I knew a girl in college who was always entrenched in a multi-level marketing scheme. She was looking to scare up some cash, but beyond that she seemed to genuinely enjoy introducing herself as an Independent Consultant to hungover 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 the shits while backpacking in 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, but I will…”
“Erin,” she’d interrupt with a jubilant tone, “I’m an Independent Consultant for a new company now. Here’s a special invitation for you to see this new line.”
I sat through parties spotlighting tupperware, stationary, skin care, and swimwear. It was the lingerie party, however, 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 midwestern friends was that one preferred to sleep without underwear to allow some air exchange to her personal region. I sensed the topics might run a little tawdrier when our host opened the door in a black negligee with 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 they shared their living space with 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 late-night 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 again 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 after 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 & The City, I committed to go. After all, one woman’s fat pants are another woman’s treasure.
I drove alone to the home of the woman hosting the exchange. I had been there 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 slutty tube tops.
I crept along the bushes until I could 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 nearly ten years ago flooded my mind. As I sat there in a garden bed, rubbing my temples, a pair 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 buried 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.”
With that I veered off to the kitchen to get my cellulite pockets a stiff drink.