Enough Time Has Passed to Talk About All the Tupperware Gene Wilder Stole from Me
I first met Gene at a party in upstate New York in the early summer of 2014.
It was a celebration of my ex-wife and her writing partner Sheila’s recently published book of limericks about the decline of the 21-century male libido.
The party was small but swanky, held at a pub called The Ugly Fart, and the star of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was the last person I was expecting to walk through the door.
Sheila had invited the famed actor, whom she had met through a publisher friend, and no one else seemed particularly surprised to see him standing in the doorway looking inquisitively at the little crowd before him.
After a few moments of silence, he smirked and said, softly, “I’ve done many films with Richard Pryor,” which drew uproarious laughter.
Busily chipping away at my third gin & tonic, I was less amused than my social counterparts. Though I would never have admitted it at the time, I was jealous of all the attention my wife was getting, and my latest play, Pappy’s Got A New Goat Scrotum, was in the midst of a brutal pounding by a mob of marrow-hungry critics.
Gene had noticed that I hadn’t laughed at his entrance, and was clearly miffed. After greeting his hosts with a pair of expeditious pecks on their rose-tinted cheeks, he shuffled over to where I was seated alone at the oakwood bar.
“My, my, what a marvelous chin,” he said slowly, referring to me. “Does it move up and down?”
I wasn’t in the mood for games, but felt I should say something to the acting legend, for the sake of appearances, if nothing else.
“I felt The Woman in Red was very underrated,” I said, taking another sip of my lime-tinged medicine.
This seemed to satisfy him and he nodded his head gently. That’s when he spotted them, resting in a large, coal-dark duffle bag on the floor behind the counter: My Tupperware.
I had used the gorgeous containers to transport the hors d’oeuvres to the event. Deviled eggs, weenies, that sort of thing. There were about five or six, all the brilliant colors of the universe.
Gene’s eyes widened and his mouth became dry.
“Whose … Whose Tupperware is that?” he choked out.
I turned and looked at the bag and informed him that they were mine.
“Very, very nice,” he said, his eyes glued to them. “VERY nice.” He was just about to say something else when Sheila and my wife called him away to introduce him to some other friends.
As he was led away, he turned back and gave me a look that seemed to say, “We’ll pick this up again later, my sad little friend.”
It was 3 a.m. the next day when the phone rang. I answered it, groggy, and knew immediately it was him.
“It’s Gene,” he whispered. “Woody Allen wanted me for the part of the doctor in Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex… because he knew I’d take it seriously.”
We hadn’t spoken since the Tupperware incident at the party, and I knew what the phone call was going to be about.
“Why are you calling, Gene?” I humored him.
“Listen, do you still have that Tupperware from the other night? I would very much like to borrow you it,” he coughed. “It’s for a project involving, ohhh, cream of wheat.”
I was tired and hungover and I just wanted to go back to sleep and forget about my various predicaments.
“Fine,” I said. “You can borrow my Tupperware. You can’t HAVE it, but you can BORROW it.”
He seemed almost giddy at the news, but I was uneasy.
“Splendid,” he said. “Top notch news. Mel Brooks is a dear friend of mine.”
Then he hung up, and I rolled back onto my side, instinctively reaching my hand out for my wife, and withdrawing it back into my breast when it did not find her there.
That’s when I heard the glass shattering from downstairs. I stood up immediately and felt quite woozy. My house had never been broken into before and I did not know what to do. Suddenly, I was a child again. Who should I call? What should I wear? What will become of my smelts?
Unthinking, I grabbed one of my ex-wife’s pink 5lb weights and crept down the stairs, shaking like a backup dancer in a J-Lo performance. The intruder was in the kitchen, with the refrigerator wide open, rummaging aggressively. It was Gene. I flicked on the light.
“Oh, my dear man,” he said, turning to meet my panicked stare, his pale blue eyes encircled by a conga line of red veins. “I sure hope I didn’t give you a spook.”
“Actually, you did,” I said, still a little shaky, but more than relieved. “Couldn’t you have called first? Or knocked? I’ve been the proud owner of a front door for almost 20 years.”
He smiled and blinked his sparkling eyes, then turned back to his rummaging.
“I do hate to be a bother,” he said.
I sat down at the breakfast nook, disarmed, and watched him work. He was dressed in black tights and had what appeared to be sheepskin draped over his slim back.
“You remind me so much of Gilda,” he said over his shoulder, over which he had just tossed a jar of gourmet mustered from two Christmases ago. “She had perfect breasts. Aha!”
He had found the Tupperware. I’m still not sure why it took him so long to spot them. They were right in the front of the fridge, stacked like a ziggurat.
He emptied their contents into the sink, and tucked all six of them under his armpit, one by one.
He turned at me and smiled again in his distinct, thoughtful way.
“These are, ohhhh,” he said, thinking, “mine now. Meaning, of course, they won’t be returned.”
What could I do? As prepared as I was from my two years in the Cub Scouts as a lad, I hadn’t expected to argue with Willy Wonka that morning over my Tupperware. I simply looked at him in a grizzled way that signaled I understood.
He attempted to click his heels, but it appeared too much for him to handle, and he dropped one of the containers awkwardly in the effort. He picked it up again and crawled through the broken window he had entered from, the twinkling of the shattered glass beneath his feet accompanying his quiet humming of “Pure Imagination.”
I felt empty when he left, much like the Tupperware taken, which, like Gene, I would never see again.
Looking back, it may be that Gene had done me a favor. My wife certainly would have gotten my wonderful Tupperware in the divorce, a slight that might have been more painful than Young Frankenstein breaking into my abode in the humdrum of the dawn and taking them by intimidation.
Still. It was the finest Tupperware I ever had.