With remarkable prescience, considering he was born in 1810, 19th Century American showman P.T. Barnum had this to say about me: “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Well okay, maybe it wasn’t about me exactly, but certainly about people like me.
I am a dream-come-true to salesmen – especially those flogging anti-wrinkle creams, diet books, exercise machines, miracle hair products, and kitchen gadgets. Most especially kitchen gadgets.
TV infomercials were made for us: Bauer pans, Shogun knife sets, Big Green Clean Machines, Easi-Seal sealers, soda siphons, Floor Whizzers, stacking steamers – and let me not get started on all the wonderful things that turn microwaved food into gourmet pizzas, gnocchi, and all that jazz.
All this is by way of an introduction as to why, when a friend invited me to attend the Hobby-X exhibition at the Northgate Dome, I took very little cash and asked her to take charge of my credit card. If I fall prey to TV ads, I am mere putty in the face of a hard sell by an experienced salesman.
At first all was well: we looked at the quilting exhibition, merely glanced at the Bonsai s, and ignored the chili sauces and pastes. The next row was a little harder; cake making and air-fryers, nail art and silicone ‘lidz’, nuts and ‘Eezi’ iron were easy to ignore; my friend showed signs of weakness at the Magic Grater though, accepted samples from the cheese and the Turkish Delight stalls, and finally succumbed at a stand named simply GLUE.
If I may digress: I was wearing a dress of silky rose pink fabric, trimmed with indigo satin ribbon, and accessorized by a many-stranded seed pearl necklace. Ballet flats and a polka-dot handbag were offset by liver-pink lipstick and mauve-pink eye-shadow.
An unappealing picture perhaps, but a very feminine one – even if I did look a bit like a drag queen. My friend, on the other hand, while slender and very attractive, was in jeans, comfortable shoes, a pale khaki jacket, and wore no jewellery or make-up. Plus she has short hair.
The pleasant Afrikaans man who assisted her at the GLUE stand drew his own conclusions. He told us he was from Bloemfontein, and went out of his way to be welcoming to what he saw as a same sex couple. I was standing idly by as she plied him with knowledgeable question about some sort of stretch and seal tape, and he gave her the hard sell.
It was only when he referred to me as “your lovely friend”, ignored me for the sales talk, but made a lot of eye contact with both of us when he described the used to which “you” – an encompassing nod – could do in “your house” – another nod and smile – that I realised he thought we were a couple.
She bought the tape, then listened to a pitch on a wonder glue: I stood at her side as she tried to shift the screws from the glass, wrestle apart the tape or snap the rubber tube, secure in the knowledge that the louder I gushed the more they would try to convince her. Glue, hardware, it’s a man’s world. Or a dyke’s.
While she bought the stretch and seal, I wandered over to an art supply stall and managed to resist the blandishments of two young Afrikaans boys determined to sell me Sharpies by smiling winningly and telling them I’d have to ask my ‘wife’.
We moved on – a fifth of the way through and I hadn’t bought anything yet! I was invincible! Quilting, kitchens, paint effects – no thank you. Sewing machines that embroider, laser-cutting, 3D printers: move along. Heritage Craft Products – hang on just a second.
In my defence, the glass leading and coloured glass stains were a good 25% cheaper than they are at my usual supplier. Plus they had black and white, colours I have been unable to find. But they didn’t take credit cards so that was the end of my cash. And once you move onto credit cards, it’s easy to lose track of how much you are spending.
On the whole, I was pretty disciplined though: my friend needed an angle grinder to sharpen her alpacas’ teeth, but settled for some saw-type thing instead. In my role as same-sex wife I stood around looking stupid. Then we had lunch and she tucked into a schwarma while I picked at apiece of [alleged] boerewors and a stale role with a horrid plastic knife and fork.
Before we left though my friend revisited the Magic Grater stall, featuring an appliance which allegedly creates pasta from carrots and zucchini and cucumber: a few days before I had battled to make spaghetti for her from small marrows and she was convinced there was an easier way than using a paring knife.
For myself, I wasn’t interested, but I warned her to try everything for herself before buying. I have been victims to highly trained salesmen who make difficult appliances seem easy thanks to their many, many hours of training.
The demonstrator saw me coming. He reeled off his patter while effortlessly creating metres of cucumber, carrot and courgette pasta: within minutes I was convinced and dying to posses my own Spiral Grater. He was onto his But wait! That’s not all – there’s More! when my friend reminded my I wanted to try it for myself before buying.
I tried, and it didn’t work. I kept on trying, and it didn’t work. Until the demonstrator gave me some tips and, after a few false starts, I was making my own carrot fettuccine [carrot being the hardest – literally and figuratively – of all]. My friend tried with the baby marrow and also had to be aided before she was making metres of marrow ‘pasta’.
We were sold on that, but then watched a demonstration of a Magic Grinder. It ground cheese and bread and biscuits and sweets and nuts and chocolate, pus fruit and veg. We could have the Magic Grinder and the Spiral Grinder pus three ceramic knives for the special price of R500. Or just one of them plus one knife for R300.
We took the cheaper option, although we were both tempted. But,after all, an old fashioned grater will give you cheese and most other things, albeit at the expense of your nails and fingers – and how often do you need ground nuts and chocolate really?
A day later, having told us husband about the wonder glue and pondering the magic grater in our minds, we had both rethought. My husband and I returned to Hobby-X to buy all the things I had resisted in the first place. A cutting board and a 10-pack of Sharpies, Glue, Stretch and Seal Tape – plus the Magic grater.
And tonight was the first outing of the Magic Grater: I grated cheese for my husband’s roll. First I cut it into small blocks to feed into the grater, then I got arm ache twisting the wretched thing. It worked well – but no better than an old-fashioned grater @ R40. Now I need to try the chocolate and nuts to see if it is worth the R300 price tag.
I bought myself a grater. And a pack of Sharpies. And a colour-in Calendar for my doughtier. And a cutting board. All on my second visited. And my husband bought Magic Glue and Stretch and Seal Tape.And I learned that a good salesman will see you coming and sell you on a product just enough that you buy it, but don’t take advantage of the special.
After all, when you kick yourself later and rush back to pay pull price on a product you could have acquired for half the price on a special, who makes the commission? There’s a sucker born every minute, and a good salesman can see them comin