Oct 6, 2006

Hen parties

Wife of Lileks goes off to a jewelry party and he wonders:
I’m trying to think of a male equivalent. A peripheral party? Get your friends over and show them 40 USB accessories?

I hate those parties. If you want to sell me something, hand me a catalog and I'll consider it. Don't hold me hostage for a few hours while you try to get me to join the cult and then shame me into buying one of your overpriced products.

And here's the thing about those parties: None of my friends would hold one of them. They might hit me up for girl scout cookies, or gift wrap for their kid's school's annual fundraiser. But they wouldn't force me into a small room and not let me out until I bought something. That's because they're my friends. And friends don't force friends to buy Tupperware.

Instead, these parties are given by an acquaintance to whom one feels a vague sense of obligation. For example: I got duped into attending a Mary Kay party by the PTA president at my son's then-new school. I say duped because the invitation was extended as a chance to get a makeover or a facial or something that sounded vaguely fun but was actually code for "I am selling something." Actually, I should have known from the description that something was afoot. And perhaps I did. But the woman lived about five doors down from me. What if I begged off and said I was busy and she saw my car in the driveway that night?

I recall buying a very nice red lipstick on the night in question. I might even have bought it without having to listen to a presentation from someone at Mary Kay central on how great the Mary Kay lifestyle is. And don't I want to join the millions of Mary Kay representatives around the world in the quest for a pink cadillac? Thank you, no.

The last time I got roped in to one of those parties, I was particularly vulnerable; I had just moved, knew no one and the hostess was one of the few people with whom I'd exchanged a civil word. And that's how they get you. These partygivers are like Moonies: They can pick up on your weaknesses from a mile away--like cult members looking for fragile college students whom they can manipulate. One moment you're feeling slightly wistful and the next thing you know, you're taking part in a mass wedding ceremony, about to be forever entwined with an overweight guy named Chuck who collects vintage lunchboxes.

This was a particularly noxious event. First of all, the party was scheduled at an outrageous time; I believe it was 5-9 pm. In other words dinner time. Most such events are clearly not dinner events. They are after-dinner events. Events at which you might be offered chips and dip, perhaps even cake, but those in the know know that dinner isn't an option. I this case dinner was offered as a special incentive. And I went to it hungry, figuring that I'd at least get a meal for my trouble. When I got there I discovered that dinner would not be served until after the festivities. Luckily the hostess had supplied her own special appetite suppressant: cat piss. The house reeked of cat piss. There may be more unpleasant aromas than cat piss, but not many. And cat piss in an overheated, enclosed space on an empty stomach is particularly brutal.

But the cat piss may have been part of the sale strategy. You see, this was a candle party. Maybe the thinking was that after sitting in a cat-piss-saturated-overheated-enclosed space for four hours, almost anybody would give in and shell out $50 for a Seaside Mist 3-wick candle, and accompanying Contempo Candle Tray and Blue Dazzle Beads.

But not me. You see, I don't merely dislike candles. I am, in fact, anti-candle. I hate twee little candle arrangements strategically placed upon one's coffee table. And scented candles are either disgusting, giving forth noxious faux scents unknown in nature, or ineffectual. A candle is a light source--not a decoration or a deodorizer. And candles should not cost more than $10.

This should be the moment when I triumphantly report that I left sans candles in triumph. (Or just ended it altogether. After all how long can she carry on about parties and candles?)

I regret to say that I folded. I bought something. Because you can't not buy something. It's all in the setup. First they take you through the products, item by item. Then they hold little raffles and contests. Then they give you an order form and a catalog and everybody waits until everyone in the room has ordered something. Everyone will know that you didn't buy anything. And they'll hate you for it. More importantly, dinner will not be served until you buy something. It's coercive, but effective. If they held candle parties at Gitmo, the UN would declare the US a rogue nation. Or we'd finally capture Osama bin Laden.

In any event, I was unable to withstand the pressure. I believe I spent $65 on a pair of silverplated Deco-ish candlesticks and accompanying tall tapers. And then I got out of there. Fast. Without dinner.

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