Jessica Helfand | Essays

Significant Objects: Elvis Chocolate Tin


Significant Objects is a much-discussed experiment conducted by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker. Their hypothesis: if a talented writer invents a story about a thrift-store object, that object will acquire not merely subjective but objective value — on eBay. How better to test this hypothesis than via a week-long collaboration with Design Observer? The fifth of five stories is by Jessica Helfand; it has also been posted to Significant Objects, and the object itself is for sale here on eBay.

Elvis Chocolate Tin
Harriet squeezed the last flecks of lemon pulp into her Diet Pepsi and thought about all the men who had loved her. She counted chronologically, beginning with kindergarten, and moving forward year by year, class by class by class. In kindergarten, Steven had given her penny candy sticks — a whole box of them — lemon-lime and tutti-frutti and root beer, which was called sarsaparilla and made her gag. There was Robert in middle school who baked her muffins, and Danny in high school who spiked Harriet’s seltzer with miniature vials of vodka he’d swiped from home. (His mother was a flight attendant on Aer Lingus.) In college, there was Luke, who smiled at her in the library stacks and read her sonnets. Later, he broke up with her over shrimp cocktail. “I don’t have room for you in my life anymore,” he said to her casually one evening — as if he were discussing something mindless like the menu or the weather or her shoes.

She'd hated shrimp cocktail ever since.

Harriet associated each man in her life with a word — tall, skinny, bald, funny — and each of these words with a taste — bitter, sour, herbal, sweet. Flavors were personality-specific, each a connection to a particular face, or voice, or an experience she couldn’t possibly place without a cue. Lavender, licorice, popcorn, pesto — the list was long and as time wore on, largely interchangeable. Like so many things in life.

But not chocolate. Chocolate was Elvis: Harriet’s most guilty pleasure. She loved that Elvis was an anagram of Lives — his lives, her lives, did it even matter? Harriet prided herself on being the farthest thing from sentimental, but where Elvis was concerned, all bets were off.

She’d met him once as a child. It was Valentine’s Day at Graceland, and Harriet had shuttled down with her family. At five, she was by far the youngest, and her older sister had bought her a milkshake to occupy her hands and keep her quiet. Wedged in among legions of fans, she stood quietly between miles of grownup legs, nursing her drink, when suddenly — the crowd parted.

Harriet felt the ground tremble, heard the click-buzz of the Polaroids, and held her breath. And there he was: the King himself. She gazed up at his massive face, framed by that huge mane of black hair, thick and shiny as an oil slick.

He grinned, pointing.


Harriet nodded, then held out her hand to offer him a sip of her milkshake. He smiled and leaned over, sending this astonishing aroma — a hypnotic blend of Tareyton and Brylcreem — cascading into the air, and kissed her on the cheek.

It was her first kiss.

Strolling through a flea market some years later, Harriet had spied an old Russell Stover chocolate tin in the shape of a heart, a youthful portrait of Elvis on the front. She’d bought it instantly, and had then misplaced it, only to rediscover it sometime later through a random online search. Lives indeed: unlike all those boys who broke her heart, Elvis could not, would not disappoint. And neither, it appeared, could chocolate.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Technology

Comments [5]

Love your Blog thanks for sharing it.
Lorie Price Bischoff owner of Soulful Adornments Gallery

Triple Elvis
Elvis is an anagram of Lives, Veils + Evils.
Carl W. Smith

What a lovely story

I wish more people could have seen Graceland before Elvis died. There was a radical shift the day he passed away. That was when the crowds appeared and have never left. The area around there was mostly undeveloped, except for the Presbyterian church that was built next door in the mid-70s. It has since been purchased by Elvis Presley Enterprises and is now their business office. And now that entire area of Hwy 51 (Elvis Presley Blvd.) has been covered with cheap stripmallesque buildings.

When Elvis lived though, it was really a sweet, serene place and not the tacky tourist trap of today. The gate in the back near the stable was never closed. If you'd wandered back there and come across him or any of the family, you'd have probably gotten to ride a horse or play with the many toys he kept back there.

Very nice story though and a delight to read.
(BTW+FWIW the local pronunciation is "gracelynn" with the last syllable being said just as in Brooklyn.)

Milton Glaser’s SVA: A Legacy of Graphic Design
August 31 - September 26, 2009
Reception: Tuesday, September 15, 6-8pm
Carl W. Smith

Jobs | June 24