An Eternity of Pez
and other cautionary tales
of dialectical materialism
Part One: The Fetishism of the Commodity
It began like so many of those life-transforming adventures do--
It began with a Pez dispenser.
This piece of plastic, currently empty of candy, attempted to be midnight blue but missed, having to settle for a dull, smoky blue that fell short of royal.
Its surface, though new, was sprinkled with tiny scratches and cardboard dust. Other than that it was a perfectly normal Pez dispenser, except that it lay on multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne's desk and was capped with a plastic shrunken Batman head.
The deep-blue candy vigilante lay exactly centred on top of a pile of stock reports, gleaming in a lamp-lit spotlight, strategically placed to throw Dick Grayson into apopletic fits.
"AAAAARGH!" screamed Bruce's overgrown ward. (He had long ceased calling himself Bruce's ward, ever since his sixteenth birthday when Bruce introduced him to Julie Madison as his "wart" in order to impress her, even though he had long ceased trying to impress Julie. She thought such jokes hilarious, which was why Bruce had given up cultivating her affection, since about his twenty-first birthday, when she introduced him to her friends as "Bruce the Moooose," and so followed the cycle.)
"AAAAARGH!" repeated Dick, for good measure.
Dick did not at first appreciate the metaphorical significance of the Pez dispenser's placement, which, he later realized, emerged from a conversation with Bruce that he had conducted last Wednesday:
"Wouldn't it be nice," he had begun, "if no one had any private property."
"Oh?" Bruce had inquired.
Dick, in his first year of college, was taking political philosophy as an elective. He promptly lectured Bruce on the evils of rich, property-owning bourgeoisie.
"Communism," Bruce had replied, as if this said it all.
"I think I may vote socialist in the next election," Dick had said blithely, "if a party runs."
Bruce had said nothing, and Dick belatedly realized the danger of this. When normal people said nothing, it was usually because they had nothing to say, or because they wanted to spare delicate feelings, or because their silence weighed more than words. When Bruce said nothing, it was because he had loads to say but was waiting for the perfect opportunity to smash his hearers over the head with it, like an iron pipe, in all its perfect profundity and impact. Which usually meant a certain degree of bodily harm, but not always. Sometimes simplicity was virtue enough for him.
Yet Dick did not at first see the beautiful imagery so carefully cultivated in the placement of Pez dispenser on paper. You see, Bruce was making a clear statement about the need for money and personal ownership of property (represented by the positive balance of the stock reports) in order to finance their nightly pursuits of justice in Gotham. Even the arrangement of the Batman on top of the reports was purposeful, to signify that he prioritized justice and prosperity for the community above personal gain. He centred the dispenser between the tally columns with genius artistry to communicate that money was just a means to that central end of justice, vouchsafed by the individual, but enjoyed in common; justice, in turn, would contribute to the prosperity of all Gothamkind, symbolized by the touch of Batman's left ear to the amount subtracted from profit for charity.
Bruce Wayne, if you did not understand, is Batman. And Dick Grayson, of course, is his loyal partner, the red-breasted Robin.
Dick, however groomed to attune to Bruce's finely complex and rather twisted mind, did not at first appreciate this final rebuff to their political debate. Instead, this was his first response:
"Yes, Master Dick?" He found the ageing butler in the kitchen, wrestling with the automated breadmaker.
"Why," Dick demanded, "does Bruce have a Pez dispenser and not me?"
Alfred stopped to look at Dick. The young man's blue eyes threw icy glints of anger. Blood rose in patches on his pale skin. "I'm afraid I don't understand, sir."
Dick raised his fist to the level of Alfred's eyes. Clutched tightly between his fingers was the little Batman, violently removed from his artistic prominence. "He has a Pez dispenser, you see, but Robin doesn't! There is no Robin Pez dispenser!"
"Are you sure, sir?"
"Am I sure?" Dick spat. "Am I sure?"
"There could be one in your likeness, sir, but you have not seen it. Being, sir, so averted to doing your own shopping." Alfred, pleased with his answer, turned to the whirring breadmaker.
Dick craned around the counter to meet the butler's eyes. "Have you seen a Robin Pez dispenser?"
The elder man had to lower his head. "I'm sure I don't know, sir."
"No, you haven't," Dick pressed, "because there isn't one." He kicked a kitchen chair and sat down.
"Is it really so important to you, sir? I didn't think such a level-headed young man as yourself would get put out by a little toy."
"Pez is--" Dick scrambled for the words. He shook his head. "Pez is -- more. It is eternal. It has been around my entire life, and most of yours, I bet. It is an icon."
"So are Batman and Robin."
He grunted. "Not Robin. One measure of being a true icon is having a Pez dispenser made of your head. Bruce has one. I don't." His eyes locked onto a scuff mark on the floor. "And he had to shove that fact in my face. Right in plain sight where I could see it. Just to rub it in."
"I'm sure that wasn't Master Bruce's intention, young sir." Alfred kept his face hidden, though, because he wasn't sure, and it was improper to even hint an insult at his employer's tendency towards egoism.
His words fell empty on Dick's
ears. His hand clenched again; with a delightfully loud crack of wood he
brought his fist down upon the kitchen table. "No, Alfred," his voice murmured
icily, "he meant it. But Bruce will not have the last laugh. Not this time."
Meanwhile, flying over the 49th parallel, Bruce Wayne was blithely unaware of the injury he had precipitated to Dick's dignity. Fresh and innocent he felt, as well as his thirty-plus years of tumultuous living allowed him to. Like a little lamb. Lamb-chops. Bruce grinned hungrily.
"Parker," he called, sing-song.
Parker was balding and the cabin lights glimmered sickly on his head. "Yes, Mr. Wayne?"
Bruce suppressed another toothy grin. "What is for dinner, Parker?"
"Excellent question, sir, excellent well. Your butler recommended some English fare--"
"Yes?" His stomach tensed in anticipation.
"Lamb stew, grilled vegetables, scalloped potatoes, rosemary bread, with some fine red wine and truffle cake."
Lamb! Once again, his uncanny instincts had served him well. "That it?"
Parker's eyes jumped. "You do not think that sufficient, Mr. Wayne?"
"I guess." He sighed. "A bit on the appetizer size of a meal, though. You know I'm not eating again until 7:30 tonight; the Canadians are feeding me. They're not exactly high on the list of big eaters."
"On the contrary -- if I may be so bold -- the Canadians rate nearly as high as Americans on the obesity scale, sir. Pardon the pun."
"No offense taken. But -- still." He patted his stomach. Little in the way of fat cells responded, most having been turned into an endangered species in that area by Bruce's remarkable imitation of a washboard. "I'm a growing boy."
Parker, as fine a steward as he was, faltered. "I -- I will see if I can find a snack for you, Mr. Wayne."
"I have confidence that you'll
succeed, Parker. Oh, hell--" He glanced at his watch -- the author will
not satisfy the reader's yen to live vicariously by mentioning it is a
Rolex -- and called Parker back. As much as Bruce enjoyed playing mind
games with his personal staff, he knew that preparations for landing were
soon to begin. "Forget the snack, just bring on the stew." The steward
nodded and scrambled to the jet's tiny kitchen. Bruce yelled after him,
"But call Pearson International and tell them to have soft pretzels ready
upon my arrival--"
Just as wrinkled secretaries attempted to finish their day with infusions of hardcore lemonade, Bruce Wayne startled a few years from their life expectancies with an impertinent phone call.
Few members of the closing office shift could believe that Bruce Wayne would call a novelty confectionary corporation, so his struggle to the top -- the top being, of course, the CEO of Pez, Inc. -- was tedious.
Let it be known that no such multi-billionaire, in fact, made the phone call; Pez, Inc. was the victim of a most fraudulent and talented impersonator, whose knowledge of the impersonated was uncanny.
A special order -- no time to be spared -- shipments must arrive in local department stores by tomorrow afternoon. Bruce Wayne's orders! And such orders, the gluttonous Pez President knew, would be accompanied by indecent amounts of cash.
"Done," exulted Dick Grayson. Unlucky for Bruce that he had trained his ward in the ways of criminal science all too well. As for his conscience, tucked away behind his gleeful self-satisfaction, Dick reasoned that the expense was minute, Pez dispensers being cheap to produce and the distribution almost minuscule, confined to urban Gotham. His guardian would never notice the bit of extra fluff under the personal expenses tally next month; most likely, Bruce would attribute it to a few meals out.
Of course, he could tell no
one, not even Alfred, and certainly not Bruce. Dick nodded happily to himself
throughout dinner, and the loyal butler wondered if perhaps political philosophy
had taken too great a toll on the young man's brain.
"Appetizers!" Bruce Wayne remarked indignantly.
Conrad Black, the news magnate who rivalled Bruce's hegemony in platinum cuff links, overheard the remark. "You don't like appetizers, Bruce?"
Canadians, Bruce postulated,
were incapable of understanding. "I like them well enough, but what will
the rest of your guests eat?"
Mysteriously and promptly, at 7:30am the next morning, all the departments stores, novelty shops, toy shops, grocery markets, and convenience establishments of Gotham opened their receiving doors to find an inocuous batch of Robin-headed red-gleaming Pez dispensers, neatly boxed with their accompanying candy. Many store owners were puzzled, as they had not ordered such stuff, but when no bill but a tiny pink notice stating, "Compliments of Bruce Wayne" was found stapled on each box, every store owner scrambled to price and stock these heavenly loss-free goods.
At 9:16 a.m., Dick Grayson
strolled through the aisles of Artie's Mart in Gotham's East Side, basking
in the glow of his masked face, mirrored a hundredfold beneath transparent
plastic cases. He paused a moment to pick one up from the rack, examined
it, and beamed. Sure, the paint job was hasty, and the Pez artists hadn't
quite captured the devil-may-care style of his hair, but there he was,
immortalized. Centuries from now his descendents would unearth his plastic
head, and declare that it was good.
Exactly twelve minutes after the departure of Dick Grayson, the owner of Artie's Mart, whose name was Arthur, called his store Artie, but was popularly known as Buzz, jumped in his skin to see barrel-chested Sharky "Jones" Widdermiddens in his store.
He had stuffed ju-jubes into the pockets of his trenchcoat. Buzz tried not to notice. He gulped. "I didn't expect you so soon."
"You mean so soon after the Batman broke up our last smuggling ring? They let me out early, on account of my good behaviour."
"How nice," Buzz murmured. His eyes locked onto the shelf of pancake mixes he was rearranging.
Sharky's head was shaped like a deformed mushroom. It leaned closer; Buzz could smell Vapo-Rub on his breath. "The boys haven't heard much from you. You haven't kept contact. One would almost think you don't want to front for us anymore. Like you don't want your store anymore. Your poor little Kathy. What'll she say when she knows Daddy shoved her out on the street?"
Beads of perspiration rolled down Buzz's cheeks. "You wouldn't -- you can't take away my store! My family--"
"I know all about your family," Sharky sneered. He swayed to and fro on his heels, amused at Buzz's glasses sliding down his nose. "But remember who got you this establishment. You owe me big, Buzz, and you haven't paid your dues yet."
Words faltered on his lips. Buzz sighed and dropped his head below his shoulders. "What do I have to do?"
Sharky smiled -- his teeth were jagged and sharp -- and wrapped an arm hard around Buzz's shoulders. "That's the way to take it, Buzz. Like a man. And the job's pretty simple." Sharky glanced down the aisle quickly. His hand dove into his pocket; ju-jubes sprinkled out like coloured rain drops. He withdrew a fist, which slowly opened to reveal a pile of M & M-sized diamonds. "Gotta smuggle these north. Need a way to do it that the guys at the border won't suspect."
"How about your pockets?" Buzz whimpered.
"No, dummy, I got half a barrel-full of them!"
"Risky. They might check ‘em. Can't afford being caught. The big guy's in Canada, he's buying and smuggling weapons with ‘em. If we screw this up it'll be my head. And yours." A thick finger buried itself into Buzz's throat. "We need something else."
Sharky strolled down the aisle, humming as he thought. Then he stopped. "What're these?"
He pointed at the newest display. "Oh," Buzz said, "they came in this morning. They're Robin Pez Dispensers. Were free, too; sent by Mr. Bruce Wayne."
"Hah!" Sharky snorted. "Sent by Brucie Wayne, huh? What a pansy." He began to walk past, but then paused. He grabbed one of the dispensers and ripped off the cardbaord packaging.
"Hey!" Buzz yelped. "I'm selling those!"
"I was thinking," Sharky said, fingering the hollow column in which the candy was inserted, "since these were free, if we were to liberate them, you wouldn't have any losses."
Sharky's head bobbed, his jowls jiggling. "Consider yourself lucky, Buzz. We could've found something -- or someone -- else in this store to transport the goods in. I hear the Canadian border guards don't do cavity searches. What fun they're missing."
"Take them," Buzz squeaked. "Take them all."
"Thanks. I think I will. My boys will be by at closing time. By the way, you're closing in an hour." Sharky barked in laughter and lumbered towards the door.
The storeowner swallowed hard. "This'll clear my debt?"
Again Sharky laughed, like a pitbull swallowing a chicken. "Naw, Buzz, you don't get off that easy. But maybe next time." He grinned, revelling in his Brando-like menace.
"Yeah. Next time."
To be continued...