I have long been a fan of both freecycle and craigslist. While it's true that one has to be on the lookout for potential creepers and that a lot of people are flakes (and others are just plain rude), my experience over the past however-many years has been really positive overall.
Sometime last year, my dad and I drove almost an hour, across the state line, to get a truckload of bricks from a lady who was restoring a house. The house was probably a hundred years old, a big farmhouse type of thing. They'd bought it for a song and then saw it gutted by a fire. During the renovation, they tore out two brick chimneys and we were allowed to haul off as much as we could carry. The house had a rebuilt wooden staircase up to the second floor, but the floorboards in front of where the chimney had been constituted the extent of the floor up there. The rest was naked rafters and a clear view down to the first floor. The bricks were streaked with soot and even now, more than a year later, if the breeze is just right out in the garden, I'll catch the smell of smoke.
This past Spring, I got more bricks from one of the most interesting people I've ever encountered. She was a tiny woman, skinny as a teenager but in her late 60s if she was a day. She answered the door dressed in a wifebeater tank and smelling of cats and cigarettes, old cutting scars silvery on her arms, a pentacle on a chain around her neck and a dozen hoops in each ear. She was the first person to ever correctly identify the Green Man pendant I wear. As we loaded bricks in her backyard - a Secret Garden-like place with a dry in-ground pool full of green growing things - the words spilled out. She'd just lost her partner, a woman she'd been with for something like 50 years, after a long illness. "It's weird," she mused, "how a house will grow on you all of a sudden. Now that it's just me, it's just too big. Too empty." She was planning to pull up stakes and move to Florida. She asked a little wistfully if my dad and I did a lot of gardening together, since I'd told her I was planning to use the bricks to build raised beds for vegetables. She talked about the gardens she'd known as a child growing up in Scotland. As we worked, I quietly admired the huge sun-bleached seashells she had lined up along the edge of the overgrown flowerbeds, trying to work up the guts to ask if she was planning to take those to Florida. If she wasn't, I wanted to ask if I could take a few. As if my thought sparked a memory, she started to collect them and move them to the porch, telling us how she and her partner had brought all of the shells back from a trip to Jamaica in the 1980s, how the people on the plane had looked at them like they were nuts. If life were like a movie, I realized, this woman and I would strike up an unlikely friendship and she'd tell me her life story over coffee or whatever. But since life isn't a movie, we finished loading our bricks, I sincerely wished her luck on her move, and I never saw her again.
Then a week ago, I met up with a guy who had posted that he had a big animal skull he wanted to trade. "I don't want money," his ad said. "I want to see what I can barter this for instead. So if you have something cool or useful like a guitar or a mini fridge, let's talk." We had a countertop fridge at work that my supervisor was trying to get rid of, so I told her I'd take it. After quite a few misses and reschedules, Nico and I met up with the guy at a gas station a week ago Sunday and I traded him an old brown mini fridge for a big old cow skull. And you know what? The guy was completely, utterly normal. He was an average normal guy with a normal pretty wife who showed up in a silver CR-V with two carseats in the back. And I was just normal (enough) me, driving my CR-V with my toddler in the back. Neither of us were weird or creepy or faux Gothy or anything one might assume about people who arranged a trade for a skull on craigslist.
A lot of my love for freecycle and craigslist is the thrill of getting good stuff for free or very cheap, some of it is the chance to get rid of stuff guilt-free, but always, my favorite part seems to be the people. They remind me over and over that the world is absolutely full of stories, if you just give them a chance to find you.
Reading: Paper Towns by John Green
Playing: the Brave soundtrack