Invaded by the Grays

Some folks claim to have actually seen the legendary Bigfoot, the enormous, manlike beast said to roam the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Others have stood in his footprints or plucked foul-smelling patches of hair from trees he has recently passed. A few have gotten close enough to take vague snapshots or shaky video clips of the beleaguered creature. One or two attest to frightful chance encounters with him. His size alone has given rise to rumors that he is dangerous, but no firm evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this.

There is irrefutable evidence of a different kind of Bigfoot, however. He is not, as some people suspect, a cowering throwback to our hominid origins or the pitiable, godforsaken spawn of some terminally polluted industrial backwater. Quite the contrary---he is an advanced mutation of an ancient strain: a clever, cunning, persistent, and elusive variety of homo agoro, the man of the marketplace.

Evidence of his activity appears everywhere, but no one has ever seen him in person. He has been blamed for the toppling of markets and the demise of empires, and has been lionized as the champion of the penniless and savior of the oppressed. He has been called as irritating and inconsequential as a mosquito and as devastating as a horde of locusts. He is variously reported to blow in like a zephyr or strike like a hurricane; to take no prisoners in a form of scorched-earth warfare or to stalk his prey undetected and disappear without a trace. He thrives on chance and lives by his wits. He is known as the Gray Market Monster.

He goes by many names, however: manufacturer, importer, exporter, distributor, representative, dealer, salesman, consultant, consumer, hobbyist, friend. He speaks many languages, but is most fluent in the language of opportunity and profit.

The Gray Market Monster has no fixed address because he lives in the larcenous heart of us all.

Wise Shopping?
Laura Atkinson tells a story (here fictionalized) about a high-end dealer in the small, sleepy Southern town of Dogwood. This dealer, whom we shall call Mr. Bumble, had a customer who was very interested in a pair of highly regarded loudspeakers, known as the Peregrines. This customer, whom we shall call Dr. Grinder, spent quite a lot of time in the dealer's store, and in the process became rather infatuated with the Peregrines. So infatuated did he become that Mr. Bumble installed the Peregrines in Dr. Grinder's home in the hope that the infatuation might develop into something more enduring.

Dr. Grinder spent many pleasant hours listening with renewed enthusiasm to his favorite recordings. His infatuation deepened. During his extended audition he called regularly to report on his new enthusiasm, to thank Mr. Bumble for his kindness in lending him such wonderful performers, and to politely negotiate a mutually agreeable selling price; something less, of course, than the $4000 suggested by the Peregrines' maker. All in a very gentlemanly way, it seemed.

Mr. Bumble felt very happy. He needed the sale. He had worked long and hard to build a relationship with Dr. Grinder. He had eagerly shared all of his knowledge about extracting the utmost performance from the Peregrines. But as the impending sale developed, Dr. Grinder surreptitiously was negotiating a price with another Peregrine dealer, whom we shall call Mr. Sleazy, who lived in the city of Iceburg, far to the north. Mr. Sleazy, whose little empire was founded on the premise "Any profit is better than none," offered Dr. Grinder an unbelievably good deal: He would part with a fine pair of Peregrines for only $100 over his cost. Dr. Grinder was very happy, too.

One day shortly thereafter, Dr. Grinder strolled into Mr. Bumble's place of business and, after exchanging a few pleasantries, steered the conversation in the direction of the deal. He would buy the Peregrines, he announced, only if Mr. Bumble was willing to match Mr. Sleazy's price. If not, Mr. Bumble could drive out to Dr. Grinder's home that very afternoon and take his Peregrines away.