The Love Button

For Nini Berndt

There’s some regional price variation:
Cheaper in the South, or so I’m told,
‘Round here the Love Button costs three quarters,
And it won’t take nickels for some reason.
Anyway, it looks like an ordinary vending machine,
Usual stock. You can just buy Zingers if you want,
But of course, a little comfort food with your lovin’
Is an old and venerable tradition.
Set you back two and half bucks altogether though.
Inflation’s a bitch. Anyway, the way it works
Is that you put your shiny coins into the slot
And then you hit the big red button with the word LOVE
Stamped on it
And these skinny robot arms dangling at the sides
Come up and around in perfect arcs,
But slow, stopping at the barest contact
With a gentle clanking sound on account of all the springs.
You can step back if the idea of a vending machine hug
Frightens you. There’s no sensor, those arms don’t know
If they’re touching anything, but if you’re willing to play along
They’ll find you well enough and no harm done.
The “hands” on the arms are clearly cast off of some mannequin,
Worn down and dirty from repeated use,
Lifeless, cold, and dull. The mechanical patting
Requires a little cooperation on your part
To repeatedly meet the soft target of your back,
Otherwise the machine looks like it’s doing the Macarena
Or engaging in some incomplete gestural obscenity.
As the patting occurs the vending machine whispers
In a voice of gears ground down over the years
Affirmations. “You are an important member of the community,”
It cycles through the same phrases each time,
“You are well loved. You deserve this hug.” And so on.
The vending machine never says it loves you,
Always speaks on behalf of some hypothetical society
A member of which you are assured to be in good stead.

It’s a joke of course. Party-favor style gag.
“Go buy yourself a hug” people say in these parts,
Holding out three pretend quarters.
No one ever sees anyone use the Love Button,
And you’d think it’d be a waste of good laundry money,
But I talked to the vending machine guy the other day
And he said he’s had to replace the arms on this machine
Three times in the last five years,
And the voicebox is due for an upgrade.

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