Addicted to eBay
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – MY NAME IS STANLEY, AND I'M AN eBay addict.

I started small, with just one transaction. A small Brownie 2 box camera from around 1910. It was so cheap, I couldn't resist it. That's how they do it--I know that now. The first time it's almost free. And then, well ... it's too late. The thing is sitting on my desk. It doesn't work. What did I need it for? What was I thinking?

But, ah, in the beginning, it was so much fun. The auction for the Brownie was set to last six days. My first bid was five bucks, and I found myself going to My eBay every couple of hours just, you know, to see how it was going. It diverted me in a harmless sort of way during a long, hard workday. Or so I told myself.

About six hours before the auction was over, some fool lobbed in a $10 bid. I countered with a preemptive strike of $15 and received a satisfying silence from my competitor. An hour before the contest was over, beads of sweat appeared on my brow. I found myself checking the site every few minutes, then every few seconds. Then ... the auction was over! The thing! What was it? Oh, yes, the camera! It was mine! I had won!

That's what eBay does to you. They make you think that it's a game and that you have triumphed over other contestants, and that it's not about the money but about that game. All I can say about that is ... ha! Let me assure you ...

It's about the money.

In the days that followed, I developed several passions I didn't know I had. Bakelite shoehorns, for instance. Vintage yo-yos. Comics I remember from my childhood that my mother threw away. Right now I'm looking at a copy of the Classics Comics version of a book called King Solomon's Mines. It scared me one night at summer camp when I was about 9, because on the title page there was a picture of Gagool the witch, a small and obviously vicious sorceress with one tooth poking out of her sunken maw. I didn't sleep for a week. I wanted to see that artifact again, and sure enough, there it was, for sale from some collector in Britain.

I bid with all my heart. I didn't intend to lose. In the end my curiosity--my lust!--cost me $25, plus another $7.50 in shipping and handling. Guess what? It's not one bit scary. It's not even interesting, frankly. What itch was I scratching that made me yearn so badly for this tattered object that I outbid four other losers to get it? And who were those losers?

About two weeks into my descent into madness and addiction, I joined PayPal. It's an offshoot of eBay that allows you to directly transfer funds to sellers who accept it. After you join, you can be what they call "verified," so that you can transfer virtually unlimited amounts right from your bank account. I felt good when I was verified, even better than when I get validated--for parking, you know.

I told you I was in trouble.

It's not all smooth sailing, even for the select few like me. There are those who do not accept this method of remuneration, since it tacks on a charge to the merchant. At this moment, I'm having a bit of a tiff with Ron and Loretta out in Vancouver, who sold me a 1938 Westinghouse fan, over whether they will accept a personal check. I'm not going to do business with them again, I don't think. I want to stay within the PayPal family. You have to have some standards, even when you're flaking out. I will not, however, go so far as to give this troublesome pair a bad feedback rating. In our eBay community, that's a very big step, sort of like when the Amish decide that one of their own has performed a major transgression and henceforth must be shunned.

Today I am bidding for a Roy Rogers lunchbox at $200, a Toyo large-format camera system for the unbelievably low price of $400, an antique mandolin that may or may not be playable, and four vintage lawn gnomes. If I win, it will add to the total I've spent, which is tracked on my home page. The number is rather astounding. When did it get so high?

I'm trying to ease off. I'm only checking the site, like, once an hour. I know guys who check the stock market ticker every 30 seconds, so my problem doesn't seem that bad in comparison. What's scary is that every time my list of auctions narrows down to just a few, I find myself looking at doorknobs, stereo equipment, porcelain puppies, anything to get my action going again.

So I'm reaching out right now to anybody out there who has the same problem. I figure there might be a church basement or recreation center we can go to, just to have some coffee, talk about our mutual problem, and begin the long road back.

Until then, I'll just have to take it one day at a time. And start drinking again, of course.

STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at