The Automat


I saw a silent film a few years ago. I don’t remember the title; it was probably about fifteen minutes in length. The photraphy was shot in black and white. It was not a pre-talkie; the silent feature and the lack of color were important special effects. The story would have to support itself:   

And  the cameras begin to roll……………….

An expensively attired, middle-aged woman is seen entering The Automat. She peers into several windows, puts money into the slot, removes her food selection – let’s say it was pork chops and broccoli; she spots an empty table and seats herself. Then, realizing that she failed to select eating utensils she rises from her seat and walks to the counter containing the necessary extras. As she returns to her table she sees a man in a shabby suit seated there, eating her food. Several expressions cross her face in quick succession; surprise, anger, pity and finally a sort of resolve. She seats herself opposite the haggard looking and apparently hungry, consumer and again displays the conflicting emotions. Should I allow him to eat my food(?) she seems to ask herself, or should I stand my ground(?).

She places her utensils on the table and reaches for the plate of food. As she begins to eat, her newly acquired dinner companion extends an arm and rescues his meal. They look at each other, he with curious eyes, she with the look of strength and determination. She repeats her previous performance as does the ragged gentleman on the other side of the booth. What now(?) they seem to wonder.

Eventually, it is the man who appears to have the problem solved. Clearly, he is not going to relinquish his claim on the meal but he also appears to be something of a gentleman in spite of skid row appearance. He places the plate of food at a point halfway between them and motions for her to partake of some nourishment. She slowly and with a cautious look and manner, complies. He then carves the pork chop and with the edge of his knife moves a few pieces in her direction. With his fork he places a morsel of meat into his mouth and motions for her to do the same.

What, I wondered would motivate this woman to give in so easily? What would I have done in a similar situation? In a matter of only a few minutes the food is nearly consumed by these two people. She moves the plate toward her dinner partner and rises to leave. He thanks her with his eyes and with the wave of his hand and a final tap of the napkin on the corner of his mouth seems to be saying “No thank you, I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Thank you for joining me; have a wonderful day.”

She returns his smile. They turn their backs to each other and depart, each exiting in different directions. As she passes the booth situated directly behind the location of her meal of moments ago, she notices a plate of pork chops and broccoli with no utensils; there was no one seated before it.


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