Friday, May 22, 2009

Boston Baked Beans

I was at the  Dry Cleaners this morning(don’t worry, I’m not writing about that again) and I saw one of those machines that generally dispense gumballs. They used to be a gumball for a penny, Now they are two for twenty five cents. This machine was not filled with gumballs, but rather a brown candy coated peanut called “Boston Baked Beans”.


I can’t eat these Boston Baked beans anymore. I have not been able to for over thirty years. When I was in college, I worked for the College Bookstore. I made about $100 a month which, after $42.50 a month rent, on top of electricity, phone gas and marijuana did not leave a lot for food. At this bookstore was a Boston Baked Bean machine. You’d get six or eight little “beans” for a penny, and I kind of liked them. One night I turned the handle to dispense my beans and just sort of kept turning after the beans came down. My extra turning somehow kept the slot on the inside of the machine, the one  which lets the beans out, stay wide open. The beans rushed out like nickels in a slot machine jackpot, quickly overrunning my hand, dozens of them bouncing crazily off of the floor.


The key to this discovery was that it took place at night. After five, all the adults who worked for the store went home and left a 25 years old assistant manager named Roy in charge of a group of college undergraduates. Little real work was ever accomplished at that store after five or on Saturdays. The discovery of the defective bean machine was one of the bigger things that ever happened. We knew that since the Bookstore got a cut of the bean pennies, discovery of it by an authority figure would mean that the machine company would come and fix it. So those of us who knew about it kept quiet.


Even when beans are free, it is amazing how slowly a bean machine will empty. Most people don’t like this particular candy. I did. By the end of a month, when I was out of money and had run out of Ritz crackers at home, I began to use the beans as a staple. Peanuts have a lot of protein so I could have done a lot worse. I would get a big book bag at the end of my shift and plop a penny into the machine, emptying a meal size portion of beans into the bag which I would take home and eat in front of the T.V. set. A few of my friends would empty the machine before a week end dope party. It was a useful item to know about.


The best part of the Bean Machine was when the vending company who stocked it and collected the money came around . The same guy came in every Wednesday and emptied all the machines of their cash and restocked the candy. Each Wednesday, several of us would hide behind one of the tall book shelves and peek over to watch the vendor dude makes his rounds. He’d start out at the gumballs and work his way down. At each machine he would pull out a respectable amount of money and put a few more gum or candy items in the machine to top it off. Then he got to the bean machine. He’d empty out two to three pennies at most out  and then take out a bag of Boston Baked Beans and refill the entire jar. He never blinked, never  complained, never gave it a second thought and what was most important, never fixed that machine. I used to wonder what kind of inventory system this company had ,where each week an entire machine would be refilled in exchange for a couple of pennies. I could understand the guy not reporting it. The odds of him caring were about it were  same as the of the odds of him actually thinking about it, that is to say zero. A gumball stocker is not paid for his wisdom.


For two years I ate a lot of those beans. I got so sick of them that I just stopped eating them. As far as I know the machine could still be broken and still feeding undergraduates. Even today I can’t eat the things, but I am always thankful that this candy coated manna was provided for me for so long. I often do wonder what happened to the guy who used to stock the machine. He probably works in the U.S. Treasury Department today designing bailout plans or , perhaps is even a United States Congressman. None of those guys are paid for their wisdom either.


Blogger Jannie Funster said...

Full of wit, as usual.

Pretty good score indeed on the baked beans. I never got lucky like that but once in a while I'd get a returned quarter in a payphone.

Kraft dinner pretty-much saw me through my college apratment days.

3:45 PM  

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