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Tonight you get an extra-special diary, and it has almost nothing to do with books.

You see, a few weeks ago when I posted my upcoming diary schedule, I somehow managed to skip over the week of March 23rd.  This means that last week's diary, on Joe Miller and George Hayduke, should have posted tonight.  Since it wasn't, that means that you, o luckiest of readers, get to read about a real!  true!  genuine!  incident that took place during what the Victorians might call my salad days, when I was young, thin, and pretty much a compleat idiot who spent more time sewing and playing D&D than studying.

So...if you aren't interested in the weirdness that was my junior year of college, go along, nothing to see.  If you are, though, pass underneath the orange squiggly thing to read my long-awaited diary "Captain America:  Socialist Scum!" about an incident I'm calling:

THE SILENCE OF THE PEEPS.

Last Saturday night, I rammed six pieces of candy down my garbage disposal, then nuked another half dozen in the microwave.

It was Holy Saturday.  This day, traditionally the time when Christians prepare for the glory that is Easter, is the day when I traditionally destroy a package of colorful, squishy, tooth-achingly sweet confections as a way to bring prosperity and good luck to my house and friends.  I do the same thing on the quarter and cross-quarter days, and have for years.  

I do so because of an event that took place thirty-two years ago, when I was but a young and carefree college junior.  In the overall context of life, the universe, and everything, it was pretty small beer indeed, and yet in some ways this has been every bit as crucial to making me the person I am today as the first time I saw an episode of Star Trek or the magical day I read "Riddles in the Dark" in sixth grade.

Return with me to those thrilling days of yesteryear, and I will tell you how this custom started....

The occasion was my sophomore roommate's Annual Ecumenical Seder and Easter Egg Hunt, and if that sounds a bit, well, syncretic, remember, we're talking 1981, when ecumenism was considered a good thing.  This august event, which ran for the four years we were at Smith, usually took place at a dormitory that offered kitchen access to students and was an alternative both to the usual dining room fare and the regimented seders at Hillel.  We'd all gather, Jew and Gentile alike, cook a simple dinner, work our way through the old Maxwell House Coffee haggadot, and generally enjoy ourselves.  Most of the food was purchased at a grocery very near campus and was of surprisingly high quality.  

The same cannot be said of the wine.  Not only were we college students, which meant that spending money was limited, none of us knew much more about wine than could be gleaned from the famous “Lucy and Ethel stomp grapes” episode of I Love Lucy.  My old roomie knew enough to react with utter horror to the idea of Manischewitz Concord Grape or a similar sweet Passover wine, but that was about it.  This is why we usually went with a cheap, harsh, terrible white for the drinkers, Welch's grape juice for the teetotalers, and actual grapes in the charoseth rather than subject ourselves to yet more of something that was as close to "vintage" as a case of Valvoline.

1981 was something of an exception.  Our usual site hostess, Francesca, was spending her junior year abroad, meaning that we could not use her dormitory's spacious, fully equipped kitchen and had to use Old Roomie's very average single room.  Worse, we had an unusual number of guests that year, meaning more food to be cooked and purchased, more haggadot to be sent to Roomie from her family home in East Stripmine, Pennsylvania, and more wine to be obtained through quasi-legal means at the local packy.  Despite this, all seemed well on that rainy March night when Old Roomie plugged in three hot plates, laid out a dozen cushions on the floor of her room, and poured ten plastic cups of wine.  

Did I mention that we lived in a 150 year old converted boarding house?  With wiring that had been installed somewhat before Calvin Coolidge's tenure as mayor of Northampton?

We shouldn't have been surprised when a fuse blew almost as soon as Old Roomie began cooking, but the rest of our housemates most assuredly were.  They were even less pleased when another fuse blew soon after the first one was fixed, especially when they found nearly a dozen people babbling about their D&D campaign and the latest issue of X-Men, guzzling Riunite's finest, and waiting for the food to be cooked.  Our Head Resident may have spoken to Old Roomie – I wasn't drunk, but I was doing my best to be inconspicuous, coward that I am – but somehow, some way, the electricity came back on, the food was prepared, and guests finally had somehow to absorb the alcohol sloshing about their digestive tracts.

The ritual began, the first course was consumed, and the ancient commemoration of the Exodus chugged along.  There was some less than reverent giggling as Ella, a soft-spoken Catholic girl who wanted to be a nun, had to ask the Four Questions, but all seemed well.  

Then someone spotted the marshmallow peeps on Old Roomie's dresser, and all hell broke loose.

You know marshmallow peeps, don't you?  Those unnaturally bright chickies and bunnies that appear for Easter?  They've become wildly popular in the last few years, to the point that there are websites, contests, even real, genuine books devoted to peep recipes, crafts, and similar ways to repurpose America's best way to rot your molars.

Readers with some acquaintance with Jewish custom will undoubtedly protest that marshmallow peeps have nothing to with the ancient Israelites, Pharaoh, the parting of the Red Sea, or making bricks with straw.  This is all true, and please be assured that the peeps had nothing whatsoever to do with the seder, the Ten Plagues, or all the cute little folk songs you're supposed to sing at the end of the meal to show that you aren't quite so think as you drunk you are hic.  The peeps weren't even supposed to be part of the dessert - that was going to be matzoh meal crepes and fresh strawberries.  Roomie had a bit of a sweet tooth and had bought the peeps for after Passover, when they'd be nice and stale and crunchy.  Nothing more.

I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events - I think I was talking to Cosima's new boyfriend when Lucky Jack, grinning through his moustache, tore open the package and raised his bright yellow booty with the same glee Captain Kidd might devote to a chest of Spanish doubloons.  All I know is that one minute we were trying to get up the energy to hunt the afikomen, and the next the following events were taking place, not necessarily in any order:

-    A peep was hanged from the light fixture by Roomie's bed.

-    Ella, giggling merrily, had snatched up a darning needle and was poking the eyes out of a peep while telling everyone that she'd always wanted to play medieval torturers.

-    Lucky Jack, peep impaled on his pocket knife, was chanting "Kill the capitalist tool!  Kill the capitalist tool!" in between bites of luscious sugary peepness.

-    Roomie's boyfriend, who might or might not have been trying to rescue his beloved's candy stash, was shoved out the window onto the fire escape and locked out in the cold March rain.

-    What might have been a shout of "Die, peep, die!" issued from the bathroom, accompanied by the sound of a toilet flushing.

I stared at the carnage, decided that discretion was the only part of valor when dealing with a decade of drunk college students, and beat feet for the nearest bathroom that was not being used as a peep abattoir.  

I have my limits.  Besides, I had to decant all the grape juice I'd consumed in lieu of Riunite.

Ten minutes later I emerged and cautiously crept down the hall to the site of what had begun as a pleasant night with friends and turned into an unexpected homage to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.   It was quiet, almost scarily so, and I couldn't help blinking as I beheld Roomie, flat on her back on the cot Smith insisted was actually a bed, one hand over her eyes.  She was completely alone.

"Uh, Roomie?"

"Yes, Ellid?"

"Are you all right?"

Her voice had a faintly ethereal quality, as if she'd removed herself to another plane of reality in self-defense.  "I'm fine."

"Where is everyone?"  

"The ones from UMass had to catch the last bus home."  Roomie sat up and deliberately put on her glasses.  Her hands were remarkably steady.  "Alice and Ella took the last of the peeps and headed for the pond so they could sacrifice them to Cthulhu."

"They what?"

"That's what they said."  Roomie sighed.  "Cosima and her boyfriend went to watch."

"This I've got to see," I said, snatched up the long black cloak that had gotten me nicknamed "Dracula's bride," and took off for the pond.

Fortunately Paradise Pond, one of the main features of the Smith campus, was right across from our dorm, so it was less than a minute before I arrived.  Cosima and Zeke, wrapped in Cosima's brand-new slate blue Irish cloak, waved dreamily and pointed toward the boathouse dock.  I smiled, waved, and rounded the corner -

And there they were, two students at one of America's finest liberal arts colleges, dancing back and forth like a pair of latter-day bacchantes, beseeching the Great Old One, Paradise Polly, servant of the Dread Lord of R'lyeh himself, to accept their offering.  Something flew through the air…

¡­and as I watched, my jaw practically on the worn gray timber of the dock, I could see these little yellow things bobbing up and down in the inky black water as they drifted lazily toward the waterfall….

Needless to say, the First Ritual Slaughter of the Marshmallow Peeps was considered a rousing success by everyone except for the campus electricians, who had to fix the fuse box, and Roomie's boyfriend, who had had to climb down the fire escape in his stocking feet, walk completely around the dorm, and ring the doorbell until someone let him in.  More peeps were acquired for Halloween (where they looked just fine impaled on someone's knitting needles), Christmas (don't ask), and next Easter ("JAGERNATHA!!  JAGERNATHA!!" takes on an entirely new meaning when it's a marshmallow peep being flattened under a can of Coke, let me tell you).  By the time we all graduated and went our separate ways, enough people in SSFFS knew about the joys of peeps that what had begun as a lark was well on its way to becoming a tradition.

And so it has continued down through the years, mutating into strange forms as one class of fresh-faced girls after another puts their distinctive stamp on what is now one of the greatest, yet least-known rituals of Sophia Smith's "perpetual blessing to the nation and the world."  The exact date and location of the annual slaughter is always a closely kept secret, but it always takes place between the end of finals and Commencement.  Past editions have included a double hecatomb of peeps being decapitated, having their tiny little heads stuck on toothpicks, and being left in arcane patterns outside the President's House; a Viking funeral on Paradise Pond; and of course a recreation of the virgin sacrifices of Chichen Itza at the campus waterfall.  SSFFS has even invited me back a couple of times to tell the story in glorious Technicolor, fabulous Cinemascope, and stereophonic sound, even though I didn't actually sacrifice a single peep.

When I say that this is not precisely the legacy I expected to leave my beloved alma mater, I speak nothing but the God's honest truth.

And if that weren't enough…let's just say that the last time I didn't light a peep on fire, microwave half a dozen, fling a couple into the woods at the back of my lot, flush one or two down the toilet, or shove a peep (or two, or a whole package) down the Insinkerator on the night before Easter was at least twenty years ago, and was followed by such a wave of unmitigated bad luck that I haven't missed one since.  The most memorable post-college slaughter took place at my old apartment in Malden in 1985, when we tried "Ayatollah Peep" for gnosticism, Docetism, Pelagianism, and Manicheism before chopping him to bits with a hatchet, but that hasn't prevented some of us from nailing a peep to a cross made of pretzel sticks while declaiming something about "contemplate what you have learned upon the Tree of Woe" at unexpected times.

Thus it was that last Saturday night I left Conbust, the annual convention that SSFFS holds every March, stopped at the local CVS, and purchased a package of luridly pink marshmallow bunnies.  I got inside the Last Homely Shack, waited for the Triple Felinoid to group-greet me, then slit open the package, ripped out three of the hideous little tooth-rotters, and commended them to their fate as the garbage disposal roared to life….

%%%%%

So...have any of you ever had the urge to destroy an innocuous piece of sugary glop?  Ever seen the numerous, and multiplying, websites about the many many many uses for peeps that have nothing to do with eating them?  Eaten a basketful of peeps AND LIVED?  Come, don't be shy - you can't hear the peeps screaming here Clarice, it's perfectly safe....

%%%%%

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Sun Apr 07, 2013 at  4:14 PM PT: My friend Beata, who was present for this charming bit of history, read this and pointed out that she, not Ella, actually did the Four Questions.  This was not because she was the youngest person there (she wasn't) but because she was the youngest Jew present.  She later cleaned up the remains of the meal because Roomie was such a wreck at the end.

Beata's own family seders tended to feature not her or her sister doing the Four Questions, but her grandfather.  He'd been the youngest growing up, loved doing them, and had a such good time no one was willing to make him stop.

Yes, really.


Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Apr 06, 2013 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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