Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Little Cup That Couldn't

There was a little cup sitting on a little saucer on a crowded shelf in an antique mall of dubious quality. The antique mall, not the cup. No, the cup was fine. Demitasse. Gold rim. Tiny saucer beneath it. I picked them up. 

There was the C word. No, not that C word. Don't be gross. This C word was like a tattoo, like a mark of the devil. It said Cuba. There was El Malecon in Havana Harbor. Souvenirs of Havana, Cuba. Pre-revolution. Before 1959. Some little cup and saucer some poor American tourist dragged home as a memento of his visit. All these years later...sitting on a crowded shelf. Sadly, I was soon to learn, the Cold War continues for the little cup.

I bought it. A $1.25 investment. I took it home. I shined it up. Perfection. No chips, no cracks. No scratches, images are clear and easily identifiable. No doubt about it. No doubt about what is was or what it said. No matter. I described it thoroughly. How tall. How wide. Where did it come from? When was it made? Posted it.  Things were fine for a while.

Had a customer in England. Bought the little cup with its little saucer. O, joy! The little cup had found a new home, rescued cup. No longer dusty, surrounded by half-broken, misbegotten tokens and trinkets of yesterday. The little cup had a future in England. The customer paid with PayPal.

Can you say, uh-oh? 

Nasty message from PayPal. "We will suspend your account immediately, as you are in violation of national trade laws." Ok, it didn't say exactly that but you get the drift. My account was suspended. At the time, PayPal was the only method of payment accepted. I was in limbo. Cancelled the customer's order. Could not deliver.

I wrote PayPal. I called PayPal. Again and again and again. No change. Ever read Catch-22? There is a character in Joseph Heller's book, Major Major. Major can only be seen when he is not there. My experience with PayPal reminded me a little of the Major. The friendly customer service folks. Their job was to resolve customer problems. Great! Resolve mine!

No can do. We can't help you. "But you're customer service! If not you, who? If not now, when?" Well, they patiently explained, you aren't allowed to talk to the only people who can help you. Enter Major Major. 

Ever throw logic in the face of the illogical? It bounces off. Finally, after several communications, I was sent--what else?--a form. On this form, in addition to all my personal information, the name and nature of my online shop, what I typically sold, how long have I been selling it, etc. etc. I was asked to give a detailed account of how I came by the little cup.

I left out nothing. The antique mall of dubious quality, the dusty misbegotten tokens of yesterday...yada, yada, yada. I was as thorough as humanly possible.

Days later, my account was open. The suspension was over! I only had to agree to never, ever list the little Cuban cup in my online shop again. I promised. Of course, I lied, but that sort of goes without saying.

I re-wrote my description of the little cup without mentioning by name the largest Caribbean island or its capitol. The cup languished. But it was a small victory. For despite my devious ways, my conscience said,"TAKE THE LITTLE CUP OUT!!" (I have a loud conscience.) So, I did. I took it out of my shop. Put it on the sidelines. There it stayed for a while.

Time passed. The Pope went to Cuba. President Obama went to Cuba. The U.S. Embassy, after a long, long time opened again in Havana. Some travel and trade restrictions were lifted. You could go to Cuba. You could work in Cuba. 

And so, I began to reconsider. Things were looking up for the long lost little cup. Maybe it could come out of hiding? Maybe. And it did. I boldly put it back in the shop. I didn't mince words. There was the C word for everyone to see. Just like its original posting. In every way. Deja vous cup.

Not so nasty message from Etsy. Explaining politely how there is a government agency that watches out for such violations as mine. We have to be careful. 

"We have removed your posting." It was back to the penalty timeout box for the little cup. Though the Cold War has long since ended, though business and travel between our countries is now possible, the little cup, which never saw even one day of Communist rule in Cuba, could not be sold in my shop.

And there it sits to this day. All by its lonesome. Other cups and saucers, other porcelain pieces, come and go. The cup remains. No longer a $1.25 investment. It's now a permanent asset, but no longer a liability.