I was hoodwinked recently by an unscrupulous eBay seller. I bought an auction item for which I was the winning bidder, but then I simply never received it after a respectable waiting period. My spidey senses weren’t operating as they should have been from the outset, though. Bidding was relentless with counter-offers taking place within literally seconds of each bid I made. Before I knew it, the price zoomed up to the same comparable amount of other auctions for the same item.¹ When I became the winning bidder, I was both happy and satisfied that I paid the going rate. There were no red-flags, at least at that point. I just assumed that a competing bidder finally gave way to my last bid before the auction ended.
It all began to unravel when the item didn’t appear in the mail within ten days. I tried contacting the seller a couple of times but got no response. Two weeks after the transaction was complete, I finally contacted eBay for a resolution. eBay was nothing but proactive in its response. They asked me to wait five more days for the seller to contact me (I assume they also began sending notices to him/her). On the fifth day, I received an email from eBay asking if I had heard anything. When I checked an automated box on their website that I hadn’t, I received a refund in the form of an immediate deposit to my PayPal account the very next day. Their system worked, at least for me. I’ve made several successful purchases in the past from eBay sellers (always safely under $100 — I’m never willing to buy anything too valuable), and I’ve luckily never really been burned.
I don’t know what kind of retribution eBay will exact on the perpetrator(s), and I guess I really don’t care. Karma will hopefully get them at some point. But the matter has made me think about dishonesty and those who participate in schemes.
My only serious and personal encounter with cheating goes back to high school when I was given an advance copy of a social studies test. I don’t recall the details of how I obtained the copy, but I do remember that this particular teacher — an aging former football coach, if that matters to some — had lecture notes so old that they were literally yellowed with age. This was before the phrase “phoning it in” was used, but that’s exactly what he did each day on his coast to retirement. I memorized the test and the correct answers, and I recall making sure to purposely mark a couple of the answers wrong so as not to raise any suspicion. I got a B+ on the test. I also remember feeling a horrific guilt about it afterwards, so much so that I purposely blew the very next test by not studying. I wanted a sense of fairness to somehow even the score.
I am absolutely terrible at lying. I can recall being a congenital liar all through elementary school. Whether I was any good, I have no idea. Probably not. But I do recall making up tall tales that at least in theory those around me believed. Once I got into my teens, however, I lost all ability to lie. I’m a terrible poker player and people can read me fairly easily.
I have no recollection of the details of a certain incident from my twenties, except that it did involve money, and it was the last out-and-out lie I ever made (other than gentle ones to save face in social settings). I was caught red-handed by my parents in a matter of seconds, and that was the precise moment when I realized I could not put myself in that position ever again. A career in white-collar crime, as exciting and rewarding as it may be, had to be removed from my list of potential life goals.
As life’s experiences harden but also sharpen our awareness, over the years I’ve become pretty adept at being able to discern fact from fiction in people. I think all of us have this ability to varying degrees, so I don’t see this as anything particularly special. I am, though, always in awe of those who audaciously move about in their world and fake interactions through either brute force or faux-charm. Like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Catch Me If You Can,” I am astonished and horrified by transparent gall. It takes a certain amount of tener cojones to pull off an act of utter deceit and not care one iota what others think. For God sakes, I can’t even “sample” the Brach’s candy at the grocery store without feeling guilty (I’m that guy who will get looks from the cashier because I put two candies in a baggy to be weighed at checkout).
Late in my career, I had a local reputation, deserved or not, for competence in my field. Older attorneys with years of experience would occasionally come to me with research needs that I thought went above and beyond the kind of assistance that a law librarian should perhaps give. Sometimes it bordered on the questionable or ethical, forcing me to deliberate on whether what was being requested constituted “research” or outright plagiarism. For instance, a local criminal attorney known for taking high-profile cases once asked me to help find examples of similar cases to the one he was currently handling. That part was fine — that’s the actual meat and potatoes of what a law librarian does. But then his request became further narrowed by asking me to log into the court’s case filing system and find briefs written by other lawyers. He was looking for a shortcut on his case, and he wanted to take a brief written by another attorney, and change it to suit his own client’s needs. More than anything else, I was struck by his sheer audacity. The document was a public record, but that didn’t make me feel any better. Another person’s needs collided with my own sense of fairness.
Teachers deal with these dilemmas all the time. The Internet and Wikipedia specifically have made for lazy students simply copying whatever they find online and presenting it as “research.” As a blogger, I am constantly seeing words and phrases creatively constructed on other blogs. I will often compliment a writer by threatening to “steal that brilliant line,” though in fact I never do. Even when they give me the give green light to do so, encouraged and flattered by my compliment, an intrinsic fidelity that I have to originality prevents me from doing so. Fear not, fellow bloggers: I’ll unabashedly steal your ideas, but never your words!
There may be a perfectly logical reason why the eBay seller didn’t follow through with the sale. Perhaps he/she got into an accident, or is dealing with an awful family tragedy. I will never know. All I do know is that the facts of my case were such I was being taken advantaged of, and eBay apparently thought the same thing. We all draw our own line in the sand for honest behavior, and the older I get my threshold for tolerance gets proportionally smaller. Stay away from me, hucksters.
¹ It was for a complete DVD set of Upstairs, Downstairs (original series). Now that Downton Abbey’s most recent season is over, Gorgeous still needs her fix for old-time, English upper class living. My deep middle class values, however, refuse to accept Amazon’s high prices for such an old TV show. Garage sales and thrift shops, here we come.