Essays

This page will contain essays on a variety of topics for fun as I figure out how to use this blog the way I want it to look.

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June 2007

The Vending Machine is Laughing

vending machine

Getting food from a vending machine is kind of a sad affair.

It seems like a private transaction yet it takes place in public. Whenever I see someone peering into a vending machine, I feel like I should look away and leave them to choose in privacy. If they catch you watching them, they usually give you an embarrassed smile, as if they have to apologize for what they’re doing. Maybe the items should come with brown wrappers, like the ones used to conceal a beer or x-rated magazine. Or maybe the machine should be placed in a more secluded spot, behind a curtain, or down a dark hallway like the entryway to a triple X movie theater.

The packages sit there, lonely in the harsh glare of the florescent light, trapped behind glass like a dog tethered to a groomer’s table in pet store. On some machines the light flickers, hinting at neglect and casting suspicion on the items. I peer on tiptoe: Is that dust? The items inside the vending machine have nowhere to hide but are on display before anyone who wants to scrutinize them, like monkeys sitting in their exhibits at the zoo, blinking and looking as if they’d rather be at home.

Using a vending machine brings out the gracelessness in all of us. Retrieving the dropped food requires an undignified squat or you have to bend over, sticking out your ass for the world to see. And if you think your ass is a little too fat, you’ll think passersby are thinking the same thing: “If she wouldn’t eat junk food out of vending machines, she might lose some weight.”

After falling a short bruising distance, the package rests hopelessly waiting to be retrieved – if it doesn’t get stuck. Then you get to engage in additional embarrassing behavior by reaching down to the dispenser to jiggle the flap in an attempt to dislodge the stuck package. Most of us know not to rock the machine. Warning stickers show a stick figure getting crushed under a tipping machine. As if stick figures ate candy and chips.

Once I saw a juice bottle stuck half way between its row and the bottom, its screw-top cap leaning against the glass like a kid in a store, forehead against the storefront window, arms dangling uselessly, looking outside wistfully, bored while waiting for his mom to finish shopping. The bottle sat unable to go forward or back, suspended between giving the purchaser satisfaction from their thirst or their money back. You’d have to buy another one above it and hope it knocked them both down.

And the servings are never satisfying. The price is disproportionate to the contents. The bags of chips are too small, a mere mouthful to munch, full of factory air. While the candy bars are normal size, the fact that they are in a vending machine implies they are a snack, not a full size, creating a psychological impression that you’ll need more or it’s okay to eat more, despite the high fat gram and calorie count which is more than the daily recommended amount. Your appetite is piqued but not satisfied. Like so many things in life.

But it’s not always junk food. There are often granola bars or sunflower seeds, often the last things left when all the other impulse items in colorful packages are gone. Despite being last, they don’t seem dejected like the nerds left standing on the sidelines of the baseball diamond after the school jocks selected their team. The seeds seem smug as if they know that someone will resign themselves to purchasing them, acting under the illusion that it’s a healthy snack, but the seeds know these hopeful fools will still get fat. A losing proposition.

I try to avoid buying from vending machines. When I travel, I try to plan ahead and bring a granola bar from home. It’s cheaper and saves me from having to stick my ass out. Buying from a vending machine also seems to imply that you are alone. You’re not sitting down to eat with friends or family, but sneaking a poor nutritional choice item on the run. Buying from a vending machine states that you are part of another culture, one where machines, not people, dispense food, money, and the feeling of connectedness. Old movies show well-dressed travelers on buses and trains enjoying homemade sandwiches that had been lovingly handcrafted by Mom and wrapped in checked cloth napkins. Who has time for that? Not me, not even my mom, my retired mom. We’re all too busy, and the creators of the “vend pack” have tapped into their market with surgical precision.

There are times I do give in to a craving or I’m unprepared and alone, and stand in the harsh glare of a vending machine, facing off as if in a challenge like a gunfighter on a deserted street of a rundown Western town. I wrestle with a dollar bill, flattening the wrinkles to soothe and coax the dollar into the slot, or I drop a few coins and listen to the hollow clunk as they land. I surreptitiously hurry a glance over my shoulder and bend over to grab the snack. Sometimes I conceal it in my hand or slip it in my pocket and act nonchalant as I stroll away. Other times I boldly crinkle the wrapper and tear it open loudly and march away through the office hallway munching as if to say, Oh, yeah? So what? I’m eating this. It was a conscious choice, not a predicament forced upon me by circumstance. Go ahead, say something. With all this sugar coursing through my veins now, I’m ready for anything.

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May 2007

Dress Shopping:

gown

Dress shopping can be fun, except when you are looking for a dress to wear as a guest to a summer wedding that is sort of casual but will be held at night so that means sort of formal. The wedding will be in Florida in June, which will be very hot and humid. So I don’t want to wear a heavy fabric. Since it’s sort of casual, I can lean toward a more sundress type, but it has to be a fancy one. Since evening wedding imples a bit more formality to the dress code, a cotton sundress with spaghetti straps does not really cut it. With these strictures in mind, I set out to shop, starting with bargain stores to department stores and specialty shops.

The bargain stores are a mess. Odd dresses are crammed together on long racks that stretch across the huge store. The warehouse feeling and smell of polyurethane packaging materials are the first things to hit me as I walk in the smudged glass doors and almost trip over the wrinkle in the rubber door mat. No elan to the shopping experience here. The dresses hang like victims of mad rush of bargain hunters and the careless lack of categorizing of underpaid staff. The woman next to me thrashes through the dresses as if she is violently ripping sheets of wallpaper off a delapitated hallway. I can’t find anything I like. The sizes are all mixed up, and the dresses are ugly! Lace dresses no respectable bordello would allow on the premises, colors that match no human skin tones, and dresses with so many straps there’s no way to tell which is the front or back, top or bottom.

I walk out and exhale as much chemical air as possible and breathe in fresh air to alleviate the instant headache I got in only five minutes in there.

Entering the department store at the mall is a relief. Fast paced music reaches out for you from the juniors department where I no longer shop, but I stroll through just out of curiousity and to stay in touch with my younger self. I don’t recognize some of the pieces or what exactly I would coordinate them with if I bought them. I pause to pick up a bolero type jacket – a shrug, I think it’s called – and wonder what it matches. It’s got pink sherling fur (synthetic) and camoflauge print on the back. There’s nothing else nearby that it seems to belong to. I search the wall, scrutinizing the mannequins for a clue but find none. I put it back and keep moving. I have to stop looking in that department. It just depresses me. There was a recnet NY Times article about this http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/17/fashion/17OLDER.html

In the dress department, I start at one end and work strategically through the styles. First are the latest wrap dresses. I sift through these for a minute to see if there is anything I like and I find a few, but I put them back, remembering my mission and my budget. I like the wrap dresses; I have one already, so I don’t really need another one. Not really.

I move to the next rack which is laden with 1960’s geometric shape print dresses in bold colors with lots of black trims. They look like something I’d wear if invited to an Andy Warhol party, except he’s dead. And these dresses should be too. I move on. The next rack have some interesting colors, but as I pull the dresses out, they all look like they came straight from a Stevie Nicks album cover photo shoot – in 1981. Pass.

There’s a whole rack of asymmetrical hem line dresses that look like a designer grabbed a handful of hankerchiefs and stitched them together. Ugh. No hippie look for me.

I find the formal wear. First are the “mother-in-law” dresses, usually large, lots of fabric, muted tones of cream and ice blue, straight dresses with a jacket, some nicely embroidered collars, tasteful, sedate. Not my style or age group. Some of the evening gowns are really fantastic. There are full length and knee and calf length, some satin with rhinestone straps or embroidered hems, looking like dressed up lingerie. One is neon orange underneath a gauze of yellow with spaghetti straps, something J. Lo would wear to the MTV Awards and look great in. On the contrary, we’re Irish Catholic. My friend would kill me if I showed up at her wedding looking like J. Lo.

I find a compromise: A navy blue dress with pleats, knee length, sleeveless. I put it on and look in the mirror. What does it remind me of, I wonder? Then I get it – a Grecian maid. All I need is an urn in one hand and a laurel wreath in the other. Take it off.

A floral halter dress looks great on the hanger. I slip it on. Satin. Feels nice. I zip the back and realize the skirt flares out from my hips like a circus tent (and I’m only 122 pounds, 5 foot 7). It also recalls photos I’ve seen of 1950s garden parties. Who would wear this dress and where? Does the social occasion even exist anymore that calls for this dress?

On another shopping trip, I visit a few specialty shops. I saw dresses lashed with lace and corset tie ups and graffiti looking graphics on sheer fabrics that reminded me of a motorcycle gang. Not wedding attire. There were also the overly dressy full length gowns not seen since the tv show “Dallas”.

I think I’ll stick to my black dress. For one, I already own it, so I’ll save money. I bought it about 10 years ago, but it still fits, a real bonus. It’s classic, elegant and sexy, combining formal class with stylish grace. That’s the reason I bought it in the first place – it’s classic and I knew I could wear it years later. And I will.

Although a friend told me Nieman Marcus is having a sale this weekend. Maybe I’ll just take a peek…

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April 2007

I just read Nora Ephron’s essay about purses in her book of essays titled “I Feel Bad About My Neck” and thought it was very funny.

purse

Shopping for a purse is always difficult. I have to research what’s out there, visit many stores and try out the bags, see how they feel, if they are too heavy or if the strap is too short . Shoulder bags are better than other types because, as Ephron says, you need your hands free in today’s world. A purse with an outside pocket is the most useful. I can throw my keys in there, my sunglasses, change and my chap stick – all items I need to reach easily and not have to dig for them. Standing in a parking lot with your attention focused inside your purse is an unsafe posture. Sometimes I put my keys in that outside pocket of the purse (and not a pocket with a zipper or clasp), but often I stuff my car keys into my pocket unless I don’t have any pockets in my outfit. I figure if my purse gets stolen, then I’ll still have my car keys. Hopefully that will never happen.

In addition to the pocket in the purse, I like to have a zip top for the main compartment. That way it is sealed so that when it falls over in my car from the seat to the floor, not everything spills out, only the change and chapstick. A flap is no good; it gets in the way when you’re at the cash register and have to get moving because some hairy guy is tapping his foot behind you. Inside the purse is important too. It seems one big compartment is best. I don’t need a slot for my cell phone or anything else. And hobo bags, ugh, the name alone is unappealing.

The size of the purse is as important as the length of the strap. A purse too big dwarfs me, and one too small make me look like I’m twelve. Every time I see an ad of a tote bag, the bag looks nice and I think I should get one of those, but I really don’t like tote bags. They’re too big and bulky, and I don’t want the bag to become a catch all for tons a crap I don’t need. I can’t use one of those mini bags that are popular now. I know women who do, but the mini bag is too tiny for me. I wear glasses and have to carry them around. That was actually a turning point in my purse shopping, needing eye glasses. Ah, getting older. I wonder when I’ll start to feel bad about my neck.

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alice Mulhern  |  July 11, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Great stuff, Marie! I relate, particularly to the dress shopping story. I went through that in the same sequence last year for my nephew’s wedding in Mexico and found some rag I absolutely loathed and paid too much for. I passed your Cosmic Muffin story on to my sister who enjoyed it and the rest of the publication. I’m so thrilled you’re doing this. We all talk about it but it takes real guts to pursue it. I’d love to see you do a regular feature column in a newspaper. Congratulations on some serious progress. Stevie and I are very proud of you. Talk to you soon!

    Reply
  • 2. Mary  |  January 2, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Oh my goodness! This is awesome, Marie. I never thought the casual/at night combination would cause my guests so much pain…-) I know how dress shopping can be — glad you stuck with the black dress…you looked awesome.

    Reply

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