Eleanor Bayne Johnson
is not a dream. And it is not The Twilight Zone. If anything,
it is the Zone of Unending Noonday Glare. This is the Jelly Belly
jellybean factory, in Fairfield, California.
large jellybeans dangle half-tantalizingly, half-horrifyingly from
the ceiling. They show me back to myself, small, shiny, and possessed
of an anthill of a nose. But I cannot bask in their reflective,
plastic glory for any length of time, imperiled as I am by legions
of swarming, sugar-amped children. Thinking back to my post-Protestant
New York upbringing, I seethe with jealousy of native Californians.
always suspected that, throughout the 1980s, shielded from perma-sun
by the fragrant blossoms of orange trees, California children breakfasted
outdoors on dry Tang stirred into imported Nutella. I imagine that
they drank half-and-half, titrated with horchata for fiber, and
listened to old Beach Boys cassettes blaring from nearby car stereos.
Meanwhile, in Sleepy Hollow, NY, I had pounded All Bran drenched
to uniform flaccidity in nonfat milk, and faked reading the Wall
Street Journal to impress my father, while secretly praying
for another measly, wet snowstorm to keep me home from school. Naturally,
Californians felt entirely at home at the Jelly Belly factory --
organically entitled to all its wonders -- whereas I crept around
like a kid in a porn shop, touching everything with impassioned
all, it might be alarmed, and pre-programmed to telegraph my whereabouts
to my Methodist grandfather in New Mexico. The news of my moral
turpitude would cause his surgeon-hand to slip, blinding an old
woman who had gone in for a "routine cataract removal".
But here I am, twenty-six years old, flipping the bird to my post-Protestant
paranoiac self, pawing jellybeans and manhandling memorabilia meant
for toddlers. Twelve-step programs, my ass: give me a good dose
of factory culture in the searching sunlight of Bay Area consumerism,
and I'll show you an improvement in neurosis.
rapturously through the visitor center, I am assaulted by literature:
polyglot brochures containing Jelly Belly "menus" -- recipes
specifying the bean combinations that produce uncanny culinary simulacra
in the mouth. Once I have learned the Ways of the Force by practicing
with my menu-guide, I may feel confident enough to strike out on
my own. I think of yoking together a Chocolate Pudding-Peanut Butter-Top
Banana-Toasted Marshmallow team, in an effort to recreate my favorite
childhood sandwich: the Nutella-Banana-Fluffernutter. To round out
my atavistic fantasy, I resolve to write a customer feedback card
requesting that the Jelly Belly company beanize Whole Wheat Toast.
I am distracted from my consumer-advocacy ruminatings by the Jelly
Belly Sampling Bar. Tiny, labeled Lucite drawers glisten before
me, manned by cheery tong-armed workers. I can taste flavors ranging
from the classic Very Cherry all the way to the once-outrageous
but now-canonical Buttered Popcorn. Shyly, I acquaint myself with
the new beans on the block: Mango, Plum, and, improbably enough,
Roasted Garlic. I also sample the new Cinnamon Toast, which tastes
so lifelike that I blush at my earlier resolve to lobby for something
as pedestrian as Whole Wheat Toast. I must unlearn what I have learned.
bean I ask for is dispensed into my suddenly childlike and trembling
hand, which elicits from the server a warmly infantilizing smile.
But there is no room for greed at the Jelly Belly Factory. Every
child (of every age) is limited to a reasonable number of samples.
We don't want to run out of anyone's favorite flavor, particularly
considering the distances some children travel to come to this factory.
Or so I am told, when denied my sixth bean. I smile an overconfident
"Of course not" to the Bean Drawerette, thinking, there
it goes: the wire to Grandpa. "Your Granddaughter is a glutton.
Come pick her up."
I am quickly reassured that gelatinacious gluttony is, in fact,
perfectly legitimate, and that my chastising emanated from the Drawerette's
need to set boundaries. Around the corner from the Bean-Bar, it
is possible to purchase two-pound bags of Belly Flops -- beans which,
I presume, no discerning child could be expected to eat. These are
the outcasts, the untouchables: they are Siamese beans, beans too
large or too small, and beans with Jelly Belly logo skewed. What
these beans lack in aesthetics, however, they more than compensate
for in cost effectiveness. These bags go for a mere eight dollars
apiece. Or, in violation of all known rules of multiplication, five
bags for fifteen. Denied that sixth, precious, singular Bean-Bar
sample -- which I know would have introduced me to that flavor,
the flavor, the one I have unwittingly craved since Kindergarten,
the taste that heals all wounds and restores me to full Proustian
recall -- I find consolation in superfluity.
down now by over four kilos of sweet nothings, I begin to notice
the factory, as it were, between the beans. To the left of the front
door I recognize a huge tableau of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He smiles
beneficently, comprised of thousands of jellybeans. This surely
cannot be the same man who starred in Pumping Iron. Is the
sugar glazing my eyeballs? Is there truly a hypertrophic bean mosaic
of the Governator before me? There is. And, furthermore, Arnold
is not alone: bean-portraits of other American Icons loom large
and beatifically sweetened overhead. Chief among them is the late
Ronald Reagan, whose affection for Jelly Bellys is famous among
adoring and empathetic Republicans, and infamous among cynical and
sugar-starved left-wingers. From his glossily pointillist visage,
my eyes track across the room to a huge letter -- probably ten-by-ten
feet, printed, framed and mounted -- that he wrote to the Jelly
Belly Factory, commending a gustatory job well done.
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