Night Crawler

Pez on Earth

Not fully grasping the mania, I call information to get a phone number for the Burlingame Pez museum only to have George, the telephone operator, completely lose his professional demeanor: "There's a Pez museum?! In Burlingame? I've got a couple dozen Batman [enter lengthy description of color and cape variations]. Do they sell them there? I'm looking for one in particular [enter lengthy description of color and cape variation]."

The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia is cleverly disguised as a computer store. In fact, until only a few years ago, the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia was a computer store. A large sign for Computer Spectrum still hangs over the display windows, but inside, it's strictly Pezness -- walls of affordable Pez, shelves of collectible Pez, cases of irreplaceable Pez; Pez from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan, Germany, England, and Hungary, to name a few; Pez puzzles, clocks, clickers, watches, guns (with or without belt clip), and Peruvian finger puppets (for your Pez dispenser); autographed dispensers from the fleshy folks behind Wonder Woman, Chewbacca, Garfield, and Jack in the Box; articles from Forbes and Ripley's - Believe It or Not!There is a video tour of the Pez factory, and a computer trivia game to rate your knowledge of Pez lore, and a volunteer museum docent who adamantly refuses to give his name because of his "real" job. And dozens of Pezheads who wander in and out, exchanging breathless stories with Gary Doss, who stands behind a display of Euro Pez dispensers.

Doss came to Pez a little late in life. It started 15 years ago with a Woodstock he failed to purchase for his wife, Nancy, because it would have meant leaving the 10-items-or-less line. To assuage her feelings of disappointment, he later bought a Charlie Brown, which didn't appease her in the least. Friends and neighbors started buying conciliatory dispensers for the Doss household. When the collection was large enough, the Dosses moved it to their computer store, and customers started donating dispensers; then customers started coming for the dispensers. Soon, the dispensers had entirely eclipsed the computers, and the Doss family had a new, more colorful bag.

"Pez couldn't be any more different than computers," says Gary Doss with a big grin. "There's nothing happier or simpler than a Pez dispenser." (Most collectors will admit off the record that they never use their dispensers to eat candy.)

Trying to contain her excitement, Scavio wanders through the museum wistfully, composing a mental wish list for her upcoming birthday: Super Mario Brothers, a Goofy with moving ears, Crystal Animals, Wacky Wobblers .... Squeals can be heard from the gift shop where Scavio's buddy has discovered no less than three Pez T-shirts with which to adorn his body (this from a man who earlier sarcastically explained that Pez has always existed in the human psyche, and Stonehenge is just an early manifestation of the sweet candy treat). "I was just talking to my mother the other day about Pez," Scavio says during a phone call later in the week. "My mother thinks it's totally normal, and she's surprised more of my friends don't collect them."

The recent addition of the Astrix and Super Mario Brothers collections -- brought from Bali by honeymooning roommates -- brings Scavio's total to 269. She is a very, very happy Pezhead.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

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