A Moving Experience: Surviving Craigslist

The Net instilled in me a healthy sense of paranoia when it comes to meeting and selling to strangers on the Internet. Also, this flick should've gotten Sandra an Oscar.

My girlfriend and I sold our first items on Craigslist yesterday. For $70, a woman named Fayth and her partner purchased our pub table and two high back stools. That’s not even the good news, though.

Beth was conveniently at work, so I was left alone to carry out the transaction. The good news is I wasn’t brutally murdered.

After all the luck I had last week, I was about due for something to go terribly wrong. Through a series of e-mails Monday morning, it was decided this Fayth — her name, ironic, considering my lack thereof  — would purchase our table and stools and not leave me bloodied on the floor of my apartment. (The latter detail wasn’t actually discussed.)

I spent most of the day anxious, planning every detail of our transaction so I wouldn’t be left vulnerable. (Thanks, The Wire.) I would hide my computer, my iPod, my Flip Ultra HD, wallet, iPhone and so forth. I would not allow anyone in our apartment left unattended. I would get the cash first, check for signs of counterfeiting and insist the transaction take place in the middle of our high-traffic neighborhood. I would wear my running shoes and bring a whistle, in case Fayth and her cronie(s) somehow made off with my furniture without paying.

None of this planning was necessary, of course. Everything went fine. They never even entered our apartment building. They offered the cash right away. They were downright pleasant, and not homicidal maniacs in need of a table set.

You’ve heard stories. Hell, you’ve been on Craigslist. You know how people can be given the cloak of anonymity. Craigslist takes us back to the paranoid mid-1990s, the early days of the Internet’s everyday usage , where in movies like The Net, we learned any fragment of personal information can put you in grave danger where your only defense is Dennis Miller and his needlessly obscure jokes:

The table and stools were small pot. We’re upping the ante today by selling a white sofa. This bad boy, priced to move at $225, has received several shady inquiries involving international money orders, personal checks that “may not clear until next Monday,” as one potential customer put it, and a few other off-the-wall requests requiring unnecessary personal information. Here’s my favorite inquiry yet:

We politely declined his offer. (Lovely name, by the way. Apparently his parents were typos.)

At 7 p.m. tonight, we’ve got someone serious about viewing the couch. Although yesterday went fine, I’m waiting for Beth to get home before carrying out this transaction. I’ll insist she have 911 up on her phone so all she has to do is hit send. In this economy, you never know what people will do for an uncomfortable IKEA loveseat.

A Moving Experience: Ship Out of Luck

We've got nothing but by Ford Fusion to get us from Portland to Minneapolis. So no, this isn't an option.

Now that I’ve secured my dream internship at Fast Horse Inc. in Minneapolis, my girlfriend and I are set to move across the country in just 11 short day. We’re lucky our property managers are being extremely flexible considering such short notices of vacating and moving in, but not everything can be so easy.

For instance, moving our queen-sized mattress.

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I attended a play called Once Upon a Mattress. That was a comedy. The past few days, we’ve been trying to figure the fate of our mattress. This has been a horror story. Do you know how much it costs to ship a single queen-sized mattress 1,700 miles? The invoice ends up looking like Lindsay Lohan’s bar tab. We’re talking $400 to $500, easy.

So, how did we get our mattress here in the first place? The story bears repeating:

Mere days before moving from Mankato, Minn. to Portland, a friend of ours who lived across the street from our apartment had come to town with a Uhaul. A construction manager, he’d recently moved to The Dalles, Ore — 75 miles east of Portland. He was back to help his roommates clear our their house he’d previously helped rent.

That night, my girlfriend wandered over to say her goodbyes. Our friend, nothing short of a saint, asked if we had anything we needed shipped this way. It turned out he drove our mattress to Portland and we didn’t owe a penny. (Although he’s requested any return payment come in the form of cocktails. So it has.)

Because everything has worked out so smoothly otherwise, because it might appear we’re playing life with the cheat codes, it’s only fair we be stumped by this mattress conundrum. Throw out the obvious proposal — ditching this mattress to buy a new one — because this bad boy will be with us in Minneapolis. This little, we know.

We also know shipping is a racket. Services we’ve looked at have quoted arbitrary prices like $431 to move a $780 mattress. This price sucks for three very distinctive reasons:

  1. It’s roughly half the cost of buying a new mattress, making it cost effective.
  2. All you get is a mattress. The same mattress you had to start with. It’s just in a different place now.
  3. It’s roughly the cost of a Minnesota Twins 20-game package at Target Field.

If our mattress could hold up a thumb, I’d bring it to the interstate and wish it the best. Instead, we’ll end up forking over $400 or more, unless one of you brilliant loyal TMT readers has a suggestion that doesn’t involve quantum physics or organized crime.

Help a blogger out!

Grand Theft Portland

See how my bike (rack on the left, second bike from the end) is without a rear wheel? And do you see the spare wheel next to it? More evidence of Northwest Portland thievery.

I was walking out of my apartment building Saturday, golf clubs on my back, on my way to the driving range. There was a man fiddling with his bike, which was sitting upside down without a rear wheel. It’s not uncommon for local riders to remove their front wheel when they lock their bike to a rack. Some take the bike seat, too. You really can’t be too safe.

“Nice day for golfing,” he said. Just a simple pleasantry from a stranger. It’s the kind of interaction you get used to growing up in the Midwest.

“We’ll see if this rain holds off,” I said. “Have a good one.”

By the time I got to the street, I got the sinking feeling something wasn’t quite right. I’d never seen this man in or around our apartment complex, which is small enough to where you can sense who belongs and who doesn’t. I paused for a moment, then doubled back to the bike rack. On the way, the stranger passed me with his bike, which now had a black-rimmed rear wheel. My black-rimmed rear wheel.

This was confirmed when I got to the bike rack. There my pathetic mountain bike set, stripped of its rear wheel, the bike chain laying loose, a wheel with a flat tire propped next to it. The stranger had a flat, but rather than go and buy a new tire for $20 or so a block away, he helped himself to mine.

People steal in our neighborhood. In January, someone broke into my car and stole an iPod nano and a duffle bag full of socks. (Don’t ask.) Around here, someone’s always getting their car broke into. I’m sure bike theft isn’t unique. We live nearby downtown in a city stricken with poverty, homelessness and drug addiction. What do desperate people do? They take shortcuts. They cheat. They steal. They feast on goodwill and terrorize the well-to-do.

Our apartment on NW 20th Place is, unfortunately, located in an area known for larceny and theft from vehicles.

I decided to check out our neighborhood crime statistics on CrimeMapper, a tool the Portland Police Bureau uses to track crime patterns. In the past year in an area within one half-mile of our apartment, there were 345 reports of theft from vehicle; 254 reports of larceny and 105 reports of vehicle theft. And those are just crimes that were reported. I reported the theft from my vehicle in January (for insurance purposes) but I didn’t even bother with my stolen wheel.

Unfortunately, Portland police aren’t in the business of recovering stolen iPods and GPS units. Since violent crime is so minimal in our neighborhood, so is the police presence.

As soon as I pieced together what had happened, I ran down the block to my car with my golf bag bouncing on my back. I didn’t see which direction the thief went, but I threw my clubs in my trunk and took off in aimless pursuit. I started imagining several violent scenarios in my mind. Most desirable was the one where I walk out of my apartment and realize immediately the man is stealing my wheel. Calmly, I walk up on the man, put him in a sleeper hold and yell at passersby to call the police. I squeeze as hard as I can until the police arrive, and all the while, this man admits to stealing my saxophone in sixth grade and my brand new Trek mountain bike my sophomore year of college and my iPod nano and duffle bag last fall. I only squeeze harder.

Clearly, I’ve got some pent-up rage. I’m used to being the victim.

If I had realized what was going on, would I have reacted violently? Of course not. That’s not me. And even if the same thing were to take place again, I still wouldn’t catch on. It’s in my nature to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Call it naivete. My city smarts might still be lacking, but aren’t city smarts just a lowered expectation of the people around you?

There are things that can be done to avoid being the victim. My girlfriend and I already avoid parking on NW Glisan where my car was first broken into. (It’s a poorly lit area and cars are broken into on a nightly basis.) We leave absolutely nothing in my car, as to avoid drawing attention. As for my bike? That’ll find it’s way into our 400-some square-foot apartment. We’ve barely got room for our excess of hooded sweatshirts, but it’s only a matter of time before some punk comes and clips my bike lock.

This is why people move to the suburbs, isn’t it? We’re looking for our next apartment now, and each time something like this happens, I start to romanticize neighborhood watches, two-car private garages and diligent police. Someday, our biggest concerns will be remembering to run the sprinkler and turning the porch lights off.

For now, we have to be mindful of locking and securing everything we own and avoiding a neighborhood like this one when we eventually move. What a shame.

The Reluctant Recycler Redux

Just when I thought I was poised to win my War on Recycling, we received a letter (above) from our apartment management staff on Friday warning us to shape up or pay out. Apparently, we’re not the only ones in the complex who’ve gone rogue on the recycling front.

Truth is, I’d been a good little recycler the past couple weeks after having felt some guilt from my prior anti-recycling post. I was hoping it was enough to get bottles and cans in their proper bins, but unfortunately, I had discarded them while still in plastic garbage bags.

I know — what a jerk, right?

I’ve gone over this warning nearly 62 times and I’m still completely miffed by these instructions:

“Glass bottles and jars only go into the blue receptacles. NO OTHER MATERIALS go into these blue bins. GLASS ONLY. Also, please place the bottles into the bins; do not leave them in boxes or bags in front of the bins. If you leave items outside of the bins, you will be charged a $50 non-compliance fee.”

I struggled in high school algebra and this nonsense read to me a little like:

“A train is leaving from Albuquerque going east at 65 miles per hour while another train is leaving Fort Worth an hour later going west at 54 miles per hour. The second train is made of recycled steel and runs on coal, thus minimizing it’s carbon footprint. At what point will these two trains collide, who’s fault will it be and how will it get Al Gore elected president?”

I always get stewed over fines. Fines always come in the form of a rounded-off number, as if $48.33 just wouldn’t get the point across, but $50 — that’ll teach’em!

Fines just seem so arbitrary.

In the NFL, a player can be fined something like $2,500 for wearing the wrong pair of socks. That’s right, a $2 pair of socks that doesn’t conform with league dress code can mean a fine worth 125,000 percent of the socks’ original value. That seems a little disproportionate. Then again, I’m sensitive about socks and you can’t just have hooligans running post routes with argyle socks on.

Maybe it’s more telling I would notice the $50 threat before realizing the word “please” is used six times in this warning. In all likelihood, that should be enough to yield results. But “please” is just a passive-aggressive way of saying, “I’m counting on you to do this, and I’m going to be real irked if you don’t.”

My War on Recycling rages on, folks. Unfortunately, it looks like it just became more costly.

What’s the biggest/dumbest fine you’ve ever received?

The Reluctant Recycler

I've spent too much time in front of these bins scratching my head, questioning the point of recycling ... and life.

Portland has been named the second greenest city in the world, so you can imagine how serious everyone takes their recycling here.

This was made more clear by our apartment manager, the first person we met when we moved here. On our initial tour of our complex, she emphasized the importance of separating our recyclables from our garbage and making sure they find the corresponding bin in the basement.

I consider it a victory when I get both shoes on my corresponding feet, so this whole make-sure-every-last-recyclable-item-finds-the-right-dumpster business was a challenge from jump street. For the first six months, we were pretty good at it. We even managed to fit three separate trash/recycling containers in our miniature kitchen.

Over time, we haven’t slacked on our recycling habits so much as ended the segregation of our waste products altogether. We’re letting the glasses, aluminum, plastics, paper and garbage frolic together now in harmony. I barely got through my college science courses, so for me, separating recyclables is like splitting an atom. Not to mention, the rules surrounding what’s recyclable and what’s not read like a Congressional bill. So yes, when the world ends, you can blame us. Posthumously, of course.

In Oregon, consumers are assessed a five-cent deposit with each purchase of an aluminum can or plastic bottle. This is like the convenience fee of the recycling world. It may not seem like much, but no one likes surcharges. Although there’s a deposit center across the street from us, I don’t like spending a Saturday morning tossing dozens, er, a few old beer cans into a machine to get MY $1.15 back. I usually just leave the cans nearby for a homeless person to claim. Cans and bottles are like a second currency among the less fortunate here.

You might be thinking, “Andrew, your laziness shows you don’t give a damn about our planet.”

That’s not true.

I take the MAX to work every morning. I’m too lazy to walk all the way. I could drive my own car, but this way, I’m helping lower CO2 emissions.

At work, I use a coffee mug instead of paper coffee cups. I don’t like having to get up and go to the kitchen every 20 minutes. Part of recycling is reusing, you know?

Since we live across the street from the grocery store, I don’t use bags when I’m only purchasing a few goods. Fewer plastics bags means a smaller carbon footprint. Whatever that is.

I like the idea of recycling, but not the execution. Or maybe I don’t like the passive-aggression surrounding it. Whenever a stranger sees me not recycling somewhere in public, I feel like I’ve dropped their baby.

Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Now, there’s an expectation that everyone should recycle. It’s no longer extra credit, but rather part of the test. When any generally good action goes from above and beyond to the status quo, we’ve achieved some level of progress.

Me, personally, I’d like to see that progress assisted by robots that can divide garbage and recyclables on my behalf. I don’t care if it’s made out of recycled metals or runs on compost, but I’m too tired — OK, too lazy — to go and save the world.

What’s your take? Do you recycle? What are you doing to help the environment?

Battling Beetles

Maybe not the most accurate representation of the beetles we're seeing, but you always imagine them worse they really are, right?

Every morning, when I wake up to make coffee and oatmeal, I close my eyes a few seconds after turning on the lights. These black beetles have started showing up in our apartment, so I like to give them a head start as they scurry for cover. It’s an unpleasant cohabitation, but peaceful all around.

Still, I’d like them gone. It’s not like they help with rent.

We have what you might call a “bug problem,” although I would argue it’s always problematic when you’ve got beetles crawling around your place. It’s really kind of an insult, because there’s a stigma involved with having an infestation in your apartment — it must be dirty, it must be cheap or it must be old. Yeah, our apartment is old, but there’s no reason beetles would look at our apartment and think, Bingo! My girlfriend and I are victims here.

I suspect they’re coming in through the windows. With the weather being so mild here in the winter (and it’s been especially warm this year), there hasn’t been a streak of freezing days long enough to kill the beetles off. Then again, I’m an English graduate, so there’s absolutely not scientific merit to what I just wrote. That’s just my theory. It’s El Nino’s fault.

Maybe this is karma. This is what I get for challenging all the food ethics and sensibilities of the more environmentally conscious locals. One of the benefits of eating organic — or so I’m told — is the produce is grown without use of insecticide or herbicide. Just seeds, sunbeams, soil and the golden hands of God, and BOOM! Organic green bell peppers, $3 apiece.

I hate insects too much, so I’m not cool with eating organic. In fact, I’m happy to spray a little insecticide on my salad just to be sure I’m not mowing down on some microscopic larvae. I’ve seen Fly too many times. That’s not the lifestyle I’m going for.

What’s the connection here? My girlfriend and I, the ones unwilling to buy organic, are probably the only ones in our apartment complex who are dealing with these beetles. That’s how I see it, anyway, but that paranoia is tied with the emotion you feel when bugs start showing up at your place. You feel violated. You feel targeted. You feel like the beetles are communicating in the night, holding position in the most strategic areas of your apartment, slowly plotting a hostile takeover. Or a dance number:

So, faithful TMT readers and soon-to-be-fellow millionaires, what’s No. 1 on my list when we win the Powerball tonight? A new apartment with a 24-hour butler/Orkin Man. That’s a guy worth keeping in the payroll.

Our Luxurious Clawfoot Bathtub

Last summer, my girlfriend and I gazed over dozens of apartment ads listed on craigslist.com. Neither of us had ever set foot in Portland, so the majority of our time was spent studying neighborhoods. Once we settled on an area — the Alphabet District — we pored over dozens of apartments, looking for something that was more aged than old, more vintage than dingy.

There's no way of taking a full picture of our clawfoot bathtub. The bathroom is too small and I don't have a wide-angle lens.

We settled upon an apartment built in 1905. According to the ad, it featured brick exterior walls, a french door dividing the living room and bedroom, wood floors, track lighting, 12-foot ceilings, and, in the bathroom, a luxurious clawfoot bathtub. (OK, “luxurious” is my addition, but it was heavily implied we should impressed.)

We got the apartment. We knew it would be small, but like a dorm room at college, we weren’t rattled by the size of our residence. We figured it would force us into the city to take part in the local culture. That was a great weekend.

This is our sixth month in our apartment, and here’s my one and only complaint: Our bathroom is painfully small.

During a recent renovation, the apartment owners went with black linoleum tile. Each tile is roughly one square foot. By my count, there are 26 tiles in our bathroom floor, and a good 16 of them are covered by our clawfoot bathtub.

Consider the clawfoot bathtub. Whoever decided furniture, no less a bathtub, needed limbs? Not just limbs, but claws? Should I feel better knowing my bathtub is built to be some kind of predator?

Our clawfoot bathtub is unnecessarily tall. To get in and out in the morning requires a high-jumper’s athletic ability. It’s as if the bathtub was constructed to ward off children, drunks and anyone over the age of 55.

Since the clawfoot bathtub has no tracks for shower doors, it instead relies upon a metal track which extends out from the wall and drapes a shower curtain around the entire bathtub. When showering, the shower curtain sucks itself inward. This often leaves me feeling like I’m showering in a uterus. There I am, rinsing suds, whistling something Hall & Oates, maintaining proper hygiene, and the next thing I know, I’m trapped in the Death Star garbage compactor like Luke Skywalker.

And I hate anything that ever makes me feel like I’m Luke Skywalker.

Forget bathing in the clawfoot bathtub. Once puberty hits, you’re too big. It’s peach fuzz, pubic hair, body odor and the inability to bathe in a clawfoot bathtub. Bathtub. What a misnomer. It’s a clawfoot shower.

I’m interested to know about the dumbest part of your home. What’s the one area you absolutely despise?