Scoping out addiction
I stealthily close the library doors. And lock them. Then I boot up the computer. The light from the giant flat screen the only illumination. The flickering light like a campfire for the cranium. I enter the URL from memory, no shortcuts to give me away. My heart pounding in my chest, I type in my user name (TRULY) and my password (ADICTED).
My hands quivering, I begin to search through the images, all but drooling.
Oh yeah! Oh-my-God she’s beautiful! Look at those lines, those curves. That’s pure art! Oh baby, I really want to you.
But I need a 1945 Bausch & Lomb microscope like I need a hole in my head.
What? Ohhhhhh.......you thought I was surfing for porn, didn’t you? Nope, I’m not making a nocturnal visit to Naughty-Nurses; I’m on eBay. My fiercest addiction.
I drink a little red wine.
I smoke a pipe.
I like expensive coffee.
But I don’t cheat on my wife, do recreational drugs, or even speed on the interstate. I’m pretty square, actually. But God help me if I spend time on eBay.
I’ve bought pipes. That’s semi-justifiable as it is one of my few vices and I actually use them. But I’ve got, like, forty of them. But I’ve also bought:
A piece of a meteorite (But babe, this thing was in space! Never mind the whole planet is…). A brass sextant (I don’t even use GPS). A statue of a busty mermaid (It matches the sailing ship bookends my assistant gave me for my birthday). A leather map of the world made by an artist in Argentina (It’ll help Rio learn the continents and countries of the world). A real Pit Viper skeleton (It….well, OK I have no justification for the snake skeleton, but having been banned from the house by you-know-who, it is actually the second most popular attraction in my office. The first most popular is every glucose meter made, plus a bunch of “antiques,” attached to my door with industrial-strength Velcro.)
I guess I was sort of aware of the fact I had a problem. I just didn’t want to face it. I used to check the AP news headlines on Yahoo over morning coffee and yogurt. Then I found myself checking eBay instead. I wonder if anyone listed an Orvis Ranger Jacket on eBay today? I used to read D-blogs at lunchtime; but you know there is always a chance that someone listed an antique telephone. When I came home from work I used to double check personal email but I really need a pancreas coffee cup. Got it all, except the jacket. So if you got one in green, either medium or large, that needs a good home…..
Like I said, I was sort of aware I had a problem, but I didn’t really quite accept the fact that I’m a sick man. Not until the microscope. I was looking for a antique brass microscope. Why? Beats the hell out of me. I’m real good about divining what drives others, but clueless when it comes to understanding my own erratic behavior. I’m guessing that on my genome the gene that controls shopping restraint (GGATCAA) mutated in me to (EBAYSEX). Go figure.
So microscopes. I guess I had decided I needed a microscope in my office for decoration. I’m not really that into microbiology. But it would look right in my mad-scientist lair, and like wearing a stethoscope when you don’t really need to, it might make me look smarter than I really am. (Look dear, he has a microscope, we’d better listen to him.)
Well, as it turns out, brass microscopes go for a lot of money and I’m chronically broke because I have a chronic illness, a chronic 120 mile daily commute, and I work for a non-profit. Oh, yeah, and that whole eBay thing might possibly have some detrimental effect on the family budget, but I doubt it.
But then, because I didn’t have $450 or more to spend on a brass microscope, and because on further thought my office really isn’t Victorian in flavor, it occurred to me to search for vintage microscopes. In eBay speak, vintage generally means not old enough to be antique but too old to be useful. Just like me! Maybe I should get a T-shirt that says “Vintage Diabetic.”
You would not fucking believe how many microscopes there are on eBay. I’d go check right now and get you the exact number but I’m on this cold-turkey quitting thing…more on that later. You’ll have to check for yourself. I never knew there were so many brands and models. And the shear volume is impressive given that most people never look into one after high school.
So here is what I learned about the aesthetic history of the microscope: in the late 1800s they are made of brass, are tall and lean. Sexy in a primeval way. Sometime between 1900 and 1920 they evolve into the object we all picture when some one says “microscope.” Then, like Neanderthals, their evolution stops. Oh, sure, later we get microscopes that have two eye pieces. And some have multi-lens turrets. But if it’s not an electron microscope, the one in the Gilbert Chemistry set looks pretty much like the one at Harvard Med School.
Except, that is, the 1945 Bausch & Lomb that I stumbled onto. Actually the seller didn’t know it was from ’45. The seller didn’t know for sure, but thought 1910-1930. Looking at it, that would have been a good guess. It is post-modern-art-deco-what-we-thought-the-futre-would-look-like-back-then. She was black and satin-chrome. Lots of satin-chrome. I’d never seen a microscope with so many wonderful knobs. The head was a graceful rounded-edge rectangle rather than a tube. The curves were elegant. The piece de resistance was the azimuth. On the base were the slides go is a rotating silver disc, precisely machined with 360 degrees of numbers.
Excuse me for a minute while I wipe the drool off the key board.
I had never seen anything like it. I spent hours searching both eBay and the world-wide web and found nothing else like it, even at websites dedicated to the history of Bausch & Lomb. I tracked down the 1945 date from an obscure PDF that detailed how to interpret B&L serial numbers. The rotating base suggests it may have been a geology microscope, but I’m not sure.
All I knew was that I had to have it, and I even had the perfect spot for it in my office.
It was around $150 when I found it. Then followed the longest six days of my life. I placed a “snipe” at a level I figured would be high enough to secure it for me. And then to auction began to escalate. And I increased my snipe. Again. And again. And again.
I was a nervous wreck. I was grinding my teeth at night. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wanted it, but I knew it was getting beyond my ability to pay for. Logic and desire, the fire and water of the soul, collided.
On the last day of the auction I checked on it every hour between patients. The price stood steady until the last three hours. Then the battle began in earnest. Two hours to go. It is a dark and stormy evening. Rain is pounding on the roof of my modular office as the last patient leaves and dashes for safety. The window next to my office leaks and water is splashing drip-drip-drip into the three coffee cups I keep on the widow sill to catch rain water coming in. And I have a moral dilemma on my hands.
The damn thing is already at $358 dollars. Waaaaaaay more than I can afford. But it is only money. But the phone bill is overdue again. But you’ll regret it forever if you don’t get it. But the cars need tune ups. But you can’t even find another picture on Google Images of this model. But….
I do the responsible adult thing and cancel my eSnipe. Then I reinstate it. Then I cancel it. Then I put in a lot larger number. Then I collapse into a pile of Jell-O. This auction will end on my way home from work. While I’m on the road. I need to make my final decision before I head out, and then leave it in the hands of the gods. About to have a stroke, or an aneurism, or both, I do what any sensible man does: I called my wife.
Who went through the roof.
After the are-you-out-of-your-fucking-mind rant, and the list of bills unpaid and upcoming, and all the stuff-she-wants-and-doesn’t-have speech; she relented. With conditions. OK, says my most responsible mate, if that’s what you really want I will stand with you on it. But….(there’s always a ‘but,’ right?)…if you win you need to sell some of this other crap you’ve won on eBay until you replace the money you spend to win it.
Like any good heroin addict, I know a good deal when I see one. We agree on $430.99 as the max, I place the snipe, shut down my computer, lock my office, and dash through the rain to my car.
I drive home with my cell phone on my knee, radio turned off to make sure I can hear it ring. Deb will check the auction after it ends and call me.
I’m tempted to call her and have her cancel the snipe. I’m tempted to call her and have her increase it to a thousand dollars. How rare is this thing, anyway? Does rare also mean collectable? I’m suffering from proactive buyer’s remorse and losers regret simultaneously and it isn’t even over yet. I hope I win. I hope I lose. But, damn-it, I hope I don’t lose by a buck. If I’m going to lose I hope that fucker goes for $5,000 bucks.
I really hope I win….
I’m a nervous wreck. And all the sudden I realize I have a real problem. Driving home in the rain, with the radio off, and my cell phone on my knee, I start trying to understand myself. With no luck. What drives this unquenchable desire to own stuff? I start thinking about my patients. I got one guy who is addicted to the home shopping channel. He’ll buy synthetic gem stones (it’s an investment…the lady on the phone said I’d double my money before the package arrives) instead of firewood. I’ve got others who don’t “have money” for their blood pressure pills but have money for a case of Budweiser every weekend. I’ve got crack-heads, alcoholics, heroin addicts, shop-a-holics, sex addicts…
Is there something about chronic illness that triggers addictive behavior? Is it in our genes? Or are we trying to patch the holes in our souls that being a living zombie creates? Are we compensating for our mortality or escaping our reality?
I don’t know. What about you? What’s your poison? Check in by comments.
And what happened with my most beautiful, make me look smart, decorate my office, microscope? I lost. Not by five thousand, not by ten bucks. I lost by $24.01. Crap. To someone who had only bought one item on eBay before.
While I was totally bummed that I did not get my microscope, I realized at the same time that I was totally out of control. It was time to stop. I had to get a hold of myself. I swore to myself I would not go to eBay for at least six months.
But the microscope loss was only the start of a really bad week. The next day I got more bad news (too long a story for now). I fell into a deep depression and to my shock discovered that surfing eBay was my depression-coping mechanism. When I get depressed I snoop around and distract my self. Oh look, a Roman coin with Claudius on it. So that’s what he looked like. For some reason I expected him to look like Derrick Jacobi. Go figure. Oh look, some one is selling a jet fighter plane. I wonder if he’ll get his $400,000 asking price?
Which is all good and fine, but I was looking and buying. So there I was on my lunch hour, depressed to the point of suicide, with no strategy to deal with it. But I was strong and did not go to eBay.
So no carbs. No spending. I’m trying to be happy with what I have. It’s not working yet, but I’m staying strong and I’m glad to free (for now) of my addiction.
But damn, I really wanted that microscope.