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A Deep Appreciation for All That Is Freaky

A new book showcases oddities put up for bid on EBay--like canned deer dung and a goat-toenail bracelet

July 25, 2002|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After gawking at Marc Hartzman's new book, it's hard to get excited about the latest rash of "amazing" discoveries being trumpeted in the news. So what if researchers just uncovered a 7-million-year-old human skull, a 500-year-old drawing by Michelangelo and the shipwreck of JFK's fabled PT-109 boat?

Such treasures pale in comparison to the artifacts unearthed by Hartzman in "Found on EBay" (Universe Publishing), an encyclopedia of weird knickknacks sold on the Internet auction site.

The items include canned deer dung, a human soul, used dentures, a bracelet made from goat toenails, a JFK garden gnome and a Connecticut woman's colonoscopy photos.

All told, Hartzman rounded up 101 unusual items, which are displayed alongside color photographs and wacky e-mail exchanges with some of the sellers. Hartzman also reprints the amusing sales pitches posted on EBay for each item.

The description of a solitary size-9 work boot says: "Somebody stole the left boot, so I must sell the right boot.... This boot has seen many places, including, but not limited to: Seattle, Washington, most of the state of Oregon, northern Calif., the Polk County and Marion County jails [and] all three of my kids' [backsides]. Whoever stole my left boot, here is your chance to get the other one. Or if you only have a right leg, this is a real bargain." After an opening bid of $1, the shoe sold for $1.25.

The ad for a human soul said: "This is an auction for [the] soul of one of my friends. He, being an atheist, bet his soul ... in a game of Golden Eye on N64. Too bad for him, he lost and now his soul is mine, but now it can be yours!"

EBay officials closed down the auction, saying the site "does not allow the auctioning of human souls for the following reasons: If the soul does not exist, EBay could not allow the auctioning of the soul because there would be nothing to sell. However, if the soul does exist, then, in accordance with EBay's policy on human parts and remains, we would not allow the auctioning of human souls."

Hartzman, 27, an advertising copywriter who also edits a small humor magazine, hatched the idea for his book while searching for circus-freak and sideshow memorabilia, which he collects. He logged onto EBay.com and noticed all sorts of bizarre paraphernalia.

Most of the sellers cooperated with his project (some even loaned him their items for photographs), but several declined, including a guy who was peddling a convenience-store smock with a bullet hole from a nonfatal robbery.

The book's photos were snapped by Hartzman's fiancee, Liz Steger, to whom he recently proposed using a ring once worn by a circus giant.

Researching and writing about EBay, the Internet's version of a yard sale, was a natural fit for the author, who says he "always saved stuff growing up." His apartment in Hoboken, N.J., is littered with "40 or 50" of the items he chronicled in the book. Hartzman spent an estimated $1,000 on the collection.

His favorite item? "The deer-poop paperweight, just because of the effort that went into making it," he says. "Someone had to go out and collect the stuff."

He's also fond of the JFK garden gnome, which was manufactured in Germany in 1963 as part of a political garden gnome series that included Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and France's Charles de Gaulle. On EBay, it netted $103.50.

Other items in the book include a moist towelette from the 1970s (which sold for $9.95), a peach pit carved to look like a monkey by a soldier in a World War II foxhole, a leather belt buckle with a glass eye in the middle, a hornet's nest ("hornets not included"), a two-headed cow, a wooden leg and "absolutely nothing" (which sold for $1.03).

Fiancee Steger is less than thrilled with many of her future husband's purchases.

"Most of this stuff will be up for sale again on EBay very soon," she says. "Like the hornet's nest. It's cool, but where do you put it?"

Then again, her tastes aren't totally out of sync with Hartzman's.

"We both want to buy the stuffed, two-headed calf," she says. "That would be a great centerpiece for a living room."

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