On the way back from my Econolodge, I stopped at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT. It’s a giant gift shop, but it has the affectations of a museum. It’s got a bunch of old Pez dispensers in display cases and a mural depicting the 90-year history of Pez. In the beginning, Pez dispensers were nondescript. They didn’t have character heads. The first character head was Halloween Witch, sometime in the 30s. The most popular Pez dispenser of all time is Santa Claus.
Some of the super-rare collectors’ Pez pieces that were on display were remarkable for looking like the worst Pez dispensers you’ve ever seen in your life. There was a brokenish hippopotamus, for instance, that is the jackpot of all jackpots, but when you look at it, it’s hard to understand that it’s not completely worthless.
Admission to the Pez Visitor Center is $6—that’s $6 to enter a building that is basically a store. But who was I to say no? For the $6, you also get $2 of store credit and a Pez lanyard. The lanyard was a minor issue. Even as Alone Guy, I find lanyards problematic for my vision of myself. They’re like fanny packs or Merrells sandal-sneakers. This is only my vintage-clothing/rock-and-roll prejudice, but I can’t wear lanyards. Problem is, the Pez lanyard serves as your ticket to the visitor center, and in order to walk around, the lanyard has to be visible. So I bunched mine up and carried it in my hand.
Another thing I learned is that a big part of Pez’s business today is licensed characters: Batman, Harry Potter, Spongebob. I was opinionated about this. Soon enough, everything in the world will be something to do with a blockbuster movie. Enough with that. I found myself reevaluating the decrepit Pez hippo forgotten by time—I guess it’s cool now that the most valuable Pez dispenser in the world is a shitty hippo that looks like shit. OK, yes.
For my part, I used my $2 of store credit to buy a vampire bat Pez dispenser. I took some pride in the choice; Halloween is a high holy day for me, and I made sure that the bat was not some licensed Twilight bullshit. It was just a Pez bat designed by Pez.
Now that I had a dispenser, the really cool thing I could do was go flavor shopping. They had these huge sealed tubs of all the different Pez flavors, and you could pull a lever and a bunch of Pez tablets would come tumbling out. You could fill a bucket with all the flavors you wanted for 5 bucks. I sprung for that. The last time I had any real consumer awareness of Pez was in elementary school, when there were only 4 flavors: strawberry, grape, orange, lemon. As I recall, lemon was pretty bad, except that it was hard to find, so it was kind of interesting for being rare. Today, Pez is onto some next-level shit when it comes to flavors. The Visitor Center had something like 20 to choose from—not all of them were good, but some of them deserve respect as experiments in jazz. There was a teenage employee standing near the wall of tubs, and she saw me looking at them will full-bore intensity, taking it all in with my little bucket and my Pez bat and my bunched up lanyard. She said, “If you want to try a flavor, just let me know.”
I said, “Yeah, OK, thanks.” So she put on rubber gloves and then very conscientiously tried to pull one of the levers just a teeny bit so that exactly one Pez tablet fell onto her glove-hand. Then she held her glove-hand out, and I tried raspberry-lemon, which I decided was too sour. “OK, thanks,” I said. “Can I try sour watermelon?”
I had a feeling that Pez sour watermelon would be really good, the way gummy sour watermelons from CVS are really good. So, again, Class of 2013 hunched over and masterfully extracted only one sour watermelon Pez tablet from the huge thing. And again I ate it off her hand. It was better than raspberry-lemon but worse than gummy sour watermelons. I wondered then if gummy sour watermelons are just better than all Pez, and if there was a gummy sour watermelon Visitor Center in the world, and if so, how long would it take to get there from here? But then I noticed that my teenage attendant was still standing there, waiting to see if I was going to request another flavor test. I was curious to try all 20, but something about the whole production of having her get each one and then eating it off her hand—after 2 it already felt like an unnecessary power thing. “OK, thanks,” I said. I would go it alone at this point. I would fill my bucket with flavors, making decisions based on my memory of the primordial 4 and my brief encounters with 2 of the new. I don’t know how this is going to go, I said to my Pez bat. But let’s try it.