Saralee Perel

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on

eBay: I Can Quit Anytime I Want

 At the Harwich Antique Center, I overheard two shoppers laughing. “Can you believe I can actually sell broken china on eBay?” one said to the other. Standing nearby I laughed too, in a knowingly, “Can you believe it?” way. Then I went home to find a mail delivery that included a Steubenville casserole I couldn’t pick up in one piece because of the cracks, a lidless teapot and a plate so crazed I couldn’t tell if the print was roses or ancient Roman goddesses.

But here’s the thing. I knew all this ahead of time and I bid on them anyway.

I want you to know I’m not addicted to eBay. I can go at least four days without bidding, as long as there’s chocolate in the house.

“How can you throw away money on this junk?” my husband, Bob, asked. “You know when something says ‘as is’ it means it’s either broken or doesn’t work.”

“First of all, the sellers always say if something’s broken. And second of all, nobody says, ‘as is’ anymore. They say, ‘as found.’ We’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated.”

“What exactly is the difference between those two terms?”

“The difference?” I bent down to tie a shoe which didn’t have any laces. “It’s obvious, of course. The difference is  . . .  um  . . .  it’s  . . .  .”

“That’s what I thought.”

Once, I was outbid on Steubenville china at the last minute. And I mean in the last sixty seconds. I was livid. I emailed the seller and screamed, “IT’S NOT FAIR! I NEED THIS CHINA! THE PERSON WHO BOUGHT IT DOESN’T NEED IT!” I emailed the buyer, a woman in Ohio named Laurie, and offered to give her ten dollars above the price she paid. There’s a place on eBay’s website where you can leave “feedback” on your experience with particular buyers and sellers. Most people do this. My feedback says I’m a “lunatic who will buy anything.”

This all started when my mother gave me eight plates - the remainders of Grandma’s Passover china. It’s beautiful and reminds me, sorrowfully and sweetly, of days gone by. I think collecting it somehow makes me feel less sad that I cared so little for things important to my grandmother, like the connectedness she found in following her traditions.

I care more about these things now. But unfortunately, so does Laurie. She wouldn’t take my ten dollar offer. To her, this china in some way keeps alive a friend no longer on this earth, with whom she began a collection of this pattern. I wish she hadn’t told me this story.

Now, when our pattern shows up, it is with enormous guilt that I outbid her, in the same cutthroat manner, I remind you, she first outbid me - which is in the very last minute.

For those not familiar with the process, here’s how it works. First you find the website, Then you type in what you are looking for. With Steubenville, usually about 150 items show up. You scroll down to find the pattern you want. Click to open that page, and bid, following the easy instructions listed there. Then as the days of the auction proceed, eBay will let you know by email if you’ve been outbid. You then have the chance to up your ante.

So now, there is no more room in my house for china. I have to hide plates in my bureau and between the sheets in the linen cabinet.

Last week, Bob sat me down for an eBay intervention. He calmly but assertively confronted me on my addiction.

“You’re powerless over eBay,” he said. “You can’t do this by yourself any more. You need help.” He gently cupped my chin in his hands and looked me lovingly in the eyes. “You mean the world to me. I can’t just sit back and watch you destroy your life like this.” He blinked so I wouldn’t see him crying but I could. With a trembling quiet voice, he said, “You must call upon a higher power.”

I looked down at my hands, the fingers that press the keys, the instruments that feed my addiction and I solemnly acknowledged to myself that he was right. I slowly lifted my eyes to his and said, “”

Then he called our internet provider and begged them to invent a parental block service so I couldn’t connect to eBay’s website any more.

Last week, Laurie emailed to tell me about a bad experience that happened  after she had sent a check for four saucers in our pattern. The seller, Laurie felt, had misrepresented the china and it turned out to be four plain small plates, which wouldn’t nest teacups. This china, as I said, means more to her than just china, which I guess is how it is with most things we decide are valuable.

But I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that this particular pattern in some beautiful way kept Laurie’s friend in her life.

Later, when I told Bob about her situation, he said, “This is a perfect chance to make amends for your addiction. Look into your heart and do the right thing. I know you have only four saucers, but they would mean more to Laurie than they would to you.”

What Bob didn’t know . . .  is that I had already sent the saucers  . . .  gift wrapped, from an anonymous eBay seller who claimed to have a few extras and was looking for someone who might like them.

I knew Bob would be proud of me, so I eventually told him. And I think Laurie was pleased, although I’ll never know.

And so, I’ve come to understand the following: There is no cure for eBay addiction. For the rest of my life, I’ll be in recovery, one dish at a time. So here’s my plan.

1. I’m going to learn to, “Just say no.” This will not include chocolate.

2. I won’t bribe or repeatedly threaten people who outbid me.

3. I’ll become a social bidder - maybe just on weekends.

So don’t worry about me. As you can see, I’ve taken that most important first step, admitting I am powerless over eBay. Now, it’s time to face my recovery head-on, in a courageous step-by-step manner. That is, after I place just one more bid - a Steubenville gravy boat with a little hole in the bottom.

After that, I promise  . . .  I’ll start tomorrow.