SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 7, 2007

The Day the Machines Turned On Me (Again)

 

In general, the first ten minutes after I get out of bed in the morning give me a pretty good indication of what kind of day it’s going to be. So when I stumbled into the kitchen Sunday morning, and the bulb blew when I switched on the lamp by the table, I figured it would probably be best to just go back to bed and stay there.

      I didn’t though, because I’m an idiot. Instead, I felt around in the darkness until I found my stash of light bulbs. There was only one left. I slid it out of the box and, trying hard not to electrocute myself in the process, screwed it into the lamp.

      When that bulb blew, too, I knew for certain I should just call it a day. But I’d been awake most of the night as it was, and knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep now. I decided to forge on in spite of the clear and ominous portents. I had laundry to do.

      I left my dark apartment and got down to the laundromat about five minutes after they opened. That’s usually the plan. It’s a small place, and I don’t care much for dealing with too many people while I’m trying to wash my damned underpants. This morning, however, someone had beaten me there.

      Well, it was just one, I figured, so I stepped around him and dragged my bag to the machines I usually use in the back. Just as I opened the door to the first machine and moved to start shoving my clothes in, the other customer shouted from the front.

      “Hey!”

      I stopped in mid-shove, and looked.

      “Excuse me,” he said, walking quickly toward me now, “but my laundry’s in there already.”

      I bent down and squinted. Damn if he wasn’t right, though I had to wonder why he hadn’t bothered to, you know, turn the fucking thing on.

      “Oh,” I said. “Sorry.” I shoved my clothes back into the bag and dragged it a few machines up the line. “I guess I’ll just use these down here, then.”

      I filled two machines, placed my quarters in the slots of the change gizmo in one of them, and tried to slide it in. It slid half an inch, then slammed to a stop. I tried a second time with the same result.

      “What’s wrong? Get away! Let me see!” The woman who runs the laundromat had materialized behind me somehow, and was yelping. I’ve been giving her my business for over seventeen years and she’s never been anything but suspicious of me. I think she’s convinced I’m retarded—though I guess I’ve never given her much reason to believe otherwise.

      Before stepping back to let her see how I was breaking her machine, I felt the coins I’d placed in the gizmo, and realized that one was a nickel. I still have trouble telling nickels and quarters apart.

      “Oh,” I said. “Here’s the trouble. My fault.” I held up the nickel in front of her, placed a quarter in the slot, and shoved again. This time it worked.

      After that, everything was fine, laundry-wise.

      Back in my apartment, I folded the clothes in my usual bootless manner, only to discover that I’d lost a shirt somewhere along the line. Now, like everyone, I’ve lost socks in the laundry before (you might even say “regularly”) but never a whole damn shirt.

      Well, I figured, it had a long tear in it anyway, extending the length of the right sleeve, so maybe it wasn’t that big a loss. I shrugged and replaced the empty hanger in the closet.

      Then I tried to call a couple of prescriptions in to the pharmacy. My pill supplies were running mighty low. As usual, I was presented with the automated “Express Refill” system which, for some reason, always takes about four times as long as dealing with a person would. (I guess the “express” part applies to the pharmacist, not the customer).

      That seemed to be going okay until I neared the end of the process, and was asked to punch in the time I would like to pick up the pills. That’s always a tricky choice, as I know it will take them at least three days to fill any prescription I might need. No matter, I just punch in what seems a reasonable time, then forget about it.

      This time however, the pleasant machine generated voice on the other end of the line informed me that the numbers I’d just entered represented no actual time known to man. I tried again, and was told the same thing. Then I was sent to another menu. Then I tried to start the whole process over again, but was told I couldn’t. Then the machine told me to hang up, which I did, now having no idea at all when I might be able to pick up the life saving pills. For all I knew, the machine would inform the pharmacist that I planned to stop by sometime in March of 1957.

      “Yes, well,” I said, before putting my shoes back on and heading to the bank. I’d received a check in the mail the day before, and wanted to deposit it as soon as possible. Things were getting dangerously tight in the ol’ bank account.

      At the bank, I filled out a little slip and put that and the check in an envelope. After hitting a few buttons on the ATM, I inserted the check. That was all set. Then I tried to withdraw a little cash, as I had three dollars in my pocket, and needed to pick up some more smokes (and maybe a couple more light bulbs).

      I hit a few more buttons and waited as the machine churned away. The small cash dispensary door slid open, and what came out was a single, deeply mangled twenty dollar bill. Well, I’d requested a bit more than that, but it was clear that the machine had no interest in handing it over. Instead, a new message appeared on the screen in front of me, suggesting that I might just want to try another machine at this point. Unfortunately, according to the slip I received, I’d been given the full amount I had requested. I was fucked. I stood there a moment, not know how this sort of thing should be dealt with. Then another message appeared on the screen, suggesting that I keep my goddamn mouth shut if I didn’t want to get cut.

      I took the wrinkled and torn bill and placed it in my wallet. I often dreamed of the day when the technology we’ve so embraced would finally turn on humanity. I wasn’t, however, prepared to have it turn on me so personally.

      Figuring the smokes would have to wait at this point, I took the twenty dollars to the store and picked up a few other things I needed. Carried them to the checkout, and waited as the cashier scanned them and put them in a plastic bag. Before telling me what the total was, however, she just kind of . . . wandered away. I waited. The lady behind me waited, too, as did the man behind her. We all waited quite patiently, but the young lady never came back.

      For one time and one time only that early Sunday morning, the machines were on my side. I finally gave up waiting, grabbed my bag and went home.

 

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