I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction.
-- Dalai Lama
'I need your advice," I said. Jennifer and Grace looked at me expectantly as I took a sip of my caramel apple martini. The blue-lit shelves behind the bar cast a cool glow over them. Our ladies' night out was in its adolescent phase; Crush, the hip Hillcrest bar, was the second of the three venues we'd lined up (the first being Grace's house and the third being the Beauty Bar). I let my tongue soak up the flavors in the vodka before I swallowed and then ended the suspense: "I've been asked to host some kind of candle party.""God, I hate that!" said Grace. Her face contorted as though she had just been fed putrid cheese.
"That's the worst," agreed Jennifer, scrunching her mouth up and her eyebrows down.
"Say no," said Grace. "Just say no."
"I would like to, but it's not that easy," I whined. "She's my friend. I want to see her succeed, but I don't want to put more people in the same guilt trap I'm in right now. I know what's going to happen, it's just like Tupperware -- my guests will be made to feel obligated to buy and, even worse, to sell. And if they don't want to sell, they'll be bullied into hosting parties at their own houses in order to deliver more buyers to the candle pusher!" I fell quiet as the waitress placed the appetizers we'd ordered on the tall round table. For a few minutes, our attention was directed at the food before us. Jennifer spread hummus on a piece of flatbread, Grace sampled the calamari, and I served myself some of the pecan-crusted goat cheese salad.
"I like candles," Grace finally said, after our second round of drinks arrived. Jennifer and I had opted for replacements for my caramel apple martini and her Ketel One with three olives, while Grace casually progressed from flavored champagne to cosmopolitan. "I've seen these PartyLite candles; they're nothing fantastic. 'Ooh, they burn longer!' You want a candle to burn longer? Buy a bigger candle. I don't need help from a 'candle consultant' to buy candles. I can go to Ikea, Target, or Illuminations. Or I don't have to go anywhere. I can order what I want online and have it sent to me!"
"Yeah, no shit," Jennifer contributed, before working another olive off of the toothpick with her lips. "Then again, I'm not one to talk because I do the same kind of thing."
"That doesn't count, Jen," Grace said, reaching across the table for a few french fries. "Those are trunk shows. You tell people you're having a trunk show and they can come look at stuff. You don't push them to buy or sell; it's like a store -- if they like something they can get it. If not, no worries." A few times a year, Jennifer will host a party at her house to give her friends first dibs at goods she's purchased abroad before she sets up shop at two local farmer's markets.
"Well, thanks," said Jennifer. "I don't like feeling obligated to do anything at anyone's house, no way, uh-uh. It's lame and annoying."
"It's not the obligation that annoys me," said Grace. "It's that the products are stupid and sub par. I've also seen those Pampered Chef products -- it's crappy stuff. Why not just go to Williams-Sonoma and buy good stuff? Or if you can't afford it, go online, wait for a sale, shop at Macy's and choose from a ton of brands. Why get crappy shit that costs a lot?"
"If we all hate this so much," I said, "then who the hell likes it?"
"It's the Wal-Mart crowd," answered Grace. "For them, this is fancy shopping."
"The whole concept is housewife-y," offered Jennifer. "Like, 'Oh, we're bored, middle-class housewives, and we're off soccer today so we decided to have a candle party.'"
"The thing that bugs me the most is the way these things are sold," I said. "You never see this happening with men. It's like these corporations target women because they know they can count on the 'guilt factor' -- Betty will guilt 15 of her friends into buying something, and each of those friends will guilt 15 more, and so on, until all of Betty's friends resent one another, but only after they have turned a profit for the Candle Queen."
Grace ordered a third drink, a martini, straight up. I unearthed the last fry from beneath the ramekin of ketchup, which seemed to impress Jennifer, who had thought the fry she'd found behind the aioli was the last one.
"I think it all comes down to greed," I said. "Everybody knows that everybody hates these parties. People don't offer to throw them, they are subjected to them." Jennifer and Grace waited patiently as I fished the apple slice from the bottom of my glass, popped it in my mouth, and chewed thoughtfully. "Therefore, if somebody pushes a party on a friend, they can't be doing so because they think, 'I bet my friend really wants to do this'; they're asking a favor. The party pusher is saying, 'Put yourself out for me because I want to make money.' Why not just ask for a donation and save everyone the guilt, the time, the hassle, and the closetful of crap?"
Jennifer and Grace raised their glasses and clinked them to mine, which I then held above my lips and waited for the last sugary drop to make its way onto my tongue.
After Jennifer shared with us the saga of how she had randomly had her hair pulled by a "drunken midget woman" in Little Italy the night before, it dawned on me that I had not yet received the advice I'd been seeking.
"So we all agree that people who ask you to host parties at which they will aggressively sell things to you and your friends suck, right?" I said, receiving nods from Jennifer and Grace. "But what do I say to my friend who wants me to host this candle party?"