Man of the Hour


Man of the Hour

By James M. O'Meara, © 2004

Published in the Spring 2004 issue of The First Line Stories

Wiggly Jiggly...

There were five of them, which was two more than I'd been expecting.

I had but three quarters left, the very last of my pocket change after buying lunch. I don't generally eat in the cafeteria, but on this particular day they were serving home fries, and I have a thing for good home fries. My lunch plan was simple: Meatloaf, home fries, and a beverage. The food was waiting at my table. I just needed something to wash it down. I took two quarters from the pocket of my jeans and went to the soda machine for a can of cola.

I wasn't paying attention as my first quarter slid through the coin slot. A successfully fed coin makes a series of distinct ka-chinking sounds as it journeys through the innards of our cafeteria soda machine. Instead of paying attention to the fate of my quarter I was absorbed in watching Mary Lou Bruckmeyer, the consensus goddess of our employee cafeteria, as she stocked the condiment station with mini-packets of relish and ketchup. She was in her trademark ultra-tight tee-shirt, swaying softly and singing along with the tinny country-western music blaring over the ceiling speakers. Watching her work and imagining her without the tee-shirt pretty much demanded my full attention. I simply didn't notice my first quarter's trip through the soda machine ended in failure.

Mary Lou watched as I fed my second quarter into the machine. It slipped silently through the slot. No ka-chink. No flickering Make Selection light. Nor was there a rapid rattling of quarters emptying into the coin return. I frowned and pressed the cola button.

Nothing.

I pressed every other flavor in turn, even the orange soda (a sure sign of desperation).

Still nothing.

I worked the coin return lever, slowly at first, then with vigor.

Nada.

"It's broken," said Mary Lou. She headed toward me.

I kicked and then shook the machine. I was, of course, flagrantly ignoring the "Please do NOT Kick or Shake Machine" sign scotch-taped prominently across the front of the damnable quarter-eating monster. The sign's letters are in bold black marker, and the edict is punctuated by three fat exclamation points.

Everyone ignores the sign.