Tables are Turning

The pretty girl waiting for the 7:16pm train at Jolimont station gave me a look and a sweet smile as I walked by. I don’t normally get these, but today I definitely cut a striking figure.

‘Nice table’ she said.

Compliments too! I haven’t been so admired in ages. Pity I’m happily married.

‘I thought so too,’ I replied, ‘that’s why I just bought it’.

I walked up to where I judged the least crowded car would be stopping and unburdened myself of the “Solid Timber (probably teak), 115x71x75cm, VGC” dining table I had purchased from a total stranger and carried over from his South Yarra home. I could use a bit of a breather before the train arrives. Moving good-quality furniture via public transport is not impossible, but it does require forethought, some physical effort and the willingness to look like a total berk to a large number of bemused people. I was game; I had no other options. It would not fit in the back of our car.

An hour later, our kitchen was happily sporting its nice new table. Item No. 120174778155 has landed. We’re very happy with it, but I think I still owe the sweet girl at the station an explanation. At the very least, I should tell her where I got the thing. That at least is simple: eBay.

Everybody’s buying stuff on eBay nowadays; I don’t claim to be any sort of a herald. If anything, I’m something of a latecomer. It’s just that until recently, eBay was to me a place where one buys laptop batteries from Hong Kong and Queen Memorabilia from New Jersey. You click, and a few days later it arrives by post. Efficient, inexpensive, faceless. You place your bid or Buy It Now, exchanging businesslike communication with the other party involved in the transaction: Thank you for your purchase; Payment has been received; Am posting your Item today. At most, a conscientiously prompt transaction will generate some faux-enthusiastic “Great eBayer!! A++!” reactions, impersonal in their chirpiness.

Until, that is, I started buying un-postable stuff. Then eBay revealed another side of itself. Melb_oz_xxxx suddenly becomes John from North Melbourne, with his blond boy in the rear seat and my new (though slightly dusty) rocking chair in the boot. Pla_046’s wife kindly helps us get the table out of their house while chatting about the new Terry Pratchett book. The whole city has suddenly become a 24/7 Garage Sale. Technology is finally beginning to come full circle, bringing back the feel and advantages of local community to our wired world.

Ikea, hundreds of strangers walking through a maze of mock rooms as if trapped in some surreal dream, is a useful place. I still prefer the other sort of shopping. It’s sometimes less convenient, but it has other benefits. Including, it appears, looks from girls in train stations.

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