Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Russian Roulette Vending Machine

There's a very special vending machine upstairs on the fifth floor in the Cafeteria, which isn't a full cafeteria -- rather a place where lonely tables, chairs, vending machines, microwaves and packets of salt and pepper call home.

This machine has a bunch of little cells, metal boxes that are filled with sandwiches in triangular boxes, yogurt containers, muffins and they snake around vertically inside the machine, allowing it to display its wares. There's a button that reads, "Press Button Below To Rotate Product Into Vend Position."

You push a button and the continuous snaking metal boxes rotate and show you a new set of boxes, sometimes with food in them, sometimes with nothing. On a rainy day when you don't want to go out and this is about the best bet for something to eat, you start to take this machine more seriously.

When you push the button and the two new slots are ... empty ... you find yourself furiously pushing the button to see the next two boxes. You are suddenly foraging for food and if another hunter or gatherer enters the cafeteria, you notice a certain survival instinct kicking in and you'll be damned if you'll let someone else take control of the button. If other hungry people are lurking near you and the rotating boxes keep coming up empty, you start to experience some real existential dread.

There is a moment of truth. After much fruitless button pushing, a tuna sandwich comes into view. You see in your peripheral vision another hungry employee shutter slightly and move ever so slightly towards the machine, suggesting if you don't take the sandwich, they will. You start jamming your quarters, dimes and nickels in the machine.

The moment of climax is surely when you press the selection code, "J7" the window for both boxes is now open, but first a little metal safety panel rises to keep your greedy hands off the other box you didn't pay for. They probably call it an "honestly panel" or something in the vending industry.

The Russian Roulette aspect is obvious ... you actually get to see if there is a bullet in the chamber -- or a sandwich in the little cell ... and then when you buy it, the tension is heightened as you speculate on how long the thing's been there and whether it may, in fact, kill you to just eat it. This makes these relatively unappetizing sandwiches exquisitely delicious. Served with the condiment of victory over the competition, watching your fellow employee go away empty-handed, the meal is to be relished.