WASHINGTON. — On the chance there is a life beyond television, I pulled myself away from the blow-by-blow, bulletin-by-bulletin war coverage, to foray to the supermarket in search of a bag of jelly beans. No mischief was intended, I just wanted to limber some muscles, reconnoiter civilian life and snack on a comforting, familiar treat.
To my surprise, ''jube jels'' had replaced jelly beans on the display-shelf spike. I asked the store manager about it. ''Jelly beans haven't been popular since Reagan. When the liberation of Kuwait started, we replaced 'em with jubes. A couple of the older clerks tell me that jubes were popular during World War II. You know, in movie theaters, for kiddie matinees or on dish give-away-night. Like that.''
Disappointed, I quickly exited the supermarket and headed for a neighborhood convenience store a few blocks away. Jelly beans were now making insistently colorful pictures in my head; they were dancing and clacking into each other like marbles, teasing my taste buds. I thought about those jube jels that had displaced my favorite candies, I remembered that ''jujubes,'' as they were called all those many years ago, stripped dental fillings bare. At this point in my life, they'd probably dislodge my mouth's entire infrastructure, particularly the bridges.
I passed a small group of kids from a local private school. Apparently on a lunch break, they sat in a circle on a grassy knoll. Actually, on this very cold day, the area looked more like a colorless tundra. They were oblivious to the cold, bundled into comfortable multi-colored down jackets, crocheted scarves and hats and leather boots, lace laden.
It was nice to see a group of humans we hear so little about, sandwiched as they are between the youth of the Nixon and Reagan presidencies. These teens were born during the Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations. I overheard them; it was impossible not to. They were animated and pink-cheeked.
''They're history man,'' one intoned.
''All the armies, tanks, rifles, grenades, bayonets.''
''Well that's a lot of power, General!''
''They're history. There are no more conventional wars, Saddam's got this arsenal dispersed in the desert and his head buried in the sand.''
''It's high tech all the way.''
''The new world order.''
I moved on, propelled by their patriotic echoes. Perhaps, I thought, I would purchase two packages of my favorite candy. Heck, with the war on, there could be a shortage or rationing.
The store manager told me what I didn't want to hear, ''We don't have any jelly beans left. Won't have any until the salesman comes back next week.'' He also told me things I hadn't thought to ask about: ''We're low on a number of other items. Seems we've had a run on them since the war. Tuna fish, frozen pizzas, aromatic soap, certain pain relievers, paper goods and vitamins. Things are happening.''
The manager, trying to be helpful, suggested an alternative. ''The gourmet shoppe, down the streets, up the hill on your left. It's got specialty items, like jelly beans.''
And they're probably packaged in glass jars, I thought, like coffee beans and chocolate-covered almonds. No, I wanted some summer colors to break through the dog days of war in January.
The yen began to recede as I weighed the energy involved in pursuing hermetically sealed jelly beans. I could wait a week; besides I needed to get back to watching the war.
Sheldon Tromberg is a Washington writer.