By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In hindsight, Joanne believes that the epicenter of the "lifestyle" rumors was the Safari salon. She heard from several ambassadors that Perkins told them the Webbs caused the Hugheses' divorce because they "were so free sexually." Joanne's daughter Katy got upset after a friend's mother said she'd heard at the salon that the Webbs were swingers.
The Webbs had joined the church the Hughes family attended but decided instead to take a breather from organized religion. That fueled scuttlebutt that Joanne and Chris had been "kicked out" of two churches for immorality. When Burleson folks learned that Joanne was involved with something called Passion Parties, some came to the logical conclusion: They must be having orgies.
To Throb or not to Throb
Joanne's first encounter with a "sexual device" occurred in 1987. When Chris was deployed to Belgium for three months, he presented his wife with a vibrator. "Thanks, honey, but I don't think so," Joanne said. But three months was a long time, she says. "I got real familiar with it."
In February 2003, Joanne signed up to be a Passion Party consultant. She liked the emphasis on educating women about their bodies. Men and girls under 18 were not allowed. At the end of each party, women talked privately with the saleswoman in the order room. Joanne spent $250 to buy samples, read a book by a gynecologist, started handing out business cards and joined the chamber of commerce.
The chamber's director was excited about her new venture, Joanne says. "He used it as a sterling example of the open-mindedness of the chamber."
Marketing her services at a Dallas bridal show, Joanne found a customer in Monique, who threw a party in Irving for a bride-to-be. Dressed in a black pantsuit, Joanne displayed her wares with wit, warmth and frankness for about 20 women. Silly games broke the ice. Chips and salsa made the rounds. Some sipped water, others rum and Coke. As the women got louder and more animated, Joanne soldiered through the noise, injecting education as she went.
In the last 20 minutes of an hour-and-a-half presentation, Joanne brought out what she calls the "big boys"--vibrators of all shapes, sizes and prices, from the Jelly Osaki ($31) to the Flaming Dragon ($119). Women giggled and passed them around.
Afterward, alone in the ordering room, Joanne says, women often divulge their sexual problems. "Most of what I teach I learned after I was 40," Joanne says. "One woman had been married five years and had never had an orgasm." Joanne encourages them to talk to their partners, and if the problem sounds medical, to their gynecologists.
Monique's party turned out to be a profitable one for Joanne, who sold $900 in merchandise; the average is $400. Only three women bought vibrators. The big sellers: Nipple Nibblers, edible gels in raspberry, strawberry and watermelon flavors, and Pure Satisfaction, a gel that stimulates both male and female sex organs. Though expensive at $39.50, that works out to about 50 cents an orgasm, Joanne helpfully pointed out.
Shame on You
At a specially called meeting in September, Joanne confronted the ambassadors over the dress-code proposal. "Is this about me?" Joanne asked. People hemmed and hawed until Shanda Perkins blurted out yes.
Joanne thought she and Perkins were friends. But now Perkins turned on her. "I'm a mother of six children, and I deserve to be heard," Perkins said. "I had a 17-year-old boy ask me one time if you were a hooker."
"What did you tell him?" Joanne asked. "That you knew me and I was a good person?"
"I've defended you many times, Joanne," Perkins said. But there had been complaints about the Webbs' "inappropriate lifestyle" to the chamber, she said. At the Safari salon "people are saying y'all are swingers."
Joanne was hurt and angry. "Shanda, you've known me for years," she said. "You know that's not true. Shame on you for receiving this kind of gossip about me. And shame on you for spreading it here."
Several people got up and left, muttering, "This is out of control." Disgusted, Kelli Spears told the group, "This is so 'Harper Valley PTA.'" Joanne went home in tears. (A chamber employee says they never got any complaints from citizens directed at the Webbs--only from a few ambassadors.)
A single mother with sleek brown hair, high cheekbones and sophisticated but understated clothes, Spears participated in meetings on the dress code that turned bizarre. Women should just wear pants. Women should wear skirts no shorter than fingertip level. What about women with long arms? Short arms? Who would be designated to measure?
"We spent a lot of time on breasts," Spears says. "Cleavage or not cleavage? What kind of shirts? I thought, 'Am I dreaming, or are these grown people discussing women's boobs?'"
Arguing against the code, Spears pointed out there wasn't another chamber in America that dictated attire. "I talked to other members who didn't agree with it and thought it was a personal attack," Spears says. "But they didn't do anything. I was shocked. They were afraid they'd be blackballed, like Chris and Joanne and their business. It would stick in my craw if I didn't stand up for what's right."