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Written by Michael Braun
The escalator is the central element of the story, and it serves as a symbol of the routine life that most people have. Howie, for example, used to walk on escalators, but now that he has to use them several times a day the task has become so repetitive and tiring that he welcomes the short breaks he can take from walking. Moreover, even though the escalator stairs are moving, the machine itself always stands at the same place, which may be an allusion to life moving in circles without actually progressing.
Howie realizes how dull his life is when he decides to order a stamp with his address on it so that he can pay his bills faster. Therefore, the stamp symbolizes the monotone life of the average office worker who is stuck in the repetitive circle of working and paying bills.
The Vending Machine
Howie thinks that vending machines are an allusion to office buildings, with the exception that the goods, "unlike life-sized elevator cars, never made stops at intermediate floors, but fell when summoned straight down to lobbies and foyers of varying design." Apart from their outer appearance, which resembles the glass facades of modern office buildings, they could also be seen as a symbol of the modern corporate world where clients spend money to receive goods or services, and the workers inside the buildings are replaceable just like the items in a vending machine.
The business cards in the story are a symbol of the value of an office worker in a large corporation. According to Howie, a stack of a thousand business cards is handed to every new employee, but only a handful of them are actually used--and out of those, most are given to relatives. Therefore, he concludes that they are a way to make new employees feel valuable, which quickly turns ironic when the employees discover that they will not have any significant networking opportunities that might warrant such a large number of business cards. In fact, the only reason why workers are given a thousand cards is that it is cheaper for the company to order them in bulk, and that it has nothing to do with the potential the company sees for the employee.
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