I feel so ashamed.

Last night, I was innocently watching a quality movie on TV, "Bikini Biker Babes From the Beyond" (I thought I was on PBS, but in hindsight, I guess I wasn't), when an infomercial came on. I should have looked away, but it was too late. The next thing I knew, the phone was in my hand, and I was ordering kitchen cookware.

God help me. I bought the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ.

What a piece of hardware! You could roast a Doberman in there!

I felt gleeful. I felt liberated.

Pray for me. Maybe next I'll have the urge to see "Cats."

"You bought something from Ron Popeil?" my friend Nancy said. The way she said "Ron Popeil" made me uneasy. It was the same way a theater critic might say "Pauly Shore" if he were reviewing "Pauly Shore's Hamlet."

"You're kidding, right?" Nancy said.

"I'm not kidding," I said. "I'm 50 years old. I've missed out on Mister Microphone and the Pocket Fisherman, and, dammit, I'm not going to miss out on this. It can cook four chickens at once!"

(I told this to Man About Town Chip Muldoon, and he said, "Do you have a need to cook four chickens at once? Are you opening up a carryout? I think you've crossed a line here. Soon you're going to wake up in a motel next to Tonya Harding. Did you get the Ginzu knives, too?")

"You bought this item on impulse, right?" Nancy said knowingly. "How big is it? How hot does it get? Can you regulate the temperature? Does it have a timer? You don't know the answer to any of these questions, do you?"


I didn't expect her to understand. Ronco is a guy thing.

Take another Ronco classic, the Inside the Egg Scrambler. A woman would ask: How hard is it to scramble an egg by yourself?

Of course it's not hard to scramble an egg. The point is this baby scrambles an egg inside the shell! How cool is that? (Plus, while the egg scrambles itself, a man has his hands free for more important things, like scratching himself.)

Here's the deal with cooking: There's something about watching food cook that turns a guy on. It's the same impulse that drives guys to gather around the dryers in a laundromat and watch their clothes tumble around. Men like looking through glass and seeing some action. That's why there are Peeping Toms, not Peeping Tinas. (Also, that explains the Super Bowl.)

I looked at that rotisserie on TV. I saw prime rib turning around, cooking before my eyes, sizzling, glistening, dripping--and I said, "I'VE GOT TO HAVE IT!"

"Of course you did," Nancy said. "It's boar on a spit. It's the caveman in you. You're encoded. This gizmo is the perfect confluence of a man's interest: large slabs of meat cooking in something that looks like a TV."

I couldn't have said it better myself. I'd watch anything cook on a spit, including George F. Will.

"You'll use it once, and never again," Nancy warned.

"Once is fine. I've always wanted to make restaurant-quality prime rib at home," I said.

"Restaurants don't cook prime rib in a rotisserie, Tony. They use an oven. There are no Ronco products in restaurants."

What?! Not even the Electric Food Dehydrator that "makes great beef jerky," and is "ideal for camping and hikers?" (Hiker-jerky?) Or the Popeil Pasta Maker with a Pasta/Sausage Accessory Package, where "one load feeds four?" (Gosh, I wish they wouldn't use the word "load.")

I told my friend Tom about my purchase. He was ecstatic.

"You know what's beautiful about a rotisserie?" he said. "You just rig it, turn it on and stand back. It satisfies a man's most pressing culinary need--you can drink beer while you cook."

Tom learned his kitchen licks from his dad, who every now and then began bragging about the fabulous omelet he made. Everybody had to stand back in awe while he went to work. "When he was done, there were 18 pots in the sink, which he left for my mom while we went to watch football."

I showed Tom the picture of my Ronco.

He looked at it reverently. "Of course you know there's no way in a million years this is actually going to work," he said. "Have you seen it in a store?"

"It's not available in stores," I said.

"Of course not. It's probably made out of tinfoil."

Oh, ye of little faith. You can scoff all you want. But when you have a Super Bowl party, and your life will be ruined if you can't rotisserie four chickens at once, you'll be calling and begging to use my quality Ronco product.

I could have bought more you know. When I ordered the rotisserie, the operator didn't want me to stop at just one. She read from a prepared text of Ronco offers, and began each new item with the words "Ron wants you to have . . ." like we were buds, and he was in a generous mood.

I was offered marinades, rubs, meat racks, vegetable trays, thermometers, discounts for CDs, movie rentals, nasal hair remover, live iguanas, answers for the law boards; I'm pretty sure I heard the words "time share." In the end she told me I could get $30,000 worth of stuff for $29.95.

"Wouldn't you like Ron to send this to you?" she asked.

"No," I said. "But give Ron my best, and tell him we should do lunch some time. Rotisserie chicken, maybe?"