There was a handwritten note taped to the office vending machine last month. The letters were large and blocky, written in red marker on a frayed piece of looseleaf:
“This machine STOLE 30 cents from me!!!”
Wow, I thought. Not one, but three exclamation points – one for every hard-earned dime purloined by the computerized criminal mastermind.
In addition, “stole” was capitalized and underlined, to make clear that this was a case of premeditated thievery, and not something so benign and unintentional as, say, a mechanical mix-up.
The note was signed and dated, so that it could be used, I assumed, as a sworn affidavit in a court of law. The aggrieved victim also listed his office mailbox, providing an address to which to send reparations.
However, he failed to mention if he wanted his reimbursement in a lump sum, or in monthly installments. He also didn’t get the document notarized.
Being an inanimate object, the vending machine couldn’t refute the allegations or give its side of the story. Lacking arms and hands, it couldn’t even remove the note, which the accuser had ingeniously placed over the control-pad buttons. You couldn’t so much as push A-14 for a package of M&Ms without having to lift the note out of the way.
According to the victim, covering the keypad was his only recourse to prevent other innocent snackers from falling prey to the sinister machine’s treacherous con game.
The machine had no choice but to wear the note as a scarlet letter, scaring off potential customers and besmirching its reputation as a respectable purveyor of goods and services. People began talking about the machine in hushed whispers. Those entering and exiting the cafeteria avoided eye contact, often walking in wide arcs to keep their distance. It earned a negative review on Yelp and even got placed on the sex-offender registry. Within days, the machine became the pariah of our cozy office community.
Within weeks, two men with a dolly wheeled the machine away. I heard it got condemned to the scrapyard.
And I have to wonder: Is there truly justice in this world?
After all, if an unsubstantiated accusation can bring down an everyday vending machine, then what hope is there for the rest of us? There were no eyewitnesses to corroborate the accuser’s claim; no accountants to verify the 30 cents in question. Is there no rule of law anymore? No justice? Have we evolved no further than the days of the Salem witch trials, or vigilante mobs wielding torches and pitchforks?
As for the vending machine, its pieces have been dismantled; its components, recycled. Whatever legacy it might have enjoyed has now been discarded to the dustbin of time.
But will the accusation be allowed to stand? Will anyone endeavor to prove the machine’s innocence? Are there no aspiring young attorneys looking to make a name for themselves?
The answers, as yet, remain unknown. All I know is … I could sure use a package of M&Ms.
And 30 cents.