This is my mind on PEZ

Plus: The adventures of the unholy trinity and Mother Bernadette

By Douglas Cruickshank

Published May 1, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

You've no doubt heard that this weekend is "The Convention." The times in which we live being what they are, it's tough to put it all in perspective, but I'll give it a whirl. Over the next two days, people from across the land will be gathering at one of our nation's now ubiquitous metropolitan convention centers to honor an essentially simple technological device designed to eject -- with some force -- a small machine-molded slug. The mystique and emotion attached to this device is formidable, while the device itself has become an icon of American culture. The sponsoring organization is widely recognized by three letters, a name that ignites discussion, often heated, whenever it's spoken. Recently, in a moment of reflection, the convention's organizer, Richard Belyski, a police officer from Glen Cove, N.Y., told the Associated Press, "We're people from all walks of life, doctors, lawyers."

And this weekend Officer Belyski and his ardent brethren are seeing months of hard work come to fruition as the first annual
PEZ convention
takes place in Orange, Conn., home of PEZ Candy, Inc.. The reason for the get-together, of course, is the legendary PEZ dispenser, the flip-top doohicky that ejects tart rectangular candies and usually features characters such as Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone or Spiderman. Scott McWhinnie, the "Pezident" of Pez Candy, says that his factory "is a Mecca" for the PEZiratti. "They'll be all over the lawn with telephoto lenses. They'll be with their noses up against the back window. They'll be picking through the garbage looking for old dispensers."

One such nutkin is Johann Patek, who's come all the way from Vienna for the confab and has collected so many PEZ dispensers that he's lost count. Another PEZ wig case is John Laspina of Middletown, N.J., who says he's paid as much as $850 for a single dispenser. Also in attendance will be David Welch, renowned author of the "Pictorial Guide to Plastic Candy Dispensers" and the seminal "Collecting PEZ." Pezident McWhinnie sez that the nutritionless candies are not so bad for you. "We don't have a lot of dental problems with PEZ," he remarked. "PEZ don't stick to your teeth. They dissolve. Now, Gummi Bears, they are a problem."

Cruising over to a much different channel: As Quentin Crisp once put it, "If Mr. Vincent Price were to be co-starred with Miss Bette Davis in a story by Mr. Edgar Allan Poe directed by Mr. Roger Corman, it could not fully express the pent-up violence and depravity of a single day in the life of the average family." (And what was your family life like, Mr. Crisp? Never mind.) Boy George once described Crisp, author of "The Naked Civil Servant" and the wry toast of London (and more recently New York) fringe society, as "a queer Jesus for the 20th century ... his cross was pink and massive, and he suffered persecution on a daily basis." It's a characterization that must resonate in part for Marilyn Manson, who's not gay, but is certainly getting some heat these days. But then, when you endeavor to provoke, you can't be surprised when you succeed.

Anyway, according to his Web site, Manson, unlike, say, the National Rifle Association and PEZ, has, "Out of respect for those lost in the school tragedy at Littleton, Colo.," postponed the remaining planned events -- five concerts -- on his current tour. Says Manson, "This tragedy was a product of ignorance, hatred, and an access to guns. I hope the media's irresponsible finger-pointing doesn't create more discrimination against kids who look different." By the way, when are we going to see a Marilyn Manson PEZ dispenser, Pezident McWhinnie? And now back to you, Mr. Crisp and Mr. George.

But first a word, or many, from the artist formerly known as Sinéad O'Connor. An article by Roisin Ingle in Thursday's Irish Times reports that the mercurial, crystalline-voiced O'Connor, who was recently ordained in the Catholic church and has changed her handle to Mother Bernadette Mary O'Connor, is already embroiled in another controversy. As you'll recall, Mother Bernadette and the church have had a somewhat rocky history ever since she tore up the pope's picture on "Saturday Night Live" back when she was Sinéad.

It was an act that put a burr in the fur of most Catholics, and soured the pontiff on ever again watching "SNL." Now, Ingle writes, "O'Connor says she has sought the return of a #150,000 donation she gave to the dissident bishop who ordained her in order that doubt will not be cast on the validity of her priesthood. Speaking by telephone from an unknown location on the Continent, Ms. O'Connor said that she was also considering getting ordained again as 'a double protective measure.'" The whole brouhaha got started because a certain party pooper, Bishop Buckley, "had speculated that the donation could be viewed as simony -- the act of purchasing a sacrament." Yes, for God's sake let's not give Marilyn Manson any bright ideas.

Part of the #150,000 donation was going to pay for a hernia operation for Bishop Cox, who ordained Mother Bernadette (he'd developed the hernia lifting his massive collection of PEZ dispensers), but as he said last week, "Some people were getting the impression that Mother Bernadette bought her ordination and that is utterly wrong ... I would never prostitute my holy orders." As for O'Connor, she says she's enjoying "being alone with God" and she may take "a three-year vow of celibacy." And how's about throwing in a vow of silence while you're at it?

Now, is it just my imagination or is everything really getting better and better everywhere on earth every second of every day? Take Bhutan, for example, a virtually perfect, nearly pristine mountain kingdom nestled in the Himalayas. Cut off almost entirely from most of the world for centuries -- like James Hilton's mythical, utopian Shangri-La (for which it may have been the model) -- Bhutan has closely guarded its rich culture, and has only allowed tourism in recent years, limiting foreign visitors to a few thousand annually.

The country's wise and benevolent king has wisely and benevolently operated on the premise that the only way to make Bhutan better is to leave it as is. Until recently, when the powers that be -- the king's not entirely to blame -- wised up and decided that combining "Lost Horizons" and the Vast Wasteland might be just the ticket. Consequently, on June 2, reports Kuensel, Bhutan's newspaper, "coinciding with the silver jubilee of his Majesty the King's coronation," the Bhutan Broadcasting Corporation "will begin television broadcasting in the country." In other words, it's all over now, baby blue.

And in other joyous developments, last week Pamela Anderson, sporting new, more manageable mammaries, announced that there's once again room in her life for Tommy Lee. "It's been a long, hard year, full of lessons and insights,'' the two lovebirds squawked. "And we both learned a lot about what's really important.''

You mean what's really important, or what's really, really, really important?

In any case, I predict renewed vows in the future for this fun couple with -- you read it here first -- Mother Bernadette Mary O'Connor presiding, to be broadcast live on Bhutanese TV, followed by a Marilyn Manson concert, including a guest spot with Boy George singing "Stand By Your Man" (as he did over the closing credits of "The Crying Game"), Quentin Crisp subbing for the pope and commemorative Tommy & Pam-Pam PEZ dispensers for one and all. Don't miss it!

Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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