It all started with a crystal pumpkin. Actually, it all started with a late-night load of laundry. I’d procrastinated, fallen behind, and now the deed had to be done. I came back upstairs, put away the bottle of Tide, and then needed to take a break. OK, I admit it: I channel surfed. At first, I couldn’t find anything even moderately diverting. And then I hit the jackpot. It was a shopping network. I usually skip past these, but this one was different. Both the host and her guest huckster were especially pushy and ridiculous, and I soon found myself enthralled.
At their best—or worst–these sales presentations are a chaotic mix of stupidity, hilarity, and greed. It can be a real treat to watch two people clumsily stumbling over each other in their eagerness to sell, and up-sell, and over-sell. To try to make you sweat and salivate as one hand reaches for the phone and the other gropes for your credit card.
The segment I caught was all about fine crystal at fabulously reduced prices. The host was a middled-aged woman I’ll call Linda, a super-duper, cozy-right-up-to-you gal in a copper-colored silk blouse. The sales rep from the crystal company was a pudgy, flamboyant guy around forty. He was bald, with round preppy glasses, and wore a suit and bow tie. I’ll call him Ramon. Throughout, they laughed and joked and flirted. It was a veritable love-in, surpassed only by their love of the merchandise.
The Special Purchase item was their first-time-ever crystal pumpkin candy dish. They demonstrated how you could put candy corn, candy pumpkins, and other seasonal goodies in it. How you could bring it to a Halloween or Thanksgiving party filled with sweets or cornbread and present the whole thing as a wonderful hostess gift! How you could use the bowl alone, or the lid alone—inverted and leaning back (precariously) on the pumpkin stem handle–and put almost anything in it. They stopped just short of suggesting it as a spit bowl for brushing your teeth.
It was such a fun and perfect piece for the holiday season, they gushed. The most fun for me was when Ramon himself couldn’t get the lid to engage in place with the bowl and gave up, exclaiming to Linda, “I have too much cream on my hands! You do it!”
Linda fumbled with it mightily until it finally fell into place. I couldn’t help thinking how unwise it was of Ramon to moisturize right before taping the show. Although, in fairness to him, I think that was just a clever save to explain away the unwieldiness of the product.
For add-on items (“Purchase with Purchase!”), Linda and Ramon offered small maple leaf accent trays that came in clear crystal and three icky autumnal colors. Turns out you could put anything on those, too.
They hawked other pieces during the segment, like vases, bowls, and trays. Most of the items were attractive and elegant. The salesmanship, however, was not. “Hard sell” doesn’t even begin to describe it. They repeatedly debased themselves. One of my favorite moments was when they came upon a tray groaning with chocolate-caramel turtles. They spoke to them directly, declaring their love for them and the restraint they had to muster to resist eating them.
Then I remembered my laundry. I hurried down and transferred it from washer to dryer as fast as I could. When I returned, they were taking call-in testimonials from ecstatic customers. Rosario from Delaware listed the several items she had bought and to whom she had given them, and how pleased everyone was. She had a rather heavy accent, and so Ramon bantered with her in Spanish. This inspired Linda to fan herself in an exaggerated manner and say that his Spanish speaking was getting her so hot. Or maybe it was just retail fever. Once Rosario finished listing her purchases, Ramon interjected with a high-strung giggle, “I don’t know how to say ‘intervention’ in Spanish!” Indeed.
Jan from Florida sounded drunk, but also thoroughly delighted with her haul. A perky Susan from Wisconsin was thrilled, and Linda told her with excessive sincerity, “I love your energy! I love your passion for the brand!” I thought “Praise Jesus!” would be the next thing out of someone’s mouth. Instead, Linda and Ramon wished their Jewish friends a Happy New Year and urged them to call in as well. Yeah, that’s always a top priority for us on Rosh Hashanah.
Then the program took a majorly ugly turn. Ramon and Linda went from pumpkin bowls and candy corn to glass roses and breast cancer. Nope, didn’t see that coming.
They introduced their next product—sculpted glass roses with long, clear glass stems. They had a red one, which I found kind of gaudy, and then a pink one, which was actually very pretty.
Then Linda mentioned that October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, was just around the corner. Uh-oh.
And wouldn’t a pink glass rose be “the perfect gift for someone in your life who’s just been diagnosed?” Did she really just say that? Ramon said it would also be perfect to give in remembrance of someone who had passed away, or to a survivor, or to someone fighting the disease.
“What a great gift!” Linda said, with the same enthusiasm she’d shown for the chocolate-caramel turtles.
“So inspirational!” Ramon continued. “You can just look at it and gain strength!” Absolutely. Almost as inspiring as seeing the pumpkin dish filled with peanut brittle.
Now I’m not saying that someone in a dire situation, fighting for her life, wouldn’t appreciate a pretty glass rose. But to market it this way requires a callous, ghoulish greed that represents materialism at its most toxic.
Ramon kept on going, urging shoppers to consider giving a rose to a caretaker or an oncologist. Linda seconded that with a heartfelt, “Oh, yes!” and Ramon climaxed with the passionate, but strangely ordinary, “Think about the great people who save your lives!” as if he were saying, “Think about the great people who invite you to their Christmas parties!”
I wondered if someone could give her oncologist a maple leaf accent tray, or a pumpkin dish filled with candy corn, instead of the rose. Then the whole tasteless campaign made me think of that classic T-shirt, and I pictured the doctor saying, “I saved this woman’s life, and all I got was this lousy glass rose.”
Linda and Ramon had mentioned that the first rose went for $69, and each additional one went for $49. I was beyond pleasantly surprised that they didn’t turn the screws on their viewers to stock up so they could be at the gift-giving ready at the first sign of illness of family, friends, or co-workers. But I guess even they had to draw the line somewhere.
Soon after, Linda used the classic phrase, “While supplies last,” at which point Ramon winced and said, “Oh, I hate those words!” Me, too.
Speaking of hate, I remembered that my laundry was languishing in the dryer. But compared to what I had just witnessed, the prospect of shlepping a load up two flights of stairs didn’t seem so bad. That was crystal-clear.