The Faulty Vending Machine of Life

When I was in college, I had several of my English classes in a building known as Emerson Hall, so I spent a lot of time there. Occasionally, I would get thirsty over the course of the day and would need to buy a water bottle from the vending machine. However, I quickly learned that one of the vending machines was not a normal beverage dispenser. It was actually possessed by demons. Oddly generous demons, that is.

One day, I went down and ordered a water bottle. I put in $1.25, got a water bottle, and started to walk away… and then I heard the rumble of the machine kick up, and it spat out another bottle. I scooped it out, thinking that I’d scored a duplicate by mistake… but then it happened again. And again. And again.

All in all, I ended up with 13 waters. One of my professors strolled by, saw my predicament, and muttered, “They really need to fix that thing,” before disappearing into a classroom. I ended up leaving a few of the bottles on top of the vending machine, but crammed the rest into my bag and handed most of them out to classmates.

Over time, many students discovered that, if you order one drink from the vending machine, it will sometimes spit out every single drink in that category all at once. A friend of mine got saddled with 11 Cokes at one point, another with 20+ Sprites. If you didn’t get lucky and hit the machine right after it was filled, it would typically run out after a couple of days, then not get refilled for a week or so.

It was a luck of the draw situation; a gamble. One person could approach, put in their $1.25, and get one drink. Then, the next person could stroll up, pop in their $1.25, and get 14 Dr. Peppers. Is it fair? No. It was all random; up to the fickle hands of fate and fortune.

That’s life, though.

Life is a faulty vending machine. Sometimes, you walk up and the drink you yearned for has been snatched away, and you’re stuck with sub-par alternate options. Sometimes, you put in the same amount of effort, or even more, than someone else, and they reap the rewards while you settle for scraps. Does life always work this way? No, sometimes it works in the opposite manner. Sometimes, it isn’t something that can be prevented – it’s just the way things are. Sometimes, you end up folding while someone else gets a flush, and the only deciding factor was chance.

But does that mean you stop putting in the effort? No, of course not.

Even faulty vending machines have their moments of functionality. They are full of prizes; of wonders and marvels. Sometimes, it won’t take your money. Other times, your packet of peanut M&M’s gets jammed and you can’t free it, even after trying to knock it loose with some Swedish Fish or a shoulder-slam into the machine. And every now and then, it will give you the wrong item instead of the one you wanted, and you have to make do with a danish instead of cookies. Does that mean you give up? No; you keep on trying. The peanut M&M’s will be yours, someday, no matter how elusive they seem.

Maybe life isn’t fair, sometimes, and it doesn’t always work out how you want it to, no matter how hard you try. But it’s always worth it to take a chance, and put in the effort, even if there are some mishaps along the way. With enough patience, you can also end up with 13 water bottles for $1.25. Because life may be faulty, but it is worth the effort.

 

 

Worth 1000 Words #2: Poetry and The Dark Knight

There are a lot of things in this world that, when combined, make a perfect pair. Peanut butter and jelly, for instance. Cheese and crackers. Cereal and milk. Chips and salsa – or, alternatively, chips and guacamole. But some pairings are not so obvious… like Batman and Walt Whitman.

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Me, circa 2012, deep in speech mode.

I decided to explore this unusual combo for my Major Authors/Walt Whitman class while I was at university. After struggling for several days to nail down a topic for my 20-30 page paper, I realized that there are only a few subjects that I know anything of substance about, and one of those topics is Batman. So, while sitting in an airport, I emailed my professor, asking “How far out of the box are we allowed to go with our paper topic?” Her response was: “Box =========>Topic,” thus assuring me that I could be as unorthodox as I desired. After presenting her with my ideas, she granted me her approval, and I set to work, scouring my many Batman-related resources and a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass to achieve what was probably the best paper of my academic career… with the possible exception of a Tron: Legacy paper, which I am very fond of.

This paper led to me becoming an undergraduate presenter at the 2012 national PCA/ACA conference in Boston, MA. George Takei was the guest speaker that year, and there were so many amazing presentations and intriguing concepts that I instantly felt out-of-place upon my arrival. Since I would be making my presentation on the second day of the conference, my friend and I sat in on the first day of undergraduate presentations to get an idea of what I was going to endure. It was going well, at first. There was a presentation about The Vampire Diaries, one about gender equality. Then one girl gave a presentation about politics (I forget exactly what it was about, but it was very informative and she was well-spoken) and a man in the audience absolutely RIPPED HER TO SHREDS with questions. I was sitting in the back and could FEEL this girl’s bewilderment as this man tore into her, and there was nothing she could say to counter his scathing remarks. She just sank down in her seat and fell silent. It was mortifying to witness, and I began to fear for my life. What if the same thing happened to me? If someone questioned me like that after my presentation I would crumple like an autumn leaf! I CANNOT HANDLE THE PRESSURE.

After a night of nonstop worrying and listening to some tracks from The Dark Knight soundtrack to calm my anxiety, the next day arrived, relentlessly swift, and I walked into the conference room where my presentation was to take place. There were five of us set to present, and I was third in the roster. I was also the ONLY person who did not dress formally. The other four students were in suits, dress shirts, and proper business attire. One girl wore a dress. Me? I was in ripped jeans and a Batman T-shirt. No one informed me that there was a dress code.

My entourage was in the audience, ready to cheer me on. I had a fancy power-point presentation all set up, and even offered to let the other students use my laptop for their own presentations, so we wouldn’t have to shift cords and switch outlets. One girl gratefully took me up on the offer, but the professor of the first presenter snidely informed me that her student “would prefer to use his OWN laptop.” Okay. Great start.

Things went from bad to worse when our moderator/chair showed up… and it was the same man who lambasted the girl from the presentation I saw the day before. I very nearly fainted when I saw him walk in, and my friend and I exchanged a look of pure horror. I was doomed. DOOMED. Even the Caped Crusader couldn’t save me from this.

Anyway, I was, glaringly, the odd man out of this group. The first student presented something about football and hegemony, and the second something about Scottish nationalism. Both very esteemed topics. I wish I could say I remembered anything about their projects, but I don’t, because I was too busy ruminating my pending demise to really pay attention, which doesn’t imply anything about their speeches. Really, I was too anxious to absorb anything other than my own fear, and kept repeating, “Why did I agree to do this? WHY? WHYYYY?” over and over in my head.

My turn came. I drew in a deep breath, and, though my voice shook at the start, I launched into my presentation, which I’d practiced rigorously for a week. My power-point was masterful, featuring only the best transitions. I nailed the quotes, and the points of comparison. It was a blur of poetry and justice, and the memory of my own presentation is somewhat hazy in my head, but I remember the burst of applause, and the ensuing relief when I finished.

The final two presenters went, and then it was time for the final hurdle; QUESTION TIME. Naturally, a voice said, “I’ve got a question. For Miss *real last name*”

It was the moderator, of course.

I inhaled deeply, ready to be eviscerated, and he proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed my presentation and wanted to know what I thought about Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in relation to Whitman, to which I gave a reply of how Batman has somehow, in each of his incarnations, reflected society at the time, and then something about Whitman’s poetry doing the same. He nodded, satisfied, and then fielded the remainder of the questions, several of which were directed to me. I survived.

Better yet? I triumphed, in the face of fear and doubt. And now, when I get nervous about things like this, I ask myself only one question: What would Batman/Walt Whitman do?

 

 

Worth 1000 Words #1: Frolicking

248619_10150287907168132_5808987_nIn the spring/summer of 2011, I spent two months traversing England with a group of about 20 other students and a rotating cast of four professors. I had my inhibitions about going at first – I had only just finished a rough first year of college, wasn’t sure I would be able to make friends on the trip, didn’t want to be stuck with people who didn’t like me for the whole session, had never left the east coast of the United States in my entire life, and was seriously considering transferring to a university closer to home for the next semester. But when I called my parents and told them about the trip, and all of the reasons why I thought I shouldn’t go, they told me that I would be pretty foolish not to, considering the perks, affordable cost, and potential for an excellent experience. A couple of older classmates also told me that they were going on the trip and would welcome me into their ranks. So, with much reluctance, I decided to take a risk and go. And it was probably the best decision of my entire academic/collegiate career.

 

I did a ton of stuff while I was in England. I got to see one of my favorite performers, Alfie Boe, as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on the West End. I chased a cat through a graveyard (long story). I got to stand in the ocean on the beach at Brighton. I saw a play at the Globe Theater and my inner Shakespeare fangirl was squealing pretty much the entire time. My classmates and I wore Krispy Kreme sailor hats and carried a bunch of balloons while touring Oxford for reasons which, to this day, are unclear. I got to touch the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden. Several of us witnessed a car chase while on a Jack The Ripper Tour in one of the worst sections of London. We started a “Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song” rap during a trip on the Tube, and several of the other passengers joined in. Several of us got lost on a country walk, but ended up making it to an adorable pub with some of the best food I’ve ever had. I got to live in a quaint flat with some great roommates, even though we had to survive our “swamp bathroom” for the entire two months. I got to take a weekend jaunt to Paris with some of my very best friends on the trip, and got to see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and parts of the Louvre. And, in a stroke of immense luck for all of us, it didn’t even rain a lot while we were there; rain was only a major issue about a total of seven days out of the entire two months. I packed rain boots and only had to wear them on the day we went to Portsmouth, and my feet were roasting by the end of that trip.

I have a lot of memories from England, luckily memorialized in photos and quotes. But there was one activity that I indulged in more than my other classmates; and that is frolicking. I’m not really sure what it was about the trip as a whole, but no matter where we were, if I saw an open stretch of grass, I determined that it was prime for the frolicking, and promptly spread my arms out wide and leapt my way across, sometimes taking more than one bound, just to make sure to reach my frolicking quota for each location. But not only that, I had to appoint official photographers to document all of my sick moves. Because let me tell you, I am a wicked frolicker. Like, people definitely stared at me whilst I pranced my way across several English landmarks and attractions, though they may have been more disturbed than impressed, but whatever.

There’s something inherently freeing about frolicking. The wind at your back, propelling you forward as you leap like a gazelle from one patch of grass to another. I frolicked across the grass at the Royal Crescent in Bath, where the attached photo is from. I frolicked through Kew Gardens – though, I assure you, no flowers were harmed in my ventures. I frolicked through the countryside, though Kensington Gardens, the water in the beach at Brighton, the deer-infested fields in Richmond, not far from where my classmates and I studied during the day. I was a frolicking machine.

And I think it all began with that first, tentative leap – the leap I took when I decided to throw caution to the wind and go on the England trip in the first place. It was, in my mind, an immense risk, because I am not a risk-taker by nature. If given two options, one being the play-it-safe route, and the other the high-risk/high-reward path, I am guaranteed to take the former every time. But after that first leap, the subsequent leaps got a lot easier. Less frightening, less intimidating. I stopped caring what people might think of me. I stopped noticing when people would frown or sneer or snicker at me for choosing to make myself look like a prancing, arm-flailing fool in front of both natives and tourists alike, because I was having fun. All it took was one little leap, and I found the courage to take several more – while I was in England, and also in the days and years that followed. Frolicking across the pond helped boost my confidence, and helped me turn that two month trip into one of the most memorable and influential experiences of my entire life, and thanks to that, I have a ton of memories – frolicking-related and otherwise – that I will always hold dear.

Now, five years later, some leaps still frighten me – but the idea of taking risks doesn’t paralyze me like it used to, and I look forward to frolicking away to other parts of the world, someday.

 

Breaking Down

Whilst digging through some old flash-drives, I found one of my old creative writing pieces from the first semester of my final year of college, in 2012. Just thought I’d share it because the memory made me laugh. For reference, I’m now 24, and I was 20 when this was written. 

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Some mornings I wake up ready for the day, and some mornings I end up locked in my bathroom with no means of escape.

I have lived alone for a year now. It’s been a relatively stress-free experience, save for a few security-alarm system snafus and several instances of burned dinner setting off the fire smoke alarm. But one morning, after finishing my two-mile run, I took a shower, but when I went to leave the bathroom, I realized the door was locked.

The alarming part is that the door does not even have a lock.

I stared at the doorknob for a good thirty seconds, shocked. I yanked on it, turning it as hard as I could, but it was stuck. The reality hit me. This is where I’m going to die.

After five minutes, I realized the door was not going to open – so I opened the bathroom window, pulled the screen up and leaned out into freedom. It was still semi-dark outside, and, at about 6:45AM it was very cold – and I was in a ‘Yankees Suck’ T-shirt and old track shorts, with no shoes or socks.

I wanted to cry.

The window is small enough that a child of about five or six can crawl through easily. Since I am not a five or six year old child, I faced a bit more difficulty. After several feeble attempts, I was able to slide myself out the window – bad leg first – and I cautiously leapt onto my air conditioning unit. Unfortunately, it was too cold outside for me to fully appreciate my ninja-like moves. I ran back into the house, and the first thing I did (after discovering that the door was stuck on the outside as well) was call my dad to explain the situation.

After he stopped laughing, he gave me his permission to break the door if necessary. Given my history of broken appliances and such – an extensive list which includes 3 printers, a microwave, and a coffee maker – it was probably going to happen regardless of whether or not he gave his blessing.

For the next hour, I took a hammer and a screwdriver to the door. It was futile – mainly because I have the arm strength of a wet noodle, though I did succeed in punching several holes in the wood. It became increasingly clear to me that I was going to have to go back in from the outside. I was going to have to launch myself back into the tiny, claustrophobia-inducing bathroom.

I trooped back outside, grabbed a ladder from the garage, put it against the side of the house, and vaulted myself back through the window, hammer and screwdriver in hand. Head-first, horribly ungraceful, and extremely grateful that none of my neighbors were awake to see it.

I took the hinges off the door, and it finally started to weaken. But it was still jammed. If there had been a table in the bathroom, I would have flipped it. Enraged, I manned up, channeled my inner MacGyver, and pulled the door as hard as I could, splintering part of the wood, and breaking the latch – which had been the whole source of the trouble. The door fell on me – but I was so happy I ignored the pain and let out a strangled victory cheer.

I called my dad with the joyous news – his first question was, “Did you break the door?” and my jubilant response was, “WHO CARES DAD, I’M FREE.” I also promised to pay for a new door, since we are selling the house in the spring, and a door-less bathroom is not exactly a selling point.

Despite the fact that I am a twenty year old college senior who lives alone, has two jobs, and does her own grocery shopping, I have never really felt like an adult. I’m not registered to vote, I can barely drive, and I still wake up early to watch Spongebob Squarepants. I have always been haunted by that question: When am I going to grow up? When will I start to feel in control of my destiny? When does that independence begin?

I can now say that the moment I began to feel grown up was a Friday, early in the morning, when I broke myself out of a locked bathroom. Not exactly ground-breaking in the grand scheme of things, but certainly a door-breaking moment – Past Allie probably would have curled up on the tile and cried. I am finally growing up.

…Although the first thing I did after getting free was pour myself a bowl of cereal and turn on Spongebob Squarepants.

 

Surviving Rock Science

When I was in my final year of college, I had to take a lab science. It was a requirement foisted upon me, not a choice.

I’d thought that I dodged it, because I took an online astronomy class with a “lab” over the summer of my second year, but my university saw through that thinly-veiled attempt to avoid being forced into cooperative classwork and my astronomy credit went toward my non-lab science requirement instead. Total injustice, but whatever. I sucked it up.

I opted for Geology. Mainly because it seemed like the least intense class (science is my weakest subject besides the dreaded beast known as MATH,) and also because it was the only lab that worked with the rest of my schedule. When I walked into the classroom on the first day of the semester, I took the seat closest to the door and prayed that somehow, I would survive the semester with my GPA intact.

As the rest of the class filtered in, I realized that I was doomed. I knew nobody. But everyone else seemed to know each other. This was common for me, as an out-of-state, antisocial, party-hating student living alone off-campus, and it had never really bothered me.

But this class was a lab. Involving lab partners. Which meant that I was going to have to talk to somebody.

The HORROR.

We didn’t do an actual lab for about a week. And then, it came time to pair off. It’s a ritual that’s practiced from grade school all the way through the echelons of higher education, where the strong survive and the weak limp along like a lame gazelle. But for me, it never got easier over the years, due to a toxic combination of crippling shyness and natural resting “bitchface.” It’s the same reason why I always sat alone on the bus from grades 9-12. The other kids were scared of me, and I’m afraid of people.

The professor handed out our lab packets and told us to find a partner. In the time it took me to blink, literally EVERYONE had already paired up with someone, and they were busily working on their packets. Laughing, making bad rock puns, and generally being normal college kids forced to take the class even though their life will never involve terms like gneiss, pumice, or pahoehoe lava ever again.

Everyone had paired up… except me and the other guy at my table. He was on his phone 50% of the time during class and put his bookbag on the seat between us like I had an infectious disease. It was obvious that we were going to be stuck together, but regardless, we both opened up our packets and proceeded to completely ignore one another for about ten minutes and fill it out ourselves.I don’t remember which of us spoke to the other first, but it was definitely out of necessity.

And thus began the strangest partnership in the history of rock science.

I didn’t know his name until our third lab together, and I’m not altogether sure he ever learned mine. I don’t know/remember what his major was. He was pretty rude to me at times, and I wasn’t exactly a shining example of class and charm (not that I ever am). The only thing we agreed on was trying to trick our professor into giving us answers, which never worked, but he often pointed us in the right direction if I whined enough. He still texted 50% of the time. I complained incessantly about not understanding how to read topographic maps. We developed a weird partnership, where we were constantly sarcastic to one another, each thought that we were the smart one, and did not interact unless it was totally required. If we saw one another outside of class we didn’t acknowledge each other.

One time, he was absent for a lab and when my professor asked me where he was, I shrugged and said, “I dunno.” I imagine his reaction was similar for the lab that I missed a couple of weeks later. We weren’t facebook friends and didn’t exchange phone numbers. I didn’t know his last name until graduation, and that’s only because it was in the program. We did not speak about our personal lives or anything that did not involve rocks. After a while, we more or less got along, though we were still 100% sarcastic to one another and I’m 90% sure he thought I was a complete idiot, which is fine. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and he didn’t. I’m sure that was a shock for him (If you’re reading this, Former Lab Partner, then HAHA) but I never found out his reaction because we never spoke after our last lab, and parted ways without a goodbye.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never see him again, and I’m not devastated about it.  If for some bizarre reason I do see him again, our conversation will go something like this:

“Hey remember when we were lab partners in rock science?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

End of conversation. We were lab partners. That was literally it. Strictly business. Strictly rocks. I don’t even remember what he looks like.

But do you know the craziest thing about it? We were one of the the best sets of partners in the entire class.

The only lab we did “poorly” on was the most difficult lab in the entire unit, and we still did better than a majority of the other groups, if not all of them. We got all A’s except for that one, which earned a B. If we didn’t have the best grades in the class, it was only because of individual test scores. I know that I finished the class with an A, and I imagine that he did, too. Despite not being friends, and not even really getting along, we found a weird middle ground and managed to make it work. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t have gotten an A in rock science without him. I think our professor was equal parts impressed and perplexed by us.

So the moral of the story?

Being paired with a random person in a class isn’t the end of the world, even if you are antisocial and have perma-bitchface, and your partner can’t keep his face away from his phone for two minutes. You too, can survive. And it might just end up going better than expected.