That’s right, Craig Newmark. Consider this an open intent of disavowal. I’m done with you and your nineties-style landing page. Your stolen bike salespeople. Your slacktivist rants about the Occupy movement. Your ads offering free housing and fresh-baked cookies (only female college students from Japan, six feet and taller, minimum D cup, like to clean, need apply). And that “missed connections” gentleman who always shares an elevator with a tattooed hottie and hopes she reads this? Well, she won’t. Why not grow a pair and say hello, instead of spilling your guts to Mr. Newmark and his 50 million American customers?
Sure, we all use Craigslist. We rent apartments. Sell guitars. Browse other sections when sleep and common sense are nowhere to be found.
Indiana’s Rep Phillip Hinkle does it.
Former NY Rep Chris Lee does it.
You set your price, tell your story, maybe even put up a cute picture of your old mattress or your face, or God knows what else. And – “publish.” Short and sweet.
I should have learned my lesson two months ago, when a couple of seemingly-lovely subletters cost me my apartment in San Francisco. One worked for a prominent LGBT organization. The other was a graphic designer. They liked cooking and movies at home. How was I to know they also liked to yell and beat the crap out of each other in the middle of the night – according to the neighbors and my landlord? On Craigslist, things aren’t what they seem.
The first Craigslist responder couldn’t spell, so I went with the second responder who spelled better (teaching English leads to flashbacks). She came yesterday to buy the shelf. She was an international graduate student of International Relations. The young woman’s age and nervousness suggested that her parents were probably paying her tuition from overseas.
We greeted each other with common pleasantries. Then she lurched forward, grabbed the shelf and shook it violently. “Umm,” she said. “It not stable.”
I assured her that the shelf was alright, at least given my experience.
“I don’t know,” the girl said in a thin voice. She eyed the shelf as thoroughly as if she were performing a colonoscopy on it. “Do you have screwdriver?” she finally said.
I quickly produced a screwdriver because the girl’s spastics were making me uncomfortable.
“Umm,” she said again. “This shelf too big for books.”
I put a book on the shelf. The demo went pretty okay, at least as far as I know book-putting demos probably go. She waited.
“Too big for books,” she concluded. “Ten dollar?”
A five-dollar discount is nothing. It can barely cover a round trip on the subway and won’t even pay for a burrito. Not even a vegetarian one. But I put that shelf together with my own hands. I dragged it back from the Maryland IKEA to DC. I loved it, for Chrissake. Well, as much as one can love a piece of unattractive metal furniture. It’s the principle.
“Actually,” I said. “This shelf costs fifteen dollars. Sounds like you’re looking for something different. It’s not even for books, anyway.” I stepped back and cleared her path to the door.
But the girl would not leave. She just stared at her feet in silence.
So I stood there, too, wondering how Emily Post would graciously escort a guest out. I fixed a crooked picture on the wall. No movement.
“Okay,” she slumped her tiny shoulders down and began blinking. “How much you sell for? Please?”
How much does it cost to make someone leave and keep them from crying? A girl homesick for her mother’s soup and her father’s fireside chats? A girl adrift in mean ol’ Washington, all alone? “Thirteen?” I stammered, looking around for tissues and candy.
Suddenly, her mouth turned upward. “Let’s negotiate! Twelve and I buy, okay?” She slapped dollar bills into my hand as I stood there dumbfounded, and waltzed out with the shelf. “You count money,” she advised on her way out.
What just happened and why did I feel so dirty? This was not about the passing of the academic torch from one graduate student to another or making the world a rosier place. This was old-school international relations – the teeth-and-claws haggling inside a stranger’s home over pennies, refusing to leave without booty. And if you don’t expect it, you’re not prepared. That’s how things must have been done in Russia, too.
For a moment, I considered running after the girl to undo the transaction, to inform her the shelf will turn into a puddle of squeaking mice come midnight, or that it’s got – there, I’ll say it just to be totally frightening – uncleansed energy.
But that’s Craigslist, where Ivy-League schooled renters turn violent, where soft-spoken girls haggle like hairy butchers at a Turkish market, where sweet old landladies turn out to be alcoholics with a chemical imbalance. Make no assumptions if you choose to play. A good price might come with a short end of the stick. Especially if it was bought on Craigslist.