Monday, 1.31.05: The Competitor
Last Sunday I spent way to much time looking at a book I wanted to sell. From Jim's collection, it was a 72-page volume of half-tone photos of the Thousand Islands, a venerable resort area on the St. Lawrence River between New York State and Canada. On the surface it seemed pretty ordinary. River scenes, boats, big old houses, nice fold-out map. And I must have spent an hour looking for a damn date, reading every photo caption for a clue. (We finally decided 1910.) For a run-of-the-mill tourist guide, something struck me funny about the captions. They read more like a social register:
What was ordinary became intriguing.
Then I did my homework to see what else was selling on ebay about Thousand Islands. Damn! Except for a slightly different cover, someone had just put up the exact same book. The received wisdom is that if you find someone selling a similar unusual item, back off, let that auction finish, then do your own. Don't divide the bids between things that are the same.
Hmfph. I didn't feel like waiting a week. I examined his listing. Crappy picture of the book cover -- distorted camera shot, not a scan. Plus, the rustic brown "Indians in the wilderness" cover is completely irrelevant to the wealthy resort described inside. His description was about 4 lines long.
I decided to go head to head with him. I'm not one of those obsessively competitive people who have to win at everything, but occasionally I pick a battle. I went whole-hog in describing what excited me about the volume (including the quotes above) and did scans of the cover, an island mansion and the map. His version was classified under books; I listed my under photograph albums. I sprang for the extra 50 cents to add a subtitle: "Lifestyles of the Very Rich on the St. Lawrence." The net was cast.
The auction ended yesterday afternoon. The results:
I love winning. And I especially love winning because I had a strategy and a plan.
Why write all this stuff down?
"To remember is to triumph over loss and death; to forget is to form a partnership with oblivion." Charles Baxter, The Business of Memory