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16 Unusual Items For Sale on the Government’s Version of eBay

GSAAuctions.gov
GSAAuctions.gov

There’s a place on the Internet that sells real estate, office furniture, biomedical equipment, scrap metal, airplanes, slide projectors, and more to the highest bidder. It's not eBay, but GSA Auctions, or the government’s version of an online auction market. The U.S. General Services Administration (which declares its mission to be providing “the best value in real estate, acquisition and technology services to the government and the American people” in order to make a better, faster, more sustainable government) runs the site as a means of selling off surplus or forfeited federal assets to the general public. These might include the contents of an office in the process of relocation, or dozens of wedding gowns seized in relation to a drug trafficking case.

Due to the nature of their origins, the range of items available on the site at any given time can range from practical to downright strange. Here are but a few examples.

1. 152-PASSENGER BOAT.

GSAAuctions.gov

New Yorkers looking to invest in aquatic transportation might consider skipping the boat shows and instead go bargain-hunting among the government’s gently (well, maybe not quite) used vehicles, paying particular attention to the fine passenger vessel docked at Ellis Island by the National Parks Service. The 75-foot, Coast Guard-inspected boat has both a passenger cabin and outdoor seating on its upper deck, a standalone pilot house, and crew quarters below the deck—which is all together enough space to transport 149 passengers and three crew members. Despite some rust on the hull, its interior still looks clean and hospitable.

With a starting bid of $5000, it sounds like a great deal for a seaworthy vessel, so what’s the catch? There are a few: main engines with a tendency to overheat and coolant that leaks; non-functioning heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; substandard steering; broken generator; incomplete safety equipment; and oh, that Coast Guard certification expired a while ago. It’s a fixer-upper, to say the least. On the bright side, there are no known asbestos materials on board.

2. BROKEN AIRPLANE.

GSAAuctions.gov

Many of the items listed for auction on the site come in various states of disrepair, marked “scrap” in their titles and descriptions. This Fairchild C119C fixed wing aircraft, the bidding for which started at $1000, has “major components missing,” “is not in operating condition,” and “is unstable to tow”—and yet someone, somewhere has placed a bid on it for $1100. After all, one man’s trash…

3. USED DENTAL CHAIR.

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Someone’s got to have some use for it.

4. MISCELLANEOUS GEMSTONE.

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It seems reasonable enough to try to make some money back for the government from a loose diamond, 3.9 millimeters in size with a weight of 0.23 carats in a round brilliant cut. However, bundled with it is an 8 mm “round foil backed, colorless imitation ‘gemstone,’” which seems like an odd freebie to throw in there.

5. TYPEWRITER AND DVD PLAYER.

GSAAuctions.gov

Somewhere in Columbia, Missouri, a state government agency finally cleaned out its attic and is trying to get rid of some clutter.

6. GAS CHROMATOGRAPH.

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It’s tough to get research grants, especially for expensive lab equipment, so there’s no shame in scientists shopping around for the best prices on everything from Erlenmeyer flasks to gas chromatographs. This Hewlett Packard model on the GSA Auctions site needs a few parts replaced, but at under $4000, it boasts a huge discount off the same model being sold for around $16,000 on eBay.

7. GUCCI WATCH.

GSAAuctions.gov

GSA Auctions offers a tab dedicated to Jewelry & Exotic Collectibles. It’s a category less populated than Industrial Materials or even Construction Materials, but a savvy bidder might come across a potential treasure once in a while. At the moment, the only active listing in the category is a stainless steel, rectangular-faced Gucci wristwatch with white analog clock markings and an unknown provenance. Why does the federal government have a secondhand designer wristwatch for sale? The buyer might never really know.

8. CARPET SQUARES, EST. 12 BOXES.

GSAAuctions.gov

Looking to cheaply redecorate your home or office? Look no further. This lot is described as an estimated 12 boxes of blue/gray carpet squares measuring 24 inches by 24 inches, and…that’s it. That’s all the information provided.

9. 3130 POUNDS OF SCRAP CABLE WIRE.

GSAAuctions.gov

NASA’s Johnson Space Center has a lot of scrap cable wire to get rid of, but any prospective buyers will have to jump through a few more hurdles than they would with most sellers. The lot is only available for sale to U.S. citizens, who will have to provide a notarized declaration of their citizenship in order to make an appointment for pickup, as well as showing a U.S. passport or two forms of acceptable federal identification upon arriving at the property.

10. STEP AEROBICS SYSTEM.

GSAAuctions.gov

A month after the customary new year fitness resolutions, it looks like even government agencies are giving up on their commitment to exercise, or at least their commitment to a mixed lot of dusty step aerobics equipment that probably dates all the way back to the ‘90s. The listing consists of 104 pieces in all—more than enough to start a fitness class in 1992 (leotards not included).

11. POLYGRAPH CHAIR.

GSAAuctions.gov

Among the dozens of listings peddling miscellaneous sets of office furniture—purple upholstered lounge chairs, wooden desks, five-shelf bookcases, etc.—one stands out as a bit less likely to be repurposed in a doctor’s or lawyer’s office. With wide plastic armrests designed to keep the seated party’s arms in place while hooked up to a polygraph machine, perhaps the chair, with its flat surfaces on either side, could find new life as a place to keep snacks and drinks close at hand while watching TV.

12. FIVE ACRES OF CALIFORNIA MOUNTAIN LAND.

GSAAuctions.gov

There’s a small parcel of “unimproved” land in Tehachapi, California that the government isn’t doing anything with at the moment, and it’s available to any prospective bidders at a starting price of just a quarter million dollars. The pictures may not provide a comprehensive impression of the area, but the listing points out that the land off Barstow Bakersfield Highway is vacant and thus “can be viewed by the public at any time.” Always try before you buy.

13. AN ENTIRE NORTH CAROLINA APARTMENT COMMUNITY.

GSAAuctions.gov

More ambitious investors with a few million dollars to spare might be interested in the Coastal Park area of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, all of which is for sale. The property consists of 82 housing units, several basketball courts, a tennis court, a playground, a gazebo, “and plenty of space for a number of recreational activities.” However, the whole place is covered in lead-based paint, so that might be a minor concern.

14. 2280 SCREWDRIVERS.

GSAAuctions.gov

Every good toolbox needs at least one screwdriver with interchangeable tips, and even the most barebones hardware store should keep a selection in stock. However, if the nearest Home Depot doesn’t happen to have 2280 screwdrivers in their inventory, the GSA Auctions site just might be able to provide. All 2280 even come stored in a single, enormous wooden crate for easy(?) pickup.

15. 2011 FORD ESCAPE.

GSAAuctions.gov

Amidst the listings for various wrecked vehicles, GSA Auctions has for sale some perfectly road-worthy cars. With just over 10,000 miles and “no known deficiencies,” the 2011 Ford being sold by a USDA office in Kentucky seems like at least as good an option as leasing.

16. 46 FIRE EXTINGUISHERS.

GSAAuctions.gov

Buying in bulk is usually a great way to save money, but when it comes to safety equipment, a warning that fire extinguishers “appear new” but “some parts may be broken or missing, repairs may be required, sold as is” should probably cause the buyer to pause and think whether it’s really worth skimping on that part of the budget.

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter. She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


Lionsgate Home Entertainment

"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: no team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


First Look International

Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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12 Pieces of 100-Year-Old Advice for Dealing With Your In-Laws
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The familial friction between in-laws has been a subject for family counselors, folklorists, comedians, and greeting card writers for generations—and getting along with in-laws isn't getting any easier. Here are some pieces of "old tyme" advice—some solid, some dubious, some just plain ridiculous—about making nice with your new family.

1. ALWAYS VOTE THE SAME WAY AS YOUR FATHER-IN-LAW (EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE).

It's never too soon to start sowing the seeds for harmony with potential in-laws. An 1896 issue of one Alabama newspaper offered some advice to men who were courting, and alongside tips like “Don’t tell her you’re wealthy. She may wonder why you are not more liberal,” it gave some advice for dealing with prospective in-laws: “Always vote the same ticket her father does,” the paper advised, and “Don’t give your prospective father-in-law any advice unless he asks for it.”

2. MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

According to an 1886 issue of Switchmen’s Journal, “A greybeard once remarked that it would save half the family squabbles of a generation if young wives would bestow a modicum of the pains they once took to please their lovers in trying to be attractive to their mothers-in-law.”

3. KEEP YOUR OPINIONS TO YOURSELF.

In 1901, a Wisconsin newspaper published an article criticizing the 19th century trend of criticizing mothers-in-law (a "trend" which continues through to today):

“There has been a foolish fashion in vogue in the century just closed which shuts out all sympathy for mothers-in-law. The world is never weary of listening to the praises of mothers ... Can it be that a person who is capable of so much heroic unselfishness will do nothing worthy of gratitude for those who are dearest and nearest to her own children?”

Still, the piece closed with some advice for the women it was defending: “The wise mother-in-law gives advice sparingly and tries to help without seeming to help. She leaves the daughter to settle her own problems. She is the ever-blessed grandmother of the German fairy tales, ready to knit in the corner and tell folk stories to the grandchildren.”

4. IF RECEIVING ADVICE, JUST LISTEN AND SMILE. EVEN IF IT PAINS YOU.

Have an in-law who can't stop advising you on what to do? According to an 1859 issue of The American Freemason, you'll just have to grin and bear it: “If the daughter-in-law has any right feeling, she will always listen patiently, and be grateful and yielding to the utmost of her power.”

Advice columnist Dorothy Dix seemed to believe that it would be wise to heed an in-law's advice at least some of the time. Near the end of World War II, Dix received a letter from a mother-in-law asking what to do with her daughter-in-law, who had constantly shunned her advice and now wanted to move in with her. Dix wrote back, “Many a daughter-in-law who has ignored her husband’s mother is sending out an SOS call for help in these servantless days,” and advised the mother-in-law against agreeing to the arrangement.

5. STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN. AND CLOSETS. AND CUPBOARDS.

An 1881 article titled "Concerning the Interference of the Father-in-Law and Mother-in-Law in Domestic Affairs," which appeared in the Rural New Yorker, had a great deal of advice for the father-in-law:

“He will please to keep out of the kitchen just as much as he possibly can. He will not poke his nose into closets or cupboards, parley with the domestics, investigate the condition of the swill barrel, the ash barrel, the coal bin, worry himself about the kerosene or gas bills, or make purchases of provisions for the family under the pretence that he can buy more cheaply than the mistress of the house; let him do none of these things unless especially commissioned so to do by the mistress of the house.”

The article further advises that if a father-in-law "thinks that the daughter-in-law or son-in-law is wasteful, improvident or a bad manager, the best thing for him to do, decidedly, is to keep his thought to himself, for in all probability things are better managed and better taken care of by the second generation than they were by the first. And even if they are not, it is far better to pass the matter over in silence than to comment upon the same, and thereby engender bad feelings.”

6. NEVER COHABITATE.

While there is frequent discussion about how to achieve happiness with the in-laws in advice columns and magazines, rarely does this advice come from a judge. In 1914, after a young couple was married, they quickly ran into issues. “The wife said she was driven from the house by her mother-in-law,” a newspaper reported, “and the husband said he was afraid to live with his wife’s people because of the threatening attitude of her father on the day of the wedding.” It got so bad that the husband was brought up on charges of desertion. But Judge Strauss gave the couple some advice:

“[Your parents] must exercise no influence over you now except a peaceful influence. You must establish a home of your own. Even two rooms will be a start and lay up a store of happiness for you.”

According to the paper, they agreed to go off and rent a few rooms.

Dix agreed that living with in-laws was asking for trouble. In 1919, she wrote that, “In all good truth there is no other danger to a home greater than having a mother-in-law in it.”

7. COURT YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

The year 1914 wasn’t the first time a judge handed down advice regarding a mother-in-law from the bench. According to The New York Times, in 1899 Magistrate Olmsted suggested to a husband that “you should have courted your mother-in-law and then you would not have any trouble ... I courted my mother-in-law and my home life is very, very happy.”

8. THINK OF YOUR IN-LAWS AS YOUR "IN LOVES."

Don't think of your in-laws as in-laws; think of them as your family. In 1894, an article in The Ladies’ Home Journal proclaimed, “I will not call her your mother-in-law. I like to think that she is your mother in love. She is your husband’s mother, and therefore yours, for his people have become your people.”

Helen Marshall North, writing in The Home-Maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine four years earlier, agreed: “No man, young or old, who smartly and in public, jests about his mother-in-law, can lay the slightest claim to good breeding. In the first place, if he has proper affection for his wife, that affection includes, to some extent at least, the mother who gave her birth ... the man of fine thought and gentle breeding sees his own mother in the new mother, and treats her with the same deference, and, if necessary, with the same forbearance which he gladly yields his own.”

9. BE THANKFUL YOU HAVE A MOTHER-IN-LAW ... OR DON'T.

Historical advice columns had two very different views on this: A 1901 Raleigh newspaper proclaimed, “Adam’s [of Adam and Eve] troubles may have been due to the fact that he had no mother-in-law to give advice,” while an earlier Yuma paper declared, “Our own Washington had no mother-in-law, hence America is a free nation.”

10. DON'T BE PICKY WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING A WIFE; CHOOSE A MOTHER-IN-LAW INSTEAD.

By today's standards, the advice from an 1868 article in The Round Table is incredibly sexist and offensive. Claiming that "one wife is, after all, pretty much the same as another," and that "the majority of women are married at an age when their characters are still mobile and plastic, and can be shaped in the mould of their husband's will," the magazine advised, “Don’t waste any time in the selection of the particular victim who is to be shackled to you in your desolate march from the pleasant places of bachelorhood into the hopeless Siberia of matrimony ... In other words ... never mind about choosing a wife; the main thing is to choose a proper mother-in-law,” because "who ever dreamt of moulding a mother-in-law? That terrible, mysterious power behind the throne, the domestic Sphynx, the Gorgon of the household, the awful presence which every husband shudders when he names?"

11. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE.

As an 1894 Good Housekeeping article reminded readers:

“Young man! your wife’s mother, your redoubtable mother-in-law, is as good as your wife is and as good as your mother is; and who is your precious wife's mother-in-law? And you, venerable mother-in-law, may perhaps profitably bear in mind that the husband your daughter has chosen with your sanction is not a worse man naturally than your husband who used to dislike your mother as much as your daughter’s husband dislikes you, or as much as you once disliked your husband’s mother.”

12. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MARRY AN ORPHAN.

If all else fails, The Round Table noted that “there is one rule which will be found in all cases absolutely certain and satisfactory, and that is to marry an orphan; though even then a grandmother-in-law might turn up sufficiently vigorous to make a formidable substitute.”

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