Every great, epic journey has a long and substantial back-story; this one does not for it is neither great nor epic. The back-story, the character motivations, it was all so simple. I got a record player for Christmas. You see, I grew up listening to records and I loved everything about them.
[Fill in your own nostalgic monologue about records and vintage things, here].
So, to mix with the bags of random finds my father had already given me, I began hunting down my favorite albums on vinyl, the classics that I wanted to be the hidden gems of my collection. I knew it would be a challenge; some were limited edition releases, maybe even out-of-print making them pricy even if I did happen upon them, but whatever. It was an endeavor purely for fun.
Seven days ago it became something more when I found a jewel I had once given up hope of ever finding. An item that with frightening honesty I can describe as the rarest of my heart’s desires: Sigur Ros, Takk… 2 Vinyl LPs and Etched 10" Record, Deluxe Sleeve. 2005. EMI Original.
This was the day everything changed and my eyes were opened.
Chapter One: What is Auction?
Online auctions, like gambling, are dangerous. I didn’t know this because I’d never participated in one before. The closest I had come was in tenth grade when I volunteered to be a waitress at my high school’s silent auction sponsored by E.S.P.R.I.T. All I remember from that night was walking smack into the center beam of these double doors while carrying a massive, china heavy tray, with four shallow bowls of soups on it. Disaster was averted by some divine act of unmerited favor, but that was it; spilling soup was as close to the process as I’d been.
I was ignorant then.
Now, things previously hidden were made plain to me. Now, I understand the adrenaline, the sudden terror, and the subtle loss of control in the spiraling vortex that is first-time online auctioning.
This tale, which I will in no way attempt to keep brief, as I am feeling long-winded from all my musing, started 7 days ago when by some act of fate or happenstance, eBay brought to me my desired item, my prec—thing I wanted.
The Takk... vinyl set had only been posted one hour before I searched for it. Zero bids, zero views. It was like I walked in on it getting dressed for sale. What SERENDIPITY! I thought. Then it began in the pit of my stomach, the feeling that something was wrong. A strange and evil foulness fell over joy and the long waited for joining of me to my precious Takk… vinyls. This perfect union was being marred by some dark trickery.
My spider sense was tingling.
Like many, I'd had an eBay account for a number of years but I used it only on items with the “Buy Now” option available. I treated eBay like Amazon for bargain shoppers. And as turned out it was the absence of this button that I was perceiving, for this item there was no “Buy Now” option only the path to placing a bid.
I felt my hopes wane. I didn’t like the idea of bidding on any item, but particularly one which held such powerful sway over me. Bidding and waiting was new and foreign territory and frankly it seemed like a terribly uncomfortable and bothersome ordeal. I wanted no part of it, but I had no choice.
I knew I had to rationalize my plan.
Chapter Two: Into The Crevasse
Though I didn’t want to be in the auction, it would only last for 7 days and I would get in first right at the beginning and keep and eye on things. If I were outbid within a reasonable price, I would try my hand at it again. I then discovered how to set my Max Bid (the level-headed price a mentally stable adult would be willing to part with in order to procure the auction item in question) and then I would wait. If my maximum bid were surpassed I would bow out. It all seemed safe, sanitized and transparent.
“I know exactly what I’m getting into here.”
Even as a novice, that was the logic that led me to take that first step, and with that first step give roots to the seed that would grow to occupy my every waking moment for the next week.
The first two days I checked the website hourly. Common sense reigned briefly and I cut off my supply. I had set my Max Bid and that was that. I had set it right?
At the end of the third day I checked and realized to my near coronary that I had been outbid, but the highest bid was only at $1.80. I investigated further and determined that what had likely happened was that I had entered my Max Bid and then like failing to hit Send on a Text Message, I must not have confirmed the action. Since no one had placed a higher bid until that day I still thought I was winning. This time, I made sure my bid was set. However, this moment of doubt, this misstep allowed the paranoia that common sense had laid to rest to rise up again and begin doing the Macarena in my stomach.
I downloaded the eBay app to my iPhone.
Down I went. I had to make certain that I had cut myself off from all rational points of escape and that I could take this maddening frenzy with me wherever I went. We were bound one to the other.
Three more days passed and every time I looked at my phone I saw that reassuring green notification bar. “You’re the Highest Bidder!” it cheered, the only imaginary bystander in my corner.
“One more day of this,” I told myself. There had been 15 more bids and though the overall price had gone up I was still well within my Max Bid buffer. "Relax. People must realizing by now that their bids keep getting rejected because they can’t win. It's mine and they can't take it from me.”
The water was stagnant. Comfort began to reach its arm out towards me. I still checked the status of my bid religiously. I only refrained from checking it while actually in church as doing so seemed as though it would bring about some devastating blow of swift retribution and I would lose the auction some-crazy-how, just for my selfishness. We couldn’t risk that. I that is, couldn't risk it.
Chapter Three: The Last Day
This morning when I awoke I knew, before looking at any timepiece, that there were four hours left in the auction and I was right.
I couldn’t trust the fact that I had been the unchallenged victor for almost the entire duration of the auction’s lifespan. This last day, these final hours put a knot in my stomach that should have served as fair warning for what lay ahead--and it did--but it couldn't prepare me.
When one hour became 59 minutes I took a screen shot of my browser. It was happening, I was really going to win AND come in way under what I was willing to pay. I made some tea, busied myself and when I returned to my computer, less than twenty minutes remained. I checked my Internet connection. It had been known to fade in recent days and I wasn’t going to take that risk of not being able to see my win in real time.
Five minutes to the end of the auction. The countdown clock's numbers turned red because it felt my heart wasn’t far enough up my throat. I was beginning to show what appeared to be physical signs of anxiety and possibly dehydration, but that had nothing to do with the auction.
At sixty seconds I felt hope nudge me in the ribcage. Could I begin to smile now? Was the first time bidder about to come away with her prize unchallenged?
It was twenty-four seconds to the close of the auction when my green notification bar turned a damning red. I read the words while swallowing my small intestine. “You have been outbid.”
Chapter Four: White Hot Blindness
With twenty-four seconds left to play I was about to get pulled from the game. This is when the veil began to withdraw and I saw this for what it truly was, a sneak attack. The enemy had lulled me into days of peace and plenty; now in the darkest moments before dawn I saw the trap set before me. Naivety mocked me.
A more experienced bidder would have known what to expect, but who was I? I was a minnow swimming with sharks. At the height of my clarity I realized bitterly that after a commanding lead I was going to lose the race by seconds. Like milk about to expire I felt myself starting to turn.
The old song, The Gambler started to hum in my ears. “You gotta know when to fold’em” I started the phase in my head and finished the thought out loud since living alone provides you the luxury of talking to yourself out loud all the time thus increasing the reality or documentary feel of your miserable existence.
Then darkness took me and I became ferocious, consumed by the most basic of animal instincts to fight back. What Max Bid? Suddenly, it wasn’t even about the item I was bidding on. All at once it was about defending my keep. Destroying my enemy. The prize was mine. How dare they, some eight other vultures swoop in and try to snatch her from my grasp.
At 17 seconds I upped my offer.
It took too many clicks to confirm.
At 14 seconds I upped my offer yet again.
Rejection and Panic.
I threw caution to the wind. My gambler took over and I submitted my last bid with 7 seconds to auction closed. I pressed the Confirm Bid button and waited. It was out of my hands now but I still I was blinded. There were so many factors swirling through my mind as I watched the digits decline.
What if this person has no limit?
Was this a machine or just some bloke who had successfully completed Mavis Beacon and could put my 64 words-a-minute to shame?
Had I come this far to lose now? I was gambling that whoever was on the other side of the screen would underestimate me and shoot low in the final seconds. Had I shot too high?
I stepped out of my body for a while, waiting with my Mac's spinning pinwheel. The vinyls were an afterthought. Now I just wanted to win. I wanted to vanquish my foe, to finish on top.
Wait, these dollar amounts are in British Pounds, are you doing this conversation math in your head, correctly?
I burned with power, fear, helplessness, rage until the clock hit zero, still unsure if my last bid had gone through. Had I done enough?
Chapter Five: Winners and Losers
For those who know this taste and seek its sweet nectar regularly maybe today’s battle was trivial. Just one more in a win or lose shoot out. NBD. But I was the underdog. It was my first time in the games and I couldn't go out so cruelly.
I refreshed my browser and only needed to see the color of the bar across my screen to break into shivers. My hands trembled a little, I held them out to verify that they were in fact moving on their own. Then I read the message to myself.
“You’ve won this auction!”
The banner announced my victory, but it was completely unaware that only now that I had won could I see what I had lost in those last twenty-four seconds. It was all revealed to me.
It all made so much sense. It was never about getting out in front. The last minute didn’t even matter. All the damage had been done in the last twenty-four seconds. In the last seven seconds I understood why it made sense to auction items off in the first place instead of just setting a high price on them and letting them be, even if they are worth it. Winning an auction comes down to timing, stealth and fast WIFI connection. That was what I didn't understand before and that was why it only took an instance to undo my control and resolve. Boundary setting got blown out of the water.
During those seconds, in which I did not breathe, I rallied back from my sneak attack, claimed my prize, became the victor and understood why some people just shouldn't roll the dice at all. Like Gollum, I claimed my precious whilst falling in after her. I ended the day more than $100.00 beyond the level-headed price a mentally stable adult would be willing to part with in order to procure an auction item in question.
Epilogue: Know Your Foreign Exchange Rates
So, what is the moral of this tale, the lesson to be learnt? Well, firstly I never said there was one so you are quite presumptuous for expecting a decent wrap-up. But however, as both the victor and the victim of my own greed I can warn you: be wary of the White Hot Blindness of the last few seconds.
As someone who likes once in a while to practice self-control, I can tell you that it makes no sense to make a plan you know you’ll abandon at the first sign of trouble. If that’s the case, keep walking.
Oh! If you’re bidding on something in GBPs and you’re paying in USDs, do not attempt to do that math in your head as the clock winds down and you search for your home keys. Your calculations will be off.
Finally, from the nerd who will finally own all three records included in the Takk…’s Deluxe LP set in 6-10 business days: I guess, choose your battles wisely. Sometimes it's okay to step outside of yourself and do something crazy for a something so random that it makes no sense to anyone else but you.
Today was the best day of my life.