An open separation letter to Craigslist

That’s right, Craig Newmark. Consider this a disavowal. I’m done with you and your nineties-style landing page. Your stolen bike salespeople. Your slacktivist rants. Your ads offering free housing and fresh-baked cookies (only female college students from Japan, six feet and taller, D cup, need apply). And that “missed connections” guy 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, in person?

Sure, we all use Craigslist.

Indiana’s Rep Phillip Hinkle does it.

Former NY Rep Chris Lee does it.

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.

This week, I decided to sell my old bookshelf there. Figure, how bad could it be? It was twenty new, so sell it for fifteen and call it a day.

The first Craigslist responder wanted a wire transfer, so I went with the second responder. She was an international graduate student of International Relations. Her nervousness suggested that her parents were probably paying her tuition.

When I opened the door, 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. “Do you have screwdriver?”

I gave one to her, wondering about my safety for a second.

“Umm,” she said again. “This shelf too big for books.”

I put a book on the shelf. The demo went okay, at least as far as I could tell.

“Too big for books,” she concluded. “Ten dollar?”

A five-dollar discount can barely cover a round trip on the subway and won’t even pay for a burrito. 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. As much as one can love a piece of unattractive metal furniture.

“Actually,” I said. “This shelf costs fifteen dollars. Sounds like you’re looking for something different. It’s not for books, anyway.” I stepped back and cleared her path to the door.

But the girl would not leave. She just kept staring at her feet.

So I stood there, too, waiting. I fixed a crooked picture on the wall.

“Okay,” she slumped her bony shoulders down and blinked. “How much you sell for? Please?”

How much does it cost to keep someone from crying? A girl homesick for her mother’s soup and her father’s pep talks? 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 one-dollar bills into my hand and waltzed out with the shelf. “You count money,” she advised on her way out as I stood there wondering what’s just happened.

Why did I suddenly feel so dirty? This was not about the passing of the academic torch from one graduate student to another or making the world more Internationally Related.

For a moment, I considered running after her to undo the transaction, to say the shelf will turn into a puddle of squeaking mice at midnight.

But that’s Craigslist, where soft-spoken girls haggle like hairy butchers at a Turkish market and cleancut subletters stain your couch and steal your silverware.  Assume nothing should you choose to play.

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6 thoughts on “An open separation letter to Craigslist

    • Thanks for reading 🙂 Well, for the sake of transparency, Craigslist can be useful – and frequently normal, too! It’s just that my luck there lately is like The Twilight Zone. Or like a box of chocolates.

  1. Heh heh heh! I cannot bargain either… Funny, in some countries people will actually get offended if you don’t! I was treating myself to earrings once in an average TX mall in a big chain jewelry store, and had my Indian friend helping me out. Imagine my surprise when she managed to negotiate a lower price for my earrings! I agree with you though, Craigslist is a scary place, and those foreigners that don’t know how to spell should stay away from people’s furniture! Wink-wink!

    • Agreed, and thanks for reading 🙂 Yup, bargaining is alright when shopping in a foreign country (or a Texas mall, apparently!) but surprising when it’s in your own home. It seems the longer one lives in America, the more courteous and trusting one becomes. But what would Lenin do?!

      • What do you mean? Lenin would have shot the dumb bastard 🙂
        I don’t think one becomes nicer and more trusting with time; one becomes more PC and is more easily shocked when others violate American written and unwritten rules of engagement.

        Btw I am quite a fan of Craigslist, and have successfully used it to buy and sell cars, find apartments and even my current job.

        On a totally different subject, do your professors know you are way behind on your blogging? 🙂

  2. Thank you for the reminder – so behind on blogging! School and work are getting the best of me, but must get with the program. 🙂

    Ha ha, Lenin wouldn’t have been too happy and agreed on American rules of engagement. I much prefer it this way, though. Glad that Craigslist has worked out well for you (especially with the job); it’s indeed an amazing tool with too many success stories to count for me too, as long as one is prepared for oddities here and there…

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