The Junk Food Has It
Daniel's hunger leads him to a machine; but the machine is hungry, too.
Yellow. The out-of-order tape emblazoned over the vending Machine’s cash intake was yellow. Written on the golden surface were the words “Out of Order,” which taken as literal meant, “Stop. No snacks available at this time.”
Yet there they sat. Reds, blues, and greens, along with the prestige of mascots and stylized lettering, masking a saturated, slight-of-hand. Literality being lost on the modern woman and man, Daniel took the tape as mere suggestion.
Green means go, red means stop, and yellow supposed caution––not out of order––and Daniel felt the drive of hunger speed up. Plugged in and humming, the Machine presented a tangled narrative, with nothing beyond the tape insinuating dysfunction. Plus, as luck would have it, Daniel saw no obstruction over the coinage slot.
Fumbling in his pockets for change but coming up empty, Daniel felt this hope dashed as quickly as it came. Subsuming the optimism, Daniel’s Stomach refocused its nerve, rumbling and grumbling to the tune of coup.
Ok, I get it. Food. Eat. Now. There’s probably another snack machine around the corner, he hoped. But as he searched his memory for inspiration, Daniel drew a blank. This was the stalwart opposition to meal-plan run cafeterias. In fact, Daniel couldn’t think of another snack Machine on campus nor did he have any meals left on his plan.
He thought of himself as an honorable man; but what honor bestows those who give up? So Daniel took to the floor around and under the Machine looking for loose change. Unfortunately, Daniel found nothing––change or even dust. Janitors must have just swept, he thought. No, this isn’t just clean, damn near immaculate, Daniel assessed. The only remnants of age, on or around this Machine were some scribblings on the Machine’s side. Painting a picture of failed couplings, these forlorn etchings dedicated to the likes of “Reese and Dixie 4ev’s” and “Dylan was too boney,” were potholes on an otherwise featureless highway.
Avoiding potential insolence toward his Stomach, Daniel knew an after class meal of Ramen was a non-starter. Hunger pain panic rippled through his body, both emotional and blood sugar based.
In rare defiance of Daniel’s normal modus operandi in situations of extreme hunger, his Brain circumvented the Stomach’s panic and cooed, “Tis but an old Machine, The Daniel. Reach up its undercarriage, procure thine nourishment post haste! Funds be damned!”
Giving his head a vigorous shake and his eyes several deep blinks, Daniel tried to shake free from this anthropomorphic decoupling of body parts. But not unlike when you try to concentrate away from a pain and it becomes all consuming, Daniel grew dizzy with the logic. I’m the Brain. Or is the Brain me? Am I the me to my Brain questioning itself—or is this just a stomach-coup, Daniel and/or his Brain thought.
Beguiled by his existential crisis, Daniel obeyed and swung his arm into the cassette shaped, deposit compartment. The older Machine lacked any semblance of modesty, containing only a modicum of midriff to protect its contents. As such, his arm snaked its way inside, looking for the marrow of the multinational snack conglomerates, otherwise known as the Big-Kat Kit-Kat. Its ratio of chocolate to wafer, the clear choice in the Kit-Kat wars.
Of the fourteen or so levels of sugary and salty goods—along with a random knot of socks that ran an outlandish, $3.50 per pair—the legendary Big-Kat sat on the fourth from the bottom. I can get it. In and out, like The Italian Job but hold the cheese, Daniel thought. Despite the obstructed view, Daniel noticing his other arm’s size, plotted the ideal course. Aiming at an angle, rather than directly underneath, he figured he could pull the Big-Kat through its metal, corkscrew binds rather than over.
There’s a saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” and while Daniel, plus his Brain compatriot, plotted course, the Stomach resumed control.
“Cheetos are closer. If stuck, bag rip and we eat loose Cheetos. Big-Kat Kit-Kat no rip,” bullied the Stomach. Embracing visions of cheetah mascots and cheese-dust covered fingertips; Daniel pushed his face prostrate against the glass, straining to reach level five.
Rife with their delectable dusts, the oblong cylinders of crunch inebriated the Stomach, wooing Daniel further. “It’s just a small pinch,” Chester the Cheetah promised, “you can reach me no problem.”
Squeezing his shoulder into play, Daniel wiggled his fingertips, willing their movement to shake loose the object of his desire. The extant pinch lingered. Refusing to fade into the background, metallic teeth of unknown origin dug into Daniel’s arm. Whoopsie Goldberg, Daniel thought, as he tried to recoil and realign with the initial, Big-Kat aim.
“Shit off,” Daniel rasped, the pinch beckoning a trickle of blood, halting Daniel’s retreat. With his free arm, Daniel laid siege to the side of the Machine, hoping Reese and Dixie’s etchings had somehow weakened the structural integrity of this vengeful, vending god. However, the sharp needles of defeat dug further into his arm, “Full stop,” the Brain ordered.
Interceding Daniel’s Zen moment of resignation, a ripped bag of Cheetos rained an orange snow before Daniel’s smashed, glassy-face. “Cheeky bugger,” the Stomach cawed, wanting reprisal for this dangerously cheesy insult. The Brain, ill-equipped for another coup, handed the mantle of control over to the Stomach in protest. Acting immediately, the Stomach began flailing Daniel’s arms wildly. Evoking the sensation of drowning, Daniel exacerbated the physical assault to the Machine.
The Brain having resigned as a conscientious objector, the Stomach’s bombastic contempt went unchecked. The hunger was like cosmic microwaves, the echoing of a beginning. Wherein he might have once guided this great expulsion, Daniel no longer directed, only obeyed. With blood and Cheetos pooling below, the Brain could only laugh, adding insult to injury.
Finding success, Daniel’s arm wiggled just enough to catch on the corkscrew of the Big-Kat Kit-Kat compartment. Dropping its Big-Kat payload into the rapidly growing puddle of blood, the corkscrew made room for Daniels forearm. The corkscrew’s impedance drew the Elbow into the fray. Conferring with the Stomach, the Bicep and Elbow worked in tandem, flexing the complex network of muscles, nerve endings, and bone to slow the inward spiral.
“Ramming speed,” the Stomach yelled. Pushing into the grain like a battering ram, Daniel’s elbow discombobulated like a dull firework, overloading the corkscrew’s motors and gears. Battle won. But Battles often marked a lull or calm before the final front and also, Daniel’s arm was more or less disassembled in the corkscrew’s spiral. Pulling out seemed pointless and painful, the blood loss quelling any gumption left.
The faintest click of a wooden heel, growing louder with each step, kept Daniel from fading entirely. As luck would have it, this approaching individual seemed hungry, their eyes looking for the snack machine as they rounded the corner. Giving a dispassionate once over, this passerby assessed that the loosened snacks were covered in blood. This person figured themselves something of a hypochondriac and aired against snagging the free bites to eat.
There was no Twix-Break. No, Joe Pesci turned tween revision of their original assessment. The heel clicks quieting as they bounded away.
“Come on,” Daniel managed, “help and/or acknowledge me man.” Before yelling, “I’m stuck would you get all the fireman, custodians, and nurses? Please hear me!”
“Can’t do it, Buddy. Already late! Next time knock some socks free,” their response barely audible.
“You son of a bitch,” Daniel screamed, while pulling against the control of the vending Machine. The reverberation of Daniel’s insolence dislodging the bone and cartilage preventing further gain of the corkscrew. Regaining its composure, the Machine’s corkscrew tracked Daniel inward, progress visible by the trail Daniel’s face tracked along the glass. Elbow through Bicep through Shoulder. Pain overwhelming him, Daniel envisioned himself a child trapped in an arcade crane-game cabinet. You’re going to be fine Daniel, he said to himself, just gotta’ let it run its course.
Being conveyer-belted into a vending machine does wonders for someone’s outlook. On one hand, Daniel felt disillusioned; no one welcomes being dinner. Yet, an arm’s worth of blood loss collecting in a sentient snack-monster makes the impossible seem tenable.
“Get your head in the game,” laughed the Stomach, as Daniel’s Shoulder rapt into the Machine’s grasp. Dwelling on hope having the opposite effect.
“We…” the Brain started before giving into the Stomach’s distraction. Not that it had much of a choice, it had given up ages ago. And so, with a sickening pop, Daniel’s skull square-peg, round-holed it inside. The rest followed shortly thereafter, much to the chagrin of the Stomach.
Feeling rather nonplused by the figurative and literal segmentation of his body, Daniel wondered, I think, therefor… something. While not an ideal answer to his existential woes, something meant not nothing. I probably should have studied more and why am I still hungry?
Unburdening itself with a bag of Fritos, the Machine pushed forth enlightenment, two servings and 350 calories worth to be exact. Descending down Daniel’s withering frame, the Fritos fell like a baited fishing lure. Lingering ever so briefly at the lips before continuing.
Finishing the ascent inward, the last vestige of Daniel held the deposit-slot open long enough for the Fritos to escape. The only noticeable fragment of what had transpired, the rest being internalized by the Machine.
Conscious, but floating. There was no Stomach. There was no Brain. Focusing on the spite, the loose aggregate formally known as Daniel wanted to look inward but finding nothing, opened what felt like eyes. But there were too many. From static to digital, each snacks’ mascot providing comprehensive vision of the Machine’s innards.
By the Machine’s standards, this amounted to loitering. Forging disparate pieces, though, was its job. Daniel would fade into the background radiation like the rest. He didn’t even manage any damage, not like that Reese.
The pervasive empty consumption outlasts all, assimilation a forgone conclusion. And in that moment, the Machine felt satiation. A blossoming arrangement, the Machine coalescing around the high of death throws. So when some other malnourished student came bounding in exclaiming, “Fritos,” they were left unmolested. It was a free taste but they’d be back.