Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ebayus Interruptus


(a very short essay with a very long footnote)

Just this second, I am feeling a tad chagrined because I logged on one minute too late to get in the winning bid on a really perfect, underpriced bike which I absolutely DON'T need but which, nonetheless, would have been a nice Xmas present to myself this year. I've been (I couldn't control myself, it was weird) poring over and sorting and resorting thousands of bike choices for days. I don't know why I was so casual about logging on and pulling the trigger at the last minute. I guess I wasn't expecting the thing to be within reach as it came down to the final bidding second. Or I was oppressed by the possible expense and unconsciously WANTED to miss the bike by a matter of seconds. That way I could give myself the thrill of the possibility of acquisition without actually having to pay for or own the damned thing. But what's several hundred more dollars when I'm already several thousand in debt?

I guess the question is: would the new acquisition (and its expense) have weighed on me more heavily than does the thought of missing out on same.* This whole ebay thing is irritating. I've had this "missed out on a bid" feeling before and then later been immensely relieved that I did NOT acquire the putative bargain. And no, I haven't been eBaying for months. Just a few weeks. And no, this phase won't go on much longer. It's sort of a pre-holiday jag. And yes, it's a cousin to Vegas gambling and/or sports betting.

Also weirdly, I've rechanneled some of my pre-election political energy and my post election depression and frustration into Planet Ebid. I'm guessing that pretty soon there will have to be Ebayers Anonymous meetings for the afflicted…that, as Cheryl Crow sings, "I'm not the only one." And that there are others in far graver shape than I, others for whom this is no joke. They're the Internet descendants of those poor little ladies on fixed incomes who buy daily fixes of porcelain kitties and costume jewelry on the QVC Channel.

What there REALLY should be is an Ebay-like site where men & women can seek each other. I mean seek each other in a fully dimensional way, not just for sex, though that's certainly part of it, along with da soshul, da sikolojikul, da kulchural, da romantikal. Not bid, just try to match up properly. The personals that I've scoped out look horrible. Of course, people being the lying weasels and predators they are, they inevitably misrepresent themselves behind virtual curtains. Though some might argue that they also misrepresent themselves in person (except in my Eng 30A--creative writing class, of course).

Am I still (5 minutes later) kicking myself for missing out on the perfect bike at a bargain price? Well, I'm relieved to still have my money, or at least less debt. And I've already GOT a bike as good as the one I might have purchased. So the chagrin is easing, but not entirely when I remember what a phenomenal bargain it was. Relief chagrin relief chagrin relief chagrin. Maybe all I wanted was that exquisitely tuned moment of possibility when I actually thought I MIGHT be acquiring the perfect bike at the perfect price. Maybe I just engineered an almost experience in order to inspire myself. Maybe I used Ebay as a temporary muse. Maybe I find writing about the experience more gratifying than the eBay surfing itself (maybe I find the experience of writing more gratifying than the experience of the rest of the universe). Maybe I ought to be an Ebay columnist, but that's too much of a commitment. Who wants to be caged up with Ebay for the rest of his life? It would be hellish to have to come up with an Ebay column every week. What good is writing if it's not a surprise and a possibility? If I wanted to grind out sausage I'd open a sausage factory. In another couple weeks I look forward to jumping the Ebay ship entirely, possibly for the human world, though the human race IS overrated.

You've seen that moment in the movies, the one where the guy in the bomb shelter emerges, blinking, into the sunlight after 10 years underground, to discover that there was NOT a nuqular holocaust, that the world is STILL THERE. 'Cept in my case I'll emerge blinking and blinkered from my shuttered (shuddered) little office and online PC into that blinding Culver City sun, I'll stand in my front yard and behold the grandeur of the living world for that one brief moment. Then falls the shadow, and NAAAAW, and I'll turn, like Paxutawny Phil, and dart back into my gopher hole, there to contemplate the omphalos of the world through my online CRT.

*the hidden rationale is my new acquisition would have allowed me to sell off a couple extra bikes and thus upgrade the whole collection while scarcely costing me a cent. No chance for that now. I'm stuck with the shit I got. Well, if I were sane I would sell off a couple bikes ANYWAY, especially right now that I've ginked my back and can't bend over the drop bars, can't ride me bikes, for weeks. And, of course, there's always another bike on Ebay, and another, but my intuition tells me that THAT was the one I shoulda pulled the trigger on. And I sense I've lost my zest for the hunt: I won't want to bother chasing down another. The critical moment came and I dawdled and missed it by a casual nanosecond. I seemed to know what I was doing as I did it. Really took my sweet time. So presumably in my heart of hearts I didn't want to bother with it. Or else I blew it out of sheer ineptitude. This makes me think of the WOMAN I had a huge crush on in high school. In fact, I dated her equally pretty sister instead because she was never available. And then, years later, in a whirl in Paris, by sheer happenstance, I briefly bumped into her, had my fantastic opportunity, didn't take her phone number, and then regretted it for the next couple days alone in the City of Lights. And, of course, regret it to this day. "We'll never have Paris." My life, as Robert Lowell said of the mobster Louis Lepke, a "series of missed connections." Though for a time, I seemed to be hurrying on to OTHER connections so it was OK to blow by the connections I missed. I guess my real regret is that I can't live all the alternative lives I imagine, can't buy all the bikes that are right for me, love all the women, visit all the countries, write all the plays and poems and novels, have all the children, can't make EVERY connection all the time. As the poet (me) once said: "I'm in permanent mourning for lost opportunity:/pasts I didn't let happen/futures I won't let be." Carpe diem? Why just one day? How about seizing an infinite number of days? Of bikes, of women, of worlds? Why settle for just one? Why settle for a hundred, or a thousand? Why settle, like Wilt Chamberlain, for a mere 20,000 women? Perhaps God's cruelest joke on man is that he gave us the opportunity to imagine all the lives we choose not to lead because of the life we choose to lead, but he didn't give us the power to infinitely redivide or replicate ourselves so that we COULD lead those other lives. Instead we must live with the awareness and pain of, yes, I'm going to use that horrible, that most threadbare, that most footworn of cliches now: "The path not taken." And if one more terminally smug, braindead gasbag starts talking to me about how he has no regrets, that he'd live his whole life over again exactly the way he has, I may just explode him and give him his chance for reincarnation. Sure there are the gratifications of the lives we are leading. No one's arguing with that. But, even given the cornucopia (and inferno) of real life, how can any imaginative person NOT be stabbed by the infinity of missed possibilities? Maybe that's the real attraction of Ebay surfing. One can briefly, in one's imagination, try on an almost infinity of goods and services without actually burdening oneself with them. There need not be any followthrough or responsibility. It's a funzone, a kind of Disneyland of alternative universes for consumers. It can stand in, however briefly and inadequately, for their inability to be (or at least own) all things and all men (and women). I'm guessing that in a crazee way that's what swingers and sex addicts are about. Maybe at heart they're super romantics who want an infinite number of romantic partners and experiences. Presumably this obsession strips their romantic lives of depth and dimension, substituting the extensive for the intensive, quantity for quality. But I can only speculate here.

Thing is, we first world folk aren't simple tribesmen and peasants, blissfully cloistered away from the rest of the world. We're assaulted with an infinite number of choices (cultural, sexual, religious, economic) every day. How can we not be haunted and even dumbfounded by the possibilities and, more importantly, by the IMpossibility of seizing all, or most, or even a fraction, of those alluring, Sirenlike, choices? Our whole lives are like that part of Odysseus's journey when he bound himself to the mast while his crew, their ears stuffed with wax, sailed his ship past the Sirens and their fearful rocks. So Odysseus was the one dude who heard the Sirens' exquisite call and lived to tell the tale. If normal, 21st Century, konsumers heeded the Sirens' call they would smash up on the rocks of infinite acquisition, of promiscuity, of frantic travel, of moral relativism, of terminal konsumerism in all its forms. And many are so terrified by the amazing prospects and possibilities of the modern world, have so little faith in their own boundaries and integrity and judgment and imagination, that they retreat into dark caves of choicelessness, of fundamentalism and fascismo, of viewing their pastor and President, even if they're patent morons, as wise fathers who know best. In short, they retreat from an infinity of choices and possibilities, from freedom, into darkness and slavery and a self-imposed benightedness. From daylight into night. From freedom into slavery. From imagination into the literal and fundamental. From hope into fear. From love into hate. From the future into the Dark Ages.

I know, I know, the real question is: how do we learn to live with the bike,or bikes, we have. How we learn to live with the woman or wife or wives we have. How do we learn to live with the life or lives we have while remaining aware, imaginatively and creatively aware, of all the other choices-not-taken out there? How do we learn to do that without becoming paralyzed by choice, as Hamlet temporarily was. How do we learn do that without becoming terrified by choice, as George Bush's sheeplike followers are. How do we learned to do that without being driven mad by choice, as so many restless, frustrated, in debt Americans are. How do we find ourselves, remain in touch with ourselves, in the midst of infinite choice? Choice is a good thing. Choice is opportunity. Choice is freedom and possibility. How sad, or rather, tragic, that we are led by a President who constantly invokes the word freedom while leading the nation AWAY from choice, freedom, possibility, imagination. "Freedom?" he seems to be snarling, "you can't HANDLE the word." And maybe it IS too much--- for the red half of the country. Maybe it's something we, or at least the red ones among us, would rather pretend to export to Iraq than actually experience at home.