I had a great weekend. First, I bought the suit I’m going to get married in. I kind of splurged. I may or may not have spent as much money as the bride did on her dress. I can explain. I was wooed by a personal shopper, a woman whose sole job was to tend to me at Nordstrom, fitting me in designer jackets. Then there was the tailor, a mad redheaded woman with a thick French accent who pronounced every word beginning with the letter Z, sticking straight pins everywhere and muttering about ze perfect proportions. It was intoxicating. I felt famous. I don’t go out shopping much.
So now I’m practicing saying I’m wearing Varvatos in my best celebrity-on-the-red-carpet voice, when asked at the wedding by guests. But you know, life never happens according to my fantasies, so probably only the old guy photographer will ask me, and in kind of a creepy way.
And oh yeah, I also bought over three hundred Pez dispensers for twenty bucks.
The girlfriend and I have been watching Storage Wars, a reality show about people who buy abandoned storage lockers. The one dude on the show uses the phrase “the wow factor” whenever he finds something really neat and collectible inside a unit. Saturday, I went to the flea market, and didn’t find anything exciting. “Aww, you didn’t find the wow factor,” the girlfriend lamented when I came home empty handed. Well, that’s not true. I bought a record mat for my turntable, but that’s not going to make anyone say wow. It might, however, make them say “that mat really mutes the noise floor on the record.” But I doubt it.
I decided to go again on Sunday, just to kill the morning in a peaceful way, hunting for some neat old collectible while sipping coffee. I traveled up and down the six aisles, not really finding anything again. I passed on an original Pong console, an ET promo poster for Reese Pieces, a couple of NES games, and some Mighty Max toys. Nothing was really exciting me. Until the last aisle. That’s when I saw the gigantic bin filled to the brim and overflowing with Pez dispensers.
Right off the bat, I saw a Ninja Turtle. I picked through on the top and quickly found three of the Turtles. The bin was filled with hundreds of dispensers. I didn’t want to stoop there digging for the fourth freaking Turtle all day, and I also couldn’t buy three of the Turtles forever knowing I’d left the fourth one somewhere in the depths of the bin. This is existential crisis sort of shit.
As I dug through, I kept finding other ones that I wanted. Eventually, I found myself with a handful of them, so I asked the woman how much she was selling them for. “A dollar a piece,” she said, looking at me thoughtfully. She seemed to be considering me, probably as a candidate to take the whole damn thing. Then she added, “you want all of ’em? Twenty bucks for everything.”
“I’m going to be in trouble if I come home with this many Pez dispensers,” I said.
And yet, there was something thrilling and daring about buying hundreds of Pez dispensers. It was totally crazy. Unhinged. As a collector, I feel as though I’m teetering on a thin line—the point between a fun collection and the point where it becomes entirely too much and sort of scary. But…a twenty dollar proposition. I was toying with the line, and even the line itself was wildly seductive. I was sweating. Three hundred Pez dispensers. I was living dangerously.
I told myself I would only keep a select few, a couple favorites. Most I could sell online. I’d definitely make my twenty bucks back and then some. I couldn’t wait to show the girlfriend the wow factor, but when I got home, she wasn’t there. Maybe it was better this way. I promptly dumped the entire contents of the bin on the living room floor, and sat down to begin sorting through them.
I started arranging them in little piles by character sets, and as I went through, I was thrilled to see all the sets were complete. The whole Simpsons family was here! Each of the Muppets! Garfield and Odie, and Nermal, too! I found not only my fourth Turtle, but two complete sets of Turtles. Just having the pleasure of finding what was in the bin was worth the twenty dollar admission alone.
Soon, I was surrounded by dozens of piles categorized in complex categories such as “must keep,” “maybe,” “sell on ebay,” and “love and want to marry,” scattered in a circular formation around me on the living room floor. This is when the girlfriend pulled up in the driveway. Crap. I’d hoped to break it to her by casually mentioning the bin over dinner. Her first response was “oh my god.” Her second response was also “oh my god.” Her third response was to take a picture of the floor and post it to her Facebook, with the status reading also “oh my god.”
“It’s the wow factor,” I said.
I rattled off the words “sell on ebay” and “triple my money” and “probably,” as well as “don’t worry,” and “only keeping a few.”
She sighed and entered the acceptance phase, pointing out the nice plastic storage bin they came in. “That’s a nice bin. That’s worth at least ten bucks.”
It began to occur to me that this wasn’t just an enormous bin of Pez junk, but in fact, was once somebody’s passionate collection. The person made sure to collect every variation and character in the series, and didn’t just stick to the popular characters. They started collecting in the late 80s and appears they collected through the 2000s, too, as evidenced by a handful of newer characters in the lot. They bought everything and anything with the word “Pez” on it, including all of the novelty Pez accessories. In all, there were over 200 loose Pez, over 50 still in the packaging, and another handful of Pez pens, cars, plush animals, and keychains.
I started to feel a little bad. I hoped the owner hadn’t fallen on such hard times that they had to sell their beloved collection for a lousy twenty bucks. But I’m not even sure that I bought it from the original owner. After all, the person I’d bought it from seemed relieved not to have to lug it back home. Maybe the collector grew bored of it. What if they died? Maybe it was something happier, like making room for a newborn.
The girlfriend, a children’s therapist, assumes everything in life can be traced back to abandonment issues or somebody’s brother with autism. “They probably wouldn’t let him take three hundred Pez dispensers to the group home,” she said, in a very matter-of-fact way. “We could probably store the Christmas lights in that bin,” she added.
At any rate, I was glad the collection came to me. At least I could appreciate and love what was here and pay tribute to it on my little piece of the Internet. And by the time I finished sorting through my “keep” and “sell” piles, I realized my “only a few” keep pile was at 146 pieces.
But hey, screw it. CHECK OUT MY AMAZING PEZ KEEP PILE:
A few favorites are those amazing ET ones, the Halloween ghosts, and the cereal box freebies. Nothing here is worth big money, and there were no vintage 1960s ones, but a couple are worth around five bucks a piece, including the Wonder Woman and the Smurfs. I spent all day researching the patent numbers in determining age, and I have couple 3.9 patents, which is fancy Pez collector lingo for saying they’re late 1970s to 80s. I even have a Mickey Mouse in there that I think is a test paint or a mis-paint, so I think that one might be worth a couple more dollars. All are worth at least a dollar right now, and many of them two.
I also kept three of the novelty toys. These three just felt right to sit at the helm of the collection:
You know, I’ve always wanted a Pez collection, so this is really cool. I’ve never sought them out before, so I’m excited to have something new to keep an eye out for. I definitely wanted to collect them as a kid, but that was pretty much impossible, given I wasn’t allowed to buy more than one at a time or gorge myself on dextrose tablet candy. But life is terribly unfair when you’re eight.
You know, when you’re an adult, you can actively seek justice in the world. If you’re a kid and you get too-small slice of cake, and your sister gets the bigger piece, the adults tell you, “oh well, life’s not fair.” But now I can just go get myself another slice. That’s justice. Cake justice. And a gigantic bin of Pez dispensers? That’s what we call Pez justice.