Category Archives: Human relations

When you find yourself a human vending machine

This is something that giving persons tend to see throughout their lives:  the toxic evolution into something not a friend, but a human vending machine.  When are you such a thing? When a person or person begins to take you for granted, make you their ‘easy way,’ expect some commodity of you on demand:  emotional support, information, some sort of effort on your part, whether you feel like it or not.  Those with specialized knowledge, especially in technology, particularly become the vending machine of choice because it’s ever so much easier to just impose on another than to use one’s mind and resolve it oneself.   Persons who do this are rarely emotionally stable, and tend to have significant issues.  I don’t know the official definition of co-dependency, but I suspect it plays in.

Such situations aren’t hard to identify.  The person involved rarely asks about your own life or needs; doesn’t really care, as machines don’t have needs.  He or she shows frequent signs of instability.  This person often praises you, perhaps to the skies, and why not? That’s supposed to be your payoff. That’s the unspoken deal, that you will be told regularly how wonderful you are.  A person constantly raging about his or her other vending machines, for example, doesn’t imagine you to be thinking:  and one day, it will be me.  And yet, if you are perceptive, that is what you are thinking. You as vending machine are being tapped for support because other vending machines have started eating this person’s quarters, perhaps.

To test this status is simple.  One day, simply eat the quarters.  Not angrily, not cruelly, simply don’t perform the expected behavior.  Most often that comes when you are at a limit, or at your lowest ebb in life, and simply can’t fulfill the demanded role–it’s not that you choose to eat the quarters, but that you lack the resources to process them.  In any case, the vending machine doesn’t operate as it always did.

If on that day, the individual simply kicks the vending machine and stomps off, yeah, that’s what it was.  Don’t feel too bad for the loss of a toxic situation.  On the phone, it usually takes the form of hanging up on you. In person, someone stomps off; on chat, someone fires a barb and logs off so as not to receive a rejoinder. I have a dear friend who moved away from a place she lived for decades, and most of her ‘friends’ reacted with shock and anger: the vending machine was not even going to eat their quarters, but was going to be removed from the vicinity. A few wanted to keep in touch, wished her well, and were happy for the improvement in her life, even if that meant less access to her.  Those few wanted her in their lives not for what she could do for them, but because they cared for her and believed, correctly, that she felt likewise. Everyone else gave the machine a vicious kick and stomped off, presumably to find another machine.

So on that day, when you eat the quarters, you’ll learn something about that person. If he or she now makes time to care for you, understand that you aren’t available in the normal way right now, and gives of him or herself, that was never a vending machine relationship–even if at times it looked like one.  In vending machine relationships, the machine isn’t allowed feelings.  If yours matter, then it’s not that sort of toxic dynamic.

If he or she kicks the machine and stomps off, my advice is to say nothing, turn, and walk away.  Don’t look back.  If that person shows contrition later, suspect it.  Rarely, it is a true epiphany; most often, it is sudden regret and realization that they may have permanently broken the machine, and a desire to get it back in working order.  You can accept the show of contrition, but it does not obligate you to resume vending machine status.  That’s the key. There need be no hard feelings, no animosity, but that does not imply that you must once again open yourself up to another kick. If you do, in my view, you are not showing much self-respect. If you do, you are partly the author of your own future misuse or abuse. How can it be otherwise? Let mistreatment sneak up on you once, well, anyone can get caught napping. Let it walk right up to you, say a few of the right words, and resume as before? Don’t allow that.  Respect yourself.

That person will need to find new vending machines (he or she has learned how to search for them over the years), and will do so.  Those situations will be toxic also.  However, you do not own that problem.  A very wise woman once taught me:  “Always ask yourself who owns the problem.  Whoever owns the problem needs to deal with the problem.  You can’t own anyone else’s problems.”

She was right.

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Letting kids borrow your apartment

(Warning:  contains a profanity.)

About sixteen years ago, my dear friend Domi’s son Lars was coming to Seattle for a couple of weeks.  I was going to Kansas for those weeks, so I agreed to let him stay in my one-bedroom dump on Aurora North (Shoreline).  Lars was about 18, if I recall right.  Really nice kid, responsible, intelligent, great family.  No worries in the world.

Before I left, I said to Lars:  “There’s only one rule, besides don’t misplace the keys.  Do not have anyone over.  Anyone.  At all.  I trust you but I can’t know some random other people.  So, just do not do that.  Okay?”  He agreed.

Very good.  I went off to Kansas and did all my usual Kansas things.  Two weeks later I came home.  Lars was there.  Howdied him, asked how his time had gone.  Small talk, but it was quite evident something was on his mind.  I waited.  Lars was always a good kid, so I knew he’d fess sooner or later.

“Jonathan, there’s something I have to tell you.”

“Yeah? What’s up?”

“Well, I had some people over.”  He looked somewhat miserable.

You did what?” Now, it’s not my way to raise my voice much, but when I’m somewhat angry I can be animated.  I had to pretend to be a little angrier than I was, but not overdo it, because it had taken some serious decency to fess and I had a lot of respect for Lars.  What came out was a series of chilly, annoyed sentences, jabbed like icepicks:

“Did I somehow fail to be clear as to what was expected? Was there a life in danger? Was there some compelling benefit to this? Did I mishear you when you agreed? Did I ask a great deal of you? Was that unreasonable to ask? Did I in some way do you wrong, or make you feel that it would be just fine to make casual disregard of this one clear request?”  Each time, I let him answer, then kept on.  I watched him carefully because I was pretty sure he was near tears.  Yeah, I was punishing him a bit, and I felt a little mean, but at these times one has to make the point sink in.  Plus, I was authentically annoyed.

When I figured he’d had enough, and he did not try to argue or offer a bunch of childish excuses, it was time for the finish.  “Lars, I have one question from you, and I expect a candid answer.  Think carefully before you respond.”

“Okay.”  Poor kid looked like it was his worst day on earth, but he was still in there taking his medicine.  Had to hand it to him.

I put a little extra snarl into it.  “DID YOU FUCK IN MY BED?”

“No!” His shocked look and quick answer confirmed that he was being honest, as he had done all along.  Good lad.  Time to break the ice.

Incredulous quizzical look and tone:  “Well…why NOT, boy?!!”  Then I laughed.

So did he.

My grandfather’s comedy

My grandfather (maternal; I never knew my father’s father) has been passed away some years now.  He was no more a perfect man than I am, but he was a wise man, and at times a very funny one.  He always found humor in the absurd.

The funniest thing I can remember from my grandfather was one time when he was doing one of his favorite schticks:  the dumb hick.  While he spoke with the gentle drawl of rural Kansas, he was a strong demonstration of the fact that accents do not imply ignorance.  He was intelligent and thoughtful, both as a farmer and rancher, and later as a business executive.  So when he really laid the Cletus on thick, it was quite amusing to hear.  In this case, he was reading his junk mail, aloud, as if he believed every word of it.  It went something like this:

“Dorothy, the nahs folks at Publisher’s Clearin’ House have written to me.  They say, ‘Dear Mr. Johnson, the team at PCH is pleased to officially announce yore name as the second-place winner of the $7 million grand prize.’  They say that the total amount is $1 million.  Well, Ah’ll be!  They also say they will make all necessary arrangements for me to receive mah prize, and Ah know they’re serious because they enclose a cashier’s check to cover any fees they haven’t paid.  Mighty nice of them.  Ah must contact mah representative directly before Ah deposit the check, and for more information.  Sounds reasonable.  They give me a security code, so we best keep that someplace real safe.  And you know it’s on the up-and-up because they even assigned me mah own IRS agent, Mr. Henry Cohen.  Good, because Ah don’t want any trouble with the law.”

He could go on like that for a while, straight-faced, immune to my cackles, horselaughs and guffaws.  I only cracked my grandfather up once in return when he was doing that, but that time, I got the old man good.

Grandpa was reading aloud from a Harry & David sales pitch around Christmastime–he and Grandma were regular customers.  “Harry and David would like us to help them celebrate their fiftieth anniversary!” he began.

I broke in with my own Cletus put-on.  “Ah’ll be darned, Grandpa.  Ah never even knew they was married.”

My deeply, culturally and politically conservative grandfather bust out in a gale of mirth.

It’s one of my favorite ways to remember him.