LAS VEGAS—There are very few things about the International Consumer Electronics Show that one could reasonably call "Zen." The fluorescent lights? Nope. The Strip and Strip-adjacent convention locales? Definitely not. The masses of tote-bag-bearing humans that populate those locales? No again.
And yet, deep in the heart of the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, within perhaps the most Zen-defying point on the planet, there sits a refuge—an oasis of calm, a monument to the mesmerizing. A beacon.
Well, it's beacon ... if you happen to enjoy bacon. Or any leaner cut, for that matter. "Mr. Marinator" is a device that promises to marinate your meat in 15 minutes flat. It is clearly inspired by Ron Popeil's flagship product, the Rotisserie and BBQ Oven. It won't cook your food, though; it will simply moisten it, efficiently. (Using, according to the product's promotional materials, vacuum technology—"allows for deeper, faster, and even penetration of the marinade, making your food tastier and more succulent.") Mr. Marinator is also, you could say, like that other Popeilian product, the Food Dehydrator and Beef Jerky Maker, in reverse.
Here at CES, Mr. Marinator—perched on a table next to similar gizmos, under a scattered selection of vacuum-packed foodstuffs—has distinguished itself not so much for what it does as for how it does it. The gadget (retail price: $149.95) may be made mostly of plastic; the "meat" within its CES-specific model might be made of the same. It doesn't matter. Just look at the thing. I dare you not to lose yourself as you stare at those flopping filets.
And all the Zen may also be coming to your home ... via late-night TV. As I was staring, transfixed, at a cylinder filled with liquid-covered pseudo-cutlets, a guy bounded over. "I'm Mr. Marinator!" he announced. I was, for a moment, confused. I'd assumed the obvious: that Mr. Marinator was not so much a person as a brand name. And a state of mind.
The guy, Michael Johns, was exaggerating a little: He's not the Marinator himself so much as the product's pitch man. And an accidental pitch man, at that. Johns (otherwise known as a comedian and a hypnotist and, he later informed me, an aspiring guitarist in a yet-to-be-formed Jimmy Buffet tribute band) had been a mere attendee of last year's CES. He, like me—and maybe even like you—had found himself mesmerized by the slow churn of the plastic chops. He began talking up Mr. Marinator to the crowds that passed its booth. It was in that way that Mr. Marinator the human and Mr. Marinator the machine teamed up to give the people of CES what they desperately needed: a Moment of Zen.
Johns Mr. Marinator says, one thing led to another ... and, finally, he was brought on to this year's show to talk up the product in an official capacity. But the Consumer Electronics Show, Johns assures the gadget's fans, is only the beginning of Mr. Marinator's journey. "We're gonna make an infomercial," he told me. He paused. "I'm gonna be the Billy Mays of meat."