My life on the C-list; or, The ones that got away

The first time, I am incredibly nervous. We exchange a polite email before I call to set up the appointment at her house. Driving into an unfamiliar neighborhood, cash bulging from my wallet, I wonder: what’s the etiquette? Do I ask her last name? Do I try to make small talk? How long should I stay? Is it rude to try and bargain her down? Should the money be discreetly tucked into an envelope, or do I just shove it into her hand? What am I doing here?

It feels illicit, but is totally on the level. I am going to check out some furniture from Craigslist.

A gorgeous cherry mission-style chair and sofa, not cheap but easily worth twice as much, lured me into this moment, walking into a stranger’s home here at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac, where I could easily be kidnapped and no one would be the wiser.

She answers the door while on her cell phone. Not a good sign. “I’M ON HOLD,” she stage-whispers. “GODDAMNED AT&T. FORTY MINUTES! SORRY. PLEASE COME IN.” She shows me into the living room, invites me to sit down (oh beautiful sofa, couch of my dreams! you will soon be mine…), and disappears. Weird.

After a few moments, a friendly-looking man wanders in. Weirder. He sits down and we start chatting. “They lost her entire voicemail archive. She needs it for work.” Turns out she is a state representative (mine, in fact—I should have known that!) in the midst of a reelection push, and the voicemail thing is a near-crisis.

“Um, she should be back in a minute.”

Wait. What’s an elected official doing selling her shit on Craigslist?

Over the next twenty minutes I learn a great deal. The lady and the man are getting married this summer. The invitations are exquisite. They are moving into her bungalow, even though it’s smaller, because it’s in her district. His furniture (and house, where we are currently hanging out—because that’s really all it is at this point) has to go—now. He has two children, little girls, who are charming and lovable—one who is totally un-self-conscious in that seven year-old sort of way, the other a couple of years older, skinny, teetering on the edge of puberty, but not there yet. Still a kid. She harbors ambitions to be a competitive hot-dog eater, which she discusses in all seriousness. Their dad clearly adores them. Cute family.

I look up at the bookshelves. Really good stuff—someone follows contemporary fiction pretty closely. I want to ask the man about the collection, but don’t, not wanting to seem nosy. The room has cool art. Turns out we both love biking. And we’ve already established a mutual love of good furniture. These are people I would like to know socially, I realize. They are smart and funny. They have good taste and better politics. For a second there I start to forget that I am a stranger in their home, there for the sole purpose of making a transaction.

State Rep has still not returned. “This is starting to feel rude,” the fiancé says. “Would you like glass of wine or something?”

Well, sure. Exactly the thing you share with your not-friend.

He leaves and comes back with three glasses and a really excellent bottle. Wow. I am developing a crush on this family.

A few moments later State Rep is finally back, clearly the orchestrator of this Craigslist thing, and we can begin. Now that she is smiling, relaxing with a glass of wine, I see that she is uncommonly young and lovely to be a government official⎯think Elizabeth Moss (Peggy on Mad Men). She exudes warmth and intelligence. We talk some more. At this point I have been in their immaculate home for over half an hour. In my mind, we are best friends. I am Auntie Rachel to the kids. Invited for Thanksgiving. Bringing pie.

“Thanks for responding to my email. This is beautiful furniture. It’s really comfortable, and the craftsmanship is amazing.” Laying it on a little thick, but nerves turn me into a flirt.

State Rep stands up, wine glass in hand, tilts her head to one side and gazes at the furniture as if for the first time, then over to me.

“You know, you’re right…I don’t think we are going to sell it after all. Sorry for your trouble.”

Before I know it, I’m back on the sidewalk.

What just happened?

11 responses to “My life on the C-list; or, The ones that got away”

  1. Stella says:

    Oh, the tease!

  2. Heh. Maybe if you hadn’t praised it so highly?… Sounds like a fun slice of life anyways. And a new way of getting to know your representative!

  3. jeremy says:

    What the F?! (Did they at least give you a to-go cup?)

  4. swells says:

    Whaaaa? That quickly??? She totally just lost one vote.

  5. Marleyfan says:

    Nice post. I love the obscure introduction. I don’t even know what you do for a living, if you don’t write professionally, you should.

    Oh, and Pandora, if you still read TGW you should too:)

  6. What Marleyfan said. Actually the first paragraph reads a bit like a man narrating his first visit to a prostitute.

  7. Tim says:

    Such a fun post!

    Also, what Jeremy said. I was wondering if you got to finish that great glass of wine.

    The family sounds fascinating. Maybe you could insinuate yourself into their lives somehow. You know — volunteer for the campaign, offer to babysit, pose as an actuary who specializes in furniture, etc. — and then post about them for us on a regular basis. We could live vicariously through your stalking them. Everybody wins!

  8. Andrew says:

    Great story. I hope you stole a book or left a red wine stain on the couch.

  9. Rachel says:

    The wine went unfinished, alas.

    Oh, I wanted to stay mad at them, or at least withhold my vote come Election Day. But when I got home I looked up her voting record, education, and employment history (stalkerish, yes, but a darn good read–stints at NYU and NARAL, yay!), and she was even cooler than she had seemed. Plus she sent a really kind email after the fact apologizing for the weirdness of the whole thing, and expressing hope that I found the right couch after all (which I eventually did).

    I did not reply (which I hope did not come off as churlish) for fear of gushing more than I already had.

    Mostly the whole experience overturned all my assumptions & expectations, and left me wholly disoriented. Subsequent Craigslist experiences have been about 50/50 positive + negative. Has anyone else ever ventured there looking for a treasure? What did you find?

  10. swells says:

    Rachel, you are so churlish.

    And I just got my sublet in Berlin off Craigslist, so am hoping for the best. Also had an excellent experience buying a camera from someone. So far, so good.

  11. re 9: I have had some unexpectedly strange furniture dealings as well. I bought a couch (that ended up costing me a fortune because oh my god, having cushions made is only for the wealthy.) Later, I got a call from the woman who sold it to me, who had been none too friendly…oh I should pause to say that I got really stalkery about this couch because I loved the wood frame, didn’t hear back from her, emailed her from two different addresses, completely lunacy, so maybe she is not the weirdo in this story, or is only one of several…anyway she emails me and says this other guy REALLY wants the couch and will probably pay me a lot of money for it and when he found out it had sold, he asked for my email. Her tone of voice says “you people are nuts. This is just a damn couch.”

    I figure if the guy is really that into the couch, I’m enjoying the furniture hunt anyway, so I get in touch with him, and we work out this absurd deal where he buys me a different couch on ebay and says he’ll arrange to pick up mine. And then a few days later he calls and says “yeah I think that couch is probably wrong for my space” and I leave him to deal with the ebay guy who is probably not thrilled but on the other hand, this fellow seems to have a money-is-no-object thing going on and for all I know he just pays for the other couch. The end.

    Craigslist: It’s where crazy people change their minds.