Gazing at this faded, crumpled, limp, multi stained dollar I gave it a very small chance of success in a vending machine. This unfortunate piece of legal tender was found tucked away in the far reaches of my wallet, the same wallet that I had accidentally dropped in a somewhat dubious puddle of rainwater the previous night. It was the only dollar I had. The sweat dripping from my fingers on that humid Indiana afternoon only added to the depravity of its condition. While attempting to flatten this pitiful reserve note out I rubbed too hard a ripped down a half an inch on its right side. There was a severe gravy stain directly on the little Masonic eyeball above the pyramid and a large red dot on top of president Washington’s head. The bill was so deteriorated that the American eagle looked more like a frightened turkey sinking into quicksand.
It’s clearly stated on the bill “In God We Trust” and trusted I did as I carefully placed this aged piece of currency into the slim metal receptacle of the machine. I then chanted a little junk food prayer as the bill slowly disappeared. The machine was pleased; it quickly devoured my aged and crumpled Federal Reserve Note. I pressed E-3 and waited through those pregnant seconds until my extra large Snickers Bar hit the bottom of the machine with a joyful thud.
As my happy hands were opening the flap to retrieve my sweet and joyous prize my ears were treated to an unusual electronic voice coming from the direction of the dollar slot. The machine was returning my bill after it had set that Snickers bar free. It literally spewed the dollar into the air; my eager hands captured it as it floated towards the pavement. Then there was another sound, one anyone could decipher. It was the sound of change coming trough the machine and down into the small metal compartment. I now had the desired confection, my original dollar and forty-five cents in change.
Could it have been the gravy stain over the mystic eye that set this dollar aloft after it had brought forth my sugared desire? Or was there a bigger picture happening here? I was shocked, elated and puzzled as to my next move. I looked at George; he still had a red mark on top of his head.
Mystified by this recent magic I studied the bill for a possible answer. I doubted that it was “In God We Trust” as I was now engaged in (if not breaking) at least seriously bending one of His commandments.
I then noticed written directly above the little gravy stained Masonic eye the phrase “Annuit Coeptis” from the classic Roman poet Virgils’ Aeneid written in the first century B.C. “Annuit Coeptis” translates to “providence has favored our undertakings” and yes favored I was and I decided to continue my relationship with this now magic dollar and the receptive and loving vending machine.
Adding to my somewhat flawed logic were the next group of words beneath the pyramid, “Novus Ordo
Seclorum.” Virgil’s second phrase translated to “A new order of the ages”. Indeed I thought a new relationship
between humanity and vending machines starting right here on a hot and muggy Indiana afternoon and I am
the chosen one.
I straightened out my crumpled bill as best as I could for my second attempt. Contemplating my rising sign I choose a Mars Bar. I placed my legal tender into the machine, and once again it was accepted. As I punched E-8 I did wonder if there was a video camera watching me trying to pull one over on this aged vending machine located between West Harrison and St. Leon Indiana.
The Mars bars falls to the pit and the dollar is once again vaulted out of the machine and this time there is fifty-five cents in change. Staying with my planetary theme my next choice was a Milky Way and it soon came to rest in the chute with the Snickers and the Mars bar and as before my dollar was returned and there were two dimes and one quarter in the change box.
The machine was somewhat slow and it took almost a minute for the entire transaction. If each transaction netted me an average of fifty cents then I could potentially make $30. per hour and of course many candy bars as well. I then had a moment of logic and morality. The machine probably had just so much change in it and a limited number of candy bars. I then contemplated if this little bit of fun might lead to possible incarceration. I’d be the laughing stock of the cellblock. I could just envision my fellow inmates laughing at someone busted for tampering with a vending machine.
As I was contemplating continuing my criminal activity a car pulled up and two little kids and their dad walked up to the machine. I quickly gathered my booty and walked over to the water fountain hoping theses new arrivals wouldn’t break the magic. As the two children hopped up and down chanting for their favorite confection dad put a dollar in the slot. The bar came down as well as the change but his dollar was gone. I waited until they pulled out. I decided to continue but only with candy that had the names of planets.
I soon realized this decision would be a limiting one. Fifth Avenue, Goobers and Idaho Spud were not celestial names at all and Nut Goodie, Salted Nut Roll and Sesame Snaps didn’t make it to my wish list as well. Ah but what about Skor? There was a famous Danish astronomer with that last name. I pressed D-5 and Skor dropped down and once again the dollar was returned with fifty cents in change. Starburst fit the bill and then just for old time sake I took another Mars Bar.
After my tenth transaction and had another pang of conscious but perhaps it was more like a ping. Am I committing an immoral act? I looked at the machine, and it was looking back at me. I then thought of all those times I poured money into a vending machine and received nothing at all. That one in St Paul that I had placed six quarters in, the coke machine at the Hilton in Los Angeles, a coffee machine that delivered nothing in east New York. Then I thought of all my friends and all the vending machines around this globe that took their coins and returned nothing. This isn’t just about me, I thought it’s about everyone on this planet who at some time of their lives tumbled their quarters into a machine and came up empty. Still there were some consistent pangs of guilt. I decided to collect my bars, my quarters and my dimes and roll on down the interstate.
I found myself nervously looking in the rear view every few minutes as I headed west. What if a little old Indiana man was watching me through his binoculars from his RV and called the state police. Every squad car in the Hoosier state is now on the lookout for the, hum… what would they call me? Would it be “The Sweet Tooth Bandito” or “Mars Bar Murphy” or better yet “Le Voleur de la Chocalot”.
I felt a little more at ease as I departed the interstate for 46 west, a smaller and more inconspicuous route. I soon arrived in Bloomington checked into my hotel and got ready for the music convention.
I was foundling my lucky dollar like a totem as I walked down the hall to the elevator. Out of the corner of my eye I saw them, six gleaming brand new vending machines. I could feel my dollar slither through my fingers like a snake approaching its prey. I thought these machines looked a lot more state of the art then one I knocked off back on the interstate. My brain said no, but my dollar said go.I had nothing to loose as I was already rich in candy, quarters and dimes.
I decided to go for the one-dollar bottle of water. The machine quickly devoured my bill a cold bottle slid down the chute. The machine hesitated just like before but it probably had a newer chip in it, one that could see through the gravy stain on the little Masonic eye and the red dot on George’s head. My dollar was now resting comfortably with all its brother and sister dollars in the Marriott Raintree Hotel in downtown Bloomington Indiana. I snapped off the top of my last dollars work, took a long hard drink, and I realized that my short Midwestern career in crime had come to an end.
(C) Gourd Music 2003