The day was wonderful, and it was time for an evening drink. My workplace is blessed by the presence of a wonderful vending machine right by my own lab, serving the choicest of flavored milk delights. In it Wilcox farms sells aesthetically designed bottles filled with Mocha, Vanilla, Strawberry, chocolate, and old fashioned chocolate milk, and I gratefully insert a dollar almost daily, to enjoy a most refreshing drink, convincing myself that it’s milk, so it’s all healthy.
That late afternoon was no different. As I walked to the vending machine, I noticed that a colleague was staring at the machine intently.
I walked up, and discovered the reason. There it was, a nice bottle of chocolate milk, that had fallen from its slot, but hadn’t fallen down. It was stuck, and perched tantalizingly midway to the bottom. Neither in its rack, nor off it. If bottles could be demons, this one would be called Hiranyakashipu. But demonic indeed it was. It managed to tempt me, and I coveted it though it didn’t belong to me. “It’s a freebie, take it” urged a demonic inner voice.
First I tried the well-tested method of “kicking the vending machine”. I rained powerful blows (at least, I imagine them to be powerful. I suspect they weren’t strong enough to even break cardboard). Nothing happened. The bottle remained wedged right where it was.
Frustration resulted in more blows landing, blows that were angrier and increasingly ineffective. I even rose up on one foot, and leaped up to kick the damn machine, a la the inimitable Karate kid. The blow would have felled a (weak) ox, but the bottle still remained, unmoved.
I decided to resort to subtle strategy. Searching, I found a long piece of wire. I surreptitiously looked around, and finding no inquisitive eyes, pushed the wire in to the machine, to see if I could release the bottle. It was too short, and remained out of reach.
By this time my conscience was beginning to make feeble noises. “You haven’t paid for that milk, you scoundrel.”
My dark-side spoke to me in a sugary, logical and convincing voice. “Perhaps, if you put in a single dollar, and press the button to release the milk bottle ABOVE this wedged one, it would fall, and hit the one below, and then you’ll get TWO for the price of one.”
Human nature is weak. I succumbed to temptation once more. I inserted the dollar, and pressed the button for the milk bottle in the shelf above this one. I watched it fall. It hit the target, bang in the middle.
And then, it was stuck as well. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!
Cheaters, as a wise soul once said, never prosper.
I was frothing in rage, drowning in my own embarrassment, and panicking. The vending machine was much too heavy to lift or shake. So I charged at it, and rammed into it with my shoulder. Finally, one bottle fell off its rack. It was not the one I wanted. Damn, it wasn’t even the flavor I wanted.
But I got just my dollar’s worth. Humbled, I took it and went away, a wiser and (dare I say it) better man.
The next morning, I saw the attendant removing the wedged bottles, and fixing the system. I skulked away in acute embarrassment.
Never again will I doubt the power of a vending machine. It has made me (once again) an honest man.