Suburban Turmoil - Spend Pals

Aug 27, 2008 at 11:17 am

You can’t live in the suburbs for long without realizing that not all of your friends are attracted to you because of your quirky charm or impeccable fashion sense.

Some of them just want to sell you stuff.

I learned this the hard way after joining a playgroup a few years ago. Drawn in by the cozy chats about breastfeeding and losing the baby weight, reality hit me like the stench of a poonami diaper when I showed up one week to find cooking implements meticulously displayed on cloth-covered tabletops throughout the playgroup leader’s home.

“Jeanine sells Pampered Chef,” she explained. “So we thought we’d turn this week’s playgroup into a Pampered Chef party!” Stunned, I politely sat through the sales pitch and tried to keep my daughter’s hands out of the onion slicer. At the end of the presentation, I was the only mom who didn’t make a purchase. Jeanine never really had much to say to me after that, which made the remaining six months I spent in that playgroup more than a little awkward.

Since then, I’ve been far more guarded when making friends. I do background checks on all potentials, checking first to make sure their purses aren’t stocked with Arbonne samples and there are no pink Cadillacs parked in their driveways. Still, these secret suburban salespeople continually penetrate my defenses. 

Take Carl and Lila, a sporty couple who managed to snare both Hubs and me into their home-based business trap before we could say “Longaberger.” Lila initiated the friendship, insidiously using our coinciding pregnancies to gain an in. Soon, we were meeting for lunch, trading baby name ideas and planning future playdates together. 

About a month into the “friendship,” though, Lila handed me a large packet. “Give this to your husband,” she said. “It’s from Carl.” Tearing open the envelope that evening, Hubs found a dozen pamphlets detailing the merits of an expensive and supposedly miraculous energy drink. Try the enclosed samples, a note stuffed inside an envelope read, and call me in 24 hours.

Hubs and I stared at each other, mystified. What was supposed to happen in 24 hours? We never found out; Hubs didn’t try the drink and didn’t call Carl after 24 hours.

In fact, about 17,000 hours have passed now and Hubs still hasn’t made the call. I talked to Lila a few more times on the phone, but she kept asking if Hubs had tried the energy drink yet, because it was really fabulous and if he would just try it, he would see how fabulous it was and by the way, we should really think about selling it too and, well … Friendship. Over. Sadly, our two fetuses were destined never to meet, torn apart in utero by a sales pitch gone very, very wrong. 

Thinking back over these memories, I had to wonder if, by not supporting my local Southern Living/Tupperware/Lia Sophia consultant, I was being a coldhearted bitch. After all, some of them undoubtedly were single or stay-at-home moms. It almost made me feel bad about pretending to be my deaf great aunt the night one of my neighbors called asking me to host a Creative Memories scrapbooking party. Eventually, she hung up and I congratulated myself on a job well done, but for all I know, her son got a can of cold beans for dinner that night because of my meanness.

Perplexed, I asked my blog readers what they thought of product-pitching friends and acquaintances. Within minutes, their responses were flooding my inbox.

“I hate these parties so much,” wrote one woman. “PLEASE MAKE THEM STOP.”

“Wanna sell stuff? Great,” responded another. “Get your own leads and don’t force me to participate in your employment unless you’d like to start going to work with me ‘to help out.’”

While a few readers were sympathetic to the plight of the poor direct-sales associate, the vast majority was completely annoyed, including the associates themselves.

“I didn’t like bugging my friends and family to host shows. It felt tacky. But you have to start somewhere,” wrote one Pampered Chef seller. “And then you find yourself in a complete stranger’s home trying to demonstrate the Ultimate Mandolin that just won’t slice the stupid lemons and 15 blank stares, all seemingly saying, ‘I’m not buying that thing.’”

And that’s when I realized we’re actually doing these women a favor by refusing to buy their shit. From what I can tell, most consultants eventually give up. By responding with a hearty, “Hell-to-the-no,” we’re actually helping to set them free from a lifetime of embarrassment.

“When all your pitches fall flat …” concluded our disillusioned Ultimate Mandolin-selling friend, “it’s time to throw in the Pampered Chef Cranberry Microfiber Towel that can soak up 2 cups of water.”

Besides, that towel is way cheaper on eBay.