My mom was sort of into Tupperware when I was a kid. I remember going to Gretchen Zimmer’s house and our moms would cluck approvingly over avocado and marigold colored plastic tubs and matching tumblers. Later in my life, my mom got into Mary Kay and and she was a consultant which meant that once a month or so I would have to hide in my room while several ladies from church or my mom’s work would sit around the dining room table and smear pink goop on themselves. Also, I went to some meetings with her where women would get up and whoop about selling the most lip glosses or whatever. It was nothing compared to the candle cult.
My first honest-to-goodness home party experience was with PartyLite. I’m not even going to make up a fake name because I want you to know. I want you to know the strangeness that is…PartyLite. (Imagine it’s dark and I’m holding a flashlight under my chin right now, like when you went camping in scouts.)
For the uninitiated, home parties involve attending a gathering in someone’s home where you are shown products from the consultant’s company and then you are peer-pressured into buying them. Like $150 worth of stoneware baking pans or $300 in skincare made from the finest Swiss botanicals available in the US. There is usually food and some type of camaraderie. You can buy all manner of useful things at such home parties: lingerie, makeup, food items, naughty things for your boudoir, home decor, jewelery. When you get home, you convince your husband that it was a huge bargain and you’ll neeever have to buy lingerie/makeup/etc again ever so you’re really saving money.
I know all this, the jaded home party socialite that I am now knows, but then…ah, such a babe in arms was I. I didn’t know you were always supposed to buy something! I didn’t know!
I worked with a woman I’ll call Linda. I’d gone to college with Linda and found myself a few years after graduation working with her at a company in my hometown. We weren’t friends but we were friendly and she included me on an email sent to many of her work and, as I found out later, church friends. I confess, Dear Reader, to not reading the email carefully enough and to letting my crafty nature blind me. I thought she was inviting me to her home to make candles. Wrong.
I arrived at her modest apartment at the appointed time startled to see so many people there. Linda showed me around – here’s some of the product, here’s the bathroom, we’ll be eating later – then asked me if I’d ever been to a PartyLite show before. She was a little intense about it, like PartyLite was…different or something.
You know that moment when the shark is swimming around the seal and the seal doesn’t realize it until too late that it’s about to become a crudites for a great white? I was the seal in this scenario. The women were all wandering around talking about how excited they were to buy the new PartyLite line. I started feeling uncomfortable. I didn’t have much money and I didn’t know anybody and I really wanted to leave and the creepy PartyLite Ladies were scaring me.
The party started with all the Ladies – maybe 15 in all – sitting around the perimeter of the living room. The consultant, Patty, was a plumply rumpled woman in her forties with a frizzled mullet and a kitty chasing a ball of string appliqued on her sweatshirt. She’d been selling PartyLite for years and just loved it because it allowed her to live the life she’d always wanted. I refrained from pointing out that kitty applique sweatshirts are kind of setting the bar low.
After the icebreaker, Patty went around the room. We were supposed to say where we normally bought our candles and candle products. If you did not say “PartyLite” but instead said, as I did, “Uhhhh….Target? Kroger?” then Patty and the other PartyLite Ladies would frown slightly and then look at each other knowingly. They used to be like that. They used to buy cheap wax-based metal-wick crappy stinky candles just like that. (The horror, the horror.)
PartyLite’s refrain is that these are the best most researched and developed candles in the whole world and really, you’re an idiot who is endangering your family if you buy cheap wax leaded wick candles. Plus, your family deserves a candle that burns evenly, smells wonderful, and makes your house look very nice. They also sell a ton of “home decor” stuff. Patty started pulling out all sizes and colors of candles for the group to touch and smell and probably lick, but I didn’t see anybody actually do that. I felt like I was in the Stepford candle world, the women smiling and murmuring, “PartyLiiiiiite. Smells so gooooood.”
The idea here is that Party Lite women are a different breed of home party goer. Patty? Hard core. Don’t let the kitty shirt fool you. For the next “game” she procured a little wicker basket decorated with ribbons and foil stars. It was full of Party Lite tea lights. We went around the room again. This time, you had a choice. If you wanted to host a PartyLite show in your own home with your friends and share the PartyLite life with them, you got to take a candle of your very own. If not, well…you had to put a penny in the basket. Everybody watched. I heard the intake of breath…then the defeated exhale as I took the basket and dropped a penny in before shoving it at the next woman.
Patty started passing around catalogs. “Now, while you look at those and make your selections, I’m going to show you the latest in PartyLite home decor!” I will say that the scene of penguins ice skating was adorable and the tealight you nestle behind a snowbank on the edge was just charming, but I choked when I read the catalog price: $60. For cheap glass and a tealight?
Nobody talked to me the entire party, except Patty whose continued disappointment in me was palpable. Not only did I not own PartyLite products, I was not interested in remedying that by purchasing some today and thus helping Linda obtain her chosen hostess gift, a $60 candle/plate/figurine combo thingy. The other women were too busy comparing PartyLite pieces.
While Patty was taking orders hand over fist for PartyLite paraphernalia, I grabbed a cookie and reminded Linda I had a babysitting gig in half an hour and thanks, but I had to scoot. I called my friend from my car and told her what had happened. She laughed for a long time.
I told another friend at work about the party and she was horrified.
“They all had PartyLite?”
“And how expensive was it?”
Linda didn’t really talk to me much after that. I don’t know if my unease had translated to contempt or maybe she overheard me snarking to my friend at work or because I didn’t buy any overpriced candle crap. I do feel bad, Linda, so I’m sorry. But I have never been to another PartyLite party, though I do enjoy other home parties now and have a nice selection of bakeware and makeup.