Every office building in the world has one of those self-service snack machines, right? I’ve never really given them much thought. They charge an arm and a leg for a small candy bar but damn, when ya gotta have one, what else are you gonna do? I came back from lunch recently and felt the urge to satisfy my sweet tooth. I went over to the ‘vending bandit’ with the intention of buying something loaded with chocolate and processed sugar but witnessed a coworker beating the hell out of it. He was furious that it took his money but the selection didn’t fall from the coiled peg. I understood his frustration. I mean, who hasn’t been short-changed by those machines at one time or another but beating an inanimate object doesn’t solve anything. It’s a machine. It doesn’t have feelings and it can’t be bullied or intimidated. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
I yelled at Carl to lay off the thing. It was pointless to vandalize our only source of overpriced snack foods. If it became too damaged from the brunt of his impotent fury, management might take it out and replace it with some god-awful ‘health food crap’. Then we’d all be screwed. He attempted to justify his rage by pointing at his dangling chip bag, but I told him to save the sob story for someone who cares. He stormed off to complain to the receptionist; as if she is somehow responsible for its functionality. I know the lady. She’ll just shrug and give him a refund from petty cash. Then she will write one of those ‘IOU notes’ for the vending machine guy.
I straightened my dollar and tried to coax ‘her’ to take it. Nope. I put it in the wrong way. The diagram clearly shows the correct bill orientation but invariably I pick the opposite. After reloading, it recognized my payment and registered my credit amount in the digital LCD display. ‘$1.00’ was just enough for the item I wanted. Seeing it dangle in the window, it made me remember when the same candy bar was 40% larger and half the price. I verbally bemoaned the predictable result of inflation: ‘less for more’.
Then I entered my selection number and five seconds later, ‘voila’. The satisfying thud of it dropping hard onto the thick metal collection pan. All that remained was for me to push open the flap contraption and blindly grope around the anti-theft area for my purchase. I don’t know why but it always seems to land near the back corner. After fumbling around with my fingers, I recognized the familiar shape of the sealed package. To my surprise, another one was also down there! One for today, and one for tomorrow. Life was good.
A few days later the same thing happened again. In addition to what I paid for, there was an extra one ‘lost’ in the hidden area of the metal pan. I didn’t feel guilty about the first one but since it happened again, I felt like I should pay for it. The receptionist had no protocol in place to handle that contingency. From an accounting standpoint, no one in the office had reported being short-changed so there was no procedure. She basically told me to go away and stop bothering her with insignificant ‘first-world’ problems. I shrugged again. The taste of trying to ‘do the right thing’ was doubly delicious.
After the third straight windfall, I started to think something was up. No one I confided in, experienced free things when they bought items out of the machine. I even imagined that the vending machine was a little ‘sweet’ on me and was fulfilling my subconscious wishes. To test my ridiculous theory, I though about how much I wanted a new phone. There in the back (beside my bag of stale peanut butter crackers), was a brand new cell phone like the one I wanted! It was unopened and still in shrink wrap. A taped receipt on the box was addressed to me! My new ‘girlfriend’ was spoiling me rotten.
Over the course of the next month, I received an expensive Rolex watch, fine jewelry and a gold card with my name on it. Magically, the bill was paid in full each month by ‘Stella’. At least I knew what to call ‘her’ now. I didn’t always buy candy bars out of the machine but each free gift was predicated on a legitimate purchase of something, first. I might have been a ‘boy toy’ for a four hundred pound snack food dispenser but I tried to not abuse ‘her’ gifts. I didn’t want ours to be a completely one-sided ‘relationship’. At least that’s what I told myself.
Eventually I became sloppy and cavalier with my wishes. One of the limitations of our little arrangement was that my gifts from ‘Stella’ had to fit within the metal tray area. It’s not that I forgot the parameters of her sweet gift slot. The only excuse I can offer is that I wasn’t thinking at all. I was admiring glamour shots of a Hollywood starlet from a spread in a fashion magazine. Someone left it sitting on the counter at work and I was just absently thumbing through the pages. She’d been my fantasy girl from back in the day when she was on that TV show about friends living together in NYC. You know the one I’m talking about. The next thing I knew, a newsflash interrupted the regular scheduled programming on the lobby television at the office. They announced that the very same gorgeous actress had mysteriously disappeared from a film set! It was too much to be a coincidence but I didn’t want to consider that my absent-minded daydreams could possibly be responsible. That was too bizarre to entertain.
Suddenly there was a shriek in the break room. Like several others, I raced there to witness a grotesque, bloody scene or twisted carnage. The missing Hollywood actress was physically stuffed into that 4” x 6” x 30” vending machine dispenser space. It wasn’t a pretty sight. She was mangled beyond recognition (and over 1500 miles from her last known location in California), but I knew it was her. Who else would it be?
The stranger thing was, I wasn’t sure at first if ‘Stella’ just blindly granted my wish, or if it was fulfilled with the added emotion of jealousy. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the ugly truth. My new Porsche hadn’t been stuffed inside the collection tray! Stella just placed the car keys and deed there, along with my bag of licorice. She knew exactly what she was doing and I was indirectly responsible for the woman’s horrible fate.
I felt horrible about the whole thing but it was a moot point. The police eventually ID’ed her mangled body and set about trying to explain how someone could snatch a celebrity from a movie set (in California) and stuff her compacted body in a vending machine. Naturally they struggled with the fact that it wasn’t logistically possible to get across the country in a few minutes. I didn’t dare try to confess to it either. No one would believe the story of how my initial vending machine ‘chivalry’ resulting in a wave of unlimited candy bars, murder, assorted bling. ‘Stella’ was taken by the FBI people as material evidence in the case. I never saw ‘her’ again. In its place they brought in some damn tofu machine. Can you believe that? Let that be a lesson to you. Never flirt with a mentally imbalanced candy dispenser. It’ll probably go nuts and you’ll have blood and chocolate all over your hands.