The antique kitchen timer issued its shrill warning, and Ross rushed to his computer with such haste that he very nearly toppled a towering stack of old Sears catalogs. The pile wobbled precariously, but soon found support from the adjoining pile of telephone books from 1964. Ultimately, however, the day was saved by the tower of 1972 Penney’s and Montgomery Wards catalogs which Ross had wedged tightly against the ceiling with three 1976 National Geographic magazines.
His neighbor Kylie consistently derided his collection of old catalogs, but good-naturedly so; according to her, their main value lay not in their rarity thirty years hence but in their reduction of his apartment's floor area to near-zero.
"You're the only guy I know who can mop his entire floor in ten seconds," she'd marveled at first entering his cave-like abode. For Ross's collections of eventually-very-valuable catalogs and magazines occupied virtually every square foot of the room’s hardwood flooring except for the space grudgingly left open for his desk and bed. A narrow passageway just wide enough to accommodate his girth connected the entry door with his bathroom and kitchen, enabling dark passage between all the frighteningly unstable stacks of paper.
The dampness of the bathroom precluded storage of publications, so he devoted this valuable real estate to his melamine plate collection. The dining nook, however, was nicely dry, and his carefully-bagged trove of Tarzan comics, Ramparts and Liberation magazines occupied the floor area once squandered on dining. Ross was pleased to either stand while eating or wander out to the front porch or weedy backyard, for the absence of a dining table did not strike him as a sacrifice.
The shelving in the dining nook was reserved for his unequivocally masterful collection of old kitchen appliances: gleaming KitchenAid bowl mixers, sinuously curved-chrome toasters, sturdy round Osterizer blenders shaped like jellied ziggurats, cast-iron waffle irons from Scandinavia, and even a vintage popcorn popper.
But the toasters took pride of place, and even the most ignorant, oafish visitor inevitably paused to gape in admiration at the beautifully proportioned curvaceous Sunbeam T-9. Should the visitor show even the faintest touch of curiosity or worldly savoir faire, Ross would modestly point out his Sunbeam Toastwitch, Toastmaster 1B5, and his treasured Toast-o-Later model.
It was a much-desired addition to his collection which had caused him to set his white Minute-Minder to sound the alarm at 5:55 p.m., for at 6 p.m. to the second, the eBay auction of an incredibly rare 1949 T-20Z Sunbeam toaster would close, and Ross intended to be the proud new owner of the coveted collectable. The Z was the prototype of a model that had never entered production; only a few were known to exist.
With excitement-palsied fingers, he opened the auction window and anxiously scanned the other bids. With a sigh of exasperation he muttered, "Her again." For someone who bid under the moniker GreenDollGal had emerged as a recurring threat. He'd had a middling interest in a Speed-o-Matic toaster the previous month, and lost it to her in the last few seconds of bidding. The snatching of an item in the waning seconds of an auction was called sniping, and with over a hundred auctions under his belt, Ross considered himself an accomplished sniper. He hadn't set his heart on the Speed-o-Matic, but nonetheless it had been galling in the extreme to lose to another sniper—and a female sniper at that.
But this Sunbeam T-20Z was absolutely essential to round out his collection, for without it he would never get in the Vintage Appliance World show in Las Vegas—a goal he'd set for himself a year ago. The Show was only staged every two years; as the Oscars of vintage appliances, it was every serious collector's desire to be selected to showcase one's collection. The bleak alternative was banishment to the aisles as a lowly spectator.
A mere three days remained to submit an entry and supporting photos, and Ross had despaired of finding a T-20Z before the deadline. He'd checked with the New York and Los Angeles dealers, to no avail; he'd even regretted not selling his spare Toastmaster to raise the money needed to win the T-20Z which had come up for auction last month.
In three weeks collectors would begin assembling in Las Vegas, and to stand as a featured collector would be a sweet break from uninterrupted bleakness. For after years of disappointment, defeat and bitter losses—his divorce, his financial ruin trading foreign exchange online, and all the rest—this would be the turning point, and the redemption, which he'd sought in his most secret, most sincere prayers.
"This is for the money, Honey," he murmured, and mentally reviewed what he'd learned in studying GreenDollGal's auction history. Like himself, she was a veteran of dozens of auctions, and her interests as revealed by her wins drew both his derision and his reluctant admiration.
Her vast collection of cheaply-acquired shoes he dismissed as evidence of just another self-absorbed, supremely bored female obsessed with buying something, anything, a task he equated with the daily feeding of a mindlessly insatiable beast.
Her flurry of bids on pencil sharpeners reflected an unwholesome eccentricity, he reckoned, which became particularly unattractive when coupled with fad dieting.
As he reviewed her list of health-aid purchases, he scoffed most scornfully; but this expression of disdain triggered an ironic jiggle in his own generous belly, and he quickly suppressed his amusement at her recent wins:
1. Wu-Tang-Wu weight-loss teabags
2. NewLook "burn fat" abdominal waist trimming action belt
3. Himalayan Yoga mat
4. 10-pack micro-abrasion cloths
5. Love Canal-Plus chemical Peel
6. Scandinavian Delight Waffle cone maker (for ice cream and gelato) & Mexican cookie cutters
7. Vintage butter molds
She probably has a womens' magazine on her coffee table he mused, with a photo of a scrumptious cake dripping with chocolate glaze on the cover, and a headline screaming "Start Your New Diet Today!"
But beyond her paradoxical diet-and-sweet-tooth purchases—never mind her collection of antique butter molds— and the supremely ordinary shoe obsession, she'd assembled a quite tasteful array of bowl mixers, apple peelers, 1940s movie posters and antique dolls. With her winning bid on the Speed-o-Matic, he feared she'd set her covetous gaze on vintage toasters.
Over time, Ross had discovered just how much could be gleaned from the records of bidders' auction wins. GreenDollGal seemed to favor lots of size 5, 6 and 7 shoes of the sort where $5 or $10 might win three or four or even a half-dozen pair of castoffs. Judging by her numerous winning bids, he reckoned her shoe collection would win the envious admiration of every social-climbing despot's wife. The range in shoe sizes suggested she was a binge dieter, a once-petite woman who now fattened up and slimmed down in an endless cycle of neurotic dissatisfaction with her weight.
The dolls he did not know enough to analyze, other than she was clearly willing to pony up significant dollars for the right prize; and this, he reflected dourly, was what made her especially dangerous as an opponent. Amateur bidders allowed themselves to get carried away by the excitement of the last few moments, and often ended up bidding the price far above full retail when faced with another anxious amateur.
The professionals, of course, searched for orphaned items drawing few if any bids; if the item was a true collectable, pros managed their bids to the last second, aiming to win the treasure at the lowest price. But if some wealthy no-nothing blundered in with unlimited cash—just last month a superb T-20Z had been bid up by two dunderheads with more money than discipline—there was nothing to do but turn away in disgust.
As the Vintage Appliance World show drew closer, and his chances of entering dimmed, he'd regretted that disciplined caution and wished he'd bid a truly insane sum for the classic Sunbeam. But the opportunity was past, and he could only hope no amateur set his or her sights on this T-20Z.
Ross had learned early on that amateurs tended to set their top bid at round numbers; thus a $20 item could be won with a bid of $20.59, just surpassing those who placed top bids at $20 and $20.50.
His fevered memory of the previous battle with GreenDollGal still grated most painfully. Not that he'd coveted the Speed-o-Matic all that much; what stung was losing to another sniper in the last five seconds by eleven cents. One dime and one penny! That hurt. But the coming battle for the Sunbeam T-20Z was serious; not only was the bid already over the equivalent of one month’s rent, but he literally had to have this to clinch a spot in the Las Vegas show.
Some dilettante might be lurking with a secret astronomical bid, ready to snatch it
away at an unmatchable price; but having reviewed the current bidders, he felt this was unlikely.
As someone getting by on a disability check, Ross could not afford to overpay, no matter how alluring the T-20Z and its promise of a competitive showing in Las Vegas meant to him.
Ross nervously refreshed the bid page and grunted in frustration. The bid was stuck;
everyone was waiting to play sniper in the last ten seconds. It was going to be tense,
and deciding his highest final bid was agonizing torture. He needed to guess GreenDollGal's
likely high bid and then top it—but not by too much, lest he grossly overpay.
Next Saturday: The winning bid--and consequences.
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