Make yourself at home

Quarters for green rubber junk? Step right up

Luke's adventures in Walmart, featuring coin-op happiness machines.

Luke spent his hard-earned money, and apparently some of mine, on this creepy rubber face of happiness. Photo by Brian McMillan
Luke spent his hard-earned money, and apparently some of mine, on this creepy rubber face of happiness. Photo by Brian McMillan
  • Palm Coast Observer
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In today’s age of credit cards and tap-to-pay, there is something alluring about a purely mechanical procurement process: coin-op toy machines. 

This is what inspired Luke, my 5-year-old son, to accompany my wife, Hailey, and me on a recent trip to Walmart. Usually, he only comes if we promise to buy doughnuts at the end. Today, a fistful of quarters was burning a hole in his pocket. 

At the entrance, there they were: about 10 different machines designed to swallow your savings whole. The bottom row promised bubble gumballs for a quarter apiece. But he wanted the toys on the second row.

“Those are two quarters each,” Hailey told him.

Luke was dejected, sensing — even without knowing too much about math — that his toy haul was no longer a paradisiacal bounty but instead a carnival-game gamble.

But Hailey had planned ahead, saving the day. “That’s why I gave you some of our quarters, so you would have enough,” she added.

“Wait, what?!?” I asked. “Who approved this?”

But it was too late. Luke had stepped right up.

He slipped two quarters in the slots. He turned the crank, and presto! Like magic, he now had a little grotesque piece of junk: a green, rubbery face of a creepy old man that can perch on your pinky. 

The rest of the trip to Walmart went downhill from there. Luke held onto several other quarters for several aisles, but then exclaimed, “Ugh!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He pointed to a clothing rack full of men’s basketball shorts, and it was clear: One of his quarters had rolled under the display.

As I crawled on the floor with my cell phone flashlight to help him look, he let out another “Ugh!” Down went another quarter, rolling away, this time under a pallet of potato chips in the middle of the walkway. Just like that, a whole green-rubber face’s worth of quarters had disappeared.

He was, again, devastated. But there was more to it. As I studied the expression on his face, frozen under the bright Walmart lights, I saw that he was also a little afraid — of displeasing me.

In that moment, I wished I could be a little more like Hailey, a little more willing to forget about practicality and instead freely donate a few quarters to the coin-op happiness machine.

We gave up on finding the quarters and finished our shopping, only to find another row of coin-op contraptions on the way out. And, after one of them inexplicably “ate” the first quarter, Luke put in two more and came away with another gem: a dinosaur that is split open down the spine so that it can be stretched by the neck and flung through the air like a rubber band, like a quarter hurtling through space, never to be seen again.


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