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I am writing this diary at a science fiction convention.

That's right.  Instead of being at the Garret listening to the pitter patter of the rain upon the roof, or at the Last Homely Shack with a cat sitting on my head, I'm in a suite at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in Boston, getting ready to head out for a day of fun, panels, possible purchases of out of print books some of which may end up in a future diary, woot! woot! woot!, and similar delights.  I had two panels last night and a panel this afternoon, and as part of me being in the suite, I will be assisting with a couple of parties this afternoon and evening.

It's all going to be fun, and I am planning to enjoy the heck out of myself.  There are friends to meet and greet, movies to watch, art to observe, and costumes to drool over (I've already seen a woman dressed as Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who, complete with a remote-controlled K-9 that is the definition of "awesome" and a girl in a hand-knitted Commander Rogers sweater that not only looked great but looked warm, which is always a plus in Boston in January).  I don't do this every year - I can't afford it much of the time - so I plan to savor every moment.

The one thing I will not, alas, be able to do is complete this week's diary.

It's partially written, and all the research is done, but between overtime at work so I could take yesterday off, packing, and two panels last night, there simply wasn't time.  And since I am but an ordinary human, not a Time Lady who can hop into a TARDIS and laugh at how wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey this all is, I will have to beg everyone's indulgence and promise that yes, next week you will learn all about William LeQueux, an Edwardian writer who who was pretty much the equivalent of the bastard lovechild of Perez Hilton and Dominick Dunne.

However, since you are all loyal, and faithful, I am hereby reprinting a diary about the early days of that august institution, the Smith College Science Fiction and Fantasy Society.  So unless you really, really, really love sugary confections that have been shaped and flavored to look like Easter chickies and will leap through the ether to strangle me for my disdain of these alleged candies, go beneath the Kos Level 0.1 Kaiju to read about:

THE SILENCE OF THE PEEPS
 

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.  My BFF, Beata, read the Four Questions not because she was the youngest person present (she wasn't) but because she was youngest Jew.  Besides, it wasn't as if she got to ask the Questions herself; not only did she have a younger sister, her grandfather enjoyed asking the Questions so much that even though he was the oldest person present and should have been answering them, he insisted on asking them himself.

Yes.  Really.

As I said, it was going along quite splendidly, minor blips like the electricity aside.  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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