A former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly now works on the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune. He also contributes a regular column.
If you've never had a close relationship with the U.S. Navy, chances are you're not familiar with the word “gedunk.”

It's pronounced GEE-dunk, spelled with one “E” or two — and it refers to the canteen or snack bar of a ship or base frequented by sailors. It also can refer to the stuff one acquires in said gedunk bar, or from the gedunk machines. And according to my friends at Wikipedia, it can even be used to identify one working in such an area — such as that “geedunk guy” or “geedunk girl.”

“The origin of the word is uncertain,” says one of the anonymous experts who make the free online encyclopedia tick, though it was pointed out that the term first appeared in Leatherneck Magazine in 1931. “One theory suggests the name is derived from the 'gee-dunk' sound that vending machines made when operated. Another theory is that the term is derived from the comic strip 'Harold Teen,' in which Harold eats Gedunk sundaes at the local soda shop. Yet another theory suggests that the word's origin is from a Chinese word meaning 'place of idleness.'

“The gedunk bar was usually open for longer hours than the mess. Such bars were stocked with a wide variety of consumables such as snacks, soft drinks and fresh coffee. In the 21st century, sailors and Marines continue to call a place where snacks are for sale a 'gedunk bar' or 'gedunk machine' and refer to the snacks themselves as 'gedunk.'”

So much for the educational part of our discussion. What I really wanted to talk about is the new snack machines they've put in the lunchroom of my office. They took out the conventional candy-and-snack and pop machines and replaced them with something way fancier.

“We are pleased to announce the addition of a new concept in workplace food service called Avanti Markets,” our HR director explained in an email last month. “It will be like a convenience style store that provides a large variety of fresh food meal options such as salads/sandwiches, fresh fruits, snacks and a variety of beverage choices with self-service, cashless checkout.”

All I could think was, oh my god, we're getting new gedunk machines!

Well, they're here now, and life has become a little more complicated than digging up coins or dollar bills to feed the old vending monsters.

This new set-up all revolves around a fancy ATM-type machine just inside the door. It waits there in all its gleaming wonderfulness, shining like a Wurlitzer jukebox. The gedunks (the chips, cookies, candy, sandwiches, salads and everything else) are all around the room, in glass-front coolers, in racks, shelves, baskets and other assorted display devices. You just grab what you want, scan it at the big jukebox, pay with either a debit card or your special Avanti card — and away you go.

Cool, right?

“You realize we have a whole frickin' 7-Eleven in our lunchroom now,” said one of my co-workers the day they installed everything.

As you may have discerned, this entire thing operates on the honor system — sort of.

I say sort of because they don't trust us completely to do the right thing. That's why they installed two cameras on the ceiling. Now, like the sneaky surveillance guys in Vegas, somebody can keep an eye on our lunch room and, presumably, have a video record to consult when the beef jerky and pepperoni starts disappearing too fast.

Which is not a bad idea. I still remember back in the 1980s, when we had something called Honor Snacks at the Lake Oswego Review office. There was NEVER a time when the vender hadn't attached a note saying, “Users owe Honor Snacks $17.50” or $21.75, or whatever the amount was that week. In other words, it didn't seem anybody ever paid anything for the stuff.

It got so embarrassing I would make a practice of paying for my 50-cent item with a dollar and just poke it into the hole in the cardboard box provided.

The new gedunk system at my office is also not unlike the honor bar you find in your nicer hotels (except, of course, you can't get beer, wine or vodka in our lunchroom).

Fortunately, unlike the honor bar at the Heathman Hotel — where I had a “misunderstanding” over whether a $10 bag of peanuts was complimentary or not — the stuff in our lunchroom does not cost a small fortune.

And that's the way it should be. I don't even want to live in a world where gedunks are so expensive that a lowly sailor can't afford 'em.

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