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Modern Commerce

Sunday, August 22, 2021
I moved in to a new apartment on Sunday. By Thursday, I was painfully aware of the things we did not have: a couch, a kitchen table, a desk that did not wobble, a grill, a silverware tray, a knife block, and a utensil holder for spatulas and whisks and stuff like that. The following accounts briefly describe how I came to be the proud owner of all of these items, while overcoming such obstacles as not owning a car and being a fool.
I had them all delivered to my apartment. The end.
Kidding. What would be the fun in that?

Items 1 - 3: The Silverware Tray, the Knife Block and the Utensil Holder for Spatulas and Whisks and Stuff Like That

On Thursday night, I sat in my empty living room and opened up Facebook Marketplace. One by one, I searched for a silverware tray and a knife block and a utensil holder for spatulas and whisks and stuff like that. For fun, I selected the option for "local pickup only." Shipping is so overrated. In the Boston area, there were a great deal of people selling silverware trays, quite a few vendors of knife blocks, and a handful of people with utensil holders for sale. I had no idea who would respond or when or whether they would be out of town for the weekend, so I messaged them all. I commend Facebook's engineers for making it absurdly easy to send "Hi {name}, is this still available?" to dozens of people in minutes. Incidentally, in one item's description, the seller had written "Do NOT ask me if this is available! If the listing is still up, it's still available!" Asking for a custom message was a bit much, so I blocked him.
By Friday afternoon, the fish had begun to bite and I had somehow agreed to pick up a silverware tray in Back Bay, a knife block in Somerville, and a utensil holder in Fenway. I hadn't really expected all these pieces to come together so soon, so I was wholly unprepared. I had biked to work and my backpack was already full. Luckily though, I had dinner plans with my friend, SriRaam, at a restaurant in Back Bay. I texted him:
> Hi uh weird favor to ask but when you come to dinner, can you bring an empty backpack with you? And also come over to my new place later for a drink around 9?
> Sure lol. Why?
> You know those big cup things that people put spatulas and whisks and stuff in on the counter?
> ...
> Actually nvm. I'll explain later. Just bring the bag please.
After work I biked around the corner to Siena's apartment to get the silverware tray. Even though Siena was going to be on a flight and I had to get the tray from her roommate Olivia instead and I was worried that Olivia wouldn't see my message since most people don't get message notifications unless it's from a friend (or through Marketplace) and even though all that, this was by far the smoothest transaction.
> Hi, I'm Willy from fb marketplace. I'm in the lobby.
> Ok, be right down.
[Girl enters lobby holding silverware tray.]
> Olivia?
> Yeah, hi.
> Hi. Here's the cash.
> Thanks! Here you go.
> Thanks!
It was almost too smooth... Maybe this would be easier than I thought.
The tray was several inches too big for my bag, so I pushed my bike over to the restaurant while holding the tray in my other hand. As we ate, I explained my self-inflicted dilemma to SriRaam. He may or may not have laughed at me, but he was willing to help. After we finished, I transferred by laptop, empty tupperware, chargers, notebook, sweater, and a few granola bars into his bag. "I gotta travel light," I explained as I moved a pen over too. "I have no idea how big this knife block is." I handed him the silverware tray, hopped on my bike, and began pedaling away. "See you at 9!" I shouted. He replied, "Wait, why didn't you just take the empty bag?"
If I wanted my Friday night to make any sense, I wouldn't have clicked "local pickup only,"
I thought.
On my way to Somerville, I only made one wrong turn, so I got there 10 minutes early. I informed my next seller that I had arrived, but he said he was just leaving Target and would be back in 20. I didn't like the look of the alley where his apartment was, so I waited on a bench at a bus stop around the corner. A few buses went by; I hope I didn't confuse them. 20 minutes later I went back to wait in the alley. It was starting to get dark and I was a bit nervous waiting in the alley, so I texted my mom the address and said "Here's where to start the search for my body." She worries about me a lot, so I wanted to let her know that I was staying safe.
A few minutes later, a man with no Target bags walked past me into the apartment. A few minutes later, the seller messaged me:
> Hi I'm back. Where are you?
> I'm outside.
> Ok. Be right down.
[The man who had just walked by with no Target bags returned with a knife block.]
> Hi! Sorry, I didn't realize that that was you earlier. You had no bags.
> Oh. Here's the knife block. It's brand new.
[Maybe he had thought that I was still at the bus stop around the corner, but he made no attempt to explain why he walked past the random kid sitting on his stoop without realizing that I was there for the knife block.]
> Thanks. I have the money right here.
> You can look at it if you want.
[I trusted him, but I felt obliged to open the knife block box to reveal that there was indeed a knife block in the box.]
> Looks great. Here you go.
> Thank you.
> Thanks! Have a good one!
The knife block was smaller than it looked and fit perfectly in my bag. I took off to Fenway for item number 3: the utensil holder.
Now, the thing about the utensil holder was that I had already paid for it. Susana said she was leaving for the weekend, but she could leave it with the concierge before she left, but only if I Venmo-ed her first. It was only a few dollars, so I decided to trust her. If she tried to scam me, at least I could report her to Facebook. They're well-known for keeping their platform free of fake profiles, scam artists, and ill-intentioned foreign actors.
So, when I arrived at the luxury apartment building in Fenway, I was slightly wary of walking into a utensil holder-honey trap. To be safe, I texted my mom the new address and said "Actually, use this one instead."
Now, as you imagine me walking into this swanky apartment building, and me struggling to open the door with its hidden hinges and no clear indication of whether to push or pull and with it also being locked, and me needing to step aside for the swanky denizens behind me to unlock it and let me in, you must know that it was a hot, humid August day, that I had biked an hour from Somerville, and that I suffer from hyperhidrosis. I was drenched in sweat. I dripped into the lobby and dripped over to the concierge desk.
> Hi. I'm here to pick something up for Willy.
> For who?
> Willy.
> Do you have the unit number?
> No, well, see, I bought something from Facebook Marketplace and she said she would drop it off with you. It's a utensil holder.
> A what?
> You know those things you put on the counter for spatulas and whisks and -- here let me just show you the picture.
> Oh, no. I haven't seen anything like that. Someone was selling a lamp earlier today though. Do you have the name?
> Yeah, Susana.
> Oh yeah. She's been selling stuff all week. I think she's moving out soon.
(She exists!!!)
> She exists! Well, she said she would leave it here, but I'll try sending another message.
I sat down across from the concierge desk and messaged Susana again. I waited patiently for about 10 minutes. Susana had not replied. I got up to seek the help of the concierge again. I resisted the urge to look back at the pool of sweat I had probably left on the bench.
> No reply yet.
> Okay, I can call her for you if you want.
[What?! After all this time?]
> Yeah - that would be awesome.
> Sure.
> She didn't answer.
> Oh. That's okay. I can try tomorrow...
> No, let me try again.
[My hero!]
> She'll be right down.
I retrieved the utensil holder, thanked the concierge profusely, and biked home. SriRaam arrived shortly with my belongings from work. We enjoyed a couple beers in my table-less, but now very organized kitchen.

Item 4: The Kitchen Table

Back on Thursday, I had also begun messaging a few people selling kitchen tables. For some reason, these conversations were invariably worse. For example, one seller listed a table and two benches for $75. I really just needed the table.
> Hi, is this available?
> Yes, it's available.
> Would you be willing to sell just the table?
> Potentially - will u do $100 for it?
[??? $25 more for less?]
> No. I thought it would be less without the benches?
> I'm trying to sell all of it together so if ur not willing to take all of it that's fine but then I'm gonna want more $
[Fine? I'll just re-sell the benches myself I guess...]
> Ah gotcha, I'll take it all then. Could I pick it up tomorrow morning?
She never replied. Perhaps she could sense that I might have left the benches on the curb without paying her the $25 bench separation fee.
It would be salient, I think, to describe my weekend plans now. My friend Gabe was coming to visit for the weekend. He drove up Friday night and then we were both leaving Sunday afternoon to go camping for a couple nights. (Andrew would probably like me to mention that he also visited, but he had no car, so he's less relevant.) So yes, I had access to a car for a brief two days. It was crucial that I acquire a table that weekend.
After a few ghostings and one conversation with a man who wouldn't part with his table for another three weeks (How did he expect me to go on eating? Didn't he know this was my one chance to transport the table with a car? Did he seriously expect me to plan ahead and find a table before I moved?), I found a responsive seller who was available Sunday morning. I was a bit apprehensive since there was only one photo in which the table very clearly had no legs, but I figured Jesse, the (former) table owner, would have mentioned something in the description if it were truly a legless table.
On Sunday morning, Gabe and I drove over to her house. Jesse told me she would leave it in the driveway, but to let her know if we needed help. It did indeed have legs. Helpfully, these were not attached. The table would not have fit in Gabe's sedan otherwise. To be honest, the tabletop didn't fit either, so I had to hold one door half-shut with a bungie cord. When we got the table in the car, I realized I hadn't paid yet and the seller hadn't come down. There was something beautiful and karmic about Jesse trusting me just as I had trusted Susana. Or she was hungover and didn't give a damn if someone stole her old table. I Venmo-ed her.
When we returned, we realized we had no nuts to fasten the legs with. I messaged Jesse, "Do you have the nuts for the legs?" She never replied.
Gabe and I made a quick run (by car) to Home Depot. To make sure we got the right sized nuts, we brought one of the legs with us. Besides the whole trust thing, the real lesson of "Item 4: The Kitchen Table" is this: walking around Home Depot wielding a table leg like Harley Quinn's bat is one of the purest forms of amusement in this world.

Item 5: The Couch

On Wednesday morning, the day after the camping trip. Gabe texted me, "Still need a couch?" I definitely and most certainly still needed a couch. Gabe put me in contact with his friend from college who lived 20 minutes from me, and whom he had visited on Tuesday after dropping me off, and who had off-handedly mentioned to Gabe that she was trying to sell her couch before she had to move a couple weeks later, and to whom Gabe had said that he might know a guy nearby whose living room he had just recently sat on the floor of for several hours in some discomfort and who (this guy) would definitely be interested in furnishing this living room with a couch. I felt inordinately lucky. What was the catch?
The catch was that she wanted to sell two couches, a big one and a little one. There might have been a separation fee to just take one. But, the thing is, I wanted two couches. If this was the catch, then I was the fisherman.
After a brief manual and gluteal inspection, a brief negotation, a quick truck reservation, a day's rest, a long, hot walk to the truck rental store, a short drive, and a hot, sweaty exfiltration, I was soon enough lounging on not one, but two couches. It was blissful. Except my torso was sort of dangling between the two like a rotting banana. Maybe blissful isn't the right word. It was... agonizing, yet empowering.

Item 6: A Desk that Does Not Wobble

When I moved out of my old apartment, I took apart my desk to make it easier to carry. It was difficult to disassemble, requiring the judicious use of a rubber mallet. When I reassembled it, I couldn't get one of the legs back into its slot all the way -- the metal slot had warped and shrunk. I hammered away at it to no avail and, finally, resigned to wedge a book under the shorter leg to prevent any wobbling. It was okay, but the height wasn't quite right anymore.
The next day, my roommate Carter asked me to help him carry his (very nice, very new) desk out to the curb. "What? What's wrong with it?" I asked, flabbergasted. He explained that when he reassembled it, he couldn't get one screw in, so it was wobbling all day and it had annoyed him to the point of ordering a new desk, which would arrive tomorrow.
"If I fix it, can I have it?" I asked.
"Sure," said Carter. "You won't be able to fix it."
20 minutes later, I fixed it. I was thrilled. It was an adjustable-height standing desk, which was exactly what I was looking for. But, alas, Carter realized he could cancel his order for the new desk, and went back on his offer to me.
I was left back where I started, except now Carter owed me a desk. A week later (this is Friday now, the day after we got the couches), one of Carter's coworkers, knowing he had just moved, asked if any of his roommates were looking to buy a standing desk. I recruited a friend with a car to help, and without much more ado, had a new standing desk free of wobbles.

Item 7: The Grill

For the grill, I first tried Facebook Marketplace, but the only grills available were either very rusty or had unresponsive owners. I broke down and ordered one online.
During the checkout process, I noticed that one of the suggested "Customers who bought this also enjoyed" items was a propane tank.
Oh, yeah. I probably need propane for my propane grill,
I thought. I clicked on the link, only to discover that it was for an empty tank.
What use is that?
I searched fruitlessly for a full tank of propane. In retrospect it probably makes sense that Fedex wouldn't want to ship highly explosive and flammable pressurized gas around.
Whatever, I'll figure out the propane later,
I thought.
Later, as it happened, was about 10 minutes before my friends were due to arrive for the barbecue. The grill had taken much, much longer to assemble than expected. In a panic, I hopped on my bike and went out in search of propane. First, I checked a couple nearby gas stations. They didn't have any. I decided to push on and try the Home Depot, 1.2 miles away.
At the Home Depot, I went down the grill accessories aisle, only to find more empty propane tanks. Why do they sell empty ones? I need the propane, not the tank! Annoyed, I decided to lug one around and find someone to ask where I could get it filled. The first employee I found referred me to customer service. I lugged the empty tank over there. (As I lugged, I began to think that it might be difficult to bike home with a full, heavier tank.) I had a very confused conversation with the customer service employee.
> Where can I get this filled?
> I'm sorry...
> This tank is empty. I need it filled.
> Oh, we don't fill that kind.
> Which kind do you fill?
> You need the other brand. Let me look it up for you.
> Ok.
> Ok, yes. Here it is. It's in Aisle 56.
> I was just in Aisle 56. That's where I got this.
> You need the other brand.
> But all the ones in Aisle 56 are empty.
> Yes, well there's an exchange program to get refills.
> I don't have a tank yet, so I can't get a refill.
> Oh. Do you just want a new tank from the exchange?
> Yes. Exactly.
> Ok. Just go outside with this receipt to the propane tank area.
> Thanks!
It's as if every person that needs propane has always had propane.
Anyway, I got my propane. They didn't even check my receipt. I probably could have just asked for one.
It was, as expected, very heavy and very bulky. There was no way it would fit in my backpack, even if I called SriRaam to help. I could have taken the bus, but it would have been almost an hour and the only thing more embarrassing than securing your bike to the rack on the front of the bus while everyone watches you impatiently is then lugging a full tank of highly explosive and flammable gas onto said bus. I ordered an UberXL.
When my driver arrived and saw my standing there on the curb with my bike and my highly explosive and flammable tank of gas, he must have been very worried.
"No, I don't think your bike is going to fit," he said. I should have gotten the UberXXL.
"Okay, that's fine. Could you just take this propane to the address then?" I asked.
"Sure. I'm going to beat you there though," he said.
"Don't worry, my roommates will be expecting you," I said.
I loaded the tank into his car and pedaled away. Of course, I thought it would be fun to race him. I almost had him. But, as I turned onto my street, I saw him take a wrong turn behind me, so I waited to point him in the right direction. We'll call it a tie.
The barbecue was great, by the way.

Closing Remarks

Here's a few poorly thought out generalizations:
No amount of convenience is worth a good story.
No one living in Boston really needs a car, but everyone needs at least one friend with a car.
That said, if you need to buy something heavy, don't bike to get it.
[Something profound about social networks and the true (economic) value of friendship.]
Make sure the legs have nuts.