I just wanted to get in on all the fun. I just wanted to be an online-auction junkie like everyone else. A month or so ago, I went to a cocktail party where the topic of conversation was not the latest killer ipo, or how terrible The Phantom Menace really is, but the great stuff that you can buy online. I'd never collected anything, but I logged on anyway, hoping to catch the fever. I found eBay, I clicked on the search box, and just for the hell of it, I typed in "broken lamp." Whammo! I got a long list of people with broken lamps for sale.
Within days, I had become a broken-lamp collector - perhaps the world's leading broken-lamp collector! For $147, I won the broken clip-on lamp that Jennifer Beal had hooked to her headboard while she was at Yale. For $73, I won a broken lamp that had been gunned down in Bonnie and Clyde, and for $38, I won a broken lamp that had been swept to the floor in Citizen Kane. Talk about pure bliss! But after the actual thrill of the auction came the inevitable post-eBay letdown. Day after day, the ups guy would show up with another shipment of swag. But did I really want a broken lamp that had been in a scene that was cut from Smokey and the Bandit II? I took my collection to the local Goodwill drop-off. When I got there, the dude on duty was at his laptop, auctioning off mattresses from The Godfather.
To get that famous eBay rush, I knew I had to up the ante: I had to shift from products to services. I won a 90-minute session with Hulk Hogan's chiropractor ($210) and a private hair consultation from the woman who decorated Frederic Fekkai's new salon ($81). I was winning a designer life at the auctions!
Still, something was missing. I knew I was less satisfied than all of those people who have known the inner joy of acquiring another Black Mask pulp thriller, another decorative Elvis decanter.
Then something came up for auction that called my name: the chance to have a spell placed on me by a Miami-based business consultant - cum - voodoo priestess named Ruby. She had the props, and she had the chops. Her spell had given the Yahoo! boys their exclamation point. Without her intervention, the women of iVillage would have made that "i" uppercase, and the guys at E*Trade would have made that asterisk just another hyphen. Ruby wasn't offering the usual get-money or get-a-job spell. This auction involved a series of spells that she had concocted especially for the new-economy worker. I won it for $498.
I could choose the Ability to Delegate Spell, the Capacity to Lead Spell, the Boundless Enthusiasm on Little Sleep Spell, the Jet Lag No More Spell, or the Self-Knowledge Spell. I'm no dummy. I knew that unless I knew myself, I would never find the perfect job.
Three days later, I received a picture of the altar on which Ruby had cast my Self-Knowledge Spell, along with a small incense cone. I put the cone in the black ceramic ashtray that I'd won online ($37), next to the used computer that I'd won online ($843), beside the cd player that I'd won online ($233). When I lit it with the whale-tooth lighter that I'd won online ($19), a thin wisp of smoke rose from the cone, filling my bid-room with an herby aroma that smelled exactly like a hippie hangout, circa 1969. At that moment, the Self-Knowledge Spell kicked in. I saw myself as I actually was: a hapless eBay addict, with my money and my dreams going up in smoke.
Fortunately, there's a 12-step program for auction addiction, and it's coming up for bid. I know I'm going to win it.
This is the latest episode in The Spy's continuing saga, "working behind enemy lines." You can visit the spy on the Web (www.askthespy.com).
A version of this article appeared in the September 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.