My father, or Abraham Lincoln, or the Pope, or someone like that once told me: "If you expect life to be like a gum machine into which you put money and out of which you get candy, you will be greatly disappointed." I think whoever said it was more eloquent, but I got the metaphorical point, and it made sense. As I understand it, the message was "Don't expect your good works to be recognized or rewarded. If you do, you're setting yourself up for failure."
I get that. But the fact remains that when I put my hard-earned money into a vending machine, and it doesn't deliver the goods, I feel screwed. So I begin with some soft whispers ("Oh, come on machine, give it up") which quickly elevate to swearing ("Give it to me, *****mn it"), pleading ("I'll do anything you want") and ultimately shaking, kicking and yes disappointment. It's not quite a Kubler Ross stages of grief tour. Maybe my Dad was right, and not just in a metaphorical way.
That's not the only lesson I've learned, or not learned, from a vending machine. When I was 18 I played lots of tennis, had a right arm like Popeye, and a left arm like Olive Oyl. At one court there was the old kind of Coke vending machine which would drop a paper cup down and then fill it with part soda and part syrup. (Remember those? Cripes you're old.) We didn't have any money, as usual, and we didn't have drinks to take to the court, but we knew that my left arm was skinny enough so that if I got on my knees and wiggled my arm up into the machine's guts, I could grab some of the paper cups and pull them out. This is much same process used for delivering a breech calf, according to the dime store westerns. We could then fill the cups with water and take them to the court.
Get the picture? I'm on my knees, with my hand crammed up inside the Coke machine, when the security guard arrives. Sort of a compromising position (a phrase that I have come to know well), wouldn't you agree?
Guard: What are you doing?
Me, in my mind: Stealing cups, officer! What kind of moron are you? (Sins 1 and 2: theft and pettiness.)
Me, for real: Um, I put my money in the machine, and the cup didn't drop, so I'm just trying to get it! (Sin 3: falsehoods)
Guard: Did you try the change return?
Me: Um, no! (Sin 4: This isn't really a sin, as I'm telling the truth, but it serves to support my earlier lie, so it should fall into the damnable category).
Guard, pushing the change return button: Oh, here's your change. It must have just gotten stuck.
Me: Right! Thanks! (Sin 5: False gratitude).
Me, putting change into the machine, and now getting a totally free, totally crisp, totally refreshing Coke: Ahhhh.....(Sin 6: Gluttony. Lust.)
I learned the valuable lesson that getting caught stealing, and lying your way out of it, can actually get you good stuff!
Sons: Please disregard this story. It's just a story. I was caught, sentenced, and severely punished, and you will be too.
Not that I usually try talking my way out of bad situations, as I'm not very good at it. I'm much better at talking my way into bad situations, anyway.
Recently a couple students and I took a spur-of-the-moment driving tour of Education City. When we got to the construction site of the new Georgetown building, no doubt there were signs that said: Caution! Warning! Construction Workers Only! Keep Out! Dangerous! Do Not Enter!
I interpreted these signs to say "Come on in" and so we did. Wow. Each student apparently will have a lab, a library (see above), and a petting zoo. Faculty members will each have their own named wing, with a choice of ski jump or golf course. Yeah, it's big. The most amazing thing, to me, was that as we arrived during the lunch hour the building was deathly quiet....and many side rooms looked like morgues. Body after body, in straight lines, silent, still. Everyone, and I do mean everyone was sound asleep. Company policy? Section 103.C.a:b2 "All workers are required to take naps between noon and one" Or exhaustion.
When I told some colleagues about the tour, they replied "You can't do that," which didn't seem like very useful information.
Sometimes I do ask first. Earlier this month, I inquired what would happen if a driver used a well-known international driving sign to indicate displeasure at the way he (me, in truth) was treated while on the roads.
The students said that the driver would likely be deported. This was helpful information, which I heeded.
Maybe we should make this US policy to solve our "immigration problem": anyone flipping the bird while driving would be deported. Relax: this policy would not be retroactive. It seemed a good option, until I thought that, well, some drivers really deserve to be flipped off. Maybe we'd be deporting the wrong people...maybe we should deport the flippee, not the flipper (again, not retroactively!) Thought question: Would the US be better if we deported those without papers, or assholes? One benefit of the latter is that it wouldn't require profiling, as it's obvious who the assholes are.
Next lesson: It has now been five weeks that I've been without what economists would neutrally call certain "goods and services". And yet: the sun rises, BP leaks, Ann Coulter moults, Albert Haynesworth sucks. Not much is different.
Final lesson for the day. Clarifications almost never clarify. You know what I mean, don't you? If someone asks you "what did you mean by that?" and you try to explain, you usually make things worse. Maybe you don't, so I should clarify by saying that you means me which, I know, is an unconventional use.
It's easy for me (meaning, "not you") to ignore that rule. So let me clarify what I meant in writing about marriage the other day. I said something like "do you want to spend the rest of your life thinking about Taye Diggs, etc., while I'm pondering the deep meaning of folding laundry while doing so? I didn't think so."
What I meant to say was "If you're watching me fold laundry without thinking of Taye (not Taye in particular, but the figurative Taye, who could be Leonardo, or Sting, or Steven Strasburg, or whomever), then I'd be worried about your sanity, your imagination, your health, or all the above." So I'd think we weren't a good match. And would you want to marry someone who thinks that we're not a good match?
See? Isn't everything clear now?