The vending machine in the building where I work hasn’t been restocked, perhaps not even touched, in three years. It’s on the second floor, just off the parking garage–the first six floors, half the building, are devoted to parking–next to the maintenance office. The room it’s in is dark most of the time. I’m not sure anyone goes in there anymore. Anyone but me. I went in to see if anything had changed. The vending machine used to be a place where I’d run into strangers who also worked in the building. Even if we didn’t say anything to each other at least we had the need for a cheap snack, and an excuse to step away from our desks, in common.
Then there was the time I made an even deeper connection with some of the strangers in the building. One day there was a note on the vending machine:
“Please stock some brownies. Thank you!”
For some reason this seemed like an opportunity. I grabbed a post-it note and added a message of my own.
“NO! TARZAN NO NEED BROWNIES!”
The next day there was a new note.
“Don’t eat the brownies then Tarzan.”
Oh, it was on now. I added a response.
“Tarzan have poor impulse control. Too many brownies make vine break.”
Different handwriting and a different color of ink told me a new voice had entered.
“Jane agrees. Tarzan doesn’t need the love handles.”
More voices–or rather different handwriting–joined the conversation.
“Cheetah suggest counseling for Tarzan. Worked for elephant.”
“Elephant fall off wagon. Crash heard throughout jungle.”
In the middle of the week was a test of the building fire alarm. Everyone who worked there gathered in the parking garage next door. And as we all stood around in our little groups I looked around. This was an office building. People from at least half a dozen companies, and at least three more departments within the place I worked for, were there. And among them were Jane, Cheetah, Elephant.
They were complete strangers but, without getting overly dramatic about it, I felt connected to them. I thought about yelling out, “Hey, I’m Tarzan!” but I was afraid of ruining the magic.
Back at my desk I wrote another note.
“Tarzan thank Cheetah. Will look into therapy. Perhaps have deeper unresolved issues.”
That afternoon a co-worker asked me, “Are you Tarzan?”
“Yes,” I said, a little sheepishly.
“Well I’d stay out of the break room. The delivery guy is pissed.”
From down the hall I could hear boxes being slammed around and someone muttering.
After he left all our notes were gone. There were no brownies but I still had the memories of our conversation.