Thursday, June 22, 2006

Do They Make a Pill for This?

It will come as no surprise to you, my faithful longtime readers, that I occasionally go a little bit overboard with the eBay. But for those just joining us, I will summarize: I almost always have some eBay obsession going on at any given moment, and that obsession tends to get stronger in direct counterproportion to how much money I can afford to spend.

For the last few years, I have been almost solely interested in vintage costume jewelry, then Suzanne Somers jewelry, as well as other rhinestone or CZ jewelry, vintage furs with heads and tails intact, and beaded evening gowns... drag stuff, essentially. Then when I started this new phase in my life, I went nuts buying argyle sweater-vests and dress-shirts and cute loafers... my office-boy drag. But for the last little while, I have been obsessed with two new things.

I've been collecting elephants, rather casually, for years... I like elephants, I think they're cute, there's something about them that appeals to me (it has been suggested that the trunk is a phallic symbol, but I'm not so sure that's why). I chose my domain host because it has an elephant as a logo; I've loathed the Republicans for coopting the noble beasts; and I get really angry when people think I'm a Republican when they see a piece of my elephant collection.

My first elephant was a stylized crystal one that Grandmother gave me on my 12th birthday, which I still have. And when I told Caroline and JB that I like elephants, a couple of years ago, they both started giving me elephants as gifts... mostly little ones, the kinds of things you find in import shops and the like. I have some fertility elephants from Africa (carved in fretwork to show a miniature elephant inside), a couple of mirror-jeweled elephants from India, a somewhat crudely carved wooden elephant from Tepic, Mexico covered in bright-colored beads, an enameled keepsake box with a jeweled pink elephant on top (I have a particular fetish for pink elephants, by the way, because of the whole alcoholic thing), and several porcelain elephants of various vintages and provenances. I even have a Beanie Baby elephant and a marcasite elephant pendant and a couple of Ganesha idols littered around my room.

But lately, just in the last couple of months, I've been on an elephant binge. I keep finding them in unlikely places and am unable to resist buying them. I've probably doubled my collection since April. I now have Lenox salt-and-pepper elephants, elephant bookends, a giant stuffed fuzzy pink elephant meant for a baby's crib (and absolutely the most comfortable pillow on my bed), an elephant pedestal, a pair of porcelain elephant boxes, a painted stoneware elephant, a tin and wood miniature rocking-horse elephant, a cast-iron elephant pen-holder, et cetera.

But here's where the obsession part comes in: one day at work, where I do a lot of browsing around on eBay during the slow moments, I came across this little gem:

Isn't he the cutest thing you ever saw? And he has my initial right there on his ear! It's like he was made just for me! The opening bid was only $15, so I put it on my watch list with every intention of buying it, and I checked on it every few hours to enjoy the sight of him.

A few days later, a couple of hours before the auction ended, I was surprised that the bidding had already gone up to $37. For this little thing? It's only three and a half inches tall, for chrissakes. I had only been willing to go as high as $25 for it; what's so special about it to anybody besides me? So I looked up some of the words used in the title to see if it was a collectible I'd never heard of, and soon discovered that I was in way over my head: Wien Augarten porcelain is some of the finest in the world, and it commands very high prices, even on eBay.

"But I looooooooove him!" my inner shopping-addict wailed, "He's so cuuuuuuuuute!" After a quick conference with Caroline (always the wrong person to go to if you want to be talked out of buying something) and a short wrestling match between the inner shopping addict and the last vestiges of my prudent Capricorn nature, I decided that I would bid as high as $80. For a wee porcelain elephant, eminently collectable and unspeakably adorable but so very very small!

Well, after all my justification and bother, it didn't matter: I was outbid in the final thirty seconds of the auction; then that bidder was outbid in the final five seconds of the auction. The elephant finally went for $115. I was simply out of my league, a casual elephant collector with few resources up against rabid moneyed Augarten collectors.

Fortunately, eBay has this little mechanism whereby they present you with several other items that they think you might like, every time you lose an auction (which happens so infrequently that I'd forgotten they do that). And amongst all the way-out-of-my-league Augarten items in the conciliatory selection, there was this little guy, who isn't Augarten, but is from Vienna and is an elephant:

So maybe he isn't quite as adorable as the Augarten elephant, but he's still awfully cute! Jolly, even; and twice the size of the other. And I got him for $2, plus $5 shipping! I also got the Lenox salt-and-pepper shakers at the same time, which are gorgeous and only cost $10.

I decided after that close shave with the Augarten collectors, that maybe I ought to stay away from elephants on eBay. But I was still on eBay, as there aren't very many sites of much interest that I can access from work (we have these filters that block time-wasters and porn). So I poked around looking for things that I might like to look at but would be unlikely to buy... like furniture, or fine jewelry, or vintage automobiles (I do the same thing in real life... if I have no money to spend, I do my window-shopping in places like Sak's and Nieman's, Tiffany and Cartier, places where I can't afford anything at all).

And like most of my plans, it finally went astray.

Something you might not know about me is that I have for most of my life been fascinated by miniatures and dollhouses. In fact, I am fascinated by anything that's supposed to be big being small, and vice versa. Gulliver's Travels always caught my fancy, as did The Incredible Shrinking Man; I longed for giant novelty pencils or grains of rice with Bible verses written on them. I could play for hours just with Barbie's shoes.

Have you ever read The Borrowers? It was a series of books by Mary Norton (who also wrote Bedknobs & Broomsticks) about a clan of tiny people who lived under the floorboards and between the walls of an English country-house; their furnishings and utensils were mostly adapted from the sorts of small things one might lose around a house, wooden matches and matchboxes and toothpicks and hatpins and blotting paper and stamps and birthday candles... they sat on thread spools or ring-boxes, they slept in jewelry cases, they ate off of pennies and old bottle-caps and drank out of thimbles.

The whole thing entranced me; I read the entire series in the sixth grade, several times each, and spent the next two years creating my own Borrowers' House out of shoe-boxes and fabric samples and game-pieces and anything else I could lay my hands on. About the same time, I found a store called The Dollhouse Lady, near my mother's house where I spent every other weekend in accordance with the terms of the custody agreement, which sold dollhouses and miniature furniture. I went to that store every time I got a chance and just stared and stared at the beautiful little creations, complete with electric lights and working machinery and tiny perfectly-dressed dolls eating dainty plaster food from real china plates as thin as a contact lens.

The thing is, I was so fascinated by The Borrowers and The Dollhouse Lady that I completely forgot about my first experience with dollhouses... forgot it so completely that when I was trolling around on eBay and started looking at dollhouse miniatures without any intention of ever buying any, I was thunderstruck when the memory returned to me, full-blown and almost shocking in its perfection of detail.

When I was small, about five or so, there was a toy that I loved to play with when we visited my mother's parents up in Twain Harte... it was a lithographed tin dollhouse filled with single-cast thin plastic furniture, late-50s vintage, which had been my mother's when she was little. I loved that house so much, I enjoyed just looking at it after I'd arranged the furniture, I could fondle the pieces and gaze spellbound for hours.

Later on, my sister Suzie and I both received Fisher Price Play Family houses, she the suburban home and I the vacation A-frame, as Christmas presents (our cousins David and Billy got the schoolhouse and the barn, completing the set). These toys were considered much safer, I suppose, made of masonite and plastic with no sharp edges, the little people mere pegs of wood with spherical plastic heads and extremely minimalist features, the furniture clunky and unattractive with little holes in which to place the peg-people.

Nevertheless, I loved these toys... the little furniture, the decorations painted on the walls and floors, the closet under the moveable staircase where you could hide things (I'd quite forgotten about them until just now when I was looking up a link). We had another full set here at Grandmother's, but we had the airport and the houseboat instead of the barn and schoolhouse.

I played with these well into late childhood, and incorporated the pieces into later toys, such as Lego and Playmobil (which was a little more detailed and therefore a little more fascinating... I had Lego and Erector sets as well as the Playmobil King Arthur playset). When I graduated up to my Borrower fixation, bits of all those playsets were incorporated into the warrenlike cardboard palace that grew atop my dresser; that fixation lasted until we moved out of that house into another and the whole thing had to be taken apart... I had the parts and thought about putting it back together, but then I discovered masturbation at thirteen, which took up all my spare time.

With so many toys being replaced by and incorporated into newer toys, it's no wonder I forgot all about the tin dollhouse with the plastic furniture at mother's parents'. But come that fateful day, a few weeks ago, I was cursorily glancing through dollhouse miniatures and came across one just like the one we had in Twain Harte.

The brand name is Marx, by the way, and I was instantly sucked into the really huge selection of vintage Marx dollhouses and furniture that were available. Eventually I started to bid on things, and was having a hard time... apparently I'm not the only one who pines to recapture a bit of his childhood, Marx has its own eBay category. I was after a fully-furnished two-story colonial, and nothing else would do; and though such auctions usually started around $20, they usually ended well over $100. One such house, complete with all of its pieces and its original box, went for nearly $500.

There were also these other brand-names that would come up in lots with Marx pieces, Renwal and Plasco and Ideal... I had to do research to find out what made them different. I learned that Renwal pieces (which are much nicer than the Marx pieces, being cast from a harder thinner plastic, in assembled parts for more realism and greater detail) were on a larger scale than the Marx pieces I remembered; furthermore, there were different Marx lines, soft plastic and hard plastic and Little Hostess and Princess Petite, each on different scales themselves.

This was all very dizzying, but I tried to concentrate only on the Marx pieces that were not Little Hostess or Princess Petite... and though I was able to nail down a couple of loose box-lots containing the furniture I remembered, I couldn't get a house I wanted, being contantly outbid at the last minute every time I tried. Eventually, though, this one turned up:

It was about the right kind (though the one we had was lithographed with blue clapboard over a fieldstone first-floor) and it came with a lot of furniture and a few little extras; and though it was rather expensive at $165, it was a "Buy It Now" auction, so I could just get it and not have to worry about getting outbid again (which is just horribly frustrating). So after a little dithering (dare I spend so much on something so frivolous? Where will I put it? What will I tell Grandmother?) I went ahead and bought it.

Well, when it turned up (oh, yeah, the shipping was $70, since they sent the 38"x18"x12" object assembled in an appliance box, making my grand total for this particular folly $215), I was thrilled and elated and unpacked it and set up the card-table and started playing with it right away... but I was also just a tiny bit disappointed: you see, the house and furniture I bought were on a different, larger scale than the other Marx furniture I bought, the Marx furniture I remember from childhood.

So it turns out that the Louis Marx Company of New York NY had two nearly identical lines in different scales: the soft-plastic furniture in a lithographed tin house at 1/2" scale, and hard-plastic furniture in a lithographed tin house at 3/4" scale (which was the same scale as the Renwal and Ideal furniture of the same period), in addition to the Little Hostess and Princess Petite lines, which I now know to be 1" scale (the standard in dollhouse miniatures, wherein one inch equals one foot). The tin houses cannot be differentiated by sight, I had to learn the height differences in order to tell them apart.

So now two new avenues of obsession opened up for me: I could seek out more furniture for the house I have, taking advantage of the superior aesthetics of the Renwal line, as well as searching for a 1/2" scale house to fit the 1/2" scale furniture I bought to go with the house I wanted in the first place. Yay! More endless searching and imprudent buying!

Anyway, I ended up buying a couple of slightly beat-up Renwal lots from their late 40s "Jolly Twins" line, which was sold in complete rooms, including the walls and floor made of lithographed cardboard; I bought the living room and bedroom, but not the kitchen and bath (I was starting to redevelop some prudence, and these things eventually ended at $35 each). And then yesterday I found another "Buy It Now" house, this one with most of the original furniture in the correct 1/2" scale as well as the original family figures (though of later vintage, circa 1970, but it has working doors and windows), for $50. So now I have two dollhouses and two spare loose rooms and more furniture than I can shake a stick at.

And of course you know that, after browsing around in the real wood dollhouse miniatures listings on eBay, I'm going to have to get involved with them next time I have the time and money. There are dizzyingly grand house kits, there are brands of exquisite furniture, there are antiques and reproductions... it's a whole world of wee tiny miniscule magic!

I think what I need to do, though, is get the hell off eBay. This week I ordered a new evening gown custom made for Ducal Ball (which is coming up in July), and I bought an extravagant new wig to go with it, as well as a new necklace... there goes my state tax refund (my federal tax refund mostly went to the above insanity, though I did put a larger chunk of it into savings and my credit balance).

So maybe I should spend a little more time here, instead. But this isn't the easiest thing to do at work, it's so distracting. I can spend an hour or so without doing any work at all while I'm writing, though on eBay I can work for ten minutes and browse for two and go back to work and come back to browsing, switching back and forth without getting too mentally involved in either.

On the other hand, I have managed to get back to work on Worst Luck. I posted Chapter 7 Part 2 a few weeks ago, started my third rewrite of Part 3, and am thinking about the developing plotline more frequently. In fact, I'm even dreaming about the characters, something I only do when I'm really involved on a subconscious level with the story.

So if you have a mo', go check out the new post... it's not very long or very interesting, unless you're interested in the mechanical factors of a murder mystery. And hopefully I'll have Part 3 done within the next month or so. It will take some time to build up momentum again, but I think I have a lot of the blockages worked out that stopped me last year.

Well, back to work with me. Or maybe I'll take a quick snack break... there's ice cream in the freezer that I got at lunch, I think I'll go eat it (it's starting to get warm here). Cheers!