Available now on eBay: A sort of love
A Beavis and Butthead pewter necklace will cost you $6.98; $11 for a snake-killer whip; $13 for a "Way Cool Kung Fu Cute Hamster Toss Pillow." The right search term will lead you to hundreds upon hundreds of violas and viola bows eagerly posing for prospective buyers, going cheap. At any given time, you are likely to find at least one prosthetic arm.Skip to next paragraph
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eBay is like a sprawling medieval marketplace on the Web; you can buy anything people will sell, and there are plenty of troubadours and dancing little people to keep you entertained as you browse. For those who are serious about the art of exchange, eBay is a meeting place for those with uncommon taste to find one another against the odds. People who collect turn-of-the-century Viennese Jugendstil crafts; people who sell their own handmade goat milk soap; people buying embroidery patterns - just the paper patterns, not the threads - for up to $100, after outbidding others who agree about their worth.
You don't have to bid; just watch and learn. Onlookers get a quick lesson in supply and demand, capped by the anthropological moral that "value" isn't an objective property of objects; it's all relative to a sub-cultural perspective. If I am the only one who wants the Beavis and Butthead pewter necklace, heck, I can have it for a dollar, plus shipping and handling. If four other people want it, the price is driven up to $6.98, at which point either time runs out on the auction or, before that, we collectively decide that wearing a cold metal replica of America's anti-sweethearts around our neck would not change our lives more than eight dollars would. But notice this: to people outside of our clique of Beavis and Butthead aficionados, the necklace remains worthless. How diverse is America, how infinite in preferences!
My favorite search category is that of the "ferret hammock," which I stumbled upon a few months ago when looking for Chinese fans. (How did I get from fans to ferret hammocks? This is the venturesome thrill of the search term: it can take you to all kinds of odd corners.) The basic premise behind a ferret hammock is that your wriggly pet likes to ball up in these cloth squares, the corners of which you've secured somewhere to create a hammock-like effect.
To the ferret, of course, one dangling cloth square is probably as good as the next. To the owners, no detail of the ferret hammock is too mundane to merit attention. Just as we humans can choose between spring and coil mattresses, pillow-top and firm, ferrets can get their shut-eye in plush-polyfill; in all-natural hemp; in patterns that run the gamut from "denim farm" to "cowboy stars" to "oriental fantasy." At last count there were 62 ferret hammocks available on eBay.
One the one hand, eBay is a vast, teeming ocean of buyers and sellers, and in a cynical mood one could consider them all rapacious in their way. On the other hand, there's a world of difference between the eBay experience and the encounter with corporate marketing. For one thing, buyers on eBay stand a chance of humanizing their sellers. Even if the seller is listed only as "Minnie327" or "Dougstuff," there's a homey intimacy to many usernames, giving each transaction a distinct flavor. Compared to the distance one feels from the obscenely rich Johnson family who are distantly linked to the Glade Plug-In you just bought, it's practically like having a relationship.