Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Freebasing eBay
by Gayle Brandeis

Lordisa help me, I've discovered eBay. I've known it was there all along, of course, but I never ventured into the fray until a couple of weeks ago. My husband's birthday was looming, and I wanted to add to his recently launched bacon collection -- which consisted at the time of two items: a set of cocktail glasses that say "Makin' Bacon in Arkansas" beneath a lascivious pair of cartoon swine, and a T-shirt that proclaims "Everything's Better Wrapped in Bacon" (a prize I won by entering a bacon recipe contest -- no mean feat for a vegetarian. My inspired contribution was "BLT Balls"). Bacon is my husband's religion -- kosher he definitely is not -- and as far as I could tell, he was in desperate need of more bacon-centric chotchkes. I wasn't having any luck in my regular thrift store trawling, so I turned to the Internet.

What propelled me to go directly to eBay I still don't know, but soon I was looking at bacon listings galore, over 500 of them -- most of which, to my chagrin, ended up being related to Kevin Bacon and the six degrees thereof. I began to narrow my search, trying "bacon art", "bacon vintage", "ceramic bacon", "bacon figurine," etc.  And each attempt produced several results -- from old Swift and Armour ads to bacon dripping jars inexplicably shaped like cows -- but nothing felt quite right (although the piggybank from Nashville that said "Bringing Home the Bacon" came awfully close.) After an hour or so, I abandoned my high cholesterol quest, and, with some sadness, ended up giving my husband a birthday gift completely free of pork products.

While my initial search never came to fruition, the memory of eBay hung around me like the scent of bacon long after it's been fried. It made me incredibly hungry for a second taste. After a few days of resisting the auction's siren song -- which sounds an awful lot like ka-ching! if you listen carefully -- I gave in and logged back on. I was a bit overwhelmed at first... what do I look for now? Hula lamps? Balinese angels? Mosaic trivets? Gravel paintings? The possibilities were endless. Then I remembered my mermaid goal.

At some point, it became vitally important to me to have a mermaid in every room of our house, a goal I've realized about halfway so far. I typed the word "mermaid" into the search engine. I didn't realize I was signing away my soul in the process. My jaw dropped as dozens of listings popped onto the screen. I could easily furnish every room in my house several times over with all the funky mer-folk on the list. I drooled over every sea shell bra, every supple curve of tail. I registered to bid. I began my descent.

That first "Congratulations! You are the top bidder" was a scary, giddy, rush. I felt like I had won the lottery.  My prize a mother mermaid and her three baby mers -- ceramic 50's wall hangings with sparkly blue tails. This only whet my appetite for more auction action. It was on to the harder stuff. I told myself I could stop any time I wanted to. I told myself, in fact, that I would stop after I won the bid for a luscious painting by a "Mexican outsider artist" of a woman with a donut halo over her head, but then I found a pair of Frida Kahlo pillows I wanted so badly, I snagged them out of the arms of someone else (please forgive me) 22 minutes before the bidding ended. I lusted after a folk art nicho dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, but, alas, there was another bidder more hungry than I. If I could have mud wrestled for it, I would have. Such intrigue in these online auctions! Such passion! After only a few transactions, I became fully, woefully, hooked.

I was an auction junky a little over 20 years ago, as well, a fact I had conveniently forgotten until I fell off the wagon into eBay. When I was around 11, I discovered the televised auctions our local PBS station held annually as part of their fund drive. My sister and I had a TV in our room, and I stayed up long after everyone in the house went to sleep so I could watch announcers describe all the items on the block, everything from pencil boxes to luxury vacations. After a couple of days of gawking at the goods, I couldn't help myself. I began to call in bids on our yellow donut shaped phone.

When I heard my name announced on TV as the lucky winner of tickets to see the Pearl Fishers at the Chicago Opera House, I was overcome by a wash of exhilaration and fear. What do I do now? I had no way to get to the station on my own to pick up my "prize," not to mention the fact that I had no money to make good on my bid. After much soul searching, I finally came clean with my parents. I explained that I bid on the tickets because they loved opera so much, and I wanted to surprise them. Fortunately, they thought it was sweet. We went to the drafty Channel 11 warehouse to claim what was rightfully ours.

My parents soon became total codependents in my addictive relationship with the PBS auction. I would bid, they would pay. I was careful to bid on items they would like -- jewelry for my mom, a boat tour of the Chicago river for the family (although when I tried to bid on the case of beers from around the world for my dad, the volunteer who answered the phone asked how old I was, and wouldn't let me proceed with the transaction.) My parents tolerated my obsession up to a point, but the final straw came when I "won" a 5 foot tall teddy bear.

They dutifully brought me to the station to pick up the huge stuffed animal. The floppy girth of the bear caused such a stir that we were actually interviewed on the air, and given all kinds of free extra gifts -- art sets and assorted knick-knacks which they probably hadn't been able to auction off. I was on cloud nine, in total auction heaven. When we strapped the bear into its own seat belt in the car, though, my parents turned to me and said "No more."

It was painful, stopping cold turkey like that. There were still a couple of days of the auction left. I tried to watch, but it hurt too much to not be able to call in a bid for that black and white tea set. I clicked off the TV, but the announcer's voice still rang in my ears "Bids will start at $15, bids will start at $15." I shook under the covers, sweating out the urge to reach for the phone.

I swear my eBay habit won't get as desperate. I've never been much of a shopper -- thrift shops and yard sales are about my speed. What is eBay, if not a gigantic thrift store, a global yard sale, each item, each person selling that item, brimming with their own unique story? I won't spend too much. I'm in control of my habit. Really I am. I'm in no danger of getting in too deep. I can stop any time I want. Now if you'll please excuse me, there is this mermaid lampshade I've been keeping my eye on, and the bidding closes in 11 minutes...
Gayle Brandeis lives in Riverside, CA with her husband and two children. She is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco). Her novel, The Book of Dead Birds, won the 2002 Bellwether Prize and will be published by HarperCollins in 2003.