Juice Machine Etiquette
Around 1992 or 1993, I used to be an avid reader of the USENET newsgroup alt.folklore.urban, a forum to discuss Urban Legends and other tales of yore. A common topic on that newsgroup was (and probably still is) the never-ending search for reliable documentation of various urban legends, in an effort to differentiate fact from fiction. I noticed that one such topic was whether or not anyone had ever actually been killed by a soda machine while trying to get a free drink out of it (by rocking it back and forth).
Well, it so happened that I knew for a fact that this had happened, because I'd written about it as part of my Juice Machine story. Now, the style on that particular newsgroup was to add non-sequitur comments as middle names when signing your name to an article, so when posting some article on a thread about killer towels, I signed my name thusly:
Jeremy "has read the JAMA article 'Soda Pop Vending Machine Injuries'" Elson
Someone named Terry, who was one of the maintainers of the alt.folklore.urban FAQ at the time, saw my signature and replied to me, saying: "Really? Can you send me the reference?". So, I went and found my old Juice Machine story, cut out everything but the paragraph describing the JAMA article, and sent it off to him. Terry added that one little piece of my Juice Machine Story to the official Urban Legends FAQ, and since then I've seen it pop up on dozens of other sites that have collections of urban legends and bizarre stories. My favorite is this really cool urban legends page that added funny artwork to the story, depicting a man getting crushed by a vending machine.
As I said earlier, I was a senior at Walt Whitman High School at the beginning of 1991. My friends Ben Denckla and Dennis Cassidy, who were also seniors at the time, came to school one morning with a 3-page pamphlet that would change forever the cultural landscape at Whitman: an underground, unauthorized, unprecedented magazine called Grey. The name was a joke on the name of our school newspaper, the Black & White. I was immediately captivated by the idea of starting an underground publication, and helped by covertly distributing it, as well as doing the typesetting for future issues.
Grey was unprecedented because it was distributed without any prior knowledge or consent of the school's administration. Whitman had a strict policy that any written materials distributed on school grounds were required to first be approved by school officials. Grey neither sought nor received official approval; therefore, it was published under the safe cloak of anonymity -- all of the articles had pseudonyms in the byline.
Even if Grey had attempted to get an official nod from the school, the school never would approved it: the magazine was completely unacceptable by the standards of any school-sponsored publication. Grey contained profanity, line drawings of people's heads being pushed into toilets, poetry describing dogs ejaculating, and all manner of humor that would never, ever be condoned by a public high school -- even a high school as liberal as Whitman. I think that part of what made Grey so popular was the fact that it shamelessly flew in the face of the administration: it didn't just get distributed without approval, but it contained material that would never be approvable.
Despite all the times that Grey pushed the limits of good taste (or even broke those limits, from time to time), there was always enough respect for certain standards of decency that the administration never made any effort to stop Grey's distribution. The Black & White even published an article about our magazine, quoting the principal saying that he was aware of Grey, and while he did not condone it officially, was willing to look the other way. So, riding on that razor-sharp edge of legality, we published 8 wildly popular issues, with a large readership constantly rabid for the next issue. Each issue saw more and more contributions from outside source -- all anonymous. This continued until we graduated at the end of that school year.
A somewhat sad epilogue to the Grey story is what happened to Grey in the years following our graduation. Its popularity was great enough that other students tried to carry on the Grey torch even after Ben, Dennis and I had gone on to college. After a year or two, it stopped being an irreverent but decent humor magazine, and became a rather inane platform for rabid anarchic commentary. Each issue was filled with rich descriptions of how the authors would like to kill the principal and burn down the school. The administration took notice and announced that Grey had gone too far; they decreed that anyone caught possessing or distributing a copy of Grey would be suspended. Thus, the Epic of Grey came to an end.
When I get a chance, I hope to bring the original Grey back to life by putting it on the web. (I still have all the original camera-ready copy!)
And now, without further delay, I give you... Juice Machine Etiquette.
A juice vending machine is, at first glance, a very simple device. However, there are many more ramifications to its usage than first meet the eye. This article will briefly outline some key points surrounding the operation of the Whitman Juice Machine and associated school personnel.
1-NEVER ASK FOR A REFUND. Recently, an increasing number of entrepreneurial students have successfully bought drinks and then proceeded to ask for a refund, claiming that the Juice Machine never delivered a can. The Cafeteria Ladies are now attempting to put a stop to this practice by assuming that anyone who asks for a refund for any reason is a messenger of Satan, and treating them accordingly. These lovely ladies have become increasingly irritable and militant over this sensitive issue in recent months, and their reaction to refund requests has now become so violent that students have sufficient cause to fear for their own safety. This fear is well-founded considering the arsenal of lethal weapons available to Cafeteria Ladies such as knives, saucepans, mallets and rolls of quarters; there is even a rumor that in some extreme cases students have been severely bludgeoned about the head and shoulders with a week-old pepperoni pizza. Thus, it is best avoid the Wrath of the Cafeteria Ladies by never asking for a refund.
2-NEVER INTRODUCE FOREIGN SUBSTANCES TO THE MACHINE. I am referring specifically to an incident several weeks ago. I found that the entire coin-handling assembly of the Juice Machine had been flooded with a viscous brown liquid which some of my colleagues have suggested might have been Coca-Cola. This practice is inadvisable for two primary reasons. First, when the Juice Machine is forced to "drink" Coke, it is painfully reminded of the fact that it is a mere Juice Machine, relegated to dispensing only mundane, non-carbonated beverages, and thus its ego takes a severe blow. Second, introducing foreign substances to the Juice Machine can incur the "Wrath of the Cafeteria Ladies" as described in Part 1.
3-NEVER, EVER, TRY TO GET A FREE DRINK BY ROCKING THE MACHINE. Do not ignore this piece of advice! Attempting to obtain a free drink by rocking the machine back and forth can result in serious personal injury or death! An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Nov. 11, 1988, p. 2697) documents 15 cases in which men trying to get a can out of the machine were crushed. 3 died, the other 12 required hospitalization for injuries such as fractures of the skull, toe, ankle, tibia, femur, and pelvis; intercerebral bleeding; knee contusion; and one punctured bladder. The article states that because the sodas are located in the upper half of the machine (so that they can fall into the dispensing slot), the center of gravity of the machine is abnormally high and the machine will fall after it has been tipped only 20 degrees, a deceptively small angle. A large, fully loaded machine can weigh in excess of 1000 pounds. I strongly advocate the policy whereby all Juice Machines must display the label "WARNING: Tipping this machine or any other unstable object weighing in excess of 1000 pounds onto yourself can result in serious bladder injury or death."
4-THINK!! Although this seems to be simple advice, I have noted that people occasionally forget to think while attempting to purchase a Juice from the Juice Machine. I cite the following example from earlier this year: I was in line behind an individual who deposited fifty cents and pushed the "Grape Drink" button. Nothing happened, and the individual became quite agitated. There is a number "55" written on the machine, which I always assumed meant "You have to deposit 55 cents before this Machine will do anything." However, based on my observation of this individual's reaction, I believe the "55" must mean "Push all the buttons on this machine 55 times using a force of 55 kilonewtons while simultaneously yelling 55 curse words at a volume of 55 decibels."
I hope that this article has provided some interesting insight into the operation of your friendly neighborhood Juice Machine. Stay tuned for next week's column, "Our Friend, The Bell."
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Original humor by Jeremy Elson, written in February 1991