The clock strikes six. The operators are standing by. Tony rocks from heel to heel. First item: a heated massage chair. "Massage can change your life!" he yells. "HSN has the lowest price in America!" (Except for LuckyVitamin.com, where the same item's about $6 cheaper.) Tony kneels to take a chair out of its box. In red marker on a piece of masking tape on the back are the words DOES NOT WORK. Tony's assistants gasp. Their boss doesn't notice. "I've been doing this for 22 years," he says. "You should buy two of these!" The counter on the TV screen zooms toward 13,000 sold.
Next item: the pellow. "I've been in a lot of car accidents," he yells. "A lot of buses have hit me." He takes off the pillowcase, steps into it, and runs around. "This is the best pellow ever made!" A tanned and curvy model (not included) cuddles up against Tony's pillow and smiles with deep satisfaction. He jumps on the crummy Brand X pillow. He drops the bowling ball. Then the money shot: "Would I do this into a down pellow?!" He leaps, planting his grill in the soft white center. The handheld camera missed it. Tony smiles. "I ain't doing it again!" In the next segment, he does it again.
"The phones are blowing up!" he says at show's end. And it's impressive that he knows that, because he can't hear the calls or the producers. Oh well, off to dinner. He zips over the bridge to Tampa and his 6,800-square-foot house, which is filled not with gadgets but with antiques (even porcelain dolls), where he picks up his 36-year-old fiancée, Melissa, who has a nonstop smile and no body fat. He steers his Porsche to the Palm Steakhouse. Tony says he's never dated any of his models, but then he says Melissa was a model for one of his shoe lines. He hardly mentions his first wife but loves to talk about his kids, Trent, 21, and Tara, 22. "My kids," he says, "are my best friends."
Tony orders a steakno butterand a baked potatono butterand he keeps on pitching. Melissa doesn't say much. She nods, mostly. Can she name mistakes Tony has made? She pauses, looks at her fiancé. "You never really . . . " she says. Then she tells a story about the fortune-teller she visited. "He's always right," the soothsayer told her, referring to her boyfriend. Melissa protested but was cut off: "He's . . . always . . . right."
And that's okay. All the bragging and bloviating would make most anyone else annoying, but Tony pulls it off with charm. Maybe it's because he's just a lonely kid, far from family, who wanted so badly to be valuable that he begged millions of people to listen for just a few seconds. And living for 30-second windows has made him absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure of himself. He has to be. Americans want the energy that comes with certainty. Because they can never convince themselves they're in perfect shape or perfect mind or perfect health. They're never sure. But Tony Little is sold.