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MARCH 22, 1999:  THE SEDUCTION OF OBJECTS: The mall might be your best source for tiny barrettes and high-tech basketball shoes, but for your more esoteric shopping desires, eBay, the on-line auction site, is the place to look. EBay is basically a giant, sprawling, madcap garage sale (at www.ebay.com). Anyone anywhere can put an item up for bid on eBay for a small fee, and there are well over a million things offered for sale there right now--cameras, clothing, electronic equipment and cars, as well as a lot of junk mined from people's garages.

Bidding for items is free, and if you win an auction, you are generally expected to pay for shipping and handling. This may seem inconvenient, but it's worth it, because eBay has listed for sale, right now, some of the most unusual, seductive objects on the planet. If you have loved something and lost it, or broke it, or temporarily forgot about it, you can type its characteristics into eBay's search engine and find it again. Imagine! That teapot of your grandmother's? Your pixel vision camera? The 1973 Pictorial Encyclopedia of Aberrant Behavior? Whatever you need, eBay has it. Even if you didn't know you needed it, eBay will convince you.

Most of the items for auction are accompanied by their photographs, and even if you don't feel like buying, eBay is a wonderful, self-tailoring museum of the recent past. You can, for example, browse through pictures of toys you owned as a child. One reporter was able to quickly find images of Freakie Fruity cereal premiums, a slew of mod Dawn Dolls, a beloved Ideal board game, and paper dresses printed with Campbell soup cans. There are also gazillions of pictures of china, comic books, cars, Bakelite phones, old glassware from laboratories suitable for your nefarious home chemistry purposes--whatever you might want. You name it, eBay probably has it.

Would you like, for instance, a "Batmobile"? There's one for auction on eBay now, a small car with big fins and "a neon-lit bust of Micheal Keaton on the dash." How about a first edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous book? (The bidding on this was up to $5,300 at press time.) An old tube of Clinique lipstick? Vacation property in Vail? A pair of extra-large nylon underpants? Or, our favorite item from the auction block, a human soul? It's all there waiting. Dorothy may have learned that she didn't have to look any farther for her heart's desire than her own backyard--but really, how could this be possible? Unless she had eBay.

--Stacey Richter


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