It is in light of this generational cynicism that I sadly have to say, with a wisp of disbelief still, that my faith in society has sunk even lower. Perhaps the example I am about to bring you is just another inevitable sign of the world's downward spiral; maybe it is my fault I never prepared myself for this day. But everyone must come of age, and innocence, as long as any shard of it exists, never lacks a nemesis.
When we were kids, there was something which we could always anticipate, no matter what was going on in the dark days in which we found ourselves. You see, in many fine childhood wonder establishments such as Chuck E Cheese's or Discovery Zone and sometimes even certain Toys "R" Us stores, one could almost always expect to find a candy machine that would let you play until you got candy. Back then, before we were sucked into the maelstrom of lost dreams and cups labeled "Half Empty" and abandoned toys and scraggly forgotten Christmas trees that is Growing Up In The Late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Centuries, we were disappointed when we didn't get the good candy! There was always a plant, bait, and it'd be Skittles or a Milky Way and the rest would be small consolation prizes like plastic rings or Tootsie Rolls. (Which are wonderful, don't get me wrong, but these Tootsie Rolls usually weren't the plump, moist ones, there were the dry, fill-up-only-half-the-paper ones. Plus, next to a fun-size pack of Skittles, a scrawny little Tootsie Roll don't stand a chance, ya know?) If only we knew how good we had it then! But we were young, and we can't linger forever in the salad days.
Memories of those fine candy machines still floated through my mind from time to time. What a great way to show kids that giving them candy is more important than some Evil Corporation taking their hard-earned, parking-lot-or-couch-cushion found quarters! But everything changed last week.
The setting? ****d ******n in College Station, Texas. The cast? Myself, my roommate of all four years, and his 12 or 13 or something year old sister. (Who, by the way, was our not so convincing excuse for finding ourselves in the waiting line for laser tag.) The plot? Short, but you'll understand. I look to my right to see a candy machine with (you guessed it, the infernal bait!) a deliciously colorful fun-size pack of Skittles. I look away. I look back, a glance, meaning nothing by it, innocent! I look away. Now it's in my mind. I must have it. Without a word I leave my comrades, load my card up with a dollar (a whole freaking dollar!) and swipe it in the machine. Not taking too much time to aim, I send the dinosaur jaw grasper claw down into the candy sea, and am not too dismayed when he is unable to grasp anything in his big clumsy plastic jaws; I have many more tries.
O! How wrong was I? He dropped an imaginary Sorry, Play Again into that candy chute and I watched in disbelief as the game reset. 50 cents blown, and no Skittles to show for it. Every vestige of that childhood innocence, sold for two quarters.
I was livid. I decided to go to the professional. I called the 12 or 13 or something year old little sister of my roommate over and solemnly explained to her the situation. -I have one more try left on this card, I told her. -I need those Skittles.
Needless to say, those big stupid plastic jaws were a conspiracy anyway; of course, the Powers That Be would design them so that THEY COULD NOT PICK UP ANYTHING!!! She tried, but the challenge was too much for even that seasoned candy machine pro.
Not to be deterred, I went to the candy game my jaded, cynical, desensitized generation knows well how to play, a place where my dollar will NEVER come away empty handed, where I ALWAYS leave victorious, Skittles in hand!! It unleashed my Skittles, which by this point I had to have or I would EXPLODE, from their spirally, metal little prison and plopped them down unceremoniously in the hatch. I left the vending machine and rejoined my companions and we played a pleasant little game of putt putt.