A Rube Goldberg machine is a deliberately over-complicated mechanism that performs a simple task, named for the cartoonist Goldberg who sketched them in the 1930s. Goldberg’s cartoons were popular satires ridiculing the machine age when patents were churning out mechanized conveniences for consumers.


Take his “Self-Operating Napkin”


By Rube Goldberg – Originally published in Collier’s, September 26 1931, Public Domain

The “Self-Operating Napkin” is activated when soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C), which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and ignites lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M), allowing pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.

All the man has to do is raise the napkin to his chin to wipe his mouth himself. Goldberg mocked our extravagant ambition to make life conveniently simple.


Goldberg’s humor still exists in both fictional and actual form.

What first comes to mind are products like the Elite Cuisine Hot Dog Toaster, available through Target. Just visit Sky Mall’s website: to find more absurd products intended to simply you’re life, like the Automatic Ball Launcher. For $150, you’ll never have to play fetch with your pup again.

Or take the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids, where the inventor played by Rick Moranis comes up with contraptions that cook for the family and feed the dog.

I can laugh with these products and gags. But I can also relate more personally to the complex system that struggles needlessly to complete a simple task: my brain.


My mind can be a wonderland of unnecessary gears and pulleys when it tries the simple action of not drinking.

After I got married, a colleague of mine who didn’t know I’m alcoholic brought me a bottle of wine as a gift. He gave it to me Friday after school.

The Rube-Goldberg machine that is my mind activated:

It (A) was too awkward for me to tell him he gave a bottle of wine to an alcoholic so I (B) did the normal thing and placed it in my bag. As it was the end of the day, I (C) went home, leaving the bottle in my work bag. The next day I (D) realized there was a bottle of wine sitting in my bag and (E) began to flip out. I then (F) contemplated going to back to work that night to (G) dispose of the bottle so I would not be tempted when I return to work. Driving to work that night, I (H) realized I should (I) call my sponsor on this one in case I’m about to (J) screw something up. My sponsor (K) told me “turn around and go home to your wife.” I (L) said “OK” and (K) asked “what do I do?”

My sponsor then informed me to not worry about it. But the next time the bottle is in my hands, throw it in the trash. What I realize now is that my sponsor was saving me from sneaking into my place of work on a Saturday night to be alone in the dark with a bottle of wine.

Our mind’s are complicated. I find that those simple dogmatic phrases like “don’t drink” and “call your sponsor” and “keep coming back” will save my life if I let them.

12 Responses to “Machination

  • colin chatburn
    1 year ago

    great stuff mark.trying to simplify life.take every thing down to three bullet points.3 bits of information should be enuf for any task.yep,steve jobs was on the money with.make it simple,then simplify it.

  • How on earth could you sneaking into you’re place of employment, alone, with a bottle of booze in a bag, be construed as a badthing?

    Love you man. Good stuff as always.

  • Keep it simple. When I first got into the rooms of my program I was miffed. “Really?! This is all you people have?! Keep it simple?” I felt like I was dying and if not me, then life as I had known it was certainly coming to its demise. Little did I know that that was exactly what was supposed to happen and it would lead to my freedom. I have grown to love the simplicity of my program. Do what’s right in front of me, keep it simple, let go. And Rube Goldberg…we had to MAKE a RG machine for school one year, for a project. That was right up there with the science fair. ? As your usual…this is such a great post, great reminder to live simply.

  • Nice vignette on the complications we enmesh our brains into. You and I have talked about the fact that addicts and alcoholics DO think differently than others. This essay is one sample of many that we who have been given the gift of alcoholism need to keep in mind our naturally histrionic responses to rather simple things. Good job calling your sponsor. It’s funny, really . . . if one of my sponsees had called me, I would have given similar advice. However, if I were placed in the same situation there is no doubt I would have reacted similarly to you. Nicely written piece, Mark. Keep on keeping on. – DDM

    • It is a strange truth. We can see it so easily in others but not ourselves. I like that you refer to it as “the gift of alcoholism”. I think there’s a lot of good ideas that could stem from that statement. When we transform weakness to strength, just how strong we can become! Thanks for the feedback.

  • Yogi said “when you come to the fork in the road, take it.” In some cases it’s not always an option. ilovesaintpaul123, the incarcerated letter writer says it best, “Keep on keeping on.”

    • Togi Berra right? I love that quote. I guess for me it’s if you come to a wine bottle in the road, throw it away! Thanks for your comment.

  • john spence
    1 year ago

    Loved reading this, witty with a very serious point. You are extremely good at this Mk. Love it, best john 2flags

  • They called it “Analysis Paralysis” when I first began trying to re-learn how to think. Great post, Mark.

  • Wisdom … another one of those things I will earn (“time takes time”). Always a great post. I’ve been sick with a sinus head thingy and my task each day has been to breathe. Why can’t I remember this when I’m healthy? Geez.

  • I am afraid that I once drank after work hours in my classroom.
    Reading this post reminded me!
    I also used to bring bottles from home to school to throw out so my hubs didn’t find them!
    Wrapped up in brown paper.
    I am SO happy I don’t drink any more!!

  • The Rube Goldberg wake up machine in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure remains one of my favorite things, but not so much the real-life brain variety. Overthinking is an ongoing challenge and rarely as fun as a Rube Goldberg contraption. I like how you pulled someone in to help.

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