The home of the world’s first NFT vending machine is tucked behind an unassuming storefront in Manhattan’s financial district. Situated between a tailor and a sandwich bar with windows bathed in pink light, the vending machine displays bright letters “NFT ATM.”

Stepping inside the small booth you will find yourself in front of a vending machine display filled with small boxes which could easily be mistaken for cigarettes. There are only two different products available: “Color” ($5.99) and “Party Pigeon” ($420.69).

I had come here with the Guardian’s cash in hand to buy an NFT, or Non-Fungible Token from this fabled vending machine. NFTs are based on a specific feature of blockchain called “smart contract”, which functions kind of like a virtual vending machine.

You can send some of your cryptos to a smart contract and you will be provided with a unique token, like a digital receipt, stating that you own this ‘cat pic’, for example. Now anyone can still save images of your cat and copy and share as many times as you would like. Nevertheless, you and anyone else monitoring the blockchain will know that this is your property and your cat. At least this is a simple way to illustrate the concept of an NFT.

“The thing is, most people without the time to fully study the technology find blockchain too complicated to understand,” says Jordan Birnholtz, co-founder of Neon, the company behind the NFT vending machine. As we spoke on the phone, Jordan mentioned he was heating green tea in his skillet, because he lacked the resources to get a proper tea kettle. “I had a tea kettle,” says Jim demurely, “sadly, it vanished into the night along with my ex.”

But just like you can make tea without fancy kettles, you can also buy NFTs without crypto. Birnholtz was about to prove this hypothesis.

According to Birnholtz, the target demographic for Neon “doesn’t want to get into a lengthy lesson on 19th and 20th-century economics. Instead, they are looking to support their artists and get a small “conspicuous consumption” token in return. This could be considered a digital ‘band t-shirt’.”

The goal of Neon is to make buying NFTs as easy as buying a toothbrush. This means that credit card payments should be accepted and instead of getting the run around with smart contracts, everything should be available at a vending machine.

I was not sure my editor would sanction the pigeon, so I chose a color. In return for my cash, I would receive one of the small boxes, and inside would find a random code that would essentially allow me to “mint” my own NFT. This NFT allowed me to claim ownership of one of 10,000 different colors.

Birnholtz explained this to me. “No one owns colors. What you have is a ledger on the Solana blockchain that represents that color. Then you can collect, sell, and trade these colors with other people for their colors.”

I admit this was not 100% clear to me. But I wasn’t about to let my confusion get in the way of my enthusiasm for investigation. Summoning all the tenacity of a child in a candy store, I eagerly punched in my selection and swiped my credit card — the Guardian’s credit card, that is.

The machine beeped cheerfully as the metal coil brought my prize forward — and suddenly stopped. My NFT dangled precariously but refused to drop. I gingerly tapped the glass. Nothing. The presence of surveillance cameras discouraged any further attempts at physically dislodging my NFT.

Was I the first person in history to get an NFT stuck in an NFT vending machine?

The only alternative, as I saw it, was to make another attempt at buying my NFT. Punched in the code, swiped the card, and the first NFT dropped into the collection box. Now the second NFT has become stuck. I guess I couldn’t expect a vending machine to be forgiving and generous, so I left it there. I knew it was rightfully mine but didn’t try explaining that to the machine.

I reported as much to the co-founder of Neon. “That is truly unfortunate, my friend,” he said. “Unfortunately, vending machines are very much a rudimentary technology and not the most reliable.”

He offered to send me a refund in exchange for an email with the time of purchase and the last four digits of the credit card used in the transaction. At this point, I began to wonder if maybe buying with crypto may not have been an easier option.

Then I met with further misfortune. Upon redeeming my prize by scanning the QR code within, I was directed to an online site where I was prompted to enter the 12-digit code found within the box. Then, instead of being provided with a 6-digit “hex code” indicating the color I had purchased, I was given a 5-digit code which resulted in a blank square.

“Oh! That’s embarrassing,” said Birnholtz with a chuckle. “You probably received a misprint.” I was disappointed, naturally. But I suggested that maybe this singular error would make my NFT more valuable to future generations.

“There is a chance that somewhere in posterity this error will be looked at with the same curiosity and joy as numismatic errors are perceived by collectors”, Birnholtz remarked.

Deep down, I was not convinced that anyone would be interested in my NFT. There was little more I could do now, other than list it for sale. “That is precisely the point,” commented Birnholtz. “You buy the thing to show it off. There is no promise of future value and we would never lead anyone to believe otherwise. That would be irresponsible. Nevertheless, NFTs allow people unlimited opportunities to purchase items with which they truly connect.

At the time of writing, Birnholtz has already received$3 million in funding and plans to open several more NFT vending machines over the summer. The most likely locations for these will be Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, and LA. The idea is that the novelty and convenience of this idea will inspire enough attention to make Neon an expanding platform.

“People like to invest in their image, flash their style, and flex on their fellows. NFTs allow people plenty of opportunity for this and it is awesome. I wake up excited each morning to make my tea in a skillet and talk with artists about selling their creative property on Neon.”

As I stood outside the vending machine, NFT in hand, I looked around at who I could show off to first. I must have stood there for a full half-hour and no one showed much interest in the machine. Finally, a curious passerby stopped and said, “Oh my god. An NFT vending machine” and took a picture with his mobile device.

I asked if he owned NFTs.

“Yeh, a few.”

Before I could flex on him with my blank-square NFT, he had disappeared into the busy Manhattan skyline.