September 9, 2018 ᛫ 10 min

Irwin Dining Hall Toasters

I wrote this satirical essay at the beginning of my spring trimester senior English course 'Essays of Reflection.' It was originally entitled The Allegory of the Machine.

Sitting amid a fine layer of bread dust and toasted bagel crumbs are the two toasters of Irwin Dining Hall. Invariably and inexplicably, small groups of Crescent girls tend to use, and subsequently block, the toaster closer to the table of fruits and spreads. For this very reason, I instead steer myself several kilometers away to the vacant toaster that rests on the middle of the table. I am quite fond of this relatively lonely toaster, despite its loose knobs that dangle uselessly from their sockets and its silence when I try to make small talk with the machine.

It is a brisk, sunny Saturday afternoon when I am enlightened by this singularly aged toaster. I am dismissed early from class, which means I can arrive to Irwin early and beat the excruciatingly slow lunch line. I arrive to discover that Irwin is serving eggplant parmesan and leftover pasta, the former of which I disdain. As I contemplate my options, the thundering stampede of overzealous IInd Formers storming up the stairs means I have little time left to contemplate. If I am to not starve to death in the line, then the basic yet reliable deli bar would have to suffice for today.

I arrive to find a group of girls are already loading the nearest toaster with bagels. I suppose the eggplant parmesan was particularly unappealing today, because a band of toaster refugees had to even flee from the overpopulated near toaster to the far toaster--my toaster. I grab two whole wheat slices and manage to delicately insert them.

Ten...twenty...thirty seconds pass. The toast should have already popped out now. I peer into the gaping innards and was horrified by the ghastly spectacle: the sesame bagel that entered the toaster before my bread was jammed between the back wall of the machine and the conveyor belt. Blocked, my bread is aimlessly pushed backwards by the bagel and then pulled forwards by the belt. It was a pathetic sight, like an abandoned beach ball being carried back and forth by the tide. I instantly sense my fate is grim. Thin wisps of dark gray smoke are beginning to rise from the back grate of the machine. Oh God, the neighboring Crescent girls are beginning to notice my troubles. Sushi is in at the Jigger while supplies last, my phone reminds me.

I fiddle with the knobs to reduce the heat, only to remember the knobs are loose and obsolete. I search desperately for a switch to shut the toaster off entirely, to no avail. The owner of the guilty bagel presumably finds me awkwardly looking into a smoking toaster and decides to instead eat eggplant parmesan. I steady myself for the inevitable rescue, a cause I now deemed worth fighting for, if necessary all lunch, if necessary alone.

First, I probe a reconnaissance fork to try and reach my bread, but it fails because it is far too short. I then run to grab a pair of chopsticks, hoping that their superior length can rescue my now surely blackened bread. This too fails. My final apparatus are two pairs of chopsticks, one pair stuffed into the sleeve of the other like a telescope. The Irwin staff are suspicious, but my anguished body language must have repelled them. I return with my chopsticks to find the toaster has completed its metamorphosis into a steam locomotive, billowing the acrid stench of burnt bread into the air. In a futile Herculean effort, I plunge my contraption into the mechanism and try to spear my now hard lumps of coal. And to my profound disappointment, my invention is still too short.

I am defeated. But then quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, an Irwin staff member ambles over, grabs the toaster, and gently tips it forward to reveal shriveled shards of burnt toast and bagel that now lie in front of my stupefied eyes.

Perhaps my struggle to retrieve a slice of toast seems incredibly ridiculous and insignificant. But it is a grave symptom of a serious problem we students face; so often, we achieve a simple task in a needlessly complicated way. We are stressed; we are frustrated; we are under the leaden pressure of grades and college and family and life. It is not a conscious choice to think this way; it becomes a hardened instinct. We agonize and procrastinate over math problems that ultimately can be deftly solved or essay prompts that appear harder than they seem. We worry about how to ask somebody out, or conversely, how to end a relationship. We overthink how to remove toast. Fundamentally, we lack the self-awareness and ability to suspend our distorted perspectives for a moment. To become so engrossed in your daily affairs and ignorant of simplicity is to overcomplicate and panic. It is to not see the solution so clearly waving its hands and to not hear it stomping its feet. Toasters break and children panic.