So, there I was, in the front seat of a strange car with a strange man in the railway station parking lot in the strange town of Farnham, watching him count out £420 in cash of my money. It must have looked like a drug deal.
Actually, I was buying the car we were sitting in on three minutes' acquaintance. It was an eBay-arranged marriage (the car is wonderful, thank you).
I say this to show that not inexperienced as an eBay buyer. I'd bought small odds and ends here and there: a couple of stuffed pelicans, a load of used DVDs, a phone, like that.
None of this prepares you for how fiercely some people compete for some things.
Like hairtoys. The millions of women in history who have had long hair have come up with all manner of gewgaws to hold it up with - sticks, clips, pins, bands, forks…the array is endless. Don't ask me how you use a hair fork; if your hair is long enough and you like the fork enough eventually the two of you figure something out.
This is a minority interest, so your dedicated longhair lives by handmade stuff, some of which is extraordinarily beautifully made by people you can only call artists. Many sell on eBay, often for such modest prices that you feel bad you aren't paying them more.
Except for this one outfit, whose prices frequently pass the $100 mark. Their stuff is certainly nice; they work in both exotic woods and in a popular resin-impregnated, brightly dyed, compressed high-tech laminate known as Dymondwood. But so do many others with just as fine an artistic sensibility and attention to finishing. What happened there?
Some months back, I began seeing complaints that all their stuff was being bought up by a single bidder, the dreaded so-called galahrose. Amid a plethora of posts resenting her budget and her staying power ("This buyer is driving me INSANE") and speculating about her motives, someone asked plaintively, "Why is no one else allowed to have one?"
I read about her and felt stubborn. Why should galahrose get all the forks? I schemed. I plotted. I read her bidding histories. I studied the prices she'd paid. I surveyed the current list. There was a load of hair sticks, which I dismissed: too much like trying to implement antigravity. And three Dymondwood forks: green, blue, and multicolor, The third was clearly less popular than the other two – and it would go with almost anything. This was the one. I was going to prove you could beat galahrose.
Galahrose's pattern seemed to be to place a moderately high bid early on and then leave it alone until the last day or so, when she'd come back and, if necessary, bid noticeably higher. Clearly bidding against her in the early days was a bad idea: you'd just raise the price unnecessarily. You'd have to snipe: swoop in during the last few seconds and bid before anyone could respond.
Suddenly, my previous eBay adventures seem decorous and quaint. You have two choices: either you use a Web site to store the auctions you're interested in and do your sniping for you, or you run software on your own machine. I chose the latter, and ran tests. Make sure the thing works beforehand. You don't go into the French Open final without practicing, do you? So I placed an early test bid on an item I didn't want; let galahrose pay more for this one; what do I care? She obliged.
Now. Fully armed. Watch on the price. And, 30 seconds before the auction ended, off we went…
It turns out that galahrose is minor league. Somehow I had failed to notice that she is routinely losing now to two really intense bidders, lynne916 and moneypenny_cat. These people bid much higher than galahrose – and they snipe. They bide their time through the puny, little $75 bids and then the real auction happens in the last 30 seconds, when their proxies bid frenziedly against each other. If you want to compete with them you have to work blind; the price can triple or quadruple.
The last fork (an ebony, turquoise, and silver job) they fought over went for $158 and change. Don't think of it like a ridiculously expensive plastic barrette; think of it as jewelry that happens to be worn in your hair, OK?
But even so: what do they do with it all? One of those bidders racked up a bill to that single eBay seller of $2,200 in a single day. How much hair can they possibly have?
I am now convinced that eBay is turning us all evil. The site is teaching us all to be greedy people who care nothing for the desires of others. Out of my way! It's mine! Formerly, you would indulge this behavior once a year, when your favorite store had a sale. Now you can do it every day.
Still, I got lucky. The Big Two weren't interested in my fork. The bidder I beat in the last minute was galahrose. I can wear my fork proudly, as my tangible record of triumph, however petty.
Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. She has an intermittent blog. Readers are welcome to post there or to send email, but please turn off HTML.