Things We Have Tried Unsuccessfully to Purchase on eBay
Stephen and Laura sit at their shared teakwood desk. Stephen notices how the light from their 24” LCD monitor falls velvet on Laura’s cheek. They sit with bluish monitor light dancing in their eyes and lament that there are certain items they’re unable to purchase on eBay. The list is long and they have arrived now at bodily fluids. I am outraged by this, says Laura, no bodily fluids? We are outraged by this, says Stephen. By the way, Laura, the way the monitor light falls on your cheek and dances in your eyes is very becoming. Our present outrage notwithstanding, he continues, I find myself very content sitting here with you in our Eames chairs, appreciating the quality of this light. It is an aesthetic as well as erotic appreciation, you should know.
The fact remains: eBay does not allow you to bid on something that has come out of another person and have it sent through the mail to your home. Stephen and Laura have not considered what they would do with the fluids, but nevertheless feel slighted. This is America after all, says Stephen. The free market must prevail! Yes, says Laura. Are we not capitalists? Supply and demand, and so forth. Besides, our motives are not the point. No, says Stephen, our motives are not the point at all.
But still, one has to wonder what they would do with the fluids. Hold them dear in elegant glass vials, close to their own bodies, osmosing them with warmth? Or regard them disinterestedly, arranged in the same elegant glass vials on the walls of their condominium in a contemporary fashion? An act of loneliness, such a purchase? Commiseration? Possessiveness? Something about a shared humanness, shared even with a stranger? This substance, Laura would say, came from inside someone. This is very intimate. It’s probably true that any act of commerce involving a bodily fluid is at least partially motivated by loneliness. Why must everything always mean something, Stephen asks.
How would the seller calculate the reserve price? How do you appraise such an item? How many cubic centimeters of accreted menstrual blood or phialled semen warrant a $50 maximum bid? But the question is moot because it is forbidden to offer such items for sale on eBay. It becomes hypothetical; it ventures into the realm of a thought experiment.
It’s not that we wouldn’t be able to lay our hands on bodily fluids via some other avenue, says Stephen, it’s just that prohibiting their sale on eBay is an egregious encroachment of our rights as Americans. Perhaps maybe in Russia this type of encroachment would fly, says Laura, but here? No way, José.
I do not think any of this has to do with the free market and this is where Stephen, Laura, and I disagree. They have not known loneliness. They have been together forever. I can extrapolate this much from the eBay terms of service: It is wrong to put such biological loneliness on display. Where children might see it. Where your seller rating might suffer. I would sell someone a bucket of spit if the price were right, says Laura. Damn right, says Stephen. Free enterprise.
Stephen and Laura conduct a few minutes’ worth of light Googling and find that early in eBay’s existence you could easily bid on bodily fluids. The desperate gambit of an internet startup, Stephen says. Then, down the road a few years, the ensuing quiet retraction by a corporation courting legitimacy, says Laura. Clean, untainted urine, says Stephen, there is a market. Oh, yes, says Laura, there is most definitely a market.
The market will prevail. I reconsider my thing about loneliness. I am always reconsidering my things and besides, Stephen’s right; why must everything always mean something?
Stephen and Laura continue browsing. They delight in the shared thought of clicking, discovering, bidding, winning, waiting, receiving, unpacking, and cherishing something that they sorely need but do not know yet. What is it, asks Stephen, that we are looking for? What will be the ultimate expression of the completion of us as individuals and us as a couple, asks Laura. A list of keywords might help. Stephen agrees and produces a red felt-tipped pen and a piece of bonded paper from a drawer in their shared desk. Brainstorm, says Stephen. Free-associate, says Laura.
Okay, just out of the blue, a blanket? What kind? An Indian one? Too many heavy associations. Something with a heavy weave then, like the lead apron at the dentist’s. The feeling of being smothered, hugged. But maybe also not great vis-a-vis the ensuing psychological portrait. How about a pair of very comfortable robes? Let’s not. Robes are unsavory. They seem always to go hand-in-hand with an excess of chest hair. What then? A knickknack? That’s good. To exude a warm nostalgic glow. But maybe too maudlin? Possibly. Artwork? A piece of art? Sculpture, something three-dimensional to regard. A Grecian urn-type thing? Now we’re getting high-brow. Too much so? Best to avoid even the possibility. We are not elitists around here. No, sir. A painting then? Modern, or a very good reproduction of a classic? Ambivalent regarding the former; worried about tackiness regarding the latter. I agree. The question here is essentially one of definition. It’s about exuding the essence of Stephen and Laura. We’re regular folks. Best not to convey the impression of social climbers. Probably best at this point to admit that bodily fluids might also misconvey the ultimate expression of the completion of us as individuals and us as a couple.
See? It was never about bodily fluids. The free market, though, is still on the table.
Similarly, you cannot purchase hardcore pornography on eBay. But this is good because you are spared the difficulty of either acknowledgement or repression of the fact that you are masturbating to secondhand smut. If the former, you think like this: at what point in the utilization of this pornography was the previous owner brought to completion (plus of course the ancillary thoughts that this one gives rise to; are my own predilections within the range of normalcy?) and in what state of cleanliness were his hands when handling the object now in your possession? If the latter, you think like this: It’s good as new, yet so reasonably priced. I am a savvy consumer.
Stephen and Laura do not own any pornography, nor do they view it on the internet. Those videos, Laura says, connote loneliness. The lighting, Stephen adds, is always poor. Aesthetic failure is not sexy.
Stephen and Laura make love on Friday and Saturday nights. They sleep in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Their lovemaking, unathletic but sincere, is punctuated by whispers of mutual devotion. My god, Stephen, Laura breathes, I’m so happy. Yes, Laura, Stephen replies. They both smile in the dark.
You can, however, purchase elaborate fantasy weapons on eBay: swords with several blades pointing in divergent directions; knives with wrought spikes protruding from their hilts; dragon-form hatchets; easily-concealed ninja stars; tactful, elegant garrote wire; baseball bats driven through with several rusty nails; simple and practical unadorned shivs. These are called novelty items because to call them weapons is to admit their purpose and to admit their purpose is far too base to spell out in an eBay listing. We think, quietly, alone: This will look good on the mantle; but also: This will show them, this will show them all. Base — yes — but well within the terms of service to which we’ve agreed. Unlike loneliness. To sit at home awaiting the mail, a whetstone and oil ready on the table. Although maybe there are similarities.
Stephen and Laura have PayPalled over $7,000 to various eBay sellers. So convenient, says Laura. Linked directly to the checking account, says Stephen. And with 100% purchase protection, why would you use anything else for online transactions?
A soft denim shirt from Reno, Nevada, for $8.00 + $3.75 shipping; a stuffed and mounted skunk from Savannah, Georgia, for $65.50 + $12 shipping; a new tray for the toaster oven from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for $1.00 + $2.50 shipping. Laura thinks she might like to look for some earrings. Stephen searches: earrings. 1,178,025 results. Wow, so many results, he says. So convenient.
Some days Stephen is compelled to complain to Laura. My head, sweetheart, he says. Sometimes I close my eyes and feel it expanding. I close my eyes and there is the universe, the stars and planets and comets etc., all of it rushing divergently away. This is how my head feels. Everything flying away from everything else. Huge, growing, but nothing coming in to fill the space. And me also, flying away bit by bit, distributed across the cosmos in tiny fragments, almost dust, sprinkled over landscapes. My arms, see? He holds out his arms. I feel the muscle and the skin and the fat falling away from the bone. Does it look like that to you? I think that I am evaporating, Laura. But my head, the universe, mostly.
Other days Laura is compelled to complain to Stephen. I feel sometimes that the thickness of things is out of proportion, she says. Look at this book, darling. Does it make any sense that the pages are each three-quarters-of-an-inch thick? The book itself is only two-point-five inches thick, yet there are hundreds of pages. This makes no sense. And the walls of our house. Why are they five feet thick? Did we have new crawlspaces installed? Laura holds out her hands and flexes her thin fingers. Stephen, she says, when I hold a pen to write you a note the pen is a yard long and as thin as a darning needle. I find this very strange. Also the fibers of my sweater. The fibers are thick as rope, and scratchy. Heavy; leaden. Why manufacture or purchase or wear a heavy, scratchy rope-sweater?
Things expand and contract. Stephen and Laura take turns comforting one other. There there, Stephen says, see the pages of this book? They’re not three-quarters-of-an-inch thick. Let’s get out the caliper. It’s going to be okay, Laura says, see how I’m holding your head in my arms? It’s not flying apart, or else how could I be holding it? They manage to fall asleep and then they wake up. We’re still here, Stephen says. Yes, says Laura, it always amazes me.
They have not left the house for a very long time. They cannot remember the last time they left the house. We are in here, says Laura. This is us, says Stephen. Everything out there is not us. We don’t trust it, says Laura.
The carpet, Stephen says. The wallpaper, Laura says. I think it’s time we covered up the windows. I agree. They switch over to bare unfrosted 100watt bulbs. There is not one remaining dark corner in the house. They remove all of the interior doors. This has drastically improved the flow of something, says Stephen. Yes, says Laura, I feel better already. I most definitely feel better.
Despite these drastic improvements, there is a small room in the house that they never enter. Bad vibes in there, says Stephen. I just plain don’t like it, says Laura. Not one bit. They haven’t been in the room since they moved in. It is thick with cobwebs. The dust on the floor is three feet deep and resembles a meadow’s low-hanging fog. Stephen and Laura like to tell me that this room is haunted by the ghost of a murdered child. I think they’re pulling my leg but can’t know for sure. There have been a lot of child murders in this neighborhood, says Laura. Go ahead, says Stephen, Google it.
Stephen and Laura feel better, but the complaints always find their way back and again they take turns comforting one another. As bad as the complaints sometimes are, they can always be calmed so that Stephen and Laura can enjoy a time of relative ease before the next round asserts itself.
I listen to them complain about the strangeness of things: the expanding head and the melting arms and the out-of-proportionness of certain objects and the sweater fibers and the dusty haunted room. But these things seem very natural to me and I feel the urge to comfort them. They show me a website they’ve discovered. The About section claims that a man in Santa Fe is willing to siphon out and sell you half a pint of his own clean bile. Imagine how he’ll help those without any bile to call their own. The bile-less; those in dire need of digestive aid.