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On craigslist, be prepared for the good and the bad

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In Sicily, on New Year's Eve, everybody throws their unwanted old stuff out the window. The towns clean it all up the next morning.

In the U.S. on New Year's Eve, and on every other occasion when we move from a large old house to a new smaller condo, we throw out our stuff, donate it to charities, give it away to our children, take it to the thrift shop, hold a yard sale, and...

Craigslist it.

I discovered craigslist when I had to do something with the stuff that had accumulated in my closets, attic, basement and garage after 43 years. I'm not even a hoarder, so it could have been much worse. It wasn't just my stuff, though, as anyone with attics and basements will tell you, it was the stuff that my children, their friends, two husbands, one deceased ex-wife, one deceased mother-in-law, and one ex mother-in-law, had managed to sneak up the stairs to my attic or down the stairs to my basement or out through the driveway into the garage, without my knowledge. Very few of us have basements anymore, and those who do are the unwanted recipients of the strangest, most unfamiliar, weird belongings ever accumulated. Seeing the paintings at my yard sale was like attending a gallery opening of unfamiliar art; I had never before seen the art that had accumulated somehow, and come out of my garage.

But it was craigslist that gave me an opening into a world of people I would never otherwise have met. All kinds of people: honest, hard-working people without much money who cherished my old washing machine when they found it would cost them $5. Dishonest thieves who found out peoples' addresses on craigslist (I heard,; did not happen to me) and if there was outdoor furniture and accessories for sale, came down and picked it up, for free. Delightful old people who made me happy to meet them. And strange lonely people who prey on craigslist sellers.

The first item I put on craigslist was my dining room table, a special handmade pine affair that seated 14. I got an immediate response from an unnamed person who wrote to me saying he was on his honeymoon in Europe and therefore could not pick up the table right away, but wanted to send me a cashier's check for more than the cost of the table if I would just keep it until he returned in a few weeks.

"Take the extra money," he wrote, "and I'll have someone pick up the table after awhile."

It didn't sound legitimate to me, especially when a cashier's check arrived a few days later, the return address on its envelope a tattoo parlor in Florida. I sold the table to a man who came to the house and loved it and paid cash and bought a painting while he was there.

When I put on craigslist a pair of pilot's earphones that my husband didn't want, I got three responses from people who did not want the earphones but since "you sound interesting," wanted to meet me somewhere, anywhere, for a drink. Daring and brave singles might want to consider selling pilots' earphones on craigslist to open up a whole new group of other (possibly, but not for sure) singles they haven't explored....

I next put up for sale a very heavy file cabinet and the people who came to buy it could not carry it down the stairs, even with my help. So they took the drawers, promising to return for the cabinet itself later. They never came back.

I met artists, one who meticulously took down a stained glass window from my hallway to painstakingly replace it for a window in her studio.

I met collectors who wanted nothing but maritime accoutrements, or old doorknobs, or weathervanes. I met antiques dealers who desperately wanted nothing but sterling silver or brass or copper pieces.

I sent a truckload of treasured belongings to my son in Colorado by means of a Brooklyn moving company, whose drivers were stopped by the state police at the Colorado border for not having drivers' licenses, and kept there until my son hooked up his own trailer and drove to pick the load up himself.

The next file cabinet was a very small one, so small that I could carry it myself, and when an older gentleman called me to ask to buy it, he told me also that he had no car and so couldn't pick it up but wanted it if I ever drove to Cambridge.

I did drive to Cambridge, often, for an early morning yoga class, and I told him I could bring it sometime but it would have to be quite early in the morning.

"You can come as early as you want," he answered. "I get up every morning at four to pray."

My husband warned me that it would not be safe for me to go to his home with the file cabinet, but the prospective buyer sounded sane, and elderly, and so I did.

He was elderly -- 92 years old -- but his eyes were the sparkling eyes of a 20-year-old, and his burka-ed wife was as tiny and lively as her husband. They were both so small and frail looking and they asked me up to their apartment for tea, so I helped them carry the file cabinet up.

Their apartment was miniscule and full of interesting belongings from their travels around the world. Devout Muslims, they were from India and had moved here with their six children, all of whom had acquired graduate degrees in either law or medicine, from Harvard or MIT. Their father, who also held a law degree, was now involved in ecumenical work at his nearby mosque, and it turned out that he had won international awards for this work around the world, receiving personal honors from President Bill Clinton, South African former President Nelson Mandela, and he had sat with President Barack Obama in the course of his receiving more honors. He did not boast of these activities; they just came up in the course of our conversation.

His wife made herbal tea and served me her homemade carrot cake and insisted she send the rest of it home with me. Her husband gave me a set of prayer beads, telling me "It doesn't matter what religion you practice; these will work with any of them. I wish you peace."

I felt I had met an angel that day, and thanked craigslist for putting me in touch with some people who have made my life fuller just from coming in contact with them.

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