Finding the Absurdity in Craigslist
There must be an art to selling things on Craigslist. About a month ago my sister decided to upgrade our living room by buying a new sectional. Me being a guy, and someone who doesn’t like much change, it hadn’t really occurred to me that there was anything wrong with our current living area.
But Lindsay saw a piece she liked, so we (more like she with me just nodding “Uh… okay”) decided to go ahead and change things. In order to make room we needed to sell each of our existing pieces of furniture: My post college futon and her overrated leather couch. I took the photos, she posted them on Craigslist and we waited for potential buyers. We got offers, negotiated the price and eventually sold my futon.
The leather couch however, remains pushed to one side of the room, we just haven’t been able to sell the damn thing! It’s a little surprising considering we posted clear photos (You’d be surprised by how many people have blurry photos) of the couch, provided a description and have even pointed out a couple of dings on the left side so that buyers are aware of its minor deficiencies.
Even the price has gone from $225 down to $195 and currently sits at $175. We’ve had an offer to donate it, but post graduates need cash people! We’ve even had a person offer to send us a check for it (SCAM!!). Who knows how long it will sit there, taking up space, no longer wanted by us.
Perhaps we’re going about this the wrong way. Maybe our post is too conservative, too boring. It has to be, compared to a Portland resident who a few days ago, posted a listing for a basement for rent. But it’s not just any ordinary basement.
“I have a basement that turns into a spaceship. I’m not kidding.”
That’s the opening sentence. Is anyone else intrigued? Who ever this person is, they’re fully committed to this spaceship theme.
“Nice carpets and windows throughout. It’s like a one-bedroom apt with its own family room and bedroom with full bathroom. Only thing is… it turns into a spaceship. Great for a couple of astronauts that’s respectful, clean and quiet.”
There was one stipulation if you were interested.
“You need to be a certified and experienced pilot, or simply have a job. Shoot me a cosmic email with your phone number and info about you and your flying aspirations. Thanks.”
Now that’s a Craigslist post! That was inspired, original and creative. I don’t even need a place to live right now and even I’m considering moving in. They even threw in a picture of the USS Enterprise in case you were questioning their commitment.
You can find a slew of odd things on Craigslist. In Cottage Grove, someone (I’m assuming a guy) is selling 90 Playboy magazines, including a 45th Anniversary Collector’s Edition and the 2000 Collector’s Edition, for $70. Unfortunately no photos were provided.
Here in Eugene, somebody has “a bunch of broken watches” for $5. Only 5 dollars? Sold! How about 30 eight-track tapes featuring such artists as Janis Joplin, Rod Stewart and Jefferson Airplane. These can all be yours for the low low price of $30. I’d consider it if they threw in the DeLorean so I could go back to 1970 to enjoy them.
As odd as these posts are, they’re still real, as is mine. But other than making money and getting rid of “stuff,” there is no fun in waiting weeks for legitimate interest in your things. I’m staring at this couch right now and it’s very intrusive. Someone please buy it.
The essence of Craigslist is that it’s a form of communication, or perhaps a bridge for people to buy or sell stuff, join groups who have similar interests, look for a job, and many other things that bring people together. But it feels a little too boring. A little too Yellow Pages. Where can one look for a little absurdness on Craigslist?
There’s potential to have some fun in the Discussion forums, a little in the For Sale section as we found out from the Portland spaceship basement, but you could get really creative in the Personals section. Short of humiliating someone, the Personals section is the one area of Craigslist where you’re not selling something, you’re selling yourself and that can open up a world of creativity.
But how does one come up with a fun and outrageous ad? To find out, I got a hold of Tom Nardone, author of Craigslist Bombs – Outrageous Personal Ads Including 27 Shades of Grey. The titles of the chapters or Craigslist Bombs in his short book include “I Might Be Your Vampire Lover,” “Cobra Starship” and “One Night Stand.” None of the posts in his book are real, they’re just funny personal ads he came up with and posted on Craigslist. But how did he come up with the idea to do this?
“Actually, I came up with some of the ad ideas first. One example is the ‘I might be a vampire’ ad. I wanted my friend Teon to run it because he is kind of dark and gothic, but he refused. Almost all of the ads were made for a friend but then turned down. After my friends chicken out, I usually can’t just let the idea die, they get stuck in my brain and bother me. Instead I ramp them up until they are utterly ridiculous and then run them for fun.”
Despite the ridiculousness of them, Nardone did get responses from some of his ads.
“The vampire ad got a good response, possible 10 responses. One or two of the responders have become Facebook friends but I’ve never met them. The best ad ever for responses was ’27 Shades of Grey’ which was receiving responses weeks after the ad ran,” said Nardone.
So while Craigslist is, for the most part, a place to communicate, it’s still the Internet and it can create some truly unique characters. Nardone found that a little bit of strange is pretty common.
“I think people are just naturally weird. Craigslist just removes the filters that society normally uses to hide our own weirdness from one another. Most people get their information from the media and the media is full of smart people. So when you offer everyone a venue to speak, the result is much more odd.”
Despite the absurdity that can breed from the Personals section, other areas tend to be more straight forward. With the risk of scams and fake ads, as well as accusations that Craigslist promoted prostitution with its Adult Services section (The section was eventually removed from the site in 2010), the site has become much more strict; allowing people to flag anything even remotely sketch. But there seems to be a grey area.
A person can read an ad like the one for the spaceship apartment and it won’t be flagged because it’s humorous and creative. But go to the jobs section and anything even remotely unusual is flagged. Nardone runs a company that sells sex toys so when he has posted a job listing on Craigslist humorously detailing what his company does and what the job entails, the ad is ultimately removed.
“I think it is too easy to ‘flag’ ads. When my company places a help wanted ad that has some personality, people ‘flag’ it and it is removed instantly. I think there should be some standard for that,” said Nardone.
He’s referring to an ad his company posted called “A Crappy Summer Job.” The highly creative and hilarious ad was legitimate, but because it was just a little too “out there,” it was flagged and eventually removed.
Craigslist needs to be more transparent, that’s obvious, but after discovering Tom Nardone and his outrageous book, the site can be a lot more fun if you put your mind to it.
“My silly personal ads were just a break from the monotony of life. As a semi-pro humorist, I know that if something is always the same, you can mess with it for a laugh,” said Nardone.
We eventually sold my sister’s couch. She gave in for $150. Maybe we should have said it’s a time machine as well as a couch. We might of gotten more for it. That or people would have thought we were just nuts and flagged it.