I was a fresh-off-the-jet immigrant with a heavy accent, when Mr. Rogers – the 7th grade Social Studies/Civics/World History teacher – revealed one of his favorite maxims: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
To my barely twelve year old mind, it seemed the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. I ate lunch at my house on a regular basis. And it was free. My mom packed me a predictable ham sandwich, 2 chocolate covered graham crackers wrapped in foil and an apple for school lunch nearly every day. Free, too. Maybe I had weird parents who didn’t charge me for meals?
But of course as I got older I began to grasp some of the hidden meaning in the statement. I mean it’s not the most profound or most life-altering truth I’ve been exposed to, but it makes sense in many circumstances.
Like the Craigslist ‘free’ section.
It’s amazing to me what people will give away for free: furniture, building materials, moving boxes, lint brushes. Someone actually photographed their lint brush, and spent at least ten minutes creating a posting detailing the wonder of the particular lint brush and how they had paid $15 for it, and were now giving it away. For free.
Of course, the freebies are recipients of fierce competition. In order to procure an item, you basically have to be glued to your computer 24 hours a day and respond within nanoseconds after the posting appears. It is that competitive in Calgary, especially for furniture.
I stumbled upon a listing for a white dresser two weeks ago. It looked pretty good, judging from the picture, so I emailed the owner and expressed interest. He emailed me back and said I could have it. But then, because I didn’t check email for 4 hours afterwards to let him know exactly when I could pick it up, he gave it away to the next person. One minute I was downstairs telling Jason that I’d found us a free white dresser.
And, four hours later I had to tell him there was no white dresser.
So when the next free white dresser popped up, I was on it. The owner even required a phone call rather than an email response. And I hate talking on the phone more than almost anything. But I followed through, leaving a message for ‘George’ that I was interested in the dresser.
There wasn’t a picture attached with the listing, but from the description – white, 8 drawer dresser – it sounded perfectly reasonable.
‘George’ called me back a few hours later, letting me know in his heavy Ben-Kingsley-from-House-of-Sand-and-Fog-accent that since I was the first interested party I had the first ‘right of refusal’.
I expressed continued interest and asked when would be a good time to pick it up. ‘How about now?’ he suggested. Well, the professor was at Calaway park with our oldest and my mom. I didn’t even have a car. I asked if we could pick it up at 5pm (which was about 5 hours away) and he sounded put out. So, I thought about our afternoon plans and suggested 3pm as another possibility.
Well, it was the day nothing went according to plan. We had to go downtown to notarize some documents for the house closing in Indiana. Which took much longer than expected. There was another phone call from our realtor informing us that closing costs had escalated by yet another $700, which set off a flurry of other phone calls. And by the time I dropped Jason off at the university it was past 3pm.
I realized that the white dresser wasn’t going to be mine. So I went home. Where I avoided several phone calls from my sure-to-be angry dresser friend George. I assumed he’d do what everyone else did – call the next person on the list and hand over the dresser.
But he didn’t. He kept calling. He called at least 4 times and left many angry messages (I assume, since I was too chicken to actually listen to them). Finally, when I returned home again from picking Jason up at 7, the phone rang. He made the mistake of picking it up and received an earful from our faux-Iranian friend George.
In an effort to appease our friend, Jason offered to pick up the dresser within the half hour. So we drove our minivan to George’s house, and Jason timidly rang the doorbell. George had already taken out all the drawers and had them sitting by the front door. Apparently he was deadset on getting rid of the dresser that day.
I stayed in the car, too scared to get out. Jason came out with the first couple of drawers and a look on his face that said: ‘what is this junk you’ve brought upon us?”
Instead he said, ‘remember…when there’s no picture…we’re not interested.’ To which I replied: ‘is it really awful?’ And he didn’t say anything. When I’d spoken to George on the phone, I worried that he’d said: ‘there are 2 cherubs attached, but you can take them off.’
I knew that if the dresser had cherubs on it, Jason would never let me forget it. Luckily there were no cherubs. But it was the ugliest, cheapest, white fake particle board with plastic handles dresser you’d ever seen.
And they’d lined each of the drawers with different (hideous) sticky paper.
We loaded everything into the van, and bid a shy farewell to stern George. Who turned out to be a rather tall seventy something, with a Telly Savalas hairdo; wearing pale blue scrub pants hiked up to his armpits.
I contemplated asking Jason to stop at the dumpster on the way home, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.
One man’s trash, is another woman’s craft dresser.