I read this in an unremembered anthology in the UK, between the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A future society set in the US, it begins with a typical day in main characters life, he goes to leave his apartment and casually drops a few cents in the tip box on his door lock, a little robot voice says "thank you" as he walks away. All that day he automatically drops a few cents into tip boxes everywhere he goes, grocery store, walking through his office etc. People all around do the same routinely.

One day he goes to leave and finds he forgot to pick up a roll of change from the bank so his pockets are empty. He asks the door to open and it refuses, he states he'll double the usual tip when he gets home, he asks why it expects a tip every time, surely it's a voluntary thing.

The auto door explains that it's no longer a voluntary thing, it became mandatory a few years ago and he must pay to use the door.

The man sighs and gets a screwdriver and begins removing the hinges as the robot box screeches for help down the block corridor.

  • Dupe here - not sure about which direction to VTC though
    – fez
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 15:56
  • 2
    It's not really a dupe @fez, it's a different question that happens to have the same answer. The details wanting to be identified are entirely different. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 17:27
  • 3
    The fact that we can't really tell what direction to VTC is because they are essentially completely different fully formed and easily answerable questions about the same novel. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 17:52
  • 4
    @iandotkelly - I've given up on this battle. According to SF&F dup rules, What is 6 x 7 would be identified as the same question as What is the Meaning of Life. :( Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 21:41
  • 2
    Don't worry, this can't be closed. Another question was closed once so it would be a duplicate closing.
    – Thierry
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 3:11

1 Answer 1


This sounds very much like Ubik, the novel by P.K. Dick.

Near the start of the novel, the lead charcter, Joe Chip, has run out of change, and is unable to have his aprtment cleaned, or prepare coffee, or even to open his aprtment's front door:

The door refused to open. It said, ‘Five cents, please."

He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. ‘I'll pay you tomorrow,’ he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,’ he informed it, ‘is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.’

‘I think otherwise,’ the door said. ‘Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.’

In desperation, Chip starts removing the hinges from the door in order to escape:

From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door.

"I'll sue you,” the door said as the first screw fell out.

Joe Chip said, ‘I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.’

Finally, however, he is released when a visitor arrives, and puts a nickel in the door in order to enter.

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