Monday, February 26, 2007


In Which I Am Forced to Do Her Bidding...

Where have you been? you ask, as I creep through Blogger's back door, smelling faintly of perfume, lipstick on my collar.

I am caught red-handed. I have no choice but to confess: I briefly left you, my dear blog. I left you for my first online love.

I left you for eBay.

Ever since a certain cyber-genius pal of mine showed me how to work an early, clunky version of Mosaic, I have generally been able to resist some of the more addictive forms of Web usage. I am not a particularly avid checker of e-mails or poster of messages. Even when I was at my peak of blog posting here, I wasn't much of a comment checker or Sitemeter scanner. I had, in general, a healthy relationship with the Web.

But eBay was the exception.

Like two people who revolve within the same wide circle of friends, I had of course heard of eBay--my genius friend often spoke of her in husky tones, his eyes glazing over--and not from boredom--as he did. But I had managed to resist her siren call for some time. It was, of all people, author William Gibson who sealed my fate. His early 1999 article about his own infatuation with eBay made me realize it was high time that a master accumulator of CRAP such as myself should once and for good head over and make his introductions.

It started, as these things so often do, with the merest shared impulse: I entered a meager bid on a minor item. It was just meant to be a test of the waters, not even a full flirtation. But she grabbed my small expression of interest and ran with it. I became high bidder on the item and won. And so was lost.

Within days I was both buying and selling. I remember now, with no small amount of guilt, hiding myself away in the spare bedroom of our first house, while my wife and baby son slept nearby. The guest room was the place we normally housed my in-laws, out-of-town friends, even my own mother. Now it was a filthy lovenest for our trysts. I was besotted, flailing in the closets of the room, where I used to keep all my great caches of CRAP. Now I was literally grabbing anything close to hand--obscure British magazines with a few stories by Neil Gaiman, a red cup in the likeness of an anthropomorphic strawberry, a hideous necklace with a Chewbacca pendant dangling from it--and offered them up as tokens of my affection. EBay accepted them and rewarded me with excessive attention far beyond the bounds of mere flattery (I mean, who pays 25 bucks for a Chewbacca necklace? LumpyBumpy in Denver did). And so I spiraled deeper.

It got to the point where I would conduct Thomas's nighttime feedings in the guest room, both of us bathed in the light of the computer monitor. I remember well the night when Thomas first demonstrated the manual dexterity to hold the bottle himself. I was thrilled--not because my little boy was growing, but because it now meant I had a free hand to reach the "refresh" button.

Looking back, I see now that it was a desperately uneven relationship. I kidded myself that I was making more money off of eBay than I was spending there. And can you blame me? She said all the things I wanted to hear, that minx. She validated my life choices--so much of my accumulated CRAP seemed to be so valuable!--and even made me feel young again, offering me visions of glory that I thought long lost: virtually any old toy I ever loved--and many I lusted for but never got--was here for the taking, often even mint in the box. Beloved old comic books, long since read to pieces, were here, too, restored to perfection, covers and all. All mine. As long as I didn't mind paying 10 or 20 or 50 bucks (and often quite a lot more) for it. And my old dial-up was fast enough to allow me to swoop in and snipe the thing in the last 10 seconds of the auction.

Some men squander their whole lives on such obsessive relationships. Thankfully, my passion burned itself out in about two years. Coincidentally enough, that was about the time Her Lovely Self signed for a massive box that contained every Batman action figure and accessory (including the Bat-Cave with working Bat Signal) that the Mego company ever produced in the 1970s--and which I had at one time owned and then lost or broke. What could I do? I came clean about the affair. I promised to break it off. Right after my current auctions ended.

God love her, my wife stood by me, taking me back. She even agreed to let me visit eBay from time to time. And what wife willingly lets her husband visit an old flame?

But eBay would no longer have me.

The end--or so it seemed--came in a spectacular scandal. Not long after we moved into the Magazine Mansion, my Big Brother visited and helped us unpack. At one point, I had accumulated a rather large pile of boxes in the living room--mostly full of books and CRAP I hadn't had time to pitch or donate before the move. I told my brother he could help himself to whatever he wanted. See, not only was my brother infected with C.R.A.P. Syndrome, but he also had become acquainted with eBay. And like a fool, I had helped him, setting up his account for him, allowing his listing fees to be put on my credit card (seeing as BB was credit-challenged and couldn't get a card in his name. However, he was always very diligent about reimbursing me). So I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened next.

What happened was my brother helped himself to more than the boxes in the living room. He also helped himself to the piles of unpublished manuscripts and galley review copies of books that I had accumulated as part of my freelance work (which, at the time, involved reviewing books for a variety of magazines), and which were in my office, nowhere near the living room.

About a month after my brother returned home, I got a call from an understandably upset PR rep for an extremely large publishing house in New York. Did I say upset? Try driven to murderous frenzy. Apparently, someone had just sold two of their unpublished manuscripts on eBay, including one manuscript of a popular author--imagine finding the galley of J.K. Rowling's next Harry Potter book online right now, today, and you've pretty much got the idea of this author's popularity, at least among her devoted readers.

Apparently, eBay, like a woman scorned, loosed her fury. The auction was flagged, the publisher notified. After making some heavy threats to the winning bidders--who had by this time received their items--the publisher got the manuscripts back (and I wasn't even aware that they were missing). Since each manuscript is marked or numbered in some way, it was easy to figure out to whom those manuscripts were sent. And of course, in case there was any doubt, eBay willingly--gleefully?--gave up the seller's info. BB had entered a false phone number, so eBay surrendered every shred of data, including the credit card information of the person who had set up the account. And then the shit really hit the fan.

Suffice it to say, I managed to emerge from that incident, but not without injury to all the guilty parties. I no longer review books, for one thing. For another, BB walked with a limp for months afterwards. And any eBay accounts with my name attached to them--both my brother's and my own personal account, long dormant--were suspended. And so they remain to this day.

That should have been the end.

Should have.

But about two weeks ago, Thomas was noodling around online and, in looking for information on the next wave of Justice League action figures, found himself at an auction listing. It all seemed curiously familiar to him, I'm sure, some vestigial memory attached to an oral fixation. And when I explained more fully what eBay was like, I saw to my regret that his eyes began to glaze and a sloppy grin spread across his face.

"You mean," he said slowly, eyes shifting from the screen to me and back to the screen again, "that I could sell my old toys here and make money to buy new ones?"

I tried to explain that it wasn't quite as simple as that, but yeah.

Within days, Her Lovely Self--perhaps in a long-delayed act of revenge--established her own account and, with my help, got Thomas's first tentative listings up. He was selling some truly battered old wooden Thomas the Tank Engine trains and some well-loved Hot Wheels cars so I figured--hoped--that they wouldn't sell for anything and he'd move on to something else.

Except the wooden trains all cleared more than 10 dollars each--one sold for 50 dollars. All told, in two weeks he's earned almost 500 clams, all but 20 of which was funneled into his savings. But 20 bucks is still a big piece of change for a little boy. When he deposited his money and saw his bank balance, when he gazed at the money still in hand, I saw a look I didn't like at all. Because it was like looking in a mirror.

This morning, I came down and caught Thomas, still clad in pajamas, typing with frustration on the keyboard.

"Dad," my 8-year-old said in a whiny voice, his body shaking with emotion. "How do I bid for this giant lizard? What's mom's password?"

I think we're going to have to do an intervention soon.

So I hope you'll forgive me, my dear ones. And know that I haven't truly gone back to eBay. I'm just visiting her for a bit.

No, really.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Well, I must say that this makes your "Giveaway Of Crap" even more magnificent. When I realize how much money you could have made from the things you instead actually paid out-of-pocket to send to us, I am even more thankful for your generosity than before. Thank you.
Huh, I never realized that eBay, much like gambling, seems to have genetic markers for susceptibility as well. So far my packrat nature has prevented me from giving in to the eBay bug, I have too much trouble parting with my heaps and stacks of crap, but I am very familiar with the siren's call that is an auction in progress.

Be strong MM, be strong for yourself and your whole family's sake.
I have to say, this is the best story I've read in weeks. I read it, cracking up all the way through, and then read it outloud to my officemate, who joined me in a second round of hysterical laughter.

I've never sold anything on eBay - never thought I could figure all that stuff out - but you've sort of planted the seed. Maybe tonight I'll go through my own CRAP looking for a treasure :)

That doesn't sound exactly the way I intended. Oh, well. Glad to see you're back, nonetheless - my days have been much less hilarious without your wonderful stories!
Hmm...your long absence got me thinking: When does the timer go off on the new bun in the oven?
Hmmmmm, I see the obsession doesn't fall from the tree, does it MM? Poor HLS....
Are selling all our CRAP on ebay?

Actually, I think this post might give me a bit of motivation to unload some of my CRAP on Ebay. I have enough of it that I haven't unboxed yet. Thanks for the idea...I'll let you know if I end up needing an intervention.
While this lawsuit certainly is big news, the bigger story on eBay is the recent spate of hacker attacks by Romanian hacker, Vladuz, and the associated hundreds of thousands of scam listings and hijacked accounts (including those of eBay personnel) over the past week.
I know *exactly* how you, and now Thomas, feel. I have started making cards using rubber stamps, and there is a never ending supply of stamps and accessories for unbelievably low prices. What's a girl to do?
That hussy has my husband ensnared as well. My daughter now has 4 mobiles for her bed...if they are all going at once I am sure the bed will lift off the ground...
'Now it was a filthy lovenest for our trysts.'
You continue to outdo yourself Sir.
That, as we say downunder, is Champagne comedy, and Bollingers at that.
Keep up the good work.
You were gone so long that I forgot why I read you so religiously. This post made me remember. <3!
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