In the beginning I was convinced that Rachel had to be either drunk or on painkillers. Whereas Kelly's smile was paper thin, Rachel's was so saturated with giddiness that I couldn't see past it. It was a brick wall standing in front of her psyche. If there was irony, if there was disillusion, if there was malice, if there was sadness, if there was anything other than a meadow of singing bluebirds under her skin, I couldn't even find a nook, a chink, a crack for a view. She'd often mention that in her previous, pre-HSN life she'd been a middle school French teacher somewhere in the midwest, and out loud I said, "Of course!" I saw her breezing into the room, snapping up the shades, spreading her arms to the glorious, snow-kissed morning and chirping to her corn-fed kids, "Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour! Je t'aime mes étudiants!" The persona: astonishingly happy.
Still, it was a drunk kind of happy. Wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt, I thought, "Hey, mayyyyybe punch-drunk." After all, she was on-air at 3 a.m. and trying to sell the enormous, animal print caftan her producer had thrown on her tiny frame. It was less a garment than yardage straight off the bolt. And she was not only radiant in it, but also radiant on the subject of it.
By the time summer started I'd begun to wonder, "I'm two months into this with her-- hasn't she caught up on her sleep yet?" She was as consistently loopy as ever, and I knew this because I was an extremely loyal viewer, if not customer. If anyone could make me want a caftan (perhaps to sleep in the next time I got the flu?), it would be Rachel, and that I continued not to want a caftan told me that I really did not want a caftan. I wanted Rachel never to leave the red eye time slot.
When my energy and joy were depleted, Rachel had surplus. Late night home shopping customers are a notoriously depressing crowd. It's the women who work the worst possible shifts and who are either just walking in the door, exhausted, or just getting up to a dark world outside. It's the women who can't sleep. It's the women who talk about how they shouldn't be shopping because they don't have the money, but they turned on the TV and couldn't resist. It's the women who are lonely. It's the women who are sick, obese, and handicapped. It just is.
While hardcore pushing the Tignanello pebble leather convertible shoulder bag with wristlet as if it were that hideous, limited edition Vuitton Beyonce was carrying awhile back, Rachel decided to go to the phones. More often than not, the phones are a psychological black hole.
"What made you want to pick up this bag?" Rachel asked, caressing the pebbled leather and smiling like HSN was paying her by the tooth.
"Well," a voice croaked over the speaker system (this is not out of the norm, as the voices usually croak; are sometimes so froggy that I think, "Oh my god! It's a man calling in!" (But this is never the case. The men call in during the coin, sword, and power washer shows). "If I understand-- because I'm basically blind-- that bag drops to twenty-three inches?" A glowing review of the design if I've ever heard one.
No matter what was said, no matter what ailment revealed, no matter what type of diabetes suffered by the caller, Rachel was unflappably ebullient. Or-- possibly drunk. In some way, on something. On many nights she'd dissolve into uncontrollable giggles, claiming that her producer had just said something hysterical into her ear. Her head would bobble as if it had become difficult to hold up. Veins would pop out of her blushing forehead. She greeted a caller, "Hello Lauren! Did they warn you about me?" with the same cadence Nic Cage used in so much of Leaving Las Vegas.
Trying to sell a questionable Moonlight Markdown, she suggested that the piece might be something worn when "ladies go out together." Then, gaze going fuzzy, she asked the camera, "Go clubbing? Is that what they say now?" And then, digging even deeper for her answer, she began to run through the kinds of dances one might engage in when she went out clubbing. "Sock hop? Charleston? The Charleston? The Twist!" The mention of The Twist seemed to excite her very much. But within seconds her smile, while still pure, was itself twisted with some confusion. "The Swiss?" she asked. "I don't know The Swiss."
The sun dipped for just a moment behind her eyes. And then it came back up, brighter than before, and she was laughing, "Ohhhhhh! The Swim!" Supposedly, "the producer" in her ear again.
Selling a digital camera, she showed us pictures of her cats, which she had so religiously referred to as "my babies" throughout the show that I never considered I wasn't going to see fingers. We looked at those cats for a good, long time. Or, rather, we looked at the suggestion of cats because Rachel kept trying to angle the display so that the video camera could pick up her babies' faces, except they appeared to be very dark and perhaps captured without flash, so it was kind of like looking at the Tribbles. (Her profile on the HSN website says, "Rachel is 'mommy' to three cats, aptly named Monet, Mia, and Paris.")
I couldn't relate to Rachel in the least, just like I can't relate to Bindi Irwin. But whereas Bindi's unreal cheer just freaks my shit out, Rachel's was a lighthouse and I was a dinky ship, bobbing in my depression. In fact, this depression probably should have driven me to become one of her callers (though mine didn't really have a concrete story behind it, as the other women's depressions seemed to), and I could have been one of those croaking voices heavy-breathing on the line, talking about how much I loved getting things in the mail-- which I do-- but there was nothing tangible I wanted. The customers were buying into the illusion of the Absolute™ rings ("The very finest diamond simulant!" Rachel would beam), but I was content buying into the illusion that there was someone out there in the world who was really that regularly, effortlessly happy.