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Field Tripping: QVCing

I'm not a parent, but I hear tell from others that you're supposed to limit the "screen time" of kids. Back in our day we didn't have cell phones and iPads and TVs everywhere, so we had time to run and play outside, stretch our legs, embed ourselves in a real world before there was this virtual one. The good old days, you know.

When I think back on my childhood, though, there was a whole lot of screen time. I watched a lot of TV. A lot. I still remember my parents sitting my brother, sister, and I down at the table to tell us the big news. I was six years old or so, and my understanding of what was happening was pretty dim. My mom told us that the divorce would mean that we would have to cut back on some things to make ends meet, and I burst into tears: "Does that mean we can't have cable???" The thought of going without cable television was a much deeper cut than, say, my dad moving out of the house or my mom having to take on a second job. Parents, shmarents, I wanted my TV.

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And we always had cable. It was like a sign we were OK as a family, we were making it. I've asked other kids of divorce if they had something like this, a small sign that stood in for "stability" during the lean years of single parenting. For one friend it was McDonald's happy meals, for another, shoes. Growing up in capitalism means the sign of success is a tangible item you can buy but don't need, not an extra hour of daylight in March or an extra swing on the set at the park, though that stuff is nice, too. Poor folks always get chided for buying anything at all, but what else do we do to show we have power and self-determination in this state of affairs? That's not poor people's fault—that's just capitalism.

We always had cable, and we were always alright. My twin sister and I watched the hell out of it, and one of our favorite channels was QVC. That's the shop-by-phone channel, the classy one, not the cheap HSN knock off or the pathetic Jewelry Channel that aired at off hours. QVC was the good stuff, 24 hours a day QVC, selling everything. It was the hosts, though, that really made it worth watching. They were so personable and friendly, and it was like they were talking just to you. The hosts had relationships with each other, too, so as much as you were tuning in to check out Today's Special Value you were checking in to see how your friends were doing, if maybe Jane was flirting with Rick, or who was going to call in.

My sister and I would lie on the couch with our paper and pencils and jot down our purchases, deducting them as we went from our fake money tally, never running out of cash. Like lots of other kids of single moms, we were home, being raised by screens. This was ours, and I loved it.

Flash forward to last weekend, and I found myself pulling in to the parking lot of the International Headquarters of QVC. The ladyfriend promised a surprise hot date, and this was it, tickets for an all-access behind the scenes tour of QVC. Gasp! I was bouncing in my seat, so excited for this unexpected family reunion. We entered the main doors, gave our tickets to Beth, our tour leader who hopes to work her way up to becoming a designer (they let her sit in on a meeting last week! It might be happening!), and then settled into the patio set they had set up as part of their spring garden sale. Everything we saw was for sale, just as it should be.

There were about ten of us total, a surprisingly high number in my opinion, but I suppose you don't get to be the world leader in direct sales by only appealing to sad broken-home children, I guess. The tour started at a wall of TVs showing all the QVC international channels and what they were selling, plus the US channel and all its subchannels, because QVC clearly spreads like a virus. We next watched a video about how amazing QVC is, hosted by a host who's side hustle is probably as one of those jokey flight attendants on Southwest. We all giggled politely until it was time to go behind the closed doors.

We headed down the Hall of Hosts—two dozen cardboard cutouts, "go on, take selfies!"—and peered through the windows into the active studios. It was a makeup show, and the hosts were selling a foundation that one of our tourgoers swears by—and yes, she could buy some extra after the tour. One of the hosts was wearing fuzzy slippers with her blue ball gown and updo, and there it was, behind the curtain. Just as I suspected, these QVC hosts are just like us!

The rest of the tour took us through different sets as we made ourselves at home on the "patio" and vacuumed up pet hair and loose M&Ms from the "living room." We dolled ourselves up in the "glam studio" and considered recipes in the "kitchen." Beth even sneaked us into a green room where we met a host who regularly pitches these stackable hangers that let you fit more in your closet. Beth had just bought a set and could not stop going on about them with the host and we stood by, nodding, mentally adding "stackable hangers" to the shopping list. Just as we were about to head back to the lobby Beth stopped us. "Through that window, is that Marie Osmand?" she asked us. Nah, that's the lady who was leading the pilates class in the exercise segment. Beth seemed disappointed not to be able to serve up a real star. "Anyone want a picture with that woman, though?" Nope, we said. We want to shop. And we did. Best date ever.

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