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Hawking Happiness

October 27, 1994|LEONARD REED | Leonard Reed is a Times staff writer

VENTURA — Sean (Salsa) Hill knows about people.

He would have you believe he knows instead about the speedy preparation of sparkling fresh salsa. Or hash browns. Or, for use in other dishes, mound upon colorful mound of chopped onion, green bell peppers and tomatoes. After all, he produces such things in seconds, with his very hands before your very eyes.

Indeed, Salsa Hill would have you believe he is just a widget salesman.

His clever crank-operated widget, called the Quick Chopper, was on sale here over the weekend at the annual Home & Garden Show at Seaside Park. But nobody knows, particularly, about the Quick Chopper, which is where Hill comes in.

"You see this thing sold by my friend Joan Rivers on TV for $29.95, but I sell it to you here for $20," he tells an entranced crowd. "You wanna pay $1.49 for 16 ounces of bottle salsa and choke on sodium benzoate, or have the real thing, in seconds, for 60 cents a quart?"

Upon stating the word ben-zo-ate , he feigns choking, draws a few laughs, and quickly spins yet another magic mound of hash browns. Quickly the clean white countertop before Hill crowds with vegetable peaks, a psychedelic topography of color and texture.

His Socratic provocations complete after the six-minute pitch, Salsa Hill looks up over his horn-rimmed glasses, lowers his voice and says, "The first three $20 dollar bills I see, I pay the tax."

People sprout money from fists. They carry bills before them like candles in a procession. Hill smiles and politely thanks every last one of them.


Things aren't going nearly as well across the way. Hill's immediate neighbor is a Corian purveyor named GW Surfaces. GW's two company representatives spend their time customer-less and watching Hill's show. One of them has purchased a Quick Chopper. "I don't even cook," she tells a visitor.

It's like that all up and down the line at this show, a patchwork of vendors who believe they sell the goods and services necessary to The Better Life. In this, the largest of the three main buildings, consider the lineup around Salsa Hill:

Dynasty Oriental Rugs, Dura Loc Metal Roof Systems, Gem Care Products, Eurotech Kitchens, ADT Security, Heritage Fine Art Gallery, Woodshed Plus, Betta Creations (fish in jars with a salesman who says, "Yeah, they take their air from the surface, not some aerator pump"), FHP Healthcare Senior Plan, Electro-Gun Termite Control, Pacific Aire, Linoleum & Carpet City, Refinishing Clinic, FHA Title 1 loans, Everything Under $15, Schlossadler Wines, Toilet Seat Reminder, Cabinet Savers, Regency Carpet Cleaners, Vari Pulse Jet Spray (jewelry cleaning), VS Alarms, Rainbow Water Washed Air, Hippo Waterbed Co., Smart Products, American Cemwood Corp., Gold Coast Garage Door, John Thomas Shutters, Martin Steel Garage Door, Cellular One, Closets to Go, Laughlin/Bullhead City, Gourmet Water Systems, Quick 'N Brite, Tallon Termite & Pest ("We Freeze Their Buns Off"), Attic Access, Broadway Custom Shutters, ADS Financial Services, Dennert Garage Door, Closet Crafters, Milgard Windows, Robin's Nest Knitting Center, Racer's Edge Teflon Polymer Auto Polish, Pacific Water Conditioning, Top to Bottom Awnings, Table Charm, All Stars' Dips & Spreads, Steve's Plumbing, Kitchen Places & Spaces, Bibbo's Gallery, Holly's Enterprises (foot massagers), Dragonchuck Alarm Systems, Catalina Spas, RCA DSS Direct Dish TV, Mr. Build/Ace Awning, Micro Miracle Steamer, Bath Crest Tub Restoring, Kirby Tech-Driven Vacuum, Henderson Windows, The Closet Factory.

Some do, in fact, draw knots of people with genuine interest. Smart Products, whose booth featured a girl dancing with a sponge mop, was selling mops rather briskly. And Micro Miracle Steamer fascinated those who have long suffered hard spots in their microwave spuds.

Sadly, Micro Miracle, which makes steam-emitting plates for cooking within the microwave, had to be on guard. A sign placed on the food display counter said, "Please Do Not Eat This Food." John Ryan, Micro Miracle's salesman, said, "People come by when I'm not looking, open the dish and take the piece of chicken away. This crap sits here for three days. Are they crazy?"


Salsa Hill faces no such problems. He's got things set up so that people watch his show as much as learn about a product and sample salsa. He's an entertainment pro first, widget salesman second.

That's not by accident. Hill has long followed people and strapped a meter to certain of their urges. He made half a million dollars in 1967, when he and partners produced the soft-core 3-D film "Stewardesses." He parlayed that into a nightclub business in Los Angeles. Which led, through a series of turns, to a carnival business in Marin County. That went sour in a liability case, but Sean (Salsa) Hill remains a man who was married on his own Ferris wheel.

People who eat the salsa don't know that, of course. It doesn't matter. Hill's a riot. And his salsa's as bracing as the man.

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