Infomercial Junkies

Photo by James BunoanThen there was that fateful decision to order the vitamins.

“There were these vitamins we bought,” said Johnny Arata. “They're multivitamins, but they're, like, 'the perfect multivitamin.' They look like big horse pills. They sent more vitamins than we could take, and you had to take three vitamins a day. In, like, three months, they shipped us more pills than we could take in six months. But they were good about taking them back. We thought it would be great. Expensive is what it was.”

“It's just so tempting when we watch TV,” said his wife, Frankie. “They show you a product and say that it will fulfill my life. But usually, it's more trouble than it's worth.”

Frankie and Johnny have been infomercial junkies for at least the past decade. As managers of a Newport Beach restaurant, they often get home at 3 or 4 a.m. Not yet ready to call it a night, they flip on the TV, only to find that many of the most compelling programs involve guys with caterpillar eyebrows selling life-changing juicers, grills, makeup and exercise equipment.

“Every time something comes on TV, we're like, 'I want that,'” said Frankie, who's been saying that a lot more than usual now that the holidays are here.

“I almost bought a $500 video camera off QVC the other night, but I couldn't find my credit card,” said Johnny.

They have bought many, many things off TV. They've bought the Note Network, Epilstop, Revo Hair Styler, Met Wrench, Gator Grip, George Foreman Grill, Total Gym, Ab Roller, Thigh Master, Food Saver, Ginsu Knife, that lipstick that changes colors depending on your mood and a bunch of other junk they can't even remember right now.

Mostly, Johnny remembers the Met Wrench, a large set of universal socket wrenches. “I recommend that to everybody,” he said. “That works on everything. You don't have to worry about metric, standard, rounded bolts, anything. But I'm a mechanical kind of guy.”

The Total Gym was also a great buy. “We love that,” said Johnny. “You know, the one sold by Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris? The one with the bench and cables, where you use your own body weight? But don't buy the cheapie one for $100. Get the big one with the galvanized steel.”

Those things they use a lot. The rest of their purchases—well, not so much.

“We only use the Food Saver [which seals food into airtight bags for preservation] to reseal potato chip bags,” said Frankie. “It works great for that. Chips aren't cheap these days.”

There was the Note Network, a get-rich-quick scheme they bought one sleepless night. It seems to have involved the buying and selling of real-estate notes, but they weren't too clear on that.

“I mean, one of these schemes has gotta work, right?” said Johnny. “But Frankie never followed up on it.”

Frankie purchased the Revo Hair Styler, which is basically just an electric hair brush. “My sister loves it,” she said. “But I don't like it. It's really heavy. I think it works mostly with short hair.”

They bought the George Foreman Grill nearly two years ago but haven't yet taken it out of the box. Ditto the Juiceman's Juicer.

“I was thinking of getting that Ronco Rotisserie,” said Johnny. “But it only seems to cook on the outside.”

“The Ab Roller works pretty well,” said Frankie. “But we don't use it. Now the Thighmaster, that was just stupid. It doesn't work at all. It sits on the floor, and you have to crawl into it. There's no resistance to it.”

How about that household cleaner made out of oranges?

“Oh, yeah. We have that,” said Johnny. “It works, but so does soap and water. It just makes everything smell pretty. Better was that bunch of knives I bought off the Knife Channel. It's great. You can get, like, a hundred knives for a hundred bucks.”

But it hasn't all been good. Consider the unfortunate and short-lived fascination with the Epilstop.

“That's a hair-removal system,” said Frankie. “You spray it on your skin, then wipe it off. That doesn't work at all.”

“Yeah,” said Johnny. “It tells you to wipe it off after, like, a minute or it will start to burn. And it burns.”

“We sent it back,” said Frankie. “We kept the free bathrobe it comes with, only that was never really free because it required $14.95 in shipping and handling.”

Clearly, they're addicted.

“No!” said Johnny. “That's a bad word. We're curious. We just want to see if this stuff works.”

Increasingly, Frankie and Johnny buy from mail-order catalogs, online stores and even eBay.

“Yeah, but eBay became a problem,” said Johnny. “I got into a bidding war with my friends to buy a St. Ides promotional poster with Tupac and Snoop Dogg. It should have cost $5, but I ended up spending $30 on that. I gave it to my mom for Mother's Day. She loved it.”

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