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Writer Finds Something He Can't Sell on EBay: His Family

Auction site pulls plug on Chatsworth man's effort to put services of kin on the block. He says one bidder met his $5-million asking price.

January 11, 2003|Karima A. Haynes and Stephanie Stassel | Times Staff Writers

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Steve Young is a wild and crazy guy.

As a fortysomething freelance writer trying to make a living in a town that prefers hip and sassy wunderkinds, Young has had to come up with some pretty creative pitches to get writing jobs to feed his wife and children.

The Chatsworth resident's zaniest idea to date popped into his head as he was writing a satirical column for a news and opinion Web site about the online sale of Bridgeville, the hard-luck hamlet in Humboldt County that was auctioned last month on EBay for $1.7 million.

"If a town could be sold online, then how much could you get for a family?" Young said, explaining the scheme's premise. "As I was writing, I turned to my wife and said, 'We can do this.' "

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 304 words Type of Material: Correction
Plural word -- In an article in Saturday's California section about a family's effort to sell its services on EBay, the plural of the German word wunderkind was incorrect. The plural of the word is wunderkinder, not wunderkinds.

Young's wife, Diana, and two children, Kelly, 9, and Casey, 8, initially declared the idea to auction their services on EBay as "silly" and "crazy," but decided to go along with the gag once Young explained the ground rules.

In exchange for $5 million, Young said, the winning bidder would receive a lifetime of platonic companionship from his family, including invitations to family outings and holiday gatherings as well as tips on writing, gardening, cooking and making handicrafts.

They would be willing to relocate anywhere a rich patron decided, and the elder Youngs would agree to change their surname.

Minutes after the family posted its availability on EBay at 7 a.m. EST Thursday, the ad got 10,000 hits from around the globe, including offers from potential buyers inquiring whether Diana's services were sold separately.

After Young appeared with his family on a morning talk show on Friday, he said he got the $5-million minimum bid he'd been hoping for. He was certain the offer was legitimate because all bids of more than $15,000 must be secured with the buyer's credit card number for identification purposes.

But when EBay operators got wind of the posting Friday morning, they pulled the ad, saying it is against company policy to sell human beings.

"People have tried to sell themselves five or six times over the past four or five years," said EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove. "There have been attempts to sell their nephew, uncle, wife, whoever is in the doghouse at the time. They've even tried to sell their soul."

One Illinois couple offered to sell the naming rights to their unborn baby, hoping to raise money for the child's college fund. The couple eventually withdrew the ad, Pursglove said.

It was unclear Friday whether any bid was ever made on the Young family offering because there was no bid listed at the time the ad was pulled, Pursglove said, adding that it is possible that a bid was made earlier and then retracted.

He added that EBay users generate $40 million worth of transactions a day and there are 12 million items available for bid on any given day. It's the seller's responsibility to ensure the buyer is able to make good on a bid, Pursglove said.

Young said he was aware that his ad was pulled and has hired a lawyer to look into the matter.

The offer of his family's services was not nefarious, Young said, but rooted in a long-standing tradition of patronage. "You have patrons of the arts, museums and charities. I wanted a patron for my family."

The scheme was a way to stabilize his fluctuating income, earned from writing jokes for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and episodes of such TV sitcoms as "Cybill," "Boy Meets World" and an updated "Family Affair."

"I just want to have a secure future for my family," Young said. "I am over 30, and once you're over 30, it's hard to get work. I wish it were different, but it's not, so I have to do other things."

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