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.
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.