips?" Another bag of Gar-Gar's fell. She opened the door and got them then got her change--two dimes and a nickel.

"No, what?" I asked.

"Beer," she said. "I have a couple in my room. Want one?"

Well, I'm not stupid. "Sure," I said.

She smiled and it was pretty nice. She was really beautiful. Her eyes were blue--I really like blue eyes. "I'm up the hall," she said and led the way. I watched her walk away. She made it to her door and looked back before I snapped out of my trance. "Coming?" she said.

'Better get moving,' I told myself and went to her and followed her into her room.

I guess, in a way, I got my cookie after all.

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