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The Money Machine

Every once in a while I remember events from my childhood, and it's as if I'm only fully comprehending them for the first time. You know, things which were obviously absurd, but which you never questioned in the unassuming notions of your youth. Lately I've been thinking about The Money Machine.

My high-school had this weird tradition, where every year a representative of a magazine sales company would arrive and turn the entire student body into his personal sales force. This guy reeked of the "sales" persona, and without fail, every year around the same time he would stand on stage to get us all fired up about selling magazines for him. I'm sure the school allowed this because they got a cut of the sales, but the rewards he offered for us were almost comically pathetic. Like if you sell a certain number of magazines you get a pen light. Or a kit-kat bar. But even with such desperate prizes, he managed to create an atmosphere of competition with... The Money Machine.

The Money Machine was a clear box about the size of a phone booth, with an enclosed fan duct-taped to the side of it. The number-one magazine sales student — the kid who had sold more magazines than anyone else — would get like 40 seconds in the Money Machine. They'd put you on stage in front of everyone, load it with one dollar bills, and then turn the fan on while you frantically grabbed as much money whirling through the air as you could.

Even the Money Machine, though, was a racket. There were rules where you couldn't pick money up off the ground, couldn't trap money in your clothing, etc... After maniacally grabbing as much money as you could, the sales guy would ceremoniously take you out of the Money Machine and ask you to count how much you'd made during this incredible opportunity. It would always be like 23 dollars, never more than 30. But he'd announce this like it were a small fortune. "THAT'S RIGHT! SHE CAME OUT WITH.... TWENTY TWO DOLLARS!!!"

Anyway, the whole thing was disgusting. But when I was a freshman in high-school, there was a kid in his senior year named Joey Allegra. I didn't know him at all, but I always perceived him to be an anti-authoritarian slacker type who was generally nauseated by most of what occurred in school. So I was pretty surprised when, with great fanfare, they announced the top magazine selling individual in the entire student body as... Joey Allegra. I couldn't believe it. "That kid?" I wondered. "Maybe my entire perception of him is wrong?" I thought with disappointment.

But Joey Allegra calmly got up, walked on stage, and took his place next to the money machine. The sales guy was bouncing around hysterically, trying to get everyone riled up, but Joey didn't look particularly excited. At last the doors opened, and he was put inside. The sales guy counted down with great fanfare: "THREE.... TWO.... ONE.... GOOO!!!" The fan was switched on, and the money started violently whirling around. But Joey Allegra didn't make a move for any of it. In fact, he just sat down on the floor inside the money machine and stared out.

The sales guy looked like he was going into a panic. He didn't understand what was going on, and would shout with a distraught voice "But you've only got thirty seconds left!" Things got worse and worse for him as he tried to encourage Joey to go for the money in vain. "COME ON MAN YOU'VE ONLY GOT TWENTY SECONDS! TWENTY SECONDS MAN!" At last, the time was up, and the sales guy had no choice but to turn off the money machine. As the fan wound down, all the whirling money fell to the floor around Joey, except for a single one dollar bill that landed on his head. Everyone was absolutely silent, and the sales guy shame-facedly opened the door. As Joey stood up, the one dollar bill that had landed on his head fell off and fluttered to the floor.

The sales guy didn't know what to do. He couldn't proceed with his usual shtick of getting Joey to count the money and announcing it triumphantly, because Joey obviously didn't have any money. What was he supposed to do? Announce "That's right! ZZEEERROOO dollars!" He looked confused, almost broken. Joey didn't wait around, and just went straight back to where he was sitting without a word.

Like I said, I didn't know him, and I never did get a chance to talk to him about it. My assumption has always been that the whole thing was calculated from the beginning. That he had such a great disdain for the whole thing that he resolved to sell more magazines than anyone (which is a pretty big feat, given how into it some kids got) just so that he could have that moment in the money machine.

I don't know what the real story is, and I don't know what ever happened to Joey Allegra. But Joey, wherever you are, I hope you're still bringing hope to those staring down the money machines of the world.

Moxie Marlinspike

© 2012 Moxie Marlinspike