You see them at the portals of shopping establishments. Mechanisms containing candy or cheap prizes which dispense them for the price of inserting small change.

Children are especially susceptible to these small change bandits, with their cranking knobs and randomly released surprises.  The displays promise cool little toys or a delicious flavor experience if only you will take the plunge!

Usually what you get is predetermined—only different kinds of rubber balls or a figure from a collection—or the prize is lame.  You wanted the cheap metal skull ring and got a plastic pink smiley face instead.  The gum is good for about five seconds and then turns to sticky, tasteless wall sealant.  Sometimes, the machine doesn’t give you anything at all.

What a rip off!

Teaches a valuable lesson, however, doesn’t it? Beware of getting ripped off! All is not as it seems.

Yet we return again and again, hoping this time will be different.  Sometimes you get a halfway decent prize or experience, and then your parents are tired of waiting for you or don’t have any more change.

Oh yeah, this was like a religious observance for me. And there are many permutations of the gumball machine experience let me tell you!

One time at a Hardee’s hamburger joint, I discovered the back door so to speak.  The gumball machine only worked with tokens that you had to obtain by ordering something.

This particular gumball machine was enclosed in a kind of decoration, with the front flush to an opening where you accessed the machine.  I found that my arm was thin and wiry enough to reach up and down between the gap.

This enabled me to grab handfuls of prizes at a time!  I managed to fill my pockets before an employee noticed the crowd of kids watching me in awe and chased me out. Those prizes were some of the best I ever got too.

Then there are times when you come across a machine and everything you get is cool.  Neat stuff on a roll, and you run out of change.  When you come back the next day, however, the machine is gone!  Rip off!  But you still got some good loot, so it’s not a total rip off.

One time in Japan, in a remote mountain village I came across a gumball machine with small metal medieval weapons. Alas, I only had enough change to get three of these super cool items! Then I had to go and I couldn’t come back, due to my traveling schedule.  That’s how it goes!

In a sense, the gumball machine is a manifestation of the monstrance, that container that holds the sacred host.  It’s not unlike a dragon guarding treasure, or a form of the ordeal you face when you go on an adventure.

You pay your fare and take your chances. What is released is what you need—a tiny companion, a tool of play, a moment of sweetness—these are no small thing when one adventures in the depths of the soul! The worthless, useless thing turns out to be the most important of all.

These mechanisms may have been invented to separate children from their parent’s money in exchange for some “magic beans”, but even the charlatan may find themselves peddling rather more serious wares when destiny takes an intervening hand.

Everywhere you go, machines of meditation, teaching lessons as surely as any Kung Fu master to those who will listen. The time may come when we see how advanced these pieces of technology really are.