Illustration by Mike Lee
My friend Sharon gave me a big jar of Knott’s Berry Farm Concord Grape Jelly. A political discussion ensued: Given the history of the Knott family and the presence of “Gallop ’n’ Grape,” the Stepin Fetchit–style mascots on the label (“Yowza! Dat Miss Cordelia she show-doo know her grapeberry!”), should we be consuming their shit?
No. But since the damage had already been done, we reasoned, someone might as well eat it.
This particular jar was not originally intended to be a gift to me but rather became one when, after returning from shopping, Sharon and her husband discovered that they’d already misinvested in an identical jar of fascist jelly a week earlier. When offered, I accepted the responsibility of owning the spare jar — not because I’m a proponent of Big Jelly, but to save Sharon and her husband from the stress of having four immense cartoon-grape Stepin Fetchits (two per label) shuffling around in their refrigerator for God knows how long. Who could ever use up so much grape jelly in one lifetime?
Late-20th-century café, 10:30 a.m. Martina seats a young European-American man in thick black sunglasses and matching fedora at the table just beyond a family of four would-be pancake eaters awaiting syrup. Today is Brunch Day: For an additional 2 bucks, cheap champagne and orange juice will gladly accompany your breakfast. The freshly seated man, who resembles equally Elvis Costello and Peter Case but isn’t either, asks Martina for champagne; she fills his glass; he drains it and asks for another; she fills it again and leaves, quickly.
The man sips at his second glass and begins to examine the things on his table — sugar dispenser, flatware rolled up in a napkin, matching glass salt-and-pepper shakers and a fully stocked four-column jelly caddy — with a disturbing level of concentration, just shy of cocking his head. Satisfied at last (with something), he selects a jelly from the caddy, peels back the foil, digs out the fruity sugarblob with a teaspoon and downs it with an audible gulp. Then he selects another and repeats.
Jellyman eats jelly.
Pancake Family’s long-overlooked syrup finally arrives, and the solemn foursome attack their pancakes. Pancake Family do not pay attention to Jellyman. They pass syrup, drown and re-drown pancakes, discuss someone named Mrs. Jorgensen.
Jellyman on a mission. Jellyman a machine. Select, peel, scoop, devour — maybe scoop again, scour for stray jelly molecules — discard, repeat. Fast, smooth, automatic. Arrange discarded containers in a neat grid across the table; leave each peeled-back foil roll yawning precisely in an easterly direction.
Will he do it? Yes. In under three minutes, Jellyman eats the entire rack of 32 modular jelly packages, washing it down with the last of his second champagne and wiping his mouth triumphantly. Finished!
Unless . . . Jellyman eyes Pancake Family and rises.
This can’t be good.
Jellyman stands stiff and proud behind the two younger pancake eaters, points at and speaks to the table’s superfluous centerpiece.
“Are you guys using your jelly?”
“No. Go ahead.”
Jellyman delicately extracts Pancake Family’s jelly caddy, half-full with a dozen or more precious pectined fruitsugar packets, sets it on his table, sits back down and then, somewhat less than delicately, continues his project where he left off.
Martina approaches with the bad champagne; Jellyman, unable to speak, nods and waves until she fills his glass and leaves.
At last my breakfast arrives, my unemployed American breakfast . . .
Eggs and sausage and a side of toast
Coffee and a roll
Hash browns over easy . . .
—Tom Waits, “Eggs and Sausage
(In a Cadillac With Susan Michelson)”
. . . and Jellyman begins to hum.
To build your own fat-free Jellyman breakfast multimedia memorial, download a zipped WAV of James Taylor singing 'Jellyman Kelly' on Sesame Street; “How To Place the Grape”, a short QuickTime movie demonstrating the proper placement of a grape in a microwave, courtesy of Ohio State University Physics Department’s Carl Acampado; “Grapepicker,” a portrait by Ken Light and an almost identical portrait of the grapepicker’s owner, Walter Knott; and a moseying jellyfish QuickTime video from someone at UC Berkeley’s Instructional Technology Program. After unzipping “Jellyman Kelly,” open all files in your registered QuickTime Player, arrange to taste, set all non-JPEGs to Loop and select Play All Movies.