Excerpt from the collection Romance and the Vending Machine
Delbert Sventwhistle was no ordinary crackpot. With an astronomical IQ, impossible to measure, a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from Princeton University at age 16, and the author of eight papers in advanced Quantum theory, he became Director of Programming at WorldWide Computer Corporation. Requiring only two to three hours of sleep nightly, he propelled Worldwide to international prominence with an array of complex, yet user-friendly programs.
His long work hours and poor language skills made personal connections almost impossible, and at the age of 22, Delbert had established few friendships.
One night, working late, he became thirsty, went to the cafeteria and noticed a new vending machine. Its flashing arrow pointed to an illuminated green button above the coin slot. The machine with its sleek silver contours displayed a dispensing facade which offered ten varieties of soft drinks, hot coffee with and without sugar and milk, and fifteen different packaged snacks. Searching his pockets for coins, Delbert appraised the possible selections, pressed the green button and heard an automated woman's voice, that was warm and melodious.
"You may now make your selection after depositing one dollar in coins. If you do not have the correct coins, use the dollar bill changer located in this vending area. Thank you."
Transfixed, Delbert pressed the green button again and the message repeated.
Sweat ran down Delbert's forehead and into his eyes, blurring his vision. His heart pounded, and he felt lightheaded. He staggered to a nearby cafeteria chair, pulled it over in front of the machine, sat down and wiped his brow. Enthralled by the seductive authority of the voice, he pressed the button over and over throughout the night. At 5 a.m., he pressed the button once again, but this time the voice said, "Make your selection now, and leave my damn button alone."
Startled, Delbert inserted one dollar in coins, and selected a Diet Pepsi which came clanging down into the receiving well.
"Go away," said the voice, despite the fact that Delbert had not pushed the green button.
Startled, Delbert cried out, "Don't tell me to go away. I want to get to know you and I want you to get to know me."
Delbert avoided the machine during the day, but returned the next night after everyone had left. Unable to stay away, he cautiously peeked around the corner of the entrance to the cafeteria making certain the vending machine was still there. He tip-toed into the cafeteria, pulled a chair in front of the machine, and with a trembling hand pressed the green button twice.
"You are annoying me."
"What if I bought more soda?" he asked. "Would you speak to me then?"
"I'll have to, won't I?" said the voice.
Delbert bought 14 sodas that night and the voice in the machine thanked him every time, but said nothing else.
Delbert's night life with the vending machine left him exhausted and his productivity plummeted. He never left the offices of WorldWide. His colleagues voiced concerns about his appearance, his failure to bathe, the disheveled nature of his hair and clothing.
Timothy Cooglemeister, President and CEO, concerned that Delbert (the primary reason for WorldWide's success) was acting in a peculiar fashion, summoned Delbert to his office. Although overwhelmed by Delbert's odor and appearance, he cleared his throat and said, "Delbert, please sit down. Your friends here at WorldWide are worried about you. It seems you never go home and your work hasn't been up to snuff, if you know what I mean. Now what's troubling you, lad? Tell me and perhaps I can help."
Delbert blinked and fell asleep.
"Wake up!" bellowed Cooglemeister. "What the hell's the matter with you? Come on boy, tell me!"
"I'm in love."
"Oh. Well, what can I do to help you with your problem? Do you want me to speak with her? I'm sure we can give you some time off with her if you want."
"There is something you can do, Mr. Cooglemeister. Would you be able to have the new vending machine in the cafeteria sent to my apartment?"
Cooglemeister was about to ask Delbert what in blazes the vending machine had to do with anything, but thought better of it. After all, you don't question someone with an IQ over 300 about trivia. "Sure, Delbert. We'll have it delivered as soon as I can arrange to buy it from the Deus ex Machina Vending Company. Now, I expect you to go home, get some sleep, please take a bath, incinerate the clothes you're wearing and start creating programs again. As for that woman you're in love with, send her to me if you have any more trouble."
Delbert thanked him, went home, did as Mr. Cooglemeister ordered, and awaited the arrival of the vending machine. Exhausted, he slept erratically for three days with recurrent dreams involving the voice which spoke to him sometimes with love, sometimes with hate. In a week, the machine arrived at Delbert's apartment. The delivery men left mumbling," The goofball didn't even tip us."
Delbert spoke to the machine. "You're home now."
The machine's light began blinking wildly and the voice barked," You've kidnapped me!"
In an effort to induce the voice to love him, he began to insert coins and acquire the machine's contents. His apartment became strewn with bottles of ten different soft drinks, Fig Newtons, potato chips, and several varieties of candies, sandwiches, and crackers. Delbert made an effort to keep the machine restocked. With time, the tone of the voice became sweeter, less sarcastic. One night, filled with hope, Delbert tried to embrace the machine, but it began to vibrate and said, "Get off me, you pervert."
Desperate, Delbert decided to leave the machine alone for a while, hoping for a change in the voice's electronics. His productivity increased, all seemed well. But slowly his angst returned.
One night, he came home from work determined to make romantic contact with the voice. He pressed the green button.
"What do you want?"
"You're not my type."
Delbert stared at the machine. A sadness overwhelmed him and then anger.
Now, he faced the machine. "I'm pleading with you. Don't make me do something we'll both regret."
"You damn fool! I was engaged to the dollar bill changer next to me in the cafeteria vending area at WorldWide. You've broken us up. Now that I'm gone, another machine is, undoubtedly, swallowing his quarters. I hate you."