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Tupperware Lady

Photo by Anne Fishbein

Since the dawning of CBGB, the big question for the die-young-or-just-die punk scene has been "What happens to aging punk rockers?" Now Phranc, former member of seminal L.A. punk/new-wave outfits Nervous Gender and Catholic Discipline, has provided an answer. The self-proclaimed "All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger" and owner of Phancy Records has put away her safety pins and invaded the inner sanctums of L.A.’s living rooms — as your friendly neighborhood Tupperware Lady.

And not your ordinary Tupperware Lady either, as evidenced by her debut party last week at the Fairfax District home of Laurie Kay, co-producer of the film Phrancumentary. With such local luminaries as Muffs lead singer Kim Shattuck and ex–Lou Reed drummer Danny Frankel looking on, the crew-cut icon of folkie-punk plucked a baritone ukulele and belted out her soon-to-be-recorded single. The Jonathan Richman–like tune, an ode to her new way of life, is titled, appropriately enough, "Tupperware Lady."

"I’m a little nervous. This is my first Tupperware party," Ms. Phranc confided, bringing many of the assembled bohemianati to their feet. "Most of you in the entertainment and music businesses know the insecurities and ups and downs in finance in this career. I wanted to sell things, and I wanted to sell something I believe in. I believe in Tupperware!"

Indeed she does. As a recent trainee in the fine art of home sales, Ms. Phranc started out a little tentatively. But 15 years of stagecraft soon shone through. A nifty party game called "Well, I Never" was well-received. (Everyone in the room says something they’ve never done; those who have done what the other person hasn’t applaud. My entry: "I never voted for a Republican.")

Then Ms. Phranc got down to the nuts and bolts of pitching the product. Order forms were passed out (along with free mini-spatulas). Soon everyone in the room appeared to be checking off various crispers, containers and strainers. The final tally was unknown at press time. But given the artist-unfriendly door policies of most back-in-the-day punk clubs, her maiden Tupperware outing probably earned her more than her music gigs.

"I’ve been making indie records in the ’90s," she said after donning her "Tupperware Lady" apron. "Did records for Kill Rock Stars, and I have my own label. But tonight is Tupperware first!"

Contact Phranc at folkswim@aol.com.

—Johnny Angel

Rocket Dying

 

Military-industrial giant Rocketdyne has been reeling the last few weeks from a barrage of negative publicity about pollution problems at its Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has demanded a more stringent cleanup at the San Fernando/ Simi valleys–straddling site. And Channel 2 News produced a four-part exposé, albeit one that rehashed material presented first in Offbeat and elsewhere. But what really caught our attention was the recent admission by NASA official Allen Elliott that military testing had contributed to the contamination. At a public meeting last month of the task force overseeing the cleanup, Elliott said that 77 percent of the 21,509 engine tests conducted 1954-83 at the lab were for the Department of Defense. Rocketdyne officials had accused this reporter of lying when I disclosed last year that the company was a major supplier of America’s nuclear arsenal. Now, we learn that not only were engines for the nuclear-tipped Navaho, Atlas and Jupiter missiles tested at the Rocketdyne site. About a third of the 1.73 million gallons of the toxic solvent TCE, used to hose down the engines, may have seeped into the soil, Elliott said. The Cold War lives on.

—Michael Collins

Ants in Our Pants

 

Woody Allen’s earnest performance aside, do you really like ants? Oh, sure, you admire their industriousness, their ability to plan for the long winter ahead. But when you wake up in the morning, as OffBeat will confess to having done on occasion, to an inch-wide column of them marching toward the ice cream bowl you neglected to rinse out at 2 a.m., you stop thinking about joining PETA and start thinking about ant-icide. Right?

OffBeat thought we’d found the perfect solution when a kindly neighbor gave us a stick of something called "Chinese Chalk," which she swore stopped the insect troops in their diligent little tracks without resort to harmful chemicals. But alas! After a bit of detective work, OffBeat discovered that the cure is worse than the disease. The chalk — which is also marketed under the names "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk," "Cockroach Wipeout Chalk" and even "Pretty Baby Chalk" — was analyzed in 1998 by Cal/EPA and other agencies. They found that the supposedly nontoxic chalk contains insecticides banned in the U.S., and for good reason. The agency’s Department of Pesticide Regulation warned that the products have been mistaken for common household chalk and eaten by children, who became sick. The most serious case came in 1994, when a San Diego child was hospitalized after eating insecticidal chalk. More recently, a Visalia toddler fell ill after ingesting a product labeled "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk."

"Obviously, making an insecticide look like a toy is dangerous — as well as illegal," said former pesticide agency Chief Deputy Director Jean-Mari Peltier. "We would have the same problem if they made it look like a lollipop, or packaged it in a soft-drink bottle."

Chinese manufacturers can and do change their chalk formulas from batch to batch, leaving consumers up in the air about the chemical composition. Three samples of a product labeled "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk" were analyzed in 1998 by state pesticide regulators. Two contained the insecticide deltamethrin; the third contained the insecticide cypermethrin. Deltamethrin and cypermethrin are synthetic pyrethroids, a class of insecticides that act on the nervous system. Side effects in humans can include vomiting, stomach pains, convulsions, tremors, coma, and even death from respiratory failure. Serious allergic reactions are also possible. Well! For now, OffBeat will settle for peaceful coexistence with our sister ants, at least until someone comes up with something better. Perhaps an open-ended ant farm with a trap door . . .

Homeless Teacher

 

Is there any end to L.A. Unified’s bungling? The school district that brought you the $200-million-and-counting Belmont high school debacle has now put a teacher out on the streets, according to union reps at United Teachers Los Angeles. Hollenbeck Middle School instructor William Whitaker was kicked out of his $550-a-month apartment in West Hollywood this month. He says it’s because the district failed to pay him up to $10,000 in bonuses and salary increases for which he filed over the past year.

"I am homeless," says Whitaker. "It is not fair that someone downtown can not pay you a small amount of money, and this happens."

The district says it is not at fault, because Whitaker (a teacher since 1993) filed for six years of raises just last February; normally teachers file as they go, says personnel administrator Tom Killeen. And Whitaker concedes that he didn’t initially answer to his landlord’s eviction notice; he says he kept thinking the district would come through on repeated promises to pay up. A Beverly Hills judge approved the eviction because of Whitaker’s failure to respond.

But why do you have to ask to be paid what you are owed? Union rep Paula Parr of United Teachers Los Angeles says Whitaker is one of thousands of teachers who have gone without pay increases and honorariums for up to a year because of the district’s antiquated payroll system and general ineptitude.

"When an adjustment has to be made in someone’s pay, then someone has to go back and pay the correct rate by hand, and there are simply not enough people," Parr says. Many teachers are so disgusted by the end of the school year that they leave for other districts, she adds. The problem is so flagrant that UTLA persuaded Governor Gray Davis to sign a bill this year forcing the district to pay up within three months or pay employees daily interest, Parr says.

Unfortunately, the reform, which takes effect January 1, comes too late for Whitaker, who plans to spend the next few weeks on a friend’s couch. Is it any wonder that L.A. Unified began the year with 1,300 (out of a total of 35,000) teaching slots unfilled? Or that students’ test scores rank in the bottom 22 percent of the nation?

—Christine Pelisek