I have made no secret of my peculiar fascination with that strangest of Pop Cultural Artifacts: the Collectible PEZ Dispenser Set.
The PEZ folks are the geniuses who figured out that their business model was the exact inverse of that of Gillette. Gillette practically gives their razors away, the better to sell their razor blades; PEZ buyers, conversely, focus on the dispensers and (mostly) don’t give a rat’s ass about the little candies they poop out. PEZ learned long ago that people will buy those little plastic dispensers by the metric buttload as long as they depict an identifiable licensed character. Fred Flintstone, SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey Mouse, Popeye, it matters little - they all sell like hotcakes.
What could be even better than a single character-based PEZ dispenser? A whole raft of ’em in a single package! Why settle for, say, Frodo Baggins when you can get Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas the Elf, and Gollum, too... all in the same shiny box? And it’s not just Lord of the Rings: I’ve also seen collectors’s sets featuring characters from The Wizard of Oz and Snow White. Gawd only knows how many films and/or television series have been immortalized in this manner.
I really have no idea why they even bother to include the candy in these collectors’ sets, since no PEZ-Head worth his or her salt would ever dare consider opening the package to use (and thus defile) its contents.
I used the term “peculiar fascination” above to differentiate my interest in these things from the kind of obsession to which collectors are vulnerable. I’ve never bought any of ’em, mainly because I fear the slippery slope. Buy one, and soon you are gibbering in the corner at some PEZ collectors’ convention, trying to figure how you’ll pay for the Cloud Atlas set - three figures for just the Tom Hanks characters alone! - and rattling on about your treasure trove with your fellow enthusiasts like an Asperger’s kid holding forth on vacuum cleaners or steam engines.
And yet, four years ago when my friend Donnie Joe received a Star Trek: Original Series set for Christmas, I almost - almost! - felt pangs of envy.
Last month we celebrated Chanukah with our traditional Momma d’Elisson Memorial Chinese Food and Potato Latke Dinner. As part of the festivities, She Who Must Be Obeyed had set up a white elephant gift exchange... a sort of “Dirty Hanukkah Harry” affair in which people exchange gifts and then try to “steal” the (supposedly) most desirable gifts. Unbeknownst to me, that selfsame Star Trek set was amongst the white elephants. Ahhh, if I had only known.
But Laura Belle - the one who had originally given the set to Donnie Joe - saw the wistful glance I cast toward that package after its contents had been revealed. And thus it was that I received a belated Chanukah present, a gift for my Inner Nerd:
Star Trek: The Next Generation!
Wow! I guess this means I’ve been inducted into the numberless legions of PEZ-Heads. What’s next? Asterix? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Blade Runner?