How many readers out there still remember The Automat? It was a restaurant in New York where you never had to bother interacting with anyone. There were just rows and rows of machines filled with different kinds of food. You just put coins in, opened a little window and got what you wanted. You could get anything from a Salisbury steak to a slice of apple pie.
Of course,there were actual people preparing the food. But they were on the other side of the machines filing up the little windows. You did not have to see them or make fake polite conversation or even nod to them. That make it the perfect restaurant for New York.
By the time I was frequenting The Automat it was long past its glory days. It had become a very sleazy place whose main attraction was that it was open 24 hours.
What I remember most was a time I was there at 2AM. There were only about 10 people in the restaurant and they were spread out as far away as possible from each other. It was completely silent with not even any annoying background music.
At one very large round table sat a middle aged woman with grey hair. The table was completely filled with stacks of papers and tax forms. She was pounding away furiously on a small calculator. Along with the papers and tax forms, her table was littered with empty coffee cups. I could not help counting the cups to see how much caffeine she had ingested. I counted 15 empty coffee cups.
Then without any warning the woman jumped up from her chair, threw a stack of papers into the air and started screaming at the top of her lungs, “It doesn’t balance! It doesn’t balance!”
Since it was New York City, none of the people at any of the other tables paid the slightest attention to her. No employees emerged from behind the machines, and people did not even look up from their own food to glance at her. She continued screaming for about four minutes and then sat back down with a big sigh and began once again pounding on her calculator.
I finished my own food and left The Automat. As I left, I realized that it was the morning of April 15 – Tax Day. The caffeine charged woman still had about 22 hours to balance her taxes and get them filed before the Midnight deadline.
I always wondered if she got the figures to balance. I don’t think so.