Digital witness to a half-liter of carbonated 23-flavored bliss


There stood Roland Turner, at the crossroads of a cataclysmic decision. Paralyzed by indecisiveness’s vise grip, his eyes were fixed on the glowing Dr. Pepper machine in front of him. For just as the drink dispenser’s incandescence beckoned his eager hand to his dollar-filled pocket, his mind recalled the vow he made to give up soda for Lent.

Daniel Hojnacki

Daniel Hojnacki

But as soon as this betraying notion entered his mind, that same mind began to summon a litany of reasons why this promise was ridiculous.

After all this time of drinking soda without a second’s thought, it made no sense that he stop now. It would be like quitting cigarettes on his deathbed. But of course, the bed itself is merely a metaphor, the mattress and spring symbolic of any surrounding we’re trapped in that casts a net of futility over our pursuits. I mean, Roland thought, death could strike me tonight and then this whole 40-day promise will have been pointless. Doesn’t the Earth itself end up as our enveloping deathbed? Knowing that, isn’t it laughably purposeless to give up any vice?

And beyond that, Roland thought, do I have anything to prove to God? He didn’t really believe that God had a tally sheet marking every broken Lenten pledge. Nor did he believe that breaking this one self-imposed rule would be a mark against his morality. He was one tiny infinitesimal droplet in the vast ocean of eternity. Amidst all that, how could the unspoken vow of one man hold any significance? Especially when there seemed to be no earthly rewards for living a moral life and no visible consequences for failing to.

The torso killer was never caught, but they nailed Christ to the sky. And it didn’t escape Roland that if he had been raised in Nepal or some such ungodly place, this vending machine wouldn’t contain a series of traps that can swell his stomach, raise his cholesterol, and lower his self-worth. If he had been, the very presence of the machine would be like a melting glacier to his parching throat. But Roland was not raised in Nepal. He was the manager of an Ohio sub shop and would most likely continue to be for the rest of his life, so he knew that if there was a point to life he had missed it. But in his 46 years of living and philosophizing, he had come to a conclusion. God didn’t trouble himself with making sure torso killers hang or immoral countries have natural disasters. Surely, thought Roland, the entire notion of karma on earth was a fallacy.

Such were the lofty thoughts of Roland Turner as he stood before the glowing Dr. Pepper machine in a dimly lit Quizno’s in Toledo, Ohio.

As for karma after his life, he didn’t believe his decision in this moment could jeopardize his soul, that pressing a button on a vending machine could somehow tip his metaphysical scales in favor of damnation. No, Roland thought. Life is one expansive moral minefield, and I have taken all the right steps. He had never killed or raped, or even seriously thought of doing either.

He never even joined in with his co-workers when they mocked the new trainee’s rumored promiscuity. Sure, she was confident in her dress, one could argue overconfident, but he resisted the temptation to cast a judgmental eye her way. And reserving his judgment allowed him to notice things like the way that Sara, the assistant, always let out a mirthless laugh when she talked of something tragic. Roland had keen senses that were always noticing little things like mirthless laughter.

Furthermore, thought Roland, he never treated his colleagues at the sub-shop like they were beneath him. Of course, he had always thought that they were. He even noted that it seemed unfair that of all these people he should have such a monopoly on cleverness. But he treated them as equals, though he knew his wit could crush them, holding back the bitterness he bore for the lack of a better destiny he knew he deserved. His every conversation with them was out of pity. And because unless you’re the actor, it’s impossible to tell and act of kindness and an act of pity apart, everyone he worked with thought him especially kind. Of course these things made him morally sound. But at that moment, Roland wasn’t being tested on his moral solidarity, his capacity for withholding judgment, or his ability to detect distinctive tics. Only Roland’s discipline was on trial.

But what an insulting joke it would be to compare his minuscule struggle of will to the one that prompted Lent in the first place. Roland couldn’t picture himself on a forty-day fast in the desert any more than he could imagine Christ counting calories. And to what end was his abstinence? So that he could brandish a self-satisfied smirk when he witnessed the weaker wills of soda drinkers in action? To look at the gluttons around him that lay about like land mines on the field of his ambition, to look at them and shout joyfully “I’m not him!” and make that his sole achievement for the day? There is no such thing as nobility in discipline, thought Roland, only the interminable decision between self-righteousness and self-indulgence. And was that smug motive really worth denying himself a half-liter of carbonated 23-flavored bliss?

But this episode’s sole witness did not see or hear anything about karma, metaphysical scales, or a calorie-counting Christ. All the security camera saw was the the lone paunchy figure of Roland Turner downing a vending machine Dr. Pepper.

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