Forced Into the New Economy of Flipping Underpads on Ebay
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
My zeal to kick off a campaign to be financially independent left me with a negative balance in my checking account, two boxes loaded with fancy mugs and vintage glassware, and a ten-pack of adult, super-absorbent underpads that I can’t seem to unload onto anybody for a decent price.
The package says they are disposable. But when I checked the quality of the material, I think ‘disposable’ could mean ‘good for three or more times if used carefully’. In other words, they are sturdy diapers.
I’m not making fun of adult diapers, either. If anything, they are a sign of our blessed modern, material times. Adult underpads are manufactured for a serious situation, and thankfully our industrial society has solved such problems for us, cheaply and efficiently. My local plumber claims nearly 15 million Americans use or have used adult diapers. I’m not sure where he heard that, or if he read it in the latest Plumber’s Digest.
“That’s all?” I’d asked him. “Fifteen million? There are at least ten people in California that I know of right now who wear them. And I run with a small crowd.”
“All?” he said. “It’s plenty. They’re startin’ to plug up urban sewer systems across America. They ain’t supposed to be flushed in mass quantity.”
“In Japan they’re popular too, but with young women who like to be one with nature,” I told him. “You know, it’s a trend. Just let it go, wherever. In the mall, in the market, or while at work in the office. It’s a feeling of liberation, I suspect.”
My local plumber shook his head and got back into his pickup truck. “Why did you tell me that?” he asked out the open window. “I don’t need those images in my head.”
“You’re in the business,” I said. “Why not? Specific information is power.”
I almost did unload the adult underpads for a profit, though. And in the airport, of all places. I’m skilled at tripping into uncomfortable conversations with people, but I’m lousy at sealing a financial deal.
And that’s the meaning of impacted…
I was sitting in a luxury lounge in the airport thanks to my VISA Black Card, when a good old boy from Texas sat on the divan beside me. We were both kind of half sitting, half reclining like I imagine the posture of relaxing in heaven will be like, although the money changers at places like VISA who ensnare the working poor and sap them into becoming the working dead probably won’t be there. Investment bankers and corporate executives seem to like warmer climates, anyway.
The good old boy was one of those thin, elderly gentleman with too much money and too shameless for polite public discourse. “They get me spittin’ mad every time,” he said.
“Who?” I asked.
“The got-damned TSA, that’s who.” He took a deep breath and let it free. “They stopped me for a pat down, even after I went into their microwave machine.”
It turned out my new friend had to have the right side of his abdomen patted by a fat man wearing rubber gloves because he’d been constipated all weekend. The backup in his bowels had created a blockade in his guts, and the TSA scanning machine noticed it and marked it as ‘suspiciously dense’.
“I was impacted,” he told me. “That’s the real meaning of the word, you know. And to the TSA, every dark spot is a red flag.”
The agent stopped him and asked him if he had pain there. “Well hell no,” my friend in the cowboy hat said. “Do you have pain in yours?” As soon as he finished his pat down, my new friend had been so nervous he finally had a satisfying bowel movement. But it was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I thought I smelled an opportunity here,” I said.
Making money in the 21st century is maddening…
There are uncountable ways to make money online, and even more false roads and traps to make you think you can. So many ways to be your own boss in our modern world, and fewer and fewer chances to get a high-paying job working for a boss.
It’s the online economy, and it attracts people like myself. People with very little capital, a sizable amount of misunderstood exuberance, and a multitude of half-cocked dreams held together as loosely as an old patchwork quilt strewn over the back of your grandmother’s dusty sofa.
There’s the popular “non-jobs” campaign, where people learn to create free information and then, with the audience they gain through YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and blog content, they sell eBooks, personal consultation, and advanced courses to the most interested, serious audience members.
But what do I know? I asked myself. What expertise do I have?
There’s also supposed to be fortune found in schlinging goods to the hundreds of millions of online bidders and buyers, through marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, and a sleuth of other similar-styled auction websites.
I really thought I could make money that way. Support my family. Be financially independent. I did sell one item. A piece of Rowe pottery I purchased for $8 and sold for $32. But then I messed up on the shipping. I packed it extra carefully, which added to the weight, and that ate up most of the profit at the post office.
“Well, shoot!” I’d said under my breath as I dug another ten dollar bill out of my wallet.
The postal worker, a weary black woman who tried to smile, but seemed to be worn out by the constant stream of grumpy customers, said, “What, sir?”
“I’m not cut out for this buying and selling stuff,” I told her. “I’m not shrewd enough to make decent money in this post-recession, third-world economy.”
She shook her head and looked far off. “You’d better get used to it,” she said. “There’s not much else but buying and selling, unless you can work for the government, or change diapers on old people, but I don’t recommend those options either.”
She looked over my right shoulder. “Next customer!” she called.
Like a real entrepreneur, I thought, Well who says I’ll be doing the changing? I’ll sit high and dry and be the unending source of the supply.
That’s a heavy financial weapon you got there…
At the airport, in the so-called pleasure lounge, the Texan asked me what I do. He said he thought I was in the plastics business just by the look of me.
“And I thought you were in the Marlboro business,” I said, “with all the wrinkles in your face.”
He chuckled at that. “You’re lightening me up after those assholes. Anyway, I didn’t mean you are in plastic surgery. I meant moving shit-goods from China to Los Angeles. That’s a big business. People need to have something to buy with their dirt cheap wages.”
“I wish I could be in such a lucrative business,” I said. “I’m actually what people call ‘between jobs’. Which really doesn’t mean anything. Everybody’s between jobs. We’re all categorized by our careers or lack of them. We’re trapped between paychecks and it’s maybe the biggest folly of my life that I don’t care a stitch for money or worldly goods.”
The good old boy tipped his cowboy hat and looked at my VISA Black Card. I had it resting on the table because I thought that’s what people do with fancy credit cards that cost more money than the luxury goods promised to come with them. You air them out after they’ve been traveling in your stuffy wallet, riding shotgun next to your other, inferior cards.
“Then what are you doing with that card, son?” he asked. “That’s a pretty heavy financial weapon you carry.”
“I’m test driving it for a thorough consumer report article for the hard-hitting website called Dear Dirty America.”
He lifted his eyebrows and started to say something, but then he stopped.
“I’m trying to be financially free and independent. So I thought I’d start trying to flip goods on eBay. Why not? It seems easy enough. Clean out my closets, my parents’ closets, and my friends’ closets if they let me, and sell whatever seems like it’s worth something.”
“It’s easier to strike oil on your land,” the Texan said, “by pumping a few bullets into the ground.”
“I thought I would, proverbially, by cleaning out my parents’ house. But I didn’t find much in the closets, and my parents weren’t willing to let go of their antiques, collections, and decorations.”
“What about garage sales?” he asked.
“You have to get up real early for the good ones and beat the Astro vans and Crown Victorias that swoop up all the deals,” I told him. “The people who drive those vehicles are yard sale experts. They’ll wheel until they get a deal, and they’ll clean out a yard while the homeowner feels relieved to expunge all their crap into the life of someone else.”
I explained that I’m not good at haggling. I like to pay the price on the tag. That’s a serious disadvantage for a guy who wants to sell items on eBay and eek out a profit.
It’s a steal! Or so I thought…
I didn’t tell him how I’d stopped at a messy garage sale on a lot at the northeastern edge of Escondido. Nothing but a bunch of folding chairs, sticky computer keyboards, and generic large-size women’s clothes. I didn’t see much of a profit in any of that, but then I spotted a shining green square sitting in a box atop some melted candles.
I didn’t know what the green plastic bale was at first until I picked it up. There were 10 inside. They were super absorbent and 30×30. Then I saw the final detail. Adult underpads. A tiny voice in my head told me this might be a steal. They were unopened and marked at $3.99. I pulled out my smartphone to get a market price on those babies.
The brand was Prevail. I saw them on eBay going for well over one hundred dollars. I held them close to my chest and glanced around at the other pickers. If anybody knew the worth of those diapers, I’d be in for a fight on the lawn. And that’s just what it takes to make it in our new robotic, automated, American economy these days. You work more, you fight more, to try to secure less.
We’re in the beginning of the TPP days, where we’ll be fighting for more than adult diapers on the lawns of sunny American homes. We’ll be clawing and scratching at the workers of the world as our wages drop like a stone in scummy water. It won’t be long until it hits rock. And although there’s a good view at the bottom for looking up, there’s very little chance of climbing out again.
I marched those diapers to the table with the old woman and what looked to be her middle-aged daughter in a sun hat collecting money for the goods. The old woman opened the metal money box as I plopped the diapers onto the table.
“I’d like to purchase these,” I said, maybe too eagerly. But maybe not. Everybody has different standards for those types of situations. “They are $3.99, at least that’s what it says on the side. I won’t pay a dime more.”
The women couldn’t seem to figure out if they wanted to look at me or the adult underpads. Did I owe an explanation? How could I tell them I was going to turn those pads for a hearty profit in the next week? They’d be jealous, they’d refuse sale. So I said,
“They’re not for me. I’m still in control. But I’ve got a cat that’s blasting all over the floor. I thought I’d strap her down in one of these and let her go. It’s either that or throw out the cat. I love her, you understand.”
The older woman frowned. She took my $4.00 and closed up the money box. “I don’t see how that could work,” she said.
“You’re visualizing it wrong, then,” I said. “I’ve made it work. It’s easier if you have a smaller size, but I didn’t see any.”
“That’s all,” the middle-aged woman said. “We sold through the rest of them like hot cakes.”
I calmed myself against the pang of jealousy. I held out my hand. “And I’ll take my change, please.”
The old woman apologized. She unsnapped the box’s clasps and said she was afraid she didn’t have the proper change. I made a big deal of sighing and shifting my weight. Her daughter dug into her tight jean shorts and said, “Wait, I think I have one in here.” She pulled out a dingy penny and set it in my palm. “There you go,” she said. “We’re square.”
I would have preferred not to get a sweaty one, but I took it anyway, because during five or more years of a so-called ‘jobless recovery’, every penny counts. Especially to the peasants.
At home, I took photos of the diapers package from all angles.
BRAND NEW DISPOSABLE ADULT UNDERPADS // SUPER ABSORBENT // 30X30, I wrote. BUT I WOULDN’T BE SURPRISED IF THEY’LL FIT JUST ABOUT ANY BODY TYPE. I exaggerated, SHOULD LAST MULTIPLE TIMES IF CARED FOR PROPERLY.
I was about to list the underpads on eBay when I saw I’d made a costly mistake. The other adult underpads I’d noticed on my phone, the ones were selling for one hundred dollars or more, were cases of 50 to 100.
“Shoot!” I said. I found the best I could get was maybe five dollars for a simple pack of ten, and that didn’t include shipping.
Everyone’s a potential customer…
Back in the airport, the Texan good old boy was looking off into the distance. “Where did you wander off to?” he asked when I shifted in my chair.
“I was thinking about a possible business transaction. You said you’re having problems with your intestines. It gets all packed up, then it comes loose all of a sudden.”
“And usually at the worst of times. I don’t like to talk about it too much,” he said, patting his thin stomach.
“Well, you won’t have to. I’ve got a fine product I can sell you at a good price. We’ll strap you into some very comfortable underpads and let you go on your way. You won’t have to worry about it. No matter when or where. It should really free up your mind for other things.”
The good old boy stared out the window at a plane being taxied along the runway. “That don’t sound half bad,” he said.
[buy, sell, hold photo credit, Marcimarc; airport VIP lounge photo from DomodedovoSpotters; Marlboro advertisement, “Domy Towarowe Centrum” by Cezary p at pl.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; yard sale photo from Schaefer, Harry, EPA records]