The internet is our modern-day town square — a sea of strangers willing to box up just about everything besides their family and ship it to you at a moment's notice.
I catch myself endlessly scrolling the classifieds on KSL.com as a way to get in touch with the world around me. It feels infinitely interesting to see what people are selling, and as a nosy person, I enjoy getting a peek into someone else’s life while purchasing the item in question.
Once, in search of a projector screen, I showed up at the address of a KSL vendor. It was dusk, and he was burning trash in his front yard. My friends and I were led past a gate toward the back of his property where a vast wasteland of junk was piled 10 feet high, forming an impenetrable labyrinth.
The seller prowled his kingdom, rummaging through sailboat sails and burlap bags to find a brand new electric projector screen, which he promptly sold to me (after some haggling) for $35 and a gold dollar coin.
While making this purchase I followed the two cardinal rules of online buying:
- Never ask questions.
- Never look back.
I wish I asked more questions, though, when I found myself in the forests outside Raleigh, looking for a “fire sale” I had seen advertised on Craigslist. Another trash fire signaled I had reached my destination. It was a warehouse that was half burned down and the proprietors were selling discount refrigerators. The farther back in the inventory, the more charred the appliance. They took some steel wool to my crispy fridge of choice and sent me on my way.
Many formative experiences were brought about through the purchase of goods from these online marketplaces. Each listing offers a window into the human soul. Behind each wedding ring is a story of love and loss. Behind each flaming garbage heap is another man’s flaming treasure heap. The possibilities are boundless.
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. — Raymond Chandler
I’ve been called an “unusual man” most of my adult life, in part because of my sociologic obsession with online classifieds. I learned this obsession from my father, who I often found squinting at grainy images on Craigslist before our dial-up internet was rendered useless by an incoming call from my grandmother or the IRS.
My father and I are not in the market for anything specific, but we are on the hunt. What surprising objects can be found online! And it's our neighbors doing the selling! We see a pair of crutches being sold and celebrate. The Rogers’ boy can walk again! Margaret is selling her Waterford Crystal; she must be writing her kids out of the will.
Salt Lake City is a great place for strange ads. At the time of writing this, I have just been “ghosted” by some paranormal investigators because I did not have 2+ years of experience conducting seances. And equally exciting, someone is trying to re-home a Gargoyle gecko. The ad reads: “It’s one of my best males! A proven breeder!” We’re both thinking it — this sounds too good to be true.
Any nagging doubts should be your signal to assess the seller’s motivation. It turned out that this young man was moving back in with his parents, and could only keep a measly four gecko cages. He built a lizard empire and watched it crumble (all is vanity).
Another post caught my attention. Some poor soul was being forced to sell his pristine, 60-pound collection of Legos. “Now that I’m in college I don’t have a lot of time to build,” he said. I know this tale will end in tragedy because this college student doesn’t understand the two guiding principles of the free market:
- Never short Tesla.
- Never underestimate the joy of Legos.
One user listed their own grandmother for sale. “Do you need a new grandma?” the post reads. “I’m done with mine. She can cook frijoles, arroz, mole, y menudo … she is 70 years young … small rehoming fee of 25.00 and she will bring her own bed, clothing, and toys.” I’m not familiar with the market for familiars, but I can’t imagine this grandma sitting on the shelf very long.
There are items for sale that inspire. Alison was selling a full-body pregnancy climbing harness. Over email, she told me “It’s a great workout. I did a five-pitch climb at 35 weeks. It was definitely challenging but I did it.” Now, when I’m rolling a heavy trashcan to the curb, I think to myself “What would pregnant Alison do?” and continue to roll the bin to the curb, but a little faster.
“Just some real shady stuff. Frankly, I should have never trusted a stranger.”
If you are in the market, you can buy an $8.5 million corporate park in Draper. If that is a little over budget, Rebecca has a barn full of coal. And she’ll give the coal to you for $5 per bucket. Bryant also has a bunch of coal for sale. But neither Rebecca nor Bryant are very forthcoming about where they got this coal.
If action movies are your preferred form of entertainment, Harris is raising up a vigilante army to search for a stolen snowmobile. A serial thief went around town, obtaining recreational equipment on payment plans, then selling them across state lines sans title and without ever making good on his payments. Harris told me, “by the time I tracked him down he was in jail and the sled is nowhere to be found. ... Just some real shady stuff. Frankly, I should have never trusted a stranger.”
Who, being loved, is poor? — Oscar Wilde
The saddest corner on all of these websites is the diamond district, where love has flown and all that’s left to do is recoup the losses on that ring. There are few things as painful as selling a wedding band. Thus, to protect these poor souls, I’ve changed their names for privacy.
A man I’ll call Daniel Day-Lewis was selling a beautiful lab-grown Asscher-shaped diamond, mounted on a recycled platinum band — “as sustainable and ethical as they come!”
When asked the story behind it, Day-Lewis said “It’s sad, but nothing unthinkable. I purchased the ring in 2020 and proposed to my girlfriend. She said yes, and we were happily engaged. This month we broke things off. The wedding date, believe it or not, was actually tomorrow.”
I asked another seller about his “new diamond rings engagement ring,” and he was also willing to share his story. “I bought the ring for a girlfriend and was going to propose to her but caught her having an affair,” he said. “Instead of returning it to the store I’m being selfish and hateful and selling it to someone else. I know it’s probably wrong to do but I’m not in the state of mind to care.”
A one-sentence reply from one man, whom I’ll call Dennis Quaid, read: “Tammi turned out to be a (not very nice word).”
Thankfully, some stories are more hopeful. One woman was selling her wedding ring set, which she purchased with her now ex-husband five years ago. She bounced back after the divorce and is happily engaged again. I asked, “do you feel like the engagement contributed to wanting to sell the rings?”
“Oh definitely,” she said. “I hid it away after I had separated. Being engaged again I decided it was time to get rid of it.”
My favorite story was from Max, who told me “I’ve been married for 10 years and I’m still happily married but my wife’s fingers have swelled quite a bit with each child we’ve had.”
Of his wife, Max said “She is a powerhouse woman. Texas-raised, classy enough to go dancing and rugged enough to follow it up with some rodeo time. Beautiful on both inside and outside. Unmatched in motherhooding. Bold and strong while still managing to be kind and tender. Loves God, guns, and freedom... She's for me and I’m for her and that’s how it’s gonna be.”
He has since purchased a new ring set that fits better.
The online marketplace is wild and woolly. But it’s also a beautiful and expansive place, where goods are always trading hands. Some are letting go, others are stock piling, and a rare few, like my neighbors, are compulsively hoarding (which is a fire hazard).
In the digital age, the last remnants of the natural human marketplace can be found on these online classifieds. It feels like a thriving circular economy, where waste is reduced without the oversight of big corporations or the government. An endless landscape of tiny motorcycles, bags of baby goat milk, amateur dentists and dreams.