Sunday, May 18, 2008

How it all started to begin*

Those who are inflicted with my society on a daily basis will attest to my undying love, affection and addiction to eBay.

There are only two good reasons to buy stuff on eBay (as opposed to other, more traditional, means):

1- To get an astounding bargain, and
2- To get stuff you simply cannot get anywhere else at any price

While I often manage the former (Robert Talbott neckties for $6!**) it's really the latter scenario which keeps coming back. The emblematic example was finding the left side windshield wiper arm nut cover (say THAT three times fast) for a 1984 Alfa Romeo Maratona for $56. This is the sort of automotive bauble that those of us in-the-hobby snidely say is "made from unobtainium."

15 years ago, I would have had to schlep from garage sale, to autojumble, to estate sale, scour the classified ads in the back of magazines, make eleventy gazillion phone calls, rummage through out of date catalogs -- all in the course of 9-10 months -- to do what one month of eBay diligence accomplishes with relative ease. Not all of these (few, in fact) turn out to be "steals." The seller of windshield wiper arm nut covers for 1984 Alfa Romeo Maratonas knows what he has and knows the demand will be high and the price starts in the loftier realms and those of us whose 1984 Alfa Romeo Maratona simply can no longer be seen in public with an exposed windshield wiper arm nut must dance attendance. And we are to like it.

In fact, the only thing I have yet to score is a matched Schedoni luggage set for one of my sillier cars. Early on in my eBay career -- before I had the car to which this glory of the Italian cow belongs -- I saw that exact set and it sold for +/-$6K. She may have descended from people with a touch of lunacy, but TFBIM would not likely be pleased to discover that expenditure.

Especially when my first silly car cost 2/3 of that.

What got me started on eBay, though, was not the gentlemanly and currently-fashionable pursuit of vintage Italian automobiles. Not even the lure of Alan Flusser virgin cashmere crewnecks or Chopard chronographs.

It was a lunchbox.

Sharply contradistinctive from my to-the-manor-born tastes, runs a serious fondness for midcentury American pop culture. It's just the way it is. Now, I had always had such likes and predilections, even as a wee lad. The problem was that my parents were (oddly for such Serious Catholics) on a particularly Calvinist streak of self-denial and, they extended me the courtesy of denying me things because they wanted me to grow up un-warped. The story of the box of 64 crayons is legen in my family and the subj. of an upcoming post heah. At the time, I just thought we were poor. Not, y'know, destitute, but rather "____ must be terribly costly and things must be tough at work." Which, as it turned out, they weren't. Just I didn't know that.

At any rate, when I was a kid my lunchbox was the sort of affair you generally associate with film scenes featuring construction workers. A black steel lunchbox, with a plain steel Thermos. Other kids had lunchboxes featuring Batman, Superman, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Gunsmoke, Speed Racer, GI Joe, etc. The one I had always wanted, though was the Walt Disney "school bus" lunchbox. At the time is was very, very popular (as was its brother lunchbox, the Disney "fire truck") and I desperately wanted one. But it cost, when new, $4...a king's ransom from the reaction I got. So I accepted the same old lunchbox, and got on with my life.

Pretty soon I hit the age of testosterone and every other concern I may have ever had ("Will I ever find another bike as cool as the Raleigh Chopper I've just outgrown?") was hurled aside violently as I chose to focus on girls. Not that I had the least notion what to do with one had I been so fortunate as to manage to secure one -- and, frankly, having secured a very good one, I'm often at a loss as to what to do with her -- but the evolutionary imperative was there.

And lunchboxes plummeted in my list of priorities faster than Ralph Nader's popularity at the Ferrari factory.

But I eventually reached, as one ineveitably does, man's estate and having married and therefore reaching the state in life where chasing girls (or, more accurately, women by this stage) was not especially tenable (or, given my beloved's disposition and her skill with firearms, desirable) one must turn to more wholesome pursuits. Re-enter the lunchbox.

It was while I was convalescing after a near-fatal (really) car accident (the other guy's fault, he ran a stop sign at 15mph over the limit and T-boned me...it was by 3"/8cm that I didn't die) with my first laptop, a Compaq affair the size of an attaché case, that I discovered eBay. I was in a search for a replacement car to the stolid American 4-door that had just bitten the Big One and one of the people with whom I was emailing had a link to eBay in the footer of the email.

So, fool that I am, I clicked. (I may have sounded the extremely lovely and monumentally gracious Poppy out on the matter, the memory is dim.)

Oh, happy day. What a wonderland.

Car stuff, apparel, watches, furniture, dinnerware...old toys! LUNCHBOXES!

That very first day (in 1998) I found the lunchbox of my dreams. It looked new! It had the Thermos and it was one of those with a glass liner...intact! I immediately got into a bidding war with some other fool. (I was young and foolish, sue me.) I eventually won and paid $98, plus shipping. TFBIM looked at me as if I were a prime candidate for a first-class ticket on The Disoriented Express. But I persevered.

I eventually found an even better lunchbox. It was still new! It still had the tags and stickers and gleamed brightly! It had the Thermos (it gleamed brightly, as well) although it wasn't the glass-lined one. I paced myself and bought it for $66, which was still pretty pricy ten years ago. (TFBIM would say it's pricy today.)

Now I was saddled with two lunchboxes. So, in order to avert disarray in the home, I decided to reach a Solomonic decision and I would sell the first lunchbox with -- get this -- the seond Thermos. I racked my brain, came up with some fulsome prose that may have been somewhat apocryphal or possibly grossly exaggerated and managed to sell the hybrid combination for $122!

Finding a cache of vintage View Master reels took me past the point of being an habitual user and by this point, I was wildly addicted. (Oh, dear Internet, the ViewMaster...that's another post for another day.)

If I were to find, today, Benson & Clegg cufflinks for pennies on the dollar, it'd only be the icing on the cake.

-J.

* Extra bonus points to whosoever can figure out this reference. [Nick Heyward, "When It Started To Begin" from 1986. I'm very disappointed in you, Internet.]

** All dapper boulevardiers such as yours truly practically get weepy recounting stories of eBay successes where the seller misspelled the label's name as "Paul Stewart" or "Oxford" or "Briani"

Posted by Joke at 6:32 AM

8 Comments

  • Blogger shula posted at 10:10 AM, May 18, 2008  
    Joke,

    Every time you mention one of your silly cars, it appears to be a different kind.

    Exactly how many do you have?
  • Blogger bluemountainsmary posted at 4:51 PM, May 18, 2008  
    Yes what Shula said?

    J went through a brief frenzied period of collecting airline bags - not airline tour bags but airline bags - Iraqi Air , British Airways , all manner of North American bags. There were reasons connected to his work for the frenzy but madness it was .

    He seems to have recovered well.
  • Blogger SueeeuS posted at 8:29 PM, May 18, 2008  
    Delurking to ask whether you did, or did not, get that luggage set? It is vaguely implied that it is an as yet undiscovered expenditure!
  • Blogger Stomper Girl posted at 11:24 PM, May 18, 2008  
    I was SO sure it was going to be a Shag lunch-box. And that the Solomon decision was going to be based on which of your fine sons received which of the million dollar lunch-boxes to school each day. Ah me.

    Meanwhile, after one foray on behalf of my littlest boy, from which I emerged less than $20 poorer, I have managed to resist the lures of ebay.
  • Blogger Stomper Girl posted at 11:26 PM, May 18, 2008  
    Also, I'm assuming your lunch-box lunacy was accepted by TFBYM on grounds of near-death experience - should you ever need justification for the Schedoni luggage.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 7:23 AM, May 19, 2008  
    I never have more than 3 silly cars. There is a measure of rotation to this limit so that the 3 silly cars I had in, say, 2005 are not the same 3 silly cars I have today.

    I have never seen that set of luggage again. I fear the mere mention of the price would make my spleen hemorrhage.

    -J.
  • Blogger MsCellania posted at 11:22 AM, May 19, 2008  
    Hasn't your biggest score been the espresso machine; which, I seem to recall, was also misspelled?
  • Blogger Joke posted at 11:54 AM, May 19, 2008  
    If it wasn't, it's in the top 3 steals.

    It certainly has been more than amortized by now. (Let's see, $300...at 4 shots -- conservatively estimated -- per day for the last, what? Two years? That's 20 cents per espresso not including coffee beans. Not too shabby.)

    -J.
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