The AutoMat

Old-timers remember Horn & Hardart's AutoMat: row on row of shiny chrome-edged windows containing pies and short-order dishes of one kind or another, plates of salad, sandwiches, oranges, apples with waxy polish. Each window had a slot for a nickel, or perhaps a quarter, next to it and a big knurled chromed knob. You got your order by twisting the knob, opening the window and taking out what you thought you wanted.

Create, in your mind's eye, a short play based on the tribulations of a man going through the crowded lines, pumping nickels and dimes into the AutoMat, loading his tray and sitting down.

He notices that each person who is not him is eating something that he is not eating. He wonders why this is. He notices they seem to be enjoying their food. The things on his own plate seem much less desirable than the things on their plates. He doesn't see why HE got stuck with the Viennese sausage plate. He then starts building up a terrible jealousy of each thing he sees someone else eating and wondering why HE couldn't have that lemon-chiffon pie or chocolate doughnut.

When he sees a young woman eating a plate of Boston Baked Beans he goes a little nutsy about not being able to have them. He skirts the edges of mayhem and hies himself to a psychiatrist who discusses what this plate of beans means to him.

He flees that and goes to a psychoanalyst who asks him for his mother's recipe for beans. Then, a psychologist who asks him to go back to the AutoMat and decide not to have beans. A Jungian counselor asks him to find the archetype for which beans is a stimulator. Another shrink suggests valium and the poor sod ends up on an electro-shock table being zapped for beans.

He is gradually ruined by all this inept mauling of the mental structure and crawls into a newspaper on a park bench. Another derelict comes along and asks him what laid him low, and his reply, without much thinking, is that he didn't LIKE beans.

As above, so below. As within, so without. The glib, specious tale above is still a good tale of woe; if you do not believe that someone could have so strange and simple-minded a situation, pray examine the average life.

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