June 20, 2018
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Tales from attending product parties selling lingerie to skincare

Erin Donovan
By Erin Donovan, Special to the BDN

I knew a girl in college who was always entrenched in a multilevel marketing scheme. She was looking to scare up some cash, but beyond that she seemed to draw pleasure in introducing herself as an Independent Consultant to hung-over classmates before inviting them to an event at her home to showcase her wares. The invites to these parties were so insidious, so stealthy, that trying to avoid one was as futile as hoping you wouldn’t get diarrhea while backpacking through India. One could feel the invitation brewing even if she was not immediately present. I’d be standing in the cafeteria, ladling batter into the waffle maker when my extrasensory perception would pick up on a change of frequency, a ripple in matter, and my fight or flight reflex would demand I pluck the half-cooked waffle from the machine, wrap it in a napkin and make haste out the door. Fumbling down the aisle cluttered with backpacks, I’d walk directly into her.

“You know, I still haven’t gotten around to ordering those Dead Sea exfoliants from the last party you hosted…”

“Don’t be silly,” she’d interrupt with a jubilant tone, “I’m an Independent Consultant for a different company now. Here’s a special invitation for you to see this new line.”

I sat through parties spotlighting Tupperware, skincare, swimwear and anything else that ended in -are. It was the lingerie party, above all, that I still credit as the most awkward adult setting of my life. I have taken great pains in my quest to self-actualization to expunge the things I saw and heard that night. Prior to that evening, the raciest thing confessed from the mouths of my conservative and genteel Southern friends was that one had stopped writing thank-you notes. I sensed the topics would run a little tawdrier when our host opened the door in a black negligee and matching robe.

I spent the evening loudly complimenting the bean dip and feigning interest in the photos on the wall as girls, who couldn’t possibly be sexually active given how many roommates shared their living space, pored over diaphanous slips and polyester garter belts. When the chatter between attendees turned to flush-cheeked whispers of fantasies — wild horses galloping through the surf, Phantom of the Opera masks and moonlit tutoring sessions with a European exchange student — I seized upon my opportunity to slip out the door before I was forced into something I would forever regret — like boy shorts — and vowed to never return to a product party.

When a friend recently asked me to join her at a clothing exchange, my first impulse was to decline, but upon taking stock of the grease spots splashed across my shirt, I inquired tentatively about the rules behind a clothing exchange. Having grown up with only a brother, my knowledge of trading clothes is limited to the occasional ankle sock. After receiving assurances there would be neither order forms nor cocktails named after characters from Sex and the City, I committed to go. After all, one woman’s fat pants are another woman’s treasure.

I drove alone to the exchange. I had been to the host’s home once before, but the fog roosting upon the roads made everything seem unfamiliar. I pulled into the driveway, feeling very uncertain I was at the right home. The curtains were drawn, making it impossible to discern the activities happening inside. I imagined myself standing at the wrong door, awkwardly explaining to a nice family of Christians why I had arrived at their door bearing a pile of skanky tube tops.

I crept along the bushes until I was able to peer through a gap in the curtains. The first figure I could make out was that of a woman in a lacy white thong. I gasped and crouched below the window. The memories long repressed from that lingerie party from more than ten years ago flooded my mind. As I sat there in the garden bed, rubbing my temples, a set of high beams threw its incandescent glare over my face. Please, don’t be a cop investigating a peeping Tom. I swear, I actually hate looking at naked women thanks to my membership at the YMCA.

A friend stepped out of her car and called out a greeting. I waved and pretended to be searching for an earring lodged in the mulch. She lugged her bag of clothing up the walk to join me at the stoop. “Are we supposed to change in front of everyone at this thing?” I asked with a tone of forced indifference. She replied, “How else will you know if something fits?” I nodded in agreement as we stepped into the living room, which was littered with bodies in various states of undress.

“I just wish I’d known,” I muttered. “I would have worn underwear.”

Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast area where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures on imgonnakillhim.com and on Twitter at @gonnakillhim.

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