The first punch felt good. In fact, the first several punches felt good.

It felt like Joe was releasing something that had been buried deep within. Then he tried a kick, which didn’t go so well. The next thing he knew he was being slammed to the ground by two hefty guys.

Joe rubbed the back of his head, feeling the bump caused by the scuffle. Looking at the court papers in front of him, though, left him feeling frustrated and angry.

The day had started off well. Arriving at work early, Joe had gotten a lot of work done. He even spent an extra half hour organizing his report with divider tabs and a nice report cover. He was certain this was going to be the most impressive report he had submitted yet. One that he was sure his boss would recognize and call out to the rest of the team.

The report was simply a summary of last month’s commission payments by region, an assignment his peers would have barely spent a half hour completing. But Joe’s reports were always a step beyond with charts, tables and graphics.

After dropping the report off at his bosses desk Joe decided to grab a bite to eat. The weather was perfect for a quick stroll to the the nearby mall. Joe figured the exercise would feel good and the food court would offer plenty of options for his yet-undecided appetite.

Even his lunch went well. Finally deciding upon the Kung-pao chicken from China Kitchen, Joe found a nice table by the fountain. He alternated between eating, watching the water blast from the center of the fountain and reading his book – a paperback copy of Moby Dick.

The end of lunch, though, seemed to be the end of the good day. He wasn’t sure if it was the iced tea he had for lunch or forty minutes of listening to the fountain, but either way he had to make a stop in the rest room.  In retrospect, Joe wished he had gone back to the office and used that restroom instead.

After washing his hands, Joe walked over to the paper towel dispenser and waved his hand. Waving at a towel dispenser had always seemed strange to Joe, but technology was now in control. If you want a paper towel you have to wave. There was even a sticker on the dispenser showing how to wave – a fact that seemed insulting to Joe’s intelligence.

After waving about five times, Joe finally gave up and shook the water from his hands. As he turned to go he noticed a middle-aged man in a blue suit walk up and receive a towel on his first wave. Since the machine was apparently now working, Joe walked over and waved. No towel. Joe tried several more times without success.

By this time there was a teenager standing there waiting for a paper towel. Frustrated, Joe stepped back and motioned for him to go ahead. Stupid kid, Joe thought. Can’t you see that the machine isn’t working?

The kid waved his hand in front of the dispenser and out shot a towel. Joe was livid. He hit the machine with the palm of his hand, causing the boy to jump back with his eyes opened wide.

Joe did not notice the boy leave as he was busy waving at the machine in an attempt to get a towel. By this time his hands were dry, but that didn’t matter. It was the principle of the matter. The machine was ignoring him.

Joe had taken a few steps back looking at the machine when another man, about Joe’s age, walked up, waved and retrieved a towel. Joe looked the man over. He reminded Joe of his younger brother Sam- slim and athletic with fairly good looks. Joe wondered if this man got through high school only because he could play sports like Sam did.

Joe watched a few more men walk up and retrieve towels without any problem. Joe didn’t notice the feelings coming over him, but somehow he was taken back to his youth. It was like watching his brothers laugh and joke with his dad while he felt ignored and invisible. The perfect grades, the science fair ribbons, even his debate club trophy all garnered nothing more than a simple “That’s nice, son” from his dad.

Then it happened. After watching another towel being dispensed on the first try, Joe jumped at the dispenser. Knocking the man out of the way as he went, Joe punched the machine. After a few punches the machine was cracked but still no towel yielded from the slot on bottom. To Joe it seemed like only a few seconds, but the police report indicated that he had hit the machine several dozen times over a few minutes before mall security arrived and tackled him to the floor.

Now sitting at his kitchen table reviewing the report Joe felt better. The rage had subsided even if the bruises and bumps had not. But looking at the police report in front of him he couldn’t shake the feeling that the dispenser had won.