Mechanical Power - Lois Greene Stone

            Many self-serve restaurants have large rectangles fronted with colorful circles ready to be pushed with a finger. A fluid of your choice will then dispense into a disposable plastic glass placed by the user. The operation certainly doesn’t require an instruction book. Except for me.
            A supermarket’s special offer allowed, for a $2.00 surcharge, one to buy a full-size submarine sandwich, four ounces of soup, and ten ounces of soda. I already knew I liked the subs at that store, and individual soups alone were $4.
            The clerk at the sub counter told me that, when I checked out, I would get a tall beverage cup for the drink, but to scoop my soup from a round selection table when I left her station. This was to be a take-home with my groceries.
            Many choices of hot soup were offered, but I was uncertain how to make the heavy, four-ounce paper cup not fall over and drip in my car. I double bottomed it but put on only one lid. After check out, and the store’s helping-hand sent for, the clerk told me to go and get a drink before I left. I said it would look like I was stealing.
            She said that’s the way it’s done, and I questioned again why, after I’ve checked out, can I simply go to a machine at the other end of the store, take a plastic glass, pour myself a drink and it not look like I’m stealing? She smiled and said if it seems that way, and I’m stopped, to give her name that it was okay. (How do the security cameras know that?). I told the helping-hand I needed his assistance as I’ve never used the machine before.
            The young person whose job it is to assist customers, walk them to their cars, load groceries, and return the cart to its area while the customer may merely drive off, handed me a cup. Okay. I put it on the obvious cup-thing in the machine.
            He asked, “Ice?”
            I said, “No.” (I was taking it home.)
            “Press for a choice.”
            With slight embarrassment but more sense of silliness, I explained I’d never used a soda dispenser, and he could be free to laugh, which he didn’t. At least not in front of me at the time.
            A screen displayed Zero Vitamin Water, and I thought of a grandson who likes that, and I know where, in the store’s aisles, these come in plastic bottles. I asked the helping hand if there were other things, and he pressed a button and a screen lit up with choices. Too many possibles! Confusion for me.
            I said, “Let’s just find caffeine-free cola,” thinking Lois vs the dispenser transaction would be completed. He pressed, and then there were choices again. I was actually laughing now at myself who, having learned DOS in 1981-82 when few even knew home computers existed, was unable to figure out a soda machine.
            I said, “Okay, cherry.” His finger pushed. Patiently and assuming I’d learned the basics, he said to put light pressure on the button to start the pouring. Which button? There were so many before! He pointed. I pressed and released, and a bit came out and stopped; he said I had to hold it. He was very nice, and I told him he can tell anyone he wants about a little old lady who couldn’t use a soda machine, as it IS funny. The filled cup was wet; I had a Kleenex so I wiped the moisture.
            My special-offer problem was not over, emotionally, as I realized beverage in the slit-for-straw-lid should not go in the trunk with the groceries; I’d have to use my car’s cup-holder else it would spill; that circular slot in the center console doesn’t know how to hold anything but sunglasses or hand sanitizers. (The soup was double bagged by the checker. The helping-hands carefully kept it upright between two heavier packages in the trunk.)
            I remembered learning how to play video games, in 1984, and that number plus Orwell’s book are quite blended. Big Brother wasn’t watching me, but small children adept at manipulating joy sticks were standing behind me waiting for their turn. Donkey Kong was challenging, and I was teaching at a local college! Ms. Pacman was slightly more traumatic but I assumed I was more capable than a machine. A Machine! I wasn’t. I told my students, and it amused them, as I quoted from Shakespeare, wondering how I so understood the Bard but not Donkey Kong.
            How can I send texts, emojis, learn new apps, talk to Artificial Intelligence, set up Windows 10 on a computer and also Apple’s IOS on a tablet, multi-task easily, knit complicated plaid pattern, for starters, and be overwhelmed by a push-button soda dispenser?

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard and softcover anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.