Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Plastic, Oh No!

By Kayte VanScoy

JUNE 15, 1998:  The splashy brochure ended up with the rest of the junkmail on the dining room credenza and I didn't look at it again for a week. Finally, during a fit of sorting, the happy, peppy brochure surfaced in the nick of time. "You're invited to a Tupperware demonstration!" the brochure read. The flipside was a chunky red graphic that said "Oven!" only the "e" in oven was really a little Tupperware container with its lid cracked open to make the "e."

Adorable.

When did it become acceptable to place an exclamation point after an innocuous little noun like "oven?"

In any case, Tupperware parties don't really exist anymore, do they? Or have they been creeping in the depths of the cultural sea like some sort of early-Sixties coelacanth waiting to surface and bestow its extinct arcana on a new epoch of consumers? My name was addressed on the front of the brochure by hand, I noticed. Perhaps this was some sort of joke, from a friend.

Breaking the brochure's seal sent page after accordioned page of colorful kitchenware cascading towards the floor. At the top was an inset form: "Host" and "Date." Under "Host" was the name of my friend Doris. The "Date" was the following day, Saturday. The last slot read "We'll be demonstrating..." and highlighted in gold paint pen was "Glorious Summertime Tupperware," in caps, no less. Clever gimmick, I thought. What a curious way to invite people to a barbecue. What garage sale find came filled with these old Tupperware invitations? I wondered. Then I e-mailed.

"Doris," I typed, "this brochure is hilarious. Surely, you're not actually having a Tupperware party, so what's the deal?"

I clicked on send.

It was impossible not to flip through the brochure, there were so many exclamation points on everything. So many primary colors and smiling families and catchy phrasing like "Save Time With Tandem Cooking!" and "Be the First to Have the New Rock 'n Serve Rounds!"

The phone rang and it was Doris. "Believe it," she said. "I'm having a Tupperware party."

Now, Doris and I are not close friends and, furthermore, she's an editor of mine - which means she's my boss - which means that laughing out loud was not an option. How serious she was, how long she had been secretly saddling up this plastic pony I had no idea. But I wasn't about to turn down what I assumed would be a once-in-a-lifetime Tupperware party invitation.


illustration by Terri Lord

Blue. Yellow. Green. One on top of the other, the opaque hues chirped from across the room over the tops of the four female heads sucking down margaritas and spinach hors d'oeuvres. A fortress of plastic utensils betrayed the subtext of all the pleasant small talk - this was a business luncheon, at least for one of us.

The beehived spectres of my imagining had always been sipping red-flavored Hi-C. But staring down that mountain of useful containers made me realize that in the past, too, those ladies probably had to get good and soused in order to begin cackling over kitchenware.

The sell began innocently enough. A mention that the plastic tumblers filled with green froth were (surprise, surprise) a matching Tupperware set that we could order today! I have never even used the word "tumbler," but, as our hostess pointed out, the cups kept drinks hot or cold for hours and came with, of course, that burp-able, un-usurpable Tupperware lid to keep the drinks from tumbling out of your tumbler. Oh-ho-ho, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.

My skin was starting to crawl a bit when Tuesday, the Tupper-ette, stood up to begin in earnest. I had met her a few times before, and she had never seemed psychotic. But there she was, telling us how to use such cheeky inventions as an orange peeler (a plastic stick) and a one-cubic-inch container called a Smidget, "For when you just have a smidget left." Yeah, that's not called a smidget, that's called garbage. Gross - an entire business built on keeping old food around.

I don't cook. I hate the kitchen. I don't even microwave very well. Like many in this hedonistic day and age, I want my food to appear on cue and disappear when I'm done with it, taking all its nasty chore-ridden dishware along with it. The idea that I would want or need a Cheese Grater, Lemon Zester, or Remarka-Bowl was ludicrous. And yet...

Those measuring spoons with the flat bottoms for setting on the counter were pretty ingenious! And those popsicle makers, remember those? That's what the space age was all about - useful innovation. Dreams of convenience began to dance in my head. I would change, become worthy of the Tupperware. I would make a gallon of soup ahead of time and freeze it for up to two months. Tupperware would cast that final consumer miracle over my life, making me healthier, happier, and more relaxed.

Tuesday broke this spell when she began mimicking her Tupperware mentor, apparently a daffy holdover who counseled her acolytes to handle the plastic as if it were fine china and to hold the product away from their bodies, instead of in front of their torsos, as any normal person might be apt to do. The reason? "It's not about you, it's about the Tupperware." Despite Tuesday's own self-aware mockery, I was horrified.

No! I screamed inside my head. It is about you, Tuesday. And about you, Doris. And you and you and even me. It's about us, for god's sake, not this stupid plastic or the convenience of preparing delicious leftovers. The feminist in me reeled up on scaly hind legs to squash my own chuckling post-feminist inner cynic. Under the shadow of the looming talons of my hard-line liberal upbringing, I taunted the beast. Then I caught a glance of the matching five-piece kitchen tool set including cake cutter. I was just hunting for a cake cutter last week!

It should come as no surprise that I ended up purchasing the kitchen tool set and even the measuring spoons, although I'll probably be using them for soup spoons in less than a month. What did come as a surprise to me was that it seemed natural, even inevitable by the time I left the party, that I was scheduling my own Tupperware party at my house, preparing to hand over the addresses of my friends like some kind of Hollywood blacklister.

Here they are, I would say, probable Tupperware customers: probably feeling pretty ambivalent about their feminist mothers and their own late-Twenties lives and the fact that they don't want babies or husbands yet. Not just yet; probably at just the right moment in their lives to be searching for that arc of history to connect them to the studied avarice of their Depression-era grandmothers and the consumer optimism of their Baby Booming parents; probably ready to convince themselves that the same plasticware which made it possible for their forebears to serve their families like slaves might also liberate their own lives from kitchen drudgery so that they would be released - finally free - into the wide, wide world.


Kayte VanScoy recently gave up the "Council Watch" column to devote more time to polishing her toenails.


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