Some people have a premonition that they’re going to be done in by some dreaded tropical disease. Others sense they’ll meet their demise through a bizarre faulty parachute incident. I’m pretty sure I’ll die as the result of an online auction. That’s right. One of these days EBay is going to kill me – literally.
Here’s how the whole thing will unfold. My husband, awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of his own snoring, discovers that I’m not in bed. Worried, he gets up and tries to find me (after stopping to use the bathroom, of course.) A thin sliver of light traces a path across the living room floor like a child’s finger through the icing on a birthday cake. He follows the light to where it disappears under the door of the study, and for a moment he just stands there. It’s quiet…eerily quiet. Then, with trembling hand, he opens the door and finds me – slumped over the keyboard of my computer, my left hand clutching my heart and my cold stiff right index finger still involuntarily twitching wildly and desperately on the mouse button.
He cries out in agony, unable to fathom the meaning of it all. How? Why? And then…through tears of despair his gaze falls upon the monitor, where that horrible EBay logo is casting a ghastly bluish glare over my twisted, anguished face. Suddenly he knows the painful truth, for there on the flickering screen, just below the End of Auction notice, are four sinister words, "You have been outbid.”
My husband, bless his soul, will of course blame himself for my tragic and untimely demise, and rightly so. He is, after all, the one who taught me the very bidding strategy that did me in.
I remember the lesson well. Somebody was selling a signed copy of Erma Bombeck’s book "Aunt Erma’s Cope Book.” The first page was inscribed, "Dear Jean – This is now worth 75 cents at a garage sale, Love, Erma Bombeck”. Never mind that my name is not Jean. I had to have that book. There were still four days left on the auction, but I was so eager to own the copy that I immediately popped in my bid. "You’ll be sorry,” said Marc. And I was.
Two days later I was outbid. Undaunted, I responded with a new bid of my own. This time Marc just shook his head and said, "You’re playing it all wrong”. Sure enough, I was outbid again. By this time I was getting nervous. Who were these people, and how dare they bid on my book?!? Incensed, I typed in my next offer. As my finger hovered over the Place New Bid button, I heard Marc say, "I wouldn’t, if I were you.”
"Alright, Mr. Auction Expert,” I shot back, "You have a better idea?”
"As a matter of fact I do,” he answered. "How much are you willing to spend on this ridiculous item?”
"It’s not ridiculous.” Then I told him how much I was prepared to pay for it. A brief but unmistakable look of horrified pain washed over his face. He closed his eyes as he struggled to find his Happy Place – an image of gentle ocean waves lapping against warm white sand – where he goes when life deals him an incredibly cruel blow, or when his wife reveals tendencies of borderline insanity.
After just a few seconds he sighed. It was a long, cleansing sigh. When he opened his eyes he apparently had found peace again, and in a calm, steady voice he began to explain his strategy. "When you enter a bid, you are setting the price. Every time you counter someone else’s bid with a higher one, you are raising your own price unnecessarily. They can always outbid you, and you’re forced to pay even more if you want to win.”
"So what am I supposed to do?”
"Wait” he told me. "Just be patient and wait.”
"For how long?” I asked.
"Until the last few seconds. Never leave time for anyone to outbid you.”
"But what if somebody has put in a ridiculously high maximum bid that’s even higher than my maximum? I won’t have time to do anything about it.”
"In that case,” he replied evenly, "you can’t afford the item.”
This absurd remark sent me scrambling to find my Happy Place – an image of a Prada shoulder bag, dipped in chocolate. When I recovered I decided to test his theory on the item in question. It was tough to relinquish control of something I wanted so badly, but I reckoned that if Marc was right I’d win the book and if he was wrong, well, at least there was some pleasure in saying, "I knew you were a total moron and this just proves it!”
The next nineteen hours and thirty-seven minutes were unbearable. Twice I had to physically restrain myself from caving in and placing a new bid, but to my credit I got through it. One o’clock in the morning found Marc and me hovering over the computer, refreshing the screen every few seconds. Just under three minutes remained on the auction, and still Marc waited. Forty seconds. Twenty-four seconds. Finally, with just sixteen seconds left he typed in my maximum bid plus twelve cents, to keep it from being a round number.
With the clock ticking down under four seconds he firmly hit the "bid” and "confirm” buttons. And then – hallelujah – those blessed words flashed across the screen, "You won the item!” I jumped to my feet and started jiving around the study whooping, "In your face, you suckers! You’re all losers! Loo-ooo-OOsers!”
Little did I know that in those first heady moments of victory I had sealed my own fate. Never again would I experience serenity in an online auction. This new strategy, as I discovered, was fraught with peril. There were the unexpected losses to the aforementioned jerks who had jacked the price up so high my paltry bid never had a chance. There were the instances where my timing was exact, but I discovered to my horror that I’d failed to log in. Once, in a bizarre twist of fate, the power went out just seconds before I was going to bid – clearly God not want me to own those vintage 1968 cork-soled wedgies, although for the life of me I can’t understand why. Still, I acknowledge that occasionally unfortunate setbacks occur and I can live with those. What alarms me most about this online bidding strategy is how it affects me physically.
Take last night for example. There was this item I wanted desperately enough that I would have sold my children’s baby books for it. I contacted the seller and suggested he/she provide a "Buy Now” option, but to no avail.
For seven days I had watched this thing like a toddler glued to Blues Clues. Finally the auction got down to the last few minutes and nobody had placed a bid. The clock was ticking down and my heart rate and blood pressure started accelerating. Maybe I was the only person who was even remotely interested in this thing. But then again, maybe I wasn’t. I refreshed the page every five seconds until it got down below a minute. With my chest thumping so loudly I could literally hear it, I started systematically counting backward out loud, "thirty-six, thirty-five, thirty-four..” while at the same time trying to instruct my fingers, which were shaking violently, to manipulate the mouse.
I managed to enter my bid, but typing in the numbers had gotten me all mixed up on my countdown. I couldn’t go back and refresh the page or I’d lose the bid I typed in, so now I was just winging it. My ears were ringing and I was in a cold sweat. If I waited too long the auction would end, so I took a chance and confirmed my bid. Glory be! I was the high bidder!
But I’d left ten seconds on the clock. I refreshed the page twice. Whew! It was still mine. And then, just as the last two seconds ticked off, it happened. I got the dreaded message. "You have been outbid.”
Even now it’s almost too painful to talk about. After all, an item like this only comes up once in a lifetime. Not only that but I can’t shake this horrible suspicion that my very own husband has been sharing his "winning” strategy behind my back. (How else can you explain the fact that this heartless EBay creep waited until the very last second to steal the bid?)
Never mind all that. The point is that I may not have won the auction but at least I came out of it alive – barely. But I’m telling you, my friends it’s just a matter of time. One of these days, I won’t be so lucky. The physical and emotional strain of this last-second bidding will be too much for my body to handle and I’ll simply keel over stone cold dead, leading to the scene I so vividly described in the opening part of this article.
Unfortunately for me, even if the auction itself doesn’t finish me I'm still not safe because there’s still one more EBay-related cause of death guaranteed to do me in, and I'll bet a lot of you will know what I'm talking about. If I bid on one more leaky lava lamp, or one more rusted antique bedpan, or one more set of 1950’s vintage World Book Encyclopedias that requires a forklift to move, my husband is literally going to kill me. When that happens, I can only hope there’s enough money in my EBay Pay Pal account to cover the funeral.
p.s. By the way, if you’re the person who outbid me last night (and you know who you are) I’ll pay you twice your winning bid if you’ll sell the item to me outright. No? How about three times? Still no? Okay fine. But this is my final offer: Two charming baby books, complete with hospital bracelets, tiny footprints, original birth certificates, irreplaceable photos and personal greetings from beloved relatives (now deceased) written lovingly on the hospital visitor page. As a bonus I’ll toss in my wedding album. I’ll even pay for overnight shipping. Call me.