Friday, February 6, 2009

Why I love second-hand

My most recent craigslist purchase was a small, skinny little stereo. (I have already confessed my addition to craigslist, as explained in agonizing detail here.) The stereo was quite cute, much smaller and simpler than my decade-old Aiwa system (although that Aiwa had much better speakers—3-ways, totally superior to the newbies). Anyway. The little stereo popped up one morning on my monitor, and I wrote the seller and expressed my admiration for the item. I was the first to respond, and so the next evening I found myself happily driving to the Strip District with my not-so-crisp $20 bill in my coat pocket.

(On a side note, my craigslist habit has actually served me quite well, in that it’s forced me to explore parts of the city I would otherwise avoid. That Strip District foray was certainly not my first trip to our fair city’s own market district, but it was my first venture onto Railroad Street in quite some time—and my first look at some swank little lofts in an old factory that’s been converted… There are some really interesting and inviting city-living options these days.)

Back to the stereo: the seller showed me that it worked great, played CDs with ease, and took up a fraction of the space consumed by Old Stereo. I bought it and carried it to my car, flush with success. And then when I got it home, and we’d plugged in all the parts and hooked up all the wires, we were perplexed to learn that it buzzed. There was a strange electrical background noise that sang out insistently behind the music and voices. How odd. Todd gave me that look—the “you know you got scammed” look that he reserves for my unapproved craigslist purchases. I bit my tongue and pretended not to notice the annoying sound. In truth, it seemed to become less noticeable the longer the stereo was on. And honestly? For $20? I didn’t mind too much. I had a forgiving heart about that little slim little stereo.

Fast forward a day or two, and the kid and I were turning on the radio, noting (not for the first time) that odd buzzing noise. Even Marcus could hear it clearly. I sat on the floor, looking for the perfect CD to play, and while I perused I punched some random buttons on the front of the stereo. Lo and behold, toggling off the backlight button—in addition to turning off the backlight behind the display—caused the buzzing to cease. Hmmph.

And then I recalled a note in the seller’s ad about the backlight not working. I’d forgotten.

And the mystery was solved. When you turned the stereo on, you could either switch off the backlight, or simply wait for a minute or two, and that buzzing sound would stop. Why did this not annoy me? Why was I not frustrated with such a noticeable and intrusive idiosyncrasy? Because the stereo was used; my expectations were lower. Because I knew even before purchase that the item in question, although appealing, was also not new, not perfect, and therefore prone to system weaknesses and perhaps even failures.

And then it hit me: That is why I love craigslist, why I love used things. My last big craigs purchase? Our current couch. It’s a nice, comfy piece, Ethan Allen, it’s good quality and reliable… but the pattern on the seat cushions is slightly faded from contact with too many backsides, I suppose. The piping on those edges is a bit worn and thinning. Why was I not angry when I noticed this, after we’d purchased the piece and cleaned it? Because I knew there was a chance of that sort of imperfection. I knew, going in, that because the piece had been out there in the world, it couldn’t be perfect. I was getting a deal, but the deal had a catch: used goods have flaws. And I don’t mind, because I know that going in.

I must try harder to remember that my craigslist philosophy applies to us humans, too. We are none of us flawless. We’re out there, used, abused, we’ve been sat on too many times, our backlights are a little bit tired and we groan when someone asks us to brighten up for too long. I must remember to expect less from people. In the same way that craigslist is filled with good deals that are imperfect, my world of human contact is filled with good souls who have scratches, and dents, and are faded.

But oh, have you seen the difference in them if someone loves them again and gives them a second chance? What a deal you will find sometimes, when you acknowledge potential shortcomings up front. I am hoping that others do that for me.

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