I Tried to Sell Air from Williamsburg, Brooklyn on eBay for $20,000
I live in the hippest neighborhood in the world. Uhhh… maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s a little place called WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN!
There are so many perks to living here it’s crazy. My daily routine is very cool. I can gambol along Bedford Avenue at any time of day and stumble upon a photoshoot for a fashion blogger or street performer set against one of our many artsy advertising murals. There are so many new faces here every day, between the European tourists browsing our vintage stores or coffee shops and my friends moving in from the Midwest. It seems like every week, a trendy new brunch spot or trendsetting music venue is opening up, catering to my needs as a hip urban millennial.
Everything about Williamsburg is hip. Our residents are hip, our stoops are hip, even our air is hip… which gave me an idea recently.
Since my salary as a brandegizing synergist at a boutique marketing firm barely covers the maintenance fees at my loft as is, I decided to sell a few items on eBay—some rare shoegaze vinyl from Record Store Day at Rough Trade, an extra bike seat, an unopened mixology set. But then I thought: What could be cooler than owning a sample of air from the trendiest zip code on the planet? So on Monday night, I listed a sampling of Williamsburg’s finest oxygen on eBay.
“Air from Williamsburg, Brooklyn! HIP COOL BROOKLYN LENA DUNHAM 11211” read the listing’s title. The description read in part:
“The air was collected in the summer of 2015 and the mystery oxygen could’ve come from anywhere–perhaps it circulated at our trendiest bars and brunch spots like Enid’s or the Wythe Hotel. Or maybe it spent some time on the set of Lena Dunham’s hit HBO show, ‘Girls.’ It could’ve even been breathed in by our hippest resident celebrities like Sky Ferreira. That store on Bedford Ave. that sells only fedoras? The hot sauce store on Wythe? We’re not saying! There’s truly no telling where in 'The Burg' this air came from!”
I started the bidding at $39.99 which I thought was a steal given how hot Williamsburg real estate is right now, and I offered to ship the air in either a Ziploc bag or a mason jar from one of our many, many mason jar specialty shops.
Things took off quickly. My inbox was flooded with questions from eBay users. “Can I vape the air?” one user asked. (Yes, you can vape it with the vape paraphernalia from our many organic, farm-fresh vape stores.) “Are there any side effects?” asked another. (Only looking very cool!) “Is any of the air from 11249?” (Yes, and there is absolutely no air from Bushwick a.k.a. “East Williamsburg” with the singular exception of Roberta’s.)
A bidding war broke out. Before I knew it, within three days, it had collected 41 bids, the top one being for $20,100. That may seem high, but in Williamsburg dollars a 50,000 percent mark-up is actually quite reasonable.
To my surprise, a number of blogs and websites started posting stories about my hot item. Brooklyn Magazine, DNAinfo, amNewYork, Brokelyn, HyperAllergic, FreeWilliamsburg, and many other local outlets all devoted some coveted internet ink to it. An ABC News Radio piece about it got picked up and sent the story around the country. I had interview requests coming in from places like The Huffington Post and Thrillist. It even made the evening news.
As usual, people couldn't get enough of America’s hippest neighborhood and all the cool art we’re making here. This was a win-win-win situation, I thought. I was pocketing a few extra bucks, a very lucky bidder was getting a steal on a hot item, and the public was getting to hear more about the country’s trendiest hood. Then something went wrong.
On Thursday evening, eBay sent me an email informing me that my account, TheEdgeDweller, had been suspended. They did not provide a reason.
I called up eBay’s customer service number and recorded my conversation with their associate, RJ. RJ was not very helpful, and would not provide specific reasons for my account’s suspension. He also refused to reactivate the listing. “We’ve determined that it is in our mutual best interest to part ways,” he told me. “I’m so sorry but I’m not going to be able to be more specific.” This was both humiliating and familiar. I used to make out with the second basewoman on my McCarren Park kickball team (2013 league champions The Ball Busters) in the back of the Turkey’s Nest until she ended things between us using the exact same words.
“This is like a dictatorship,” I told RJ. “Here in Williamsburg where I live”—I let the impressive nature of that declaration hang there for an extra second—”we do things as a community because we’re cool and hip, and that’s probably why the air was going for so much money.” RJ would not budge. “eBay has the right to suspend an account… we’re unable to be more specific.”
“It would be one thing if I were selling something illegal, like Phrosties, but I’m not,” I told him. “I met all of the guidelines of eBay.” He would not tell me which of the terms of service I had violated.
I needed the money, I pleaded with RJ. Some friends from my luxury condo and I were planning on pooling our cash and opening a DIY venue. Could I just start a new account and relist the item? “I don’t encourage you to open a new account because we will still be able to know that it’s you,” he warned me.
Eventually, around the point where I started likening eBay to the KGB, RJ disconnected the call, and I was left with only more questions. What kind of country is this where I am banned from selling something as pure as air?
Fortunately, the media, who was still highly invested in this story, seemed to have more answers than I did. New York Business Journal dedicated some much-deserved reporting into the matter: “We reached out to eBay to learn why this particular item was taken down and promptly heard back from their North American Communications manager: 'his listing was removed as it was in violation of eBay's No Item policy.'” Um, air is an item. It is literally the most essential item.
The article continues: “In January 2007 eBay formally banned the sale of ‘virtual items’ as might be used in video games. But this is clearly not a virtual item. Is the fully inflated bag empty? Though the actual contents of the bag may have been difficult or impossible to verify, the answer is clearly, no. Perhaps it's a work of art? Whatever the case, the bag clearly exists, and someone wanted to buy it.”
I agree with the writer’s assessment that it both exists and is a work of art. After all, French artist Marcel Duchamp once created an art piece out of 50 cc of Paris air in 1919, and that city didn’t even have a J. Crew back then.
AdWeek also weighed in with the headline “This Diabolical Hipster Hoodwinker Almost Sold a Bag of Brooklyn Air for $20,000” about my injustice suffered in “the hipster-friendly Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y.,” as they called it. They labeled it “The Hipster Scam to End All Hipster Scams,” claiming that “this hipster hoodwinked plenty of people in an elaborate manner.” This was absurd. I was not trying to “scam” or “hoodwink” anyone! (Although thank you for repeatedly noting how hip I am!)
All of this has left me incredibly frustrated. I just want to be free to sell my "hipster air." If anyone from eBay is reading this, I hope you will reconsider your decision and allow me to spread the hipness of Williamsburg throughout the world. You should know that in a show of solidarity, many of my entrepreneurial neighbors have expressed to me that they will no longer use your service to sell their handcrafted sunglasses made from reclaimed wood and will only make them available on Etsy. Also, if the $20,100 bidder is reading and would like to PayPal me said $20,100, please contact me and I will be glad to mail you your item.
And if anyone else has an excess of money and a burning desire to be hip, I’ve got some air from Williamsburg to sell you.
In addition to being a "hipster entrepreneur," Dan Ozzi is also a Noisey editor. He lives in Williamsburg with his fellow hip urban millennials. Follow him on Twitter.