When I used to stay up late, in the days before the FCC jumped into the sack with the cable companies, and all my TV’s antenna could handle was the 3 big networks, PBS, Fox, and WB, my late-night programming was severely limited. After reruns at 11:30p of some awful sit-com, it was time for shows like “Blind Date”, “Cheaters”, or “Change of Heart”.  When I couldn’t sleep, “Change of Heart” had just enough appeal to either hold my attention, or put me to sleep.  It was a great show.  On weekends, the pickings were slimmer, as programming was worse.  All I had to choose from were sports games for teams I didn’t care about (who am I kidding?  I don’t care about any teams), Sunday morning talking heads, or infomercials. 

I have a soft-spot for infomercials.  I can do a great Ron Popeil Flavor Injector imitation, Jack Lalane’s virility scares me, and the variety of “fun” exercise equipment inventions is seemingly unending.  I continue to be amazed at the “But if you call right now, we’ll throw in a month’s supply of hemorrhoid cream” tactics and standard infomercial formula.  I am stunned firstly that it works, and secondly, that anyone can watch for more than 5 minutes without wanting to gouge their eyes out or buy up the entire stock. 

I was at an all-day craft fair on Saturday, as a vendor, and by the end, I felt ready to do the same. 

I was trapped in a small room at a community church from 8am to 4pm with two other vendors, a room usually reserved for Sunday school, but which, on Saturday, housed 3 8-foot-long tables, the accompanying vendors, and massive amounts of merchandise.  I was there selling my usual colorful toys, clothing, and bags.  I stayed up way too late Friday night maniacally sewing on sock monkey mouths, using Mr. Apron as slave labor to finish the eyes.  I had a sleepless night about not being prepared, and a rushed morning in which I lamented my lack of sanity no fewer than 37 times. 

I set up, propping my items precariously on an assortment of Clementine crates, baskets, scraps of fabric, and pinned to the corkboard strip on the wall.  I glanced around the room at my “competition”.  To my left was a young mother of two (children to arrive later), selling hand-made cards, decoupaged picture frames, cutesy hair-bows, and mod-podged magnets.  Cute stuff, and different enough from my own that I didn’t feel threatened.  She was relaxed enough that I didn’t feel inadequate or unprofessional, either.  To my right, however, was Mr. Utilikilt and his rainbow aluminum chain maille. 

I watched him all day long, hawking his wares to all who would listen.  I watched him demonstrate his products by wearing them, inflicting them on his girlfriend, and showing off their myriad features.  I heard him talk about his process, his product, his inspiration, his consummation, his 34 different earring designs, his neckties (yes, chain maille neckties – look this guy up!  But don’t tell him I sent you. Seriously.), his custom-orders, his mom, his career history and future aspirations.  I could give the FBI everything they need were they to come looking.  I heard this over and over again, each time someone new would dare to enter our cave of kitsch.  I heard him wheeling and dealing and upselling and discounting.  I saw his product demonstration no fewer than 34 different times.  I heard his explanation of the “Jacob’s ladder effect” of his “optical illusion” 34 times.  I heard his audience’s gasps and coos as they became enlightened.  Thirty-four times.  I heard his promotions and his explications and his offers of custom-designs. 

And, if you could look past the Utilikilt (shock value, of course; he commented on how he’d received no remarks from others about it yet that day) and the greasy long curly hair, what was apparent was that I was trapped in a day-long infomercial.  I felt like one of those people promised “free” cruises, if you can sit through a time-share pitch.  Except that my reward, after 8 hours, was just to leave. 

After watching a standard infomercial, I must say I’ve noted there are several stages in the viewer’s acceptance of the product.  At first, there is Denial – the product can’t work, it’s bunk, this is quackery, a ruse, a joke.  Then, as you sit through 5 different presentations of the same demonstration, you become annoyed, incensed, bored.  This is Anger.  Slowly, you begin to come around, thinking it can’t be all that bad, maybe if you just tried it, it might actually work. This is the beginning of the Buy-In, but you’re still on the fence.  Here’s where the special, limited-time offers come into play.  Buy one, get 16 free; return it if you don’t love it after 30 days (less S&H); if you act now you get a free nose hair trimmer; they’ll even make one payment for you! And now you’re putty in their hands.  Assuming the product does half the thing it claims to, you are officially now a Representative.  You’ll sell this product for them.  You’ll recommend it to friends and family and praise it as the new Gadget Almighty. 

Or you turn off the TV and move on with your life, which is what I usually do before I am completely sold.  On Saturday, however, I couldn’t turn it off.  Mr. Utilikilt kept talking, and kept being there, and kept offering discounts, and kept demonstrating his jewelry.  We all broke down.  First, it was the other vendor in the room and her friend.  They crossed the invisible divide, professing they had to see what all the fuss was about.  Later, as Mr. Utilikilt and his girlfriend went to get some food, I left my post to investigate.  I picked up the bracelet, I tried the “magic,” and I’ll admit – it was cool. 

As my chair gently molded into the shape of my butt, and my eyes glazed over with boredom at the lack of customers, I began to lose my sense of purpose.  Why had Isigned up for this nonsense?  What was I doing in this church, competing with stuffed Christmas trees and paper towel holders (with pockets for hand sanitizer and change, for the car)?  Why was no one buying my irresistible products?  I wasn’t sure of anything, except for one thing:

Mr. Utilikilt is either a fool, or a blasted genius.  His chain maille jewelry is either tacky useless drek, or the next fashion must-have to hit Southeast Pennsylvania.  I hope I don’t miss the trend.  Watch out Silly bandz, your days are numbered. 

Remember, folks, you heard it here first.