When I was in high school, I worked at a local restaurant, first behind the counter, scooping ice cream and making cappuccinos, and later on the floor, waiting tables and collecting tips. I’ve written about this before, but the result was four years where I had a lot of disposable income and almost nothing to spend it on. Sure, once I bought a car things changed a little bit. I had to buy gas and insurance and all of those repairs I needed from backing up into street signs and stuff like that. But I was still basically swimming in cash.
I had a computer in my bedroom with access to the Internet via a 56k modem which, yes, it’s inconceivably slow compared to my high-speed connection now, but I remember what pre-56k was like, and this was cutting edge at the time. At RadioShack I bought a really, really long telephone cable and I strung it from the downstairs phone jack all the way up to my bedroom upstairs. Presto, even before I bought my independence a couple of years later with my 1991 Dodge Stealth, now I had an outlet to almost anything I wanted.
I had the Internet. I had cash. There wasn’t anything else required. I would go on eBay and bid on all sorts of garbage. When I won a bid, I would get an envelope, I would stuff it with cash, and I’d wait for my treasure to arrive in the mail. Everything started out pretty small-time. One of my first bids was for a DVD copy of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. Ten bucks in the mail, it wasn’t too big of a risk. And everything worked out fine.
But my purchases started increasing in value. I was really big into Dragon Ball Z at the time, and being a Japanese import, I was limited to what the TV stations decided to translate and dub to English. I knew that more existed out there, entire seasons that weren’t brought to the US at a pace to my liking, accessories and even video games.
All of the video games were in Japanese, and only playable on the Super Famicom, Japan’s version of the Super Nintendo. So I did what any fifteen-year-old with money to burn would do: I found one on eBay, I bid on it along with all of the games, and I mailed out the cash to some random address in Arizona, hoping that the seller would make good on his or her end of the deal.
It was a little crazy, mailing all of that cash. Even eBay strongly advised against it, warning me that I should send money orders, or checks, or whatever. But this was before I had a car, so I couldn’t really get out of the house without raising questions from my mom and dad. “What do you need a money order for a hundred and dollars for? Japanese video games? No, sorry, I’m not driving you to the bank for that.”
And I don’t know if it was luck or if I happened to have only done business with the most reputable of international video game importers, but nobody ever just pocketed my cash. All of goods eventually arrived. And there were lots of goods. Some of the stuff was pretty mundane, like comic books, more video games.
But a lot of the stuff that I bid on and bought, it was stupid, the very definition of an impulse purchase. I bought a pair of nunchucks. Why? I don’t know. I thought it would have been cool. And it was cool for like three seconds, before I put them on a shelf somewhere in my childhood bedroom. They’re probably still there, collecting dust, a symbol of the clutter that I’m constantly accumulating as I make my way through life.
Twenty dollars for a model kit of that 1991 Dodge Stealth. I never set it up. I remember looking at all of those little pieces in the box and thinking to myself, yeah, maybe I’ll build this thing one day, all while another voice said matter-of-factly, you’ll never open this box again. Put it next to the nunchucks. Whatever, twenty bucks gone, who cares?
I bought an old beer clock from a bar, some ridiculous piece of rust that lit up when you plugged it in. There were weird used obscure punk rock t-shirts that, regardless of how many times I ran them through the spin cycle, I could never get that crusty cigarette smell to disappear completely. Probably the low point of my eBay consumerism was a piece of WWF wrestling paraphernalia I had sent to my house. It was only five dollars, and it seemed cool at the time: a Kurt Angle novelty driver’s license.
This thing showed up in an envelope, it was basically just a piece of white paper that was very obviously printed out of some guy’s printer, he must have hand cut it with a pair of scissors, and then ran through a laminating machine. It was so stupid, citing bogus made-up credentials, like, “Address: 100 Olympic Way.” Because he was in the Olympics. Get it?
I stared at it and finally had a moment of revelation, that I was just throwing money away, all in exchange for garbage. When was I ever going to use this driver’s license? It wasn’t even cool looking enough to keep in my wallet.
I’m glad I got my eBay phase done with while I was young, because every once in a while I’ll revisit the site, I’ll start typing in keywords related to my current interests. And yeah, lots of seemingly cool looking stuff pops up. With the “Buy-It-Now” feature, I’m only one click away from having whatever I want shipped to my house. And look, now I’m an adult, I have a credit card, I don’t have to worry about stuffing an envelope with a stack of fives and tens.
But I get a sense memory of that old dusty smell. It was identical, regardless of where a package was shipped. It smelled like the basement, like an attic. Like, wow, I have a bunch of crap lying around my house. Maybe I can get someone to buy it on eBay.