The Spanking Machine
by Salvatore Attardo
Salvatore Attardo was born in Belgium and was raised in Sicily and Northern Italy. He was educated in Italy and the US. He currently lives in NE Texas. His poetry and translations have appeared in various magazines, including The Tampa Review, Harpur Palate, Whiskey Island, The Arroyo Review, CadillacCicatrix, Quiddity, Rust + Moth, Bateau, Main Channel Voices, and others.
The story of the spanking machine is inextricably tied to the history of my family. My father was the youngest of nine children. My uncle Alfonzo, the first born, was a sickly child. My grandmother, Nonna Alfonza, coddled him, cooking special dishes and generally treating him better than the other children.
This special treatment, according to family lore, engendered a fundamental weakness of the spirit, which prevented him from successfully controlling his brood of five children. Ferdinando, my father, had no problem maintaining discipline with my sister and me, and this was taken as a sign that he should be able to transfer the skills honed on his own children to Alfonzo's. "Naną, nun si ni po cchił." said Nonna Alfonza, which translates roughly into "Ferdinando, this is unbearable." She did not need to finish the sentence.
My father, faced with the prospect of seven unruly children aged anywhere between eight and two years old, running screaming around the table, told us that if we did not behave he'd get the spanking machine and let us have it. My cousins, my sister, and I were duly cowed into submission.
The spanking machine became a family legend. It was trotted out at every holiday dinner: the family would gather at Nonno and Nonna's; tables would be set, and the food would arrive. This being Sicily, there were many such dinners and they lasted all day. Inevitably, we kids would get rowdy; my father would threaten to get the spanking machine, and things would settle down—at least for a bit.
Soon however, some of the older kids started getting suspicious: How come we never saw this machine? And, how exactly did it work? My father was quick to explain that the apparatus consisted of an upside-down bicycle rear wheel to which wooden slats had been applied. By rotating the pedals with one hand, while holding a child in the appropriate position, which would bring slats and bottoms in contact, a good spanking could be administered. Variation of speed would produce different degrees of spanking, ranging from a lazy "Spring-time ride in the meadows" to a posterior-warming "Tour de France end-of-stage sprint."
This made sense, but I recall thinking that two adults would probably be needed for proper operation. This meant, of course, a potential weakness in the setup, since a well-trained, practiced group of children could escape during the inevitable coordination issues that would arise among the adults.
Years later, Gaia, my very American daughter who has never been spanked once in her life, was both enormously amused and somewhat scared by the idea of the spanking machine. I first told her the story when she was three years old, when I was explaining to her that my father had spanked me many times, but that did not mean he did not love me. She laughed at the explanation, then got a little uneasy and asked "It does not exist, right?"
"Of course not" I laughed. She was reassured.
"Mind you, I bet you could build one real easy," I continued. She looked at me with big eyes, a little worried. "It would be an improved model," I improvised. "We'd call it the Spank-o-Matic 2000." Gaia had caught on with the game by now. "How is it improved?" she wanted to know. I gave her the obvious answer: you put a motor on it, so there's no need to hand-crank the thing, and the two-person operation problem is solved.
I called my father later that week and told him that I had improved the spanking machine and described the improvements. He was pleased that the family tradition was being passed on. The spanking machine survived the divorce, the dark years when I saw Gaia only for the summers and her birthday, and fully blossomed again when she moved in with me at the age of eleven.
At that time, I was working a couple of days a week as the studio assistant of Tony Armeni, a metal sculptor who specializes in large kinetic pieces. One piece we were working on involved a large horizontal steel circle which rotated over a base of convoluted twists of metal beveled moldings. To this circle were attached various other pieces of steel, some with sharp protruding edges. These we had covered with old worn out work gloves, to avoid ripping our clothes catching a sharp bit. One afternoon, Gaia happened into Tony's studio after her ceramics class, took one look at the apparatus, which Tony was spinning to show off its different sides, and proclaimed that she'd never set foot in the studio again as long as the feared spanking machine was in there. This was the only time the spanking machine acquired physical form, unless one counts various contraptions on sale on the Internet, for the use of the masochist community, which are remote from and unrelated to the only "real" spanking machine―ours.
The machine remained our faithful companion well into Gaia's teenage years. Of course, as any self-respecting product, it underwent periodical upgrades. By the time she turned fifteen, the spanking machine had acquired a battery (so you could carry it with you for convenient on-the-go spankings), fully automated operation (the revolutionary hands-free spanking), voice activation (just name the child and the machine spanks her), autonomous motion (the machine follows the kid and spanks her), heat-seeking capabilities (this must have been during the Gulf War), helicopter-like hovering capacity and GPS positioning (the machine finds the child and spanks her), was integrated in the telephone grid (the machine locates the child by triangulating on her cell phone and spanks her), and in its final "smart" implementation, artificial intelligence: the Spank-o-Smart 3000 follows the child, analyzes her behavior and decides when to spank her (optional, faith-based modules can be downloaded from the web, for an extra charge).
Now that my father is no longer with us, I feared that the spanking machine might sink into irrelevance. However, a few days ago, Gaia asked me if I had heard about the new "virtual spanking machine."
I smiled, waiting for the punch line. "So, what does it do?"
"It goes into World of Warcraft and spanks your avatars."
Somehow, I felt an odd relief knowing that, in a generation or two, some wondrous self-aware artificial-intelligence spanking machine which I cannot imagine will be performing its never-ending duties.
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