Sometimes city life pushes us too hard, hard enough that we push back with the worst versions of ourselves. Forced to interact in situations when we’d rather not, city dwellers know that feeling of frustration as we stand among millions of faces. Those faces are unfamiliar and unsympathetic, and sometimes this makes us a little whiney, other times we spill with an austere rage. There’s the bitch who let the gym door slam in my face that I must admit may not really be a bitch. Perhaps her mind was elsewhere and she didn’t see me. Yes, the guy who body checked me in the crosswalk was staring at his phone, but I can’t pretend I’ve never done that. In New York City I am brought face to face with what drives me crazy about myself and those around me. Every day.
This fact of city life has made me overly polite. I do the little things; I offer detailed directions with a smile, I recommend affordable restaurants to tourists. I say please and thank you and overtip my cab drivers and bartenders. Then a skinny little blonde in her designer workout pants cuts me in line for coffee and I don’t say a word. I rise above; repeal her selfishness with my kindness.
When we’re not slamming doors into strollers or bumping into others, when there’s an interaction that is sought out, it is then that my expectations are heightened. It is in this way that I attempted to make my first Craigslist purchase.
When we decided to redesign our apartment I was the half of the couple looking to maintain some semblance of a budget. I thought of the things that could be bought and sold over the Internet. Coffee tables and nightstands came to mind. These weren’t items we were desperate to replace, but for the right price we could find one that someone else was ready to let go of. In the meantime we had things to unload: a 42-inch television, four dining room chairs and a worn-in and well-loved chaise that we could not send to the garbage pile.
I wrote my first post and asked $100 for the set of dining chairs, and when a Long Island mom stopped in the city after picking up her son from college I had the chairs waiting in my building lobby. “You didn’t have to bring these down,” She fussed as she thanked me for my offer to help load them into the car, “I have an able-bodied son.” We chatted. She grew up in the same town as my father. I wished her a pleasant ride home and went upstairs, walked into my apartment and remarked, “Geeze. That was easy.”
The chaise was a similar sale. I had it waiting in the lobby and Gina, who’d driven in from Queens to pick it up, offered me a free tarot card reading if I came by her nearby storefront. The television sale didn’t go as well. After agreeing on a price, the guy walked into my building and handed over a wad of cash. He was 50 dollars short. “Uh this was all I had.” He shifted his weight. I carried on all evening: People are rude and entitled and who did he think he was. How absurd a man could behave that way. I rely on unwritten Internet rules to facilitate a humane transfer of goods. Negotiations are complete by the time of transaction. This man broke the code. We can’t just travel out of our neighborhood to unfamiliar addresses or let strangers in our doors if we haven’t already negotiated the terms of this fleeting and symbiotic relationship.
I recall the naïve girl I was when, a few months back, I thought that Craigslist would pave my path to the precise items I coveted. I searched for a discontinued Crate & Barrel coffee table. I closed my eyes and imagined two mirrored Pier One nightstands in place of my old Ikea ones. Each night I promised, I will not sign on. Each night I broke down and searched. Leads dried up. Negotiations failed. Weeks passed, and one late night I brightened my screen, could it be? Hayworth mirrored nightstand, like new, $80.
I clicked the contact button and released a whimper of excitement as I emailed this stranger and promised cash. I assured him I could pick it up any time. He needed it out by Friday. No problem. I can come tomorrow. I waited for him to give me a time and an address then emailed, I hope you didn’t forget our agreement. He replied that there was growing interest. I told him I could pay a little more. Hours later I wrote again. I need your address so I can pick it up. Then nothing. That evening, in my heartbreak, I opened another email. Didn’t hear from you so I had to sell to someone else. I cursed the stranger. He had heard from me. I stared at his stupid face beside his Gmail address and I wrote back to him. I emailed you all Goddam day. Thank you for being 100% typical. I know it was a crazy message. He replied the next morning with an apology, his mistake, he confessed. A lie. He broke the code with his greed. He sold my Hayworth mirrored nightstand out from under me.
I quit cold turkey. We didn’t need new nightstands. I replaced the knobs and showed them off: “See that, honey. Like new.” We would find the right coffee table in time. More weeks passed. One night I tossed and turned. I sat up. I checked my email, and then I did it. I was on Craigslist, searching for that elusive Crate & Barrel coffee table. It felt compulsive. Forty-five minutes later I scolded myself—one more, then lights out. But there it was. A listing I‘d missed. A man on Horatio Street selling my coffee table. I e-mailed. I can pick it up any time. I can bring cash. I will take it.
I drove to his apartment the next evening, but I told myself I wouldn’t believe this luck until the table was sitting in my living room. I took the elevator to his floor then knocked on apartment 519. “Come in,” he said, and I stepped into his large, narrow studio. Various items littered his parquet floors. The only furniture left was a mattress and the coffee table. My coffee table. He was moving uptown to live with his girlfriend. I congratulated him then handed him $100. I paused as I wondered how I would get it out by myself, and just then he grabbed his coat and said, “I’ll help you carry it down.”
Photo via buildscharacter/flickr.
Laura Leigh Abby is a freelance writer and blogger at 2Brides2Be.com. She lives in New York City with her wife and their two Pomeranians and her portfolio can be seen here: https://lauraleighabby.contently.com.