I ring the doorbell of a suburban South San Francisco home and am greeted by towering Southern belle Helen Waite. Helen is decked out in a bright green '50s-style dress, pearl earrings and necklace, white gloves, and white patent leather heels. Her hair, bright auburn and styled in a three-foot beehive, bulges from her head like an oversized Kewpie doll. Helen welcomes me into what is about to become an afternoon unlike any I've ever experienced.
With a double identity to rival a superhero, Helen Waite, Tupperware saleswoman, is also Chaz Kujak, a male manager at a biotech company. Leaving his business suit and tie behind, Chaz transforms himself into the quippy, charming, slightly crude hostess of your next afternoon party.
I'd heard about Helen several months ago, and imagined that an afternoon under her charms would feel like a surreal episode of Mad Men. As an addict of that show, the idea of hosting a retro Tupperware party seemed exciting in a Betty Draper sort of way. Helen offers a satirical re-creation of mid-century living with food, drink, and her outrageous performance. This particular revision has a distinctly San Francisco edge: Mad Men meets the Castro.
If I had arrived two hours before the event, I would have found Chaz in the early stages of his transformation. With his oversized eyelashes glued on, cheeks rouged, and lips painted, Chaz's done-up face doesn't quite match the rest of his manly appearance. After setting up his stage – laying out the Tupperware, assembling trays of food, and arranging furniture – he takes a breather from his hectic preparations to smoke a cigarette on the porch in his pre-show attire of sweatpants, wrinkled dress shirt, and buzzed hair. But within minutes he is back inside and ready to undergo his complete transformation.
The process is quick, and not long after Chaz disappears, Helen Waite emerges. An already tall Chaz becomes a staggering 8 1/2 feet after all accoutrements are added. She barely clears the 9-foot ceilings and has to practically bend in half when moving from room to room, holding her wig in place so it doesn't fall off her head. "Remind me," she jokes, "to tell guests that there is a 9-foot ceiling height minimum for my events."Helen welcomes guests as they arrive, kissing each one on both cheeks and greeting them with giggles and jokes, as if they are old friends. "Well hello, ladies!" "And gentlemen," she quickly adds to address the few Danny Zuko-looking men in attendance. "For all your Tupperware needs – go to Helen Waite!" she adds, her name a play on "hell and wait." Guests are appropriately decked out in poodle dresses, cuffed blue jeans, cat-eye glasses, and saddle shoes.
I thought that Tupperware parties became extinct around the emergence of spandex. Little did I know, the days of leisurely homemaker parties are on the upswing. Helen isn't the only one of her kind, either. Her upline and inspiration, Dixie Longate, has become famous all over the world for her Tupperware show. In fact, after seeing Dixie's act on a cruise last summer, Chaz knew that this was the next step for his drag performances (which were usually reserved for emceeing at his company's Halloween parties and gay pride parades).
Helen turns the proceedings into a show. She offers guests Kool-Aid lemonade and homemade deviled eggs, rice crispy treats, and Wonder Bread cheese sandwiches (crustless, of course), which she serves out of the Tupperware she's selling. The organizer of today's party, Amy, chooses to serve people pink cosmos and white wine, probably improving on the drink menu of a real '50s Tupperware party. We watch Helen demonstrate each item and spend the last hour sipping drinks, peering through the catalogue, and selecting our favorite items to purchase. Two ladies gawk over a sandwich keeper while another is coveting a salad spinner. (I lust after the citrus peeler as the newest addition to my kitchen.) But Amy doesn't leave empty-handed either. The more Tupperware her friends buy, the more free gifts Amy receives.
Helen, on the other hand, barely gets compensated. She does it for the fun of the show and the sake of Tupperware. Her one-hour parties are free for the organizer, and she makes just a minor percentage of the sales (this particular party took in around $1,000, of which Helen received a small fee of $200).
In her melodious lullaby voice, Helen acts as part Dear Abby, part Avon lady, offering products, tips, and advice. Spend an unusual afternoon with Helen and you'll leave the party fully stocked with Tupperware, laughs, and possibly a new deviled egg recipe.
Summer is here and we all know what that means: picnics, sunbathing, and BBQs in the park. So have Helen host your next party and outfit yourself and your friends with enough Tupperware to fuel your days at Dolores Park. Call Helen to plan your party now: (415) 577-9754.