Fear and loathing on craigslist – THIS IS NOT A TEST #31 (transcript)

Published July 25, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Hi. What’s new? Nothing here. Everything is the same. Same as it always is. Get up, dick around, go to work, dick around there, come home, dick around some more, go to sleep. What kind of life is that for someone created in the image of a supreme being? Not much, I tell you. And who came up with that term, “dick around”? What does it even mean, to dick around. Anyway, I think I’m just losing my mind a little bit. I haven’t been away from the job for more than four days in a row in over a year. A year and three months. But who’s counting. I need to take a week off and do nothing, Just stare. For most of my life I’ve managed to get a lot of “nothing” time in. I think it’s important. To do nothing sometimes. To just sit and be. But I don’t do that very often now. Maybe I need to take two weeks off and stare. Or three. That’s not much fun for Carol though, watching me stare at the walls. I know she wants to go somewhere. But I never want to go anywhere. I’ve been there, wherever it is. I don’t need to go back. I found a good spot and now I just want to stay in it. I could wake up every day here in Los Angeles for the rest of my life and go off in a random direction and find something I’ve never seen before or go someplace I’ve never been. Without ever leaving the county. Or spending three thousand dollars on train tickets or hotels or $20 for a croissant every morning somewhere “cool.” I live somewhere cool. People come here for their vacations. Why the hell do I need to go anywhere?

Have you ever sold anything on craigslist? I usually use eBay to sell things, but if it’s something I don’t feel like shipping or something that’s impossible to ship, I’ll put it on craigslist. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but as far as I remember it worked out okay. That’s selling something though. What I learned last weekend was this: never, ever, under any circumstances, give something of any value away for free on craigslist. Just don’t do it. You’ll regret it. It will only reinforce and feed any cynicism you have, and make you think less of your fellow humans. I say this because I thought I’d be a nice guy and give away a big sectional sofa couch thing that still has some life left in it. I considered selling it for a couple hundred dollars, but then I thought, “Why not let some family who really needs a couch have it for free.” In my fertile and often misguided imagination that’s what I thought would happen. And it might have, but the first people to ask about it weren’t exactly that mythical family that I’d created in my head. But what did I care, I just wanted the thing gone, right?

20 minutes after I put up the ad I got a text message. I put my phone number in the ad so people would call and I wouldn’t have to go through any email or text communication. Or miscommunication. But people love to text for some reason. I don’t. I can’t type with my thumbs on those tiny screen keyboards. I don’t know how you can do it. I see you out there, with your thumbs bouncing around on the screen as if they were born to type. My thumbs were born to grip things, so I don’t get it. Anyway, I get the first text, “Do u still have the couch” I say, “Yes, I’m looking for someone to pick it up today if possible.” I get a response, “I want it let me see if I can get a truck.” Okay, fair enough. But the message went on to say, “Can u take a pic on phone so I can get a better look please” Which would also seem reasonable, except for the fact that I took good pictures with a real camera and put them in the ad. I even went into photoshop and added lines and dimensions to one of the pictures just so I wouldn’t have to answer 100 questions about size or condition or how it comes apart or fits together. But of course the first person to want the thing asks for a picture.

So already I’m thinking, fuck this person. You know, I’m giving the thing away. If you can’t be bothered to look at the ad, go harass someone else. But I just said, “There’s a good picture in the ad.” Then, just to keep them from asking for a picture again, I said I wasn’t home at the moment, and that there were other people calling – which there were, I got two emails a few minutes after the text. So the mystery texter says, “I want it I got a truck to pick it up.” I say I’ll be there at 1 and reiterate that I want it out as soon as possible, and all I get back is “what’s the address” So I give the address and get back, “okay thanks” No details, no, estimate of when they expect to come. Okay, whatever, I don’t have anywhere to go. About 15 minutes later I send the message, “I’m here now, you can come and get it.” Then nothing. For a couple of hours. So I send another message saying, “Hey what’s up, I’m here waiting.” About an hour later they say, “how about tonight after 8 or tomorrow. I got called in to work, I’m a dispatcher at a towing company. In fact maybe I can send a driver in a bit”

And therein lies the problem with text messaging, giving things away on craigslist and humanity in general. They said, what about after 8 or tomorrow, then in the next line, maybe I can send a driver in “a bit,” whatever a bit is. How do you respond to that? There are two things going on there. What’s it going to be? But hours have passed and I’ve already told three other people who were interested that someone else is taking it, so I’m on the hook with this knucklehead. The couch is big – when it’s put together it’s 10 feet by 7 feet – which they’d know if they’d have bothered to look at the pictures in the ad. So because they said they’d send “a driver” I say, “You’d have to send two guys, it’s big. If you can’t come until later but you’re sure you’re coming, I could leave it in the driveway.” Which would have been a tremendous pain in the ass, dragging the thing out to the driveway, but I wanted to get on with my day, I didn’t want to be waiting for someone until who knows when and deal with them dicking around and wanting to chat when I should be out back grilling steaks. So I offer to put it out. But luckily I don’t have to drag it out there because they say, “okay, I’m gonna send two drivers. They’ll start heading that way in 30 minutes.”

Which means nothing to me because I don’t know if they’re coming from a mile away or 100 miles away. Meanwhile, it’s a hot, sunny, unusual ridiculously humid day, and I’m moving the couch around in the house because I wanted to get the replacement couch into the living room, so I moved the old couch, all three parts, into the next room, my music room/library. Which sounds very grand, but it’s really just the dining room of the house, but all the books and records and guitars and other noisemakers are in there, so it’s the music room/library. After I got it in there I vacuumed it, getting all the hair ties and guitar picks out from under the cushions, and generally making it look pretty for the new owner. Plus I really didn’t want them to come in and tip the pieces on their sides to get them out the door and dump a bunch of crap and dust and bits of old food onto the floor. So cleaning them wasn’t strictly an altruistic move on my part. But it was a hot day and I was sweating my ass off moving the things around, and I knew it was supposed to rain later, in the early evening, so I was really hoping they get their shit together soon and get over here to take the thing. Right after they say the drivers are heading my way in 30 minutes I get another message. “I’m sorry, what’s your name” I tell her it’s Fernando and she says, “Okay, I’m Jackie. And the couches are nice, rite good condition because I have a newborn at home.”

And that’s where I want to reply, OH MY GOD, GO FUCK YOURSELF! but I don’t because I’ve already put hours into this transaction and I’m sweaty and angry, but this asshole is now asking me about condition. After all of the bullshit back and forth and after I told her there are pictures in the ad. Now she’s asking if it’s “nice.” Like maybe she isn’t even going to come for it unless it meets her expectations. This free couch that she’s getting for free. I had to wait a few minutes so I wouldn’t thumb type GO FUCK YOURSELF, then I replied, Yes. Nice. Clean, no rips, no stains. I’ve been holding them for you all day. Plenty of other people want them. She says, “Okay thank you drivers are on there way” And amazingly, the drivers did get here pretty soon after. But just as they got here she sent another message, “by chance if the truck bed is dirty do u have a sheet to put down on their bed if not it’s okay” The guys were in a flatbed tow truck, and she wanted me to take one of my bed sheets and put it down on the truck under the FREE couch. You know, to protect it. One of my sheets. I couldn’t even…I didn’t answer that one. The guys were there and I was just happy it was all going to be over soon.

I had moved the sections back out to the living room so they could easily lug them out without knocking over my guitars or busting the glass out of my bookcases, so that was the second time I’d moved them. They grabbed the first piece and I said, “the cushions aren’t attached, so if you tip it…” and as I was saying that they tipped it the opposite direction from what I was about to tell them, and all six cushions fell out, so I was grabbing them off the floor and kicking them out of the way so they could get out the door. They got halfway down the sidewalk and one of them said, “Go back in, it’s raining!” Which, or course, it was. The other guy said, “So what?” I liked that guy. But they put the section down on the sidewalk and called miss Jackie to ask her what to do. Meanwhile it’s raining on the couch and I’m saying, “Bring it back in. Bring it back in.” And finally she tells them not to take it and they bring it back in. Then they left. It really only rained for a few minutes, but they were gone. They didn’t bring a tarp, she didn’t think to do that, only thought to ask me for one of my bed sheets. So the sections were all in the living room and half the cushions were on the floor and I was just looking at it all thinking, “Okay,” then she sent another message. “If it’s raining can I get them tomorrow”

I didn’t answer that one right away. First I moved the sections back into the music room, and went and took a shower. Then I replied to her, “No,” and emailed a couple of the people who I’d turned away earlier in the day. They turned out to be just as flaky, and the thing is still sitting in my music room. Well, it’s taking up the entire music room and spilling out into the living room. I have no idea if it will ever leave. Well, it will leave eventually. I’ll drag it out into the front yard and set it on fire if no one takes it. Problem solved. Might cause some other problems, but I don’t like to think ahead too far. It stifles my creativity. I think if I’d put a price on it, even just $50 or something, I wouldn’t have had to deal with idiots. There’s something about free things that brings out the idiots. And they’re not invested in it, in the thing, or in being conscientious or polite about the transaction, because it’s just free stuff. They can always walk away. So that was probably my mistake, though I’m sure selling things thorough that shithole of a website can be just as irritating. Though I should say, in all fairness that I sold a big paper cutter last week through craigslist and it was easy and fast. I got $50 for that, and nothing for the work and agitation I wasted on the couch.

Why I bothered doing anything with the couch at all before giving it away speaks to some defect in my personality I think. Anyone else would have listed it and when you went to pock it up they’d still have all their stuff on it and nothing would be ready to go out the door and you’d wait there for half an hour while they scraped the baby puke and dog hairs off it. If they even bothered to do that. I was talking to a mover once, a guy who does house moving, and he said they show up to some jobs and the people are sitting there watching TV. They haven’t packed anything. They literally haven’t even taped together a single box. And people do the same thing at the post office. I’ll be standing in line there and the people in front of me will be holding sweaters or croquet mallets and they want to send them somewhere, but they haven’t found a package or prepared anything. They just step up to the counter and plop their merchandise on it and say, “This has to go to Oklahoma,” or Okinawa or the North Pole. Maybe you can tell me what’s wrong with these people, because I don’t know. I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve never figured it out. Never figured people out.

But when people are buying things, whether it’s in person or on line, they’ll just ask you for the most inappropriate or ridiculous things. I’ve run in to it selling stuff on eBay. “Be sure to wrap it in bubble wrap, then put it in a box then a second box with bubble wrap between,” sure, let me do that. “Will you please mark the $500 item as a $10 gift on the customs form?” Why no, no I won’t. People feel entitled because they are spending money. Anyone who works in retail can tell you that. And they can tell you a hundred horror stories. I work for a company that has customers who pay monthly and they think, no matter how little they’re paying, that they own you. They think their $5 a month entitles them to ask you for anything – or everything – at any time. Never mind their end of the bargain. They have no end of the bargain. They’re the customer and the customer is always right. Well, no, the customer is usually wrong. But someone in some business 100 years ago decided to spread the lie that “the customer is always right,” and ever since then, everything’s gone down the toilet for anyone who has to deal with customers. I don’t really deal with them anymore. Only occasionally, and my specialty is really angry and unreasonable people. When no one else in the office can deal with them, they get dropped on my doorstep. And I shut them down, each and every one. I’ve mastered a kind of response style that is friendly and sympathetic but doesn’t leave any room for a comeback. I think it’s one of the greatest achievements in my life, my method for shooting down entitled, whining, asshole pricks while keeping them as paying customers. It’s an art, really. I should teach a class.

But back to craigslist – or not to craigslist specifically, but to buying and selling, we used to use classified ads to get rid of our couches and paper cutters. Printed ads in newspapers or specialty papers like the Recycler here in Los Angeles. The Recycler was an epic publication. At the height of its popularity there were 10 editions for Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. It’s where you went to buy just about anything, sell anything, or even find a band. Musicians used the Recycler to find each other, and it was an efficient way to do that. Weekly papers all over the country brought bands together. The Recycler, the LA Weekly, City Pages in Minneapolis and the Village Voice in New York. Even Rolling Stone used to have regional classifieds for musicians. I’m sure your city had a similar paper. It was how everyone found everything, and they all but disappeared when the Internet came to town. They still exist in some places, but they’re so unusual now that they made a TV show about guys up in Maine or somewhere who make their living buying and selling and bartering out of a weekly classifieds paper. Something that used to be absolutely common and uninteresting is so unbelievable now that it warrants a TV show. Well, I guess you could say that about most TV shows.

I sold plenty of things through the Recycler – by filling out the classified form in the paper and cutting it out and sticking it in an envelope and mailing it in. It was like a very slow moving paper and telephone-based Internet. But whenever I was broke and needed money I’d put a guitar in there, or some recording equipment or whatever I had of value lying around. The paper came out on Thursday morning, and there were people who would get it early and start ringing your phone at 6 a.m. Once in a while you’d sell to another musician, but more often than not you’d be selling to someone buying for a store or even for collectors in another country. I sold a bone stock dead mint 1960 Les Paul Junior to a Japanese guy for $700 in 1988 or 89, and when the deal was done and I said something like, “Enjoy it,” he said, “Oh, I’m sending it back to Japan to sell.” He probably got a couple grand for it on the Japanese market at that time. But I’d bought it for $300 in Minnesota 6 or 7 years earlier, so it was no skin off my nose. I made a profit on it. But by the late 90s the market for Les Paul Juniors had gone crazy and I could have got 10 times what the Japanese guy paid me for it. But I didn’t have 7 or 8 years to wait. I needed the money right then. Actually I don’t know if I needed it that time. I think I just wanted it, so I could go buy a Steinberger, a ridiculous plank-like futuristic guitar that I had for a long time, but eventually unloaded on eBay.

But usually when I was selling anything valuable in the Recycler it was because I needed the money. Me and every other musician in Los Angeles. I sold my Les Paul Deluxe to a guy who owned a music store in Las Vegas, but he’d come to Los Angeles once a month in an RV and pick up the Recycler and buy guitars from hungry musicians for half of what they were worth, then take them to his store in Las Vegas and sell them for full price. I can’t fault him for that, it was smart, but I still felt like hitting him in the head from behind with a lead pipe as he walked away with my Les Paul after handing me four hundred dollar bills, half what I’d paid for it. But everyone did the same thing. I did the same thing when I was buying a bass guitar once. I went to the kid’s house and offered him half what he was asking and he said, “No way! Fuck you!” and I said, all right, doesn’t matter to me, and started to leave and he said, “Wait, wait…” So we all exploited each other because we knew we could. But every musician, or at least every young rock musician, has the same story. We save our pennies and eat rice or crackers or nothing for six months so we can buy the instrument we want, and then things turn to shit and it’s all you’ve got that has any value. Which is why you should stay in school, kids. Get an education and go work for some company. You’ll never have to sell your shoes just to get a can of soup.

The Internet magnifies everything now, so if craigslist seems like a horrible cesspool full of cranks and bottom feeders it’s only an exaggerated version of some kind of person to person marketplace we’ve always had. Whether it’s the Recycler, or the local newspaper before that, or a town square somewhere, getting ripped off on a deal for your chickens or blacksmith services. Your blacksmithery. There have always been winners and losers in those transactions. Sometimes it’s win/win, but usually not. Usually someone is getting the short end of the stick. Whoever has the least amount of money, or gold or beads. The Recycler had everything though, and you could always find some weird shit in there. Things that made you wonder about people. I wrote a short story around an ad I saw in there in the early 90s that said, “Wanted: Do not throw away your small pieces of bath soap. Give them to me. 750-8181.” I mean – how can you not read a paper that’s full of gems like that? The printed Recycler is long gone, but I checked and it’s still online. But it’s a sad little shadow of its former glory. I don’t know why they even bother in the face of eBay and craigslist, but I suppose if I owned the name I’d squeeze the few pennies I could out of it for as long as I could.

Change is inevitable, everyone knows that, but some changes happen so fast that you have to wonder if it isn’t going to upset the balance of the universe or something. And if you’re not riding the wave of change and you get left behind – well, that’s just sad. If you were someone who made your living off a paper like the Recycler but you just didn’t get computers or couldn’t bear to use them, you were shit out of luck. Same thing with my livelihood back in those days, computers took that away too. I adapted, but I often wonder about people who can’t or won’t. I wonder about all of the people who used to work manufacturing jobs, or repetitive manual labor. You could leave school at the age of 12 or otherwise fuck up your life, and still find work. Work you could make a living off of. It wasn’t wonderful, fulfilling work, but it was something to do for everyone who slipped through the cracks or just didn’t give a shit. It was a way for them to survive. And if they got into the right factory, like up in Detroit, with a union, they could even be middle class, whatever that means. You could barely know how to read and make enough money to buy a house and raise a family. What do those people do now? What’s left for them? Not union jobs, that’s for sure.

It’s a time of change, that’s also for sure. I have no idea what we’re going to become though. I don’t think we can sustain the economy for an entire country on service jobs. The already huge divide between haves and have-nots will just continue to widen and eventually the serfs will topple the crown. Then what? I probably won’t be around to see it, but your kids will. They’ll see the death of this country as we knew it. And they won’t care, because whatever comes next will seem normal to them. Just like the 20th century seemed normal to us, even though there was probably more change in that short 100 years than the planet has ever seen. The future is unwritten, yes. I’d like to see it, if there’s a way I can rest for 50 or 75 years, then come back and see it for a few days and then die again right away. because I’ll probably want to die right away. Sleeping for years or being frozen or suspended or whatever they do to preserve our flimsy bodies is the premise of an awful show I’m watching called Wayward Pines. People live in a walled city, a little Leave it to Beaver 50s kind of town, but no one remembers how they got there. Turns out it’s 2000 years in the future and they’ve been frozen for all that time. Pretty unoriginal idea, I know. I don’t know why I kept watching it. I guess I reached that tipping point where I’d invested too much time into it to let it go. It’s only 10 episodes though, so at least it’s short.

Like this show. Short and sweet. Bittersweet? Well, it’s short anyway. You should thank me for that. I’m sure you’re busy. Lots of things to do. Important things, I’m sure. But don’t forget to stare at the walls for a while. It’s good for you. Trust me, he said, as he disappeared into the music…



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