Doing Elián's Bidding

Nothing embodies the ideological battle over Elin Gonzalez quite like a stuffed bear, available on eBay

One day soon little Elián will be ripped from our collective bosom and sent back to the clutches of El Jefe -- it is in the wind. Our lives will drag on without the Divine Child, denied the playful spirit he embodies and the smoldering lust for freedom he represents.

On that day cheeks will stream with tears, and hearts will feel an ache reminiscent of the day John-John spiraled into the Atlantic. Unlike that calamitous event, however, there has been ample warning of the emotional trauma to come in this one. No one -- save the lad's indefatigable Miami relatives -- can claim they didn't know Elián's days on these shores were numbered.

When the day does come, some people will find closure in quiet prayer, others in hurling rocks and burning tires. A handful of scalawags will fly Old Glory upside down.

But there are those who have chosen a more proactive way of immortalizing Elián. They've honored him in the way that Americans pay tribute to sports heroes and Presidents, movie stars and rock gods: They've turned little Elián into a commodity and put his life up for sale on eBay.

Type in Elian on the eBay home page, and you will find a score, give or take a handful, of Elián-related items now up for auction and another 100-plus that have already been on the block. It's a cornucopia of all things Elián, from samples of his butt sweat to "bean bears" that look nothing like him, from the Cuban flag flown by his family to Elián-specific Internet domain names. Call it Eliánabilia, or Gonzalezables.

The shrewd among us will quickly realize that these items are a better investment than a dot com these days. Once Castro has Elián in his smothering embrace, we'll see no more of the tyke. Fidel is no fool. He understands all too well the laws of supply and demand. He will have the supply of Eliánabilia, and we will be left with the demand. Prices will soar.

The time to get in is now. But with so much from which to choose, how does one know which items to buy and which to avoid?

First, steer clear of the many periodicals for sale that came out at the time of the INS raid on the Gonzalez home in Little Havana. There are literally hundreds of magazine and newspaper front pages proclaiming the raid in Jesus Returns­size type, and none of them will ever again be worth the paper they're printed on. The market is flooded, and the Internet ensures that the images will be around in perpetuity, for free.

Similarly, legal papers stemming from Elián's custody battle are not a particularly stellar buy, although they are cheap. As of last week you could get copies of the court order remanding Elián to Great Uncle Lazaro's custody, the January 12 letter in which Janet Reno states that Elián belongs with his father, the court order authorizing the raid, and various subpoenas, among others. Judging by the breathless descriptions of these papers, the seller -- one enterprising person in Albuquerque -- has a bright future writing movie trailers: "This is a MUST-READ document for every American!" this person writes about the temporary protective order granting custody of Elián to Lazaro. "A departure from the "legalese' you might expect, it is a heart-wrenching document that tells the whole emotional story…." These historic papers were "recently released," according to the seller, and "how do you put a price on history?"

Of course anyone smart enough to invest in Eliánabilia will be well versed in open-records laws. For those of you a few mangoes short of a tree, the concept goes like this: Court records are available to any and all, for the asking. Pay a copying fee, usually no more than $1 per page, and they're yours. The supply is endless, so the price will never rise.

Pass on the legal papers.

One prospect with more potential is the CD "Little Elián" by the Insects. Rick Carlson, the leader of the Cincinnati band, says the song is a tribute to Elián's mother, who died trying to get her son out of Cuba. "I was inspired by the way she did that and the way the media ignored it," says Carlson. "It was amazing to me. The whole story sounds like a Flipper episode."

He bristles at the suggestion that "Little Elián" is a ploy to cash in on the media craze, noting that the song is available for free on the Internet music-swapping site Napster.

Which, of course, makes "Little Elián" a poor investment, for now. But Napster is being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America, a group with all the money in the world. Should it prevail, Internet music would likely become pay-for-play. And songs like "Little Elián" will finally generate the money they're worth. Bidding started at $5 last week and went nowhere.

For those with slightly more substantial means, John Sherry of Miami has an attractive blue T-shirt for sale, identical to those worn by the family on the night of the raid. Sherry, a silk-screener by trade, cranked out three dozen "All Day All Night, Campo Elián Crew" shirts for news crews stationed outside the family home. The Gonzalez family and coterie liked them so much, says Sherry, they took to wearing the shirts themselves. And that is how fisherman and friend of children everywhere Donato Dalrymple came to be wearing one while clutching Elián and hiding in the Gonzalez closet that fateful morning. The shirt got international marketing exposure in the famous photograph, sure to make it a valuable collector's item.

Sherry claims to have five or six shirts left, excluding the one he sold on eBay last week for $20.50. He may sell a few more, and he may not. Clearly a man who understands the laws of supply and demand.

For the true aficionado, there was a jar of dirt collected at the Gonzalez home up for bid last week. The bidding began and ended at $20. Quizzed extensively via e-mail about the veracity of this item, the seller had this to say: "The dirt is real. I live in Little Havana approx. 2 miles from his home. After the commotion died down, I went over to the front of the home and collected the dirt. Sure you can come and inspect it. I will give you a tour of the home if you like."

The letter was signed "Ernie." But Ernie never consented to an inspection, and the tour did not happen. A seller unwilling to go that extra mile to back up claims about a piece of Eliánabilia is to be treated with suspicion. Caveat emptor, should another jar of Elián's dirt pop up on eBay in the coming days.

There are many other items for sale or already auctioned that will capture the interest of the true Eliánabiliaist: his Rubik's Cube, a shirt from an Elián rally in the streets of Havana, a silver coin depicting Janet Reno as Rambo, a replica of the statue of Christ that Elián kept in his bedroom, a hilarious dollar bill with Elián's face pasted in place of George Washington's, et cetera.

For the platinum-card investor, however, one item stands above the rest: a 40-inch-by-40-inch oil-on-canvas painting by artist Jacques A. Dorcely titled Controversy at Guantanamo when up for bid alongside other Eliánabilia or The Negro Spirit Don't Cry otherwise. The painting depicts the face of a young Haitian boy suspended in an ethereal cloud above a small wooden boat being battered by raging seas. The word Haiti is painted on the side of the boat. Nearby an eagle clutches a Cuban flag in its beak. Dorcely says of his painting, "I must confide in you that I had to borrow the yearn for freedom and happiness and hope in Elián to realize something I thought to be palpable, acceptable, and perhaps universal. I once thought in the process to have penetrated [Elián's] soul."

Bidding on the painting started at $28,900. By late last week, there was no taker.

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