Sometimes I think of Craig’s List as a phone directory for murderers. It makes me sad, it makes me scared, and it also makes me vaguely curious. Other times I think of Craig’s List as a convenient warehouse for roadside furniture, used cars, and cheap guitars. It has everything you need and nothing you need. But in specific and desperate situations, I think of Craig’s List as an adventure labyrinth, one that sometimes leads to a bargain, sometimes leads to a dead end, and often times leads to disappointment.
Craig’s List is like a casino without the flashing lights or sequins. You have to drive long distances to the point of transaction, upon arrival you feel an inexplicable sense of urgency, and eye contact is awkward, manipulative, or avoided altogether.
I don’t like casinos and I don’t like Craig’s List, except when I do.
I find that I am most vulnerable to Craig’s List at transition points in my life: while moving and looking for a new house, newly moved and looking for furniture to fill said house, or during the reactive phase of pregnancy. Between the cadence of military life and the reality of my unbelievably good looking husband, I find myself in one of these situations every two to three years.
A couple of years ago, I found our downtown condo for rent on Craig’s List. It was listed without pictures or details and for much less rent than its counterparts. I was convinced it was either a hidden gem or a kidnapping scheme. Mercifully, it was the former. No one got kidnapped and instead we acquired two elderly and well-meaning Sicilian landlords that didn’t know how to list their property online. They did, however, know how to make fresh sausage, fresh pasta, and their own wine, so we forgave them and paid money to them on the first of every month. It was a Craig’s List miracle.
A few weeks after moving, I began perusing local Craig’s List postings for dining room tables, bed frames, and gently used bicycles. I soon found a set of patio chairs that were exactly what I was looking for… until they collapsed within two weeks of purchase. Mike and I have never spoken of this catastrophic failure.
Within a few months of that purchase, I unsuccessfully tried to buy a fixed gear bicycle from Craig’s List. Mike and I met the seller, a high school boy, in a Macy’s parking lot just south of San Diego. The young bicyclist pulled up in a 1996 Honda Civic and proceeded to pull pieces of a dissembled bicycle from the trunk of his tiny car. After silently observing the slow-motion assembly process, I tried to ride a bike that was several inches too large for me, my feet barely hitting the pedals and my brain worrying that the seat was destroying all odds of ever bearing children. I wobbled and swayed around the parking lot as the high school student yelled “I think it looks great on you!” In the end, we kindly passed on the bike and abandoned the young fellow to disassemble the bike as the sun went down.
A year later while pregnant, I revitalized my Craig’s List exploration by using it to determine all of the things I would not need for baby. Craig’s List helped me conduct clarifying research for all the “barely used” items that were listed for sale in excess: bassinets, jogger strollers, and changing tables. Also, oddly, there were a lot of children’s shoes.
In recent weeks, Mike and I have spent a lot of time interacting with a catalogue of Craig’s List acquaintances. Mike is helping our church buy sound equipment for its new campus and in the process he has met a touring musician, a father admirably supporting his son’s garage band dreams, and an entrepreneurial fellow who is moving to New York City to start a silent disco. I kid you not. Disco-man was giving away his pit pull along with the purchase of his drum set. Luckily, Mike only brought home the drum set
Just this week, I bought a “barely used” jogger stroller and a hiking backpack for our outdoor adventures. My interactions were far less bizarre. Both times I met wonderfully kind mothers who chatted with me for far too long. I am a terrible negotiator because I inevitably like the seller too much to ask her for a discounted price. Then I walk to the car saying something like, “Let’s be friends! Do you like to go on walks?”
I’m terrible at casual Craig’s List interactions.
Craig’s List is weird because you can die or make a new best friend or gain an outdated dining room table. I’m convinced this is the closest thing married people get to blind dating.
Another year from now Mike and I will likely prepare to move again. We will pack up boxes and figure out where we want to live and get our orders squared away. We will prepare to build community all over again, if not next year then another year, since the military is a revolving door of change. But after we do all those important things, all the checklist things, I will get on Craig’s List. I will probably do it when Molly is sleeping and when Mike is at work. I will do it so discretely and so often that it will seem like a secret. Craig’s List makes me sad, it makes me scared, and mostly it makes me vaguely curious. It is how I cope with change. Craig’s List is my virtual casino. Maybe I’ll run into you someday on a gamble. If so, please give me a bargain, because I’ll only have the sense to ask you for a walk.