The gathering was in a three-bedroom apartment just east of 51st Street and Troost, a beautiful space decorated with orb-shaped rice-paper lanterns, red-shag area rugs and a sexy leopard-print couch. The host, Angie Rosete, was attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City and needed a way to earn some extra cash. This party was one of the requirements she had to fulfill to become a Tupperware saleswoman.
Rosete welcomed into her home that evening's official Tupperware rep a shy, puffy-cheeked woman with dark, curly hair and glasses. Everybody gathered around the coffee table, and the rep explained how the evening would work. She would display and describe the available food-storage items one at a time. The guests could interrupt with questions; each person who included the word Tupperware in a question about Tupperware would take home a free small piece of Tupperware, courtesy of Tupperware.
When it came time for her to describe the Rock 'N Serve, the rep perked up. One of Tupperware's newer lines, the Rock 'N Serve set was clearly among her favorites. It was easy to see why. Each Rock 'N Serve item had a lid with a burper-type piece inserted into it. It opened to reveal a spout that could be used to pour the contents perhaps soup? into a serving dish. Conveniently, it also could be opened to release steam when its contents were being microwaved.
You can put it in the freezer, she explained. It's microwavable, it's bulletproof, you can drop it, it's
"Excuse me," the Pitch reporter interrupted. "Did you say this Tupperware is bulletproof?"
The rep offered the reporter a prize for using the word Tupperware, then answered the question.
"Yes," she said.
"Why?" someone else asked, flabbergasted.
The rep offered only a bewildered stare. An awkward silence followed before the party finally resumed, and the bulletproof question went unanswered.
It lingered, though.
Would leftovers in a Rock 'N Serve container really be fully protected from an armed assault? And who worries about an intruder threatening yesterday's lunch at gunpoint?
Later, after Rosete had completed her own Tupperware sales training, we asked whether she had been told that Rock 'N Serve was bulletproof.
"They didn't tell us to say it was bulletproof," she said. "But they did tell us it was the same material used in airplane windshields and bulletproof glass."
The Pitch put in a call to Tupperware and spoke with the company's head of engineering and design, David Kosuma. He confirmed that polycarbonate, used in the Rock 'N Serve line, is also used in the windshields of fighter jets as well as in the windows of presidential cars. "But of course, at a much greater thickness [in the vehicles]," he said.
When we asked, point-blank, if the Rock 'N Serve line was bulletproof, Kosuma answered, "If you're asking if I would hide behind one of these if someone was shooting at me, I wouldn't."
Kosuma detailed stories of dropping full Tupperware from great heights, freezing it, subjecting it to intense heat.
"We do a lot of product testing," he said. "But we have never shot it."
Well, guess what. We have.
With a little help from some very unexpected friends.
Sculptor Mac Maclanahan isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. With a day job at Wenzel Steel and an art studio filled with demolition-derby cars, he makes fine art with a wrench and a blowtorch.
Maclanahan recently moved into a new "studio" space: a 7-acre plot of land near Quindaro in Kansas City, Kansas. The neighborhood used to house the city's salt trucks and other utility vehicles, but with storage now moved to a new location, the area is deserted. Maclanahan shares the space with an industrial liquidator. His artistic medium is cars, so what most artists would call a huge studio would be insufficient for him. "I have 15 cars," he explains. "I have a lot of shit. I need to spread out."
When he first started going to the studio, he thought he might need to bring along his shotgun for protection. Now that he has grown accustomed to his surroundings, he no longer feels that way. In fact, he hopes eventually to invite other artists working on heavy-duty, industrial-sized sculptures to share space there with him, turning the site into an outdoor work-and-display space similar to a mechanic's garage.
"I'm tired of coffee-table art," he says, explaining the criteria he'll use to select his studiomates. "If it can't crush a coffee table, it doesn't belong there."
Maclanahan is nothing if not a contradiction. He's 100 percent manly man, 100 percent sensitive artist, 100 percent fearless city guy and 100 percent farmboy from Missourah. De Soto, to be specific.
His parents moved to De Soto, a few miles south of St. Louis, when he was 7 years old. They were afraid that their son, a dyslexic boy who had already smashed in a brand-new Corvette's window, would become a juvenile delinquent in the city. So the family went back to his dad's farm, the one his mom had hated because there wasn't any running water.
In the country, he learned to shoot guns. "I learned how to shoot with a .22 and a tin can," Maclanahan recalls. "When I got older, I went hunting deer and squirrels. We'd always eat squirrels. It sounds weird, but we used to really like it. My mom fried it. It was like rabbit, kind of gamey."
He played football at De Soto High School and rode motocross. When he turned 18, he devoted himself full time to cars. But after losing a wheel during a jump and landing badly, Maclanahan couldn't walk for two months and gave up the fast driving. That's when he really got into art mainly ceramics, which he studied during his first year at junior college.
He transferred to the Kansas City Art Institute after a recruiter visited his school and encouraged him to pursue art more seriously. Maclanahan was successful at the Art Institute and earned some recognition for his sculpting, but he found himself in trouble there, too. "I kicked in a few doors," he explains. "I used to get pretty drunk. But I worked pretty hard, also."
After working toward a master's of fine art degree at Boston University, Maclanahan went back to De Soto, where his dad built him a studio. During that time, he took up the family business in earnest and found out that he liked ranching especially cattle auctions better than he thought he would. But then he got in a fight with his dad, who, in the heat of the argument, called his artist son a faggot.
"I about punched him in the face," Maclanahan recalls. That's when he knew it was time to leave. Later, after his father died, he went back to help his mom, commuting between Kansas City and De Soto on his motorcycle.
In Kansas City, Maclanahan became an assistant to sculptors Dale Eldred and Jim Leedy back in the mid-'80s and worked for Boulevard Beer later in the decade. Around this time, he and a girlfriend ventured out to a demolition derby. He had grown up going to derbies every weekend and was excited about going back.
What he loves about the demolition derby is how perfectly democratic the sport is. The car is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter what gender you are, what race you are, how big you are, how strong you are. You just have to put the pedal to the floor, and then it's a matter of simple velocity, of objects in motion staying in motion until they collide at high speeds. The unpredictable crashing part is what Maclanahan calls "the abstract chaos of the derby."
Eventually, he got the idea to combine the demolition derby with art. What appealed to him most was the idea of making something and then letting it go. "You build it the best you can," he says of the derby car. "And then the idea is to destroy it. I got totally turned on by that."
Each car Maclanahan registers in a derby is a collaboration with other area artists, who paint hoods or contribute nice-looking "logos" for the doors. Maclanahan takes care of the mechanics so the car will run. Then he sends all that work, all that art, out to be smashed. He uses the remnants of the cars to make art inspired by the people who have driven them, and he films everything for a documentary he's making called We Ain't Stupid.
The title comes from a derby enthusiast whom Maclanahan and his crew interviewed at one event. Part of the way through the interview, the subject grew angry because he thought the artists were making fun of him. He started to walk away, but Maclanahan encouraged him to come back. The man stopped, looked back over his shoulder and said, "We ain't stupid."
The funny thing about stereotypes is how they tend to contradict themselves. Take the stereotype of the artist.
Artists, according to one myth, are privileged, snooty people sitting idly by, whimsically painting between nasal-voiced discussions about postmodernism, fancy berets sported all around. On the other hand, they're also thought to be dirty, smelly and broke. Not just broke but opposed to comfort and luxury and too impractical to do what's necessary to obtain comfort and luxury. And then there's the quaint stereotype invented by people who romanticize art, forgetting that art is work physical work. Artists are often viewed as intellectuals, not laborers. An artist is liberal. An artist may have an accent but not a twang. And a man who is an artist is too intimate with his own feminine side for things like an NRA membership.
Then there's the equally self-contradicting stereotype of the rural Midwesterner, particularly the rural Midwestern male. As outsiders would have it, he has more know-how than book-learnin'. He's handy and self-sufficient. Depending on which stereotype you're working with, he's either a brave soldier preserving everything wholesome and simple and good in America or he's drunk, armed and toothless, a racist homophobe attracted to his cousin and about to ruin everything.
So what do you do with the Midwestern artist? When he picks up his hammer, is he fixing something or is he making a piece?
And when he picks up a gun and points it at some Tupperware filled with raspberry-flavored Jell-O, should you run?
The original idea was to test, on Maclanahan's land in Kansas City, Kansas, whether Tupperware is bulletproof. But you can't shoot guns within city limits. Well, people can and do, but it's illegal.
So Ryan Gale offered his family's farm in Lathrop, Missouri not far from the Jesse James Museum.
Gale is an artist, too. As an 18-year-old, he considered applying to the Kansas City Art Institute but was scared off by the financial demands of attending the school. So he did some vocational art advertising, sign making and display work before turning his dream of being a sculptor into a reality that's not so different from sculpting. Gale is a self-employed construction contractor who has teamed up with some of the city's most innovative architectural firms to work on buildings in the Crossroads District.
"I'm fortunate enough that I can work with exceptional architects on fun projects with design-build elements," Gale says. "These aren't cookie-cutter ranch houses. We're going into old buildings and trying to find new approaches to old things. There's a lot of hands-on. And at the end of the day, you've built something."
On the day of the Tupperware shoot, Maclanahan and Gale brought their own guns.
But most of the weaponry the XKS sniper rifle for example was on loan from the painter Phil Corbett. He's a carpenter by trade and the former manager of A Streetcar Named Desire (the Crown Center hamburger joint housed inside a train car). He's also a Vietnam War veteran. Local artists know they when they need a gun to shoot their art, Corbett's the man to see.
When sculptor Jesse Small was making military-themed art, he used Corbett's arsenal to put holes in his work. One day, Small brought a piece to Corbett's place, and Corbett told Small that he shouldn't shoot it, that he would ruin it. Small didn't listen. He shot the art anyway. As soon as Small did it, according to Corbett, Small knew it was a mistake. That's the last time Small went over to shoot art. "He quit doing it, I ate his ass out so bad," Corbett reports.
For the Tupperware test, Gale's wife, Leah, hauled to the farm some serious WMDs from Corbett's collection. The XKS was a big device with wood siding and a tripod to hold it steady. The rare XC-220 came disassembled, its metal pieces contained in a camouflaged, Army-issue case. The riot gun was intended for crowd control; hope ran high that it was up to the job of Tupperware control.
At the farm already were Gale, Maclanahan and a handful of others, including Burak Düvenci and David Moré installation artists who wanted to capture the sound of the gunfire for future shows. They had been getting the official tour, seeing the cows and the chickens, observing the dead geese that had been hunted on the property that morning (only two per hunter, as the law clearly states) and setting up a stand to hold the Tupperware, using the tools in Grandpa Gale's tinkering shed. Meanwhile, everyone but the vegetarian in the group ate homemade, freshly harvested deer jerky, which had a disturbing rubbery texture but tasted pretty good.
The largest Tupperware bin held apples. (This was a nod to the Williams Tell, who shot an apple on his son's head, and Burroughs, who shot his wife trying to re-enact Tell's scene.) The other four containers were full of red Jell-O. The shallow box had three compartments one with red gelatin, one with green, and one mixed to simulate a color wheel.
Tupperware piece No. 1: Rock 'N Serve Large Deep Contents: five apples (four Golden Delicious, one Gala) Distance: 68 yards Weapon: hunting rifle
After a while spent trying to adjust Corbett's guns and shooting the Tupperware from 100 yards away, the artists closed in on the target, shooting instead from 68 yards with the farm rifle used by the Gale family for hunting. The group passed around a pair of binoculars, trying to see where the bullets were going, to no avail. Maclanahan grew frustrated and actually ran up on the Tupperware, diving onto his stomach in the tall prairie grass and firing without mercy. (The Pitch reporter, fearing the Tupperware might repel bullets and send them ricocheting back, as in an old Western, tried to get everyone to hide behind a pickup truck, but her recommendation fell on deaf ears.) For a long time, nobody thought the Tupperware had been hit. Then, through the binoculars, someone noticed a tiny speck on the Tupperware. It had, at some point, been struck. Apple guts had splattered about inside the container, and the plastic bin had been punctured three times. There also was one dent on the bin, implying that a bullet at some point had bounced off. The evidence of this phenomenon boosted morale considerably.
Tupperware piece No. 2: Rock 'N Serve Medium Deep Contents: raspberry Jell-O Distance: 68 feet Weapon: various, numerous
This time, the Tupperware fired upon with the Corbett arsenal from 68 feet appeared to be smashing to smithereens, based on the fact that the lid flew off and Jell-O was splattering everywhere. It was easier to see because a piece of cardboard had been placed behind the Tupperware so that gunmen and observers could see where bullets and/or Jell-O globules were going. But when someone went to look at the Tupperware, it turned out to have cracked without revealing a clean hole from a bullet passing straight through. That's when the group started firing from about 30 feet, everyone going nuts over the fact that the bullets hadn't actually passed through the container's sides. Exactly when the Tupperware was officially blown to pieces is hard to say because it was damned near impossible to get the determined band of artists to stop shooting it.
Tupperware piece No. 3: Rock 'N Serve Divided Dish Contents: tri-color Jell-O (lime, raspberry and lime-raspberry) Distance: 30-40 feet Weaponry: various, numerous
Everyone thought this piece of Tupperware had been punctured almost immediately, with Gale and Maclanahan firing at it using their own shotguns from about 40 feet. This was incorrect. It had been compromised, certainly. But the first splattering of Jell-O signaled nothing but the displacement of the lid and the container becoming airborne. So the artists fired some more, and then the piece looked really obliterated. But once again, a closer inspection revealed that the Tupperware had held up better than anyone expected. The container showed evidence of buckshot lodged inside it (which caused many a face to light up) and numerous cracks but no clean holes.
Then the group started gunning the damned Jell-O from 30 feet. Already compromised, the Tupperware was finally punctured cleanly, and Jell-O, instead of splattering globules, oozed slowly from the hole in a rather grotesque manner. The red Jell-O, green Jell-O and combined Jell-O (now brown) swirled together, looking wholly unappetizing. This piece, everyone agreed, was the most bulletproof in the set. (Though, when considering practical applications of the concept of bulletproof, we'd like to remind readers that relatively bulletproof might not cut it.)
Tupperware piece No. 4: Rock 'N Serve Medium Shallow Contents: raspberry Jell-O Distance: not far at all Weaponry: bow and arrow
Gale piped up with the suggestion that the Tupperware face an old-fashioned foe: the bow and arrow. One of Gale's friends happened to stop by with a super-high-tech archery set. This was this man's weapon of choice when hunting. He liked it because it required yogilike concentration that aligned body and mind. And because it was cool as shit. With a fiber-optic viewfinder, a sharp metal dagger of a tip and glow-in-the-dark parts, this was the archery set of the future. It also kicked butt against the Rock 'N Serve. The first arrow went straight through both sides of the Medium Shallow dish. Incredibly enough, though, the plasticlike material in the Tupperware sealed back up around the arrow. NO JELL-O SPILLED OUT OF THE CONTAINER!
Had this dish been pierced by an arrow in someone's kitchen, the contents would have been safe, and there would have been no messy cleanup. The attacker also would have been out an arrow. It is really hard to get an arrow back out of this particular container, given the Tupperware's sealing properties. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Tupperware piece No. 5: Rock 'N Serve Medium Shallow Contents: raspberry Jell-O Method of attack: skeet shooting
As soon as Gale ran to get the skeet shooter from the shed and started teaching people how to use it, the outdoor fun began to feel like playing a video game back when video games encouraged players to shoot things other than pedestrians. Even the gentle, nongun-wielding Düvenci and Moré started shooting with joy. And so originated the idea for how to make the most of the last piece of Tupperware: Throw it in the air. Shoot it midflight.
Everyone stood in a semicircle and fired at the flying Jell-O. On the first throw, the Tupperware was punctured but not obliterated. By now, however, puncturing the Tupperware just wasn't good enough. Jell-O. Must. Splatter.
Pitch photographer Luke Echterling had some duct tape in his truck, and that was used to cover the hole so that everyone could shoot the Tupperware some more. On the second throw, heavier ammo was used and the Tupperware blew to pieces, leaving a scattering of red Jell-O on tall blades of grass blowing in the country breeze. Everyone clapped and cheered.
"Did you get all that Tupperware shot?" Gale's Grandma Ruby asked when everyone went inside for lunch.
Yes, they answered proudly. Yes. Yes, we did. We got all that Tupperware shot.
Back at Tupperware headquarters, head engineer David Kosuma told us that Tupperware isn't intended to be bulletproof.
Regarding the fact that the company had used polycarbonate for the construction of its Rock 'N Serve line, Kosuma said, "Our criteria was to meet the specifications of a lifetime warranty."
Could the Tupperware that was shot up by the artists be returned under said specifications?
"If you returned the Tupperware you had shot," he answered, "my guess is that would be considered an abuse beyond normal use. Normal use would be for food."
Sounds like David Kosuma doesn't know many Midwestern artists.