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The money machine

After the money machine card slot had nearly swallowed his tie, Wheer would go to one only in desperation. When he did, uncommon questions appeared on the printout screen - lights flashed, buzzers buzzed, deposit envelopes flew around. Customers waiting at one money machine sent Wheer seeking another. When he was alone, shoving his card into the slot, and tapping out his pin number, a crowd gathered - a crowd that watched open-mouthed when he fled the whirring, clunking , paper-strewn maelstrom.

We counseled Wheer that the tie incident was one of those things and could never happen again. Wheer improved a little: Tongues of cloud and flame no longer mushroomed over him at the control panel, nor were there the momentary storms. Yet progress was slow. It was time for Safire to take control of the money machines!

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After more counseling of Wheer by Bender, Magrew, and me, the four of us (the sun new above the rim of the shopping center) gave a small hopeful cheer and pushed him out of the car toward the vacant money machine. We watched Wheer insert his card, tap out his pin number, and read the instructions on the printout screen - instructions so simple a child could follow them. A sudden crush of customers grew impatient. Wheer threw up his hands: Deposit slips whirled, envelopes revolved, buzzers buzzed. Wheer ran toward us moaning through the throng of astonished customers.

After the final customer had concluded her transaction with tedious perfection, picked up her groceries, taken the dogs' leashes, and collected the children and gone, Magrew and Bender went to divert traffic and I returned with Wheer to the money machine. I put in my card, punched out my pin number, and made my withdrawal with boring ease - Wheer drinking in the spectacle. ''Now you do it, Wheer,'' I ordered. A faint flicker, a weak buzz, a single levitating deposit slip, and Wheer made a withdrawal.

''It works,'' Wheer sighed, ''when you're here and a crowd isn't.''

After a few optimistic words I left and waited flat against the bank building - out of sight of Wheer, yet within calling distance should a genuine money machine emergency arise. Mechanical grumble, fierce flare like a zap: ''It nearly got my tie again!'' Wheer cried out, running to me. ''I can't do it!''

''You can!'' I commanded, steering him back to the money machine. ''Go for the gold!'' I charged, returning to my vigil. The eerie glow and clamor continued briefly, then something like flowers growing happened, and Wheer became like anybody else using a money machine. A laughing Wheer emerged from the money machine enclosure waving five dollars.

The final test had to be a business-as-usual use of the money machine, and at my signal Magrew and Bender stood aside and the press queued at the money machine. Wheer and I solemnly slapped hands, and a gulping Wheer marched off, merging near the front of the line, and was soon next. Straightening his shoulders, Wheer stepped boldly to the money machine and inserted his card and tapped out his pin number. A great rumble and profound tintinnabulation, sonorous vibrations, and blazes of multicolored illumination - and Wheer halted.

''Go for the gold!'' Magrew, Bender, and I implored. Wheer briefly looked at the sky, seized determination, and returned to the task. A minute later Wheer came forth from the money machine cubicle, twenty dollars clenched in his raised fist, looking like a marathon runner crossing the finish line. A modern hero!

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But now Wheer went to all the money machines, bragging about his skill. He wore his largest ties, cut into line, and performed tacky and flamboyant maneuvers on the control panel. Now Magrew, Bender, and I strove to teach Wheer a proper humility.

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