Out of America: Nights of gizmos and great hair

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - At the outset, I should confess a professional failure. I have not tested any of the following products or procedures on myself. I could plead lack of time, but actually it has more do with self- preservation.

However, apparently there are enough Americans out there courageous - or desperate - enough to make this particular consumer niche worth exploring: do-it-yourself cosmetic improvement. Invent a gadget that promises the return of lost youth at minimum cost and, with a bit of marketing, you will be made.

Along with kitchen gizmos, psychic counselling services and the latest tasteless jewellery, they are usually to be found being advertised on late-night television, sometimes in 30- minute 'infomercials' including repeated how-to-use demonstrations.

When products are as zany as these, the demos can make for compulsive viewing. Will the guinea-pig survive? Take the man who most nights does battle with a revolutionary attachment to your vacuum cleaner, which, when applied to the head, will cut your hair in even, beautifying swaths.

Too many nights of that, and the same man might want to switch studios to where spray-on hair is being pedalled for those of us with bald spots or advancing foreheads. With one squirt, any over-zealousness with that vacuum cleaner would be instantly repaired.

Hair-in-a-can has drawn wide attention in the mainstream media, with documentaries dedicated to it on news shows and lengthy pieces in big-circulation dailies. 'Gone today? Hair tomorrow]' was the headline in USA Today.

Part of the interest resides in the man selling the product, Ron Popeil, who, as head of his own company, Ronco, has been blanketing the small-hours airwaves for years with little marvels for the home. His first appearance was in the late Fifties with an invention patented by his father, Sam: the Veg-O- Matic. It was a kind of clear plastic plunger for instant vegetable massacre: 'It slices . . . it dices.'

Other items that helped make his fortune were the Inside the Shell Egg Scrambler, the Portable Smokeless Ashtray, and the Pocket Fisherman (an extendable pocket fishing-rod).

Arguably the most successful salesman in a country of salesmen, Mr Popeil says this latest invention - GLH Formula No 9 - is his best yet. He told the Chicago Tribune: 'Of all my products none comes near to GLH in what it means to people. It changes lives. It makes people look younger, more attractive.'

Hard to imagine. GLH - it stands for Great Looking Hair - comes in an aerosol to be sprayed on to the offending threadbare patch of scalp. Like gunge from an engine-casing, it clings to whatever hairs remain to thicken them up and give the impression of a full covering. A whole range of colours is available and Mr Popeil, who presides over his latest GLH half- hour infomercial, urges mixing and matching of shades.

The verdict from those who have tried it is that it works to the extent that a GLH overlay generally passes unnoticed. There are drawbacks, however. The product is prone to leaving nasty brown smudges on your pillow at night. And with ingredients that include propane, butane and isobutane, a romantic nuzzle close to an open fire might not be advisable.

But one handy hint recently broadcast live on Geraldo - an overwhelmingly oily mid-morning chat show - is difficult to contemplate being recommended to anyone. Viewers were treated to the truly gruesome sight of a woman demonstrating the art of home-based tonsilectomy. In the comfort of her own kitchen, she simply reached down her throat and snipped them out. Easy as that]

It might have made for less lurid television if she had skipped making the incisions on herself and wheeled out a friend who had done the job previously ('And here is one we prepared earlier . . .').

One more kitchen trick, recently reported by the Associated Press from Cary, North Carolina: 'A surrogate mother eager to provide a child for her sister used a turkey baster to inseminate herself and stood on her head for 30 minutes after each treatment.' Basters come for a dollar apiece. Could this spell the end to the fertility treatment industry? The baby, AP reports, is due this week.