How to not be an asshole on craigslist

In preparation for switching around some things in our house, we've been selling things on craigslist. I'm happy to report that all of the sales have eventually gone well, but almost all of them have attracted at least a few weirdos. Based on recent experiences of weird behavior that just never would have occurred to me, I wish to provide the public with some advice:

How to not be an asshole on craigslist

1) If you inquire about something and then change your mind or decide it won't work once the seller provides you with the details you requested, don't just delete the e-mail without replying. Seriously, take the 30 seconds to write back and say it's not quite what you wanted and to thank them for their time. You wouldn't walk into a shop and ask to see some items in various colors, then just walk out without even saying a word. Or perhaps you would, and that's the problem.

2) If you've shown interest in an item and you ask the person where they live, don't then reply and say, "oh, I don't know where that is, so I'm all set, thanks." If you can't use google maps or ask someone for directions, you have no business posting on craigslist and scouting around the city to try to get one-of-a-kind items and good deals. Likewise if you realize my neighborhood isn't posh enough for you. It's right by a major T station, has plenty of on-street parking, and I've already specified the general area in my original ad. Please, go take your city-fearing self to a Jordan's or something. Craigslist isn't for people like you. And furthermore, when you decide not to venture into the city to check out my table, you're not "all set," because you still don't have a table. Grow a pair and use your I-statements and tell me you've changed your mind or are going to have to decline or whatever. The only place where it's acceptable to say "all set" is in a restaurant or at a cash register, and even then it's not always the phrase you want.

3) When you come over to someone's house to look at things, don't freak out and tell them you're allergic to cats and lecture them as if they had just brought cats into your house without asking. It's not at all uncommon for a North American household to have cats or dogs, so you might want to ask people before visiting their home. This especially goes for the person who wanted to buy an all-wooden piece of furniture and said that I should have stated in the ad that it was "contaminated." Thanks for the feedback, and next time I will be sure to anticipate that my buyer might be someone who will be deathly allergic to wooden furniture that has been near cats and has since been wiped down.

4) Don't try to negotiate the price without at least some sort of background as to why it probably isn't worth as much, or acknowledgement that you realize you're not offering much and you're happy to wait and see if there aren't any better offers. I did sell a mandolin to a very nice person named Jackie, who explained to me that it needed a few repairs and how much these would cost, and who was apologetic and made it clear that I shouldn't feel obligated to listen to her. This was very upfront and helpful, and I was happy to sell it to her and felt confident that she knew what she was talking about. Others, however, have been less appropriate with their offers. Like the person who sent me a link on Amazon to a product that wasn't remotely similar and said my item was overpriced because they could buy a completely different item new on Amazon for just a little bit more than I was asking (plus shipping that cost as much as the item). Or the person who asked if they could buy my almost-new huge suitcase for $15 instead of $20, and would I mind dropping it off in Providence.

5) When you're getting a really good deal on something, don't decide that you're only able to pick it up at one specific time on one specific day. Shopping opportunities do exist for people with such important obligations and inflexible schedules; they're called stores. For four times as much as I want for my bookshelf, you can get one exactly when and where you prefer.

6) Respect people's time. If you need an item to fit in a certain space, and the dimensions are included in the ad, measure your space and see if it will fit before coming to look at the item and saying, "oh, it's much bigger than it looked in the pictures, and definitely won't fit in our room" and being surprised that a table that seats four is larger than 600x800 pixels.

7) Don't offer to mail me a cashier's check. Just don't.

A sociolinguistic observation

In American English, when something is defective or not to our liking, we usually say that we plan to "get a new one." Likewise when we notice that someone has a different car or backpack or phone or something. We usually say, "oh, you got a new car?" which then inevitably leads to discussion of whether it is new or used, where it came from, why the change, etc.

In most Western European languages, the construction uses "change" rather than "buy" or "get a new." (Readers who are familiar with other languages than I am, please comment!) Speakers of these languages will then use the same construction when speaking in English, e.g, "my computer keeps crashing so I need to change it" or, "oh, you changed your car." I've also heard this construction in English from speakers from Africa and Asia, but I don't know if this is influenced by their native languages or by Western European English.

It's kind of interesting that the American construction of "get/buy a new one" seems to be an anomaly. Again, I'm working with a limited sample size here, and would love to hear from people who know other languages than I do. But it seems like the American construction focuses on purchasing something and tends to lead toward a discussion of how and why the person came to have a different item, while the constructions in other countries seem more neutral and less oriented toward consumerism and status. I'd love to know if there are even different constructions in other places (particularly places where making a living and having belongings is difficult) and/or if there are places where it's not polite to even bring it up.

Those dudes selling roses

You know those guys who walk around peddling roses to drivers on Melnea Cass and Mass Ave (and sometimes on Columbus Ave)? Does anyone ever buy any? I've yet to see someone buy some, but I'm pretty sure people wouldn't stay in a completely pointless line of work (with the possible exception of Art Garfunkel's solo career). Do any of my readers happen to be rose-sellers or acquainted with rose-sellers? Or rose-buyers?

I wouldn't have thought there was such a thing as being too polite, but...

I got one of those letters from Capital One saying that their interest rates are going up to 22% and 24% and whatnot, unless it was a promotional rate, in which case it wouldn't change. They offered one of those options where you can close the account and continue paying on it if you don't like the terms, but you have to write to them and decline the change in terms. I was pretty sure that my loan was a promotional rate, but wanted to be sure.

I called the number to ask about this. The person who answered the phone said, and I kid you not, "Thank you so much for calling to verify the terms of your balance with us. We very much appreciate you having taken the time to call and inquire about that." Everything I said was followed by some remark about how the operator was "delighted to assist with that," and/or "sincerely hope that your concerns have been fully addressed," and so forth.

I started to feel like I was Rudey McRuderson for just appending a simple "please" or "thanks" to my replies. It was actually kind of weird feeling so focused on wanting to be super friendly to this employee, in contrast to my usually feeling like I want to punch someone when I call customer service people. This employee could have been all shades of incompetent, and I would have remained a docile, polite little robot.

The strangest thing was that it all felt absolutely sincere, where usually I am so turned off by customer service people who feel the need to thank me for having asked them a question (see "wanting to reach through the phone and punch someone" op cit). This person seemed to actually feel gratitude for the gift of spending time answering credit card questions. No, really. I felt like I would have been a ogre, had I done anything that might have rained on this person's clear love of answering the Capital One toll-free number.

Seriously, if you're having a bad day, I recommend calling Capital One and asking about loan terms. Even if you don't have an account with them. I'm pretty sure the person in the phone would be simply delighted to explain the terms to you anyway. This employee is far from the type to discriminate in sharing the joys that are the Capital One loan terms.

And no, do not even try to tell me that there are other people there who might answer the calls as well. I won't believe it. My relationship with Capital One Operator Extraordinaire goes even deeper than my love for Julie at Amtrak, who I sometimes feel is the only one who truly understands me. Or at least who doesn't mind phone calls at 3:00am.

(For the record, Capital One is really pretty awesome. I know they have a reputation as being sort of a subprime credit card company, if there is such a thing, but they're actually great for people like me who don't make a lot of money and have a good chunk of debt, but have steady working-class income and don't have any derogatory credit history. Every few months they send me e-mails saying they've increased my credit limit on my loan and my credit card. The credit card started out as one of those $200-limit credit cards that I got when I was like 20. The limit is now $18,500. I could like buy a freakin' car with that. And pay way more interest than a car loan charges, but that's not the point!)

Highly scientific Mike's Hard Lemonade research

Molly and I were talking about whether we prefer original Mike's Hard Lemonade or Mike's Hard Lime, and with what food pairings we prefer them and whatnot, when we started to wonder whether they actually taste different. We decided to do highly scientific research to answer our question.

Sample group: n = 2 (me and Molly)

We also included a control group, consisting of two self-selecting cats, in order to include subjects who were not at all familiar with Mike's products. However, the control group yielded no results, as they were not interested in tasting the Mike's due to being rather preoccupied with our burritos and nachos.

Each subject was blindfolded, then presented with a succession of Mike's beverages, each being either lemonade or lime, and then asked to identify the order in which they had been presented.

Subject 1 (eeka) identified them in the correct order, but was not very confident in having identified them correctly.

Subject 2 (Molly) identified 50% of the beverages correctly.

Conclusion: Mike's Hard Lemonade, along with the other varieties, are horrible products and should be disposed of immediately. In the event that your local public works department has not yet implemented a Mike's recovery program, please send your Mike's products to One Smoot Short of a Bridge, where they can be used for further research and then disposed of properly. Please note that Mike's Hard Berry can be disposed of simply by pouring it out, and should not be mailed.

I think I'm beginning to see why the commuter rail is so unreliable

The train from Boston to Haverhill stops in Wyoming, according to the loudspeaker dude.

Overheard at North Station

"Which is exactly why I didn't want anyone to know I have a cellphone. So then she texas me, and I'm about to texas her and tell her she can call my house phone, and then Barry texas me, and I don't even know how to get back to the first texas from her..."

You know what's messed up?

Signage stores with crappy signs on them. Also renovation or interior design places where their office looks like ass. Really, who is choosing these places and keeping them in business?

(And no, I wasn't just driving around in Watertown or Belmont or anything like that.)

A few reasons why the Massachusetts "universal healthcare" implementation isn't working

There's a lot of talk in the blogosphere about why the Massachusetts universal healthcare thing isn't working. I thought I'd throw in my two cents based on my experiences:

(For the record, I'm totally in favor of universal healthcare. This state just obviously doesn't know how to implement it.)

1) The state is only penalizing companies that don't offer ANY healthcare. They're not penalizing companies (like my employer) that offer unaffordable insurance. My agency does subsidize the insurance a little bit, so it costs less than purchasing comparable insurance on the MA connector, but it still doesn't cover much. You know that "affordability worksheet" that's in your MA tax form booklet? When I fill it out, it tells us that our income is sufficient to afford a plan that costs X per month. The cheapest plan my employer offers me costs a lot more than X per month. So, if I were to decline insurance, I wouldn't be penalized by the state since I'm not offered affordable insurance (and don't make enough to be required to buy full-price insurance privately), but my employer also is not being penalized for offering me an expensive plan that covers nothing. So, all a company has to do to avoid this penalty is to offer health insurance, even if they don't subsidize it whatsoever.

2) When universal *cough*bullshit*cough* healthcare started up in Massachusetts, the state eliminated the plans that were previously in place. For instance:

2a) MassHealth no longer considers people to have a disability if said person is able to work, or is working. (Those are actually somewhat different; their doctors agreed that I'm unable to work by standardized measures, but in my case my level of education and skills make me lucky enough to have a job where I can flex my hours and reschedule things when I can't make it in, and I don't have to do much physical labor as a white-collar type, so I have been consistently employed.) In Massachusetts, one can only get Medicare based on disability if one is totally unable to work and not working. There are a few exceptions for diagnoses like Down Syndrome. Many other states have a "medically needy" category where employed people with a lot of medical expenses can get Medicare and still work.

Despite having conditions that cost me a buttload of money in medical expenses and substantially affect my daily life (again, by standard measures; I personally find ways to do what I need to), I can't get any help from MassHealth unless I stop working. If I were to stop working, they would give me SSI, SSDI, and MassHealth.

I'd be better off financially if I stopped working. How messed up is that? All I want them to do is give me MassHealth to help with my large and frequent co-pays and cover things that my work insurance doesn't cover, like leg braces (When I called my insurance company to see if I could get an exception, they told me that they don't cover that sort of stuff because people who need it can get Medicare. Except not in Massachusetts, I discovered.), MRIs and bloodwork. They aren't willing to do this, but they're willing to pay me to sit at home and not work. Tell me, which is more cost effective?

2b) I have a lot of out-of-pocket medical expenses related to some chronic medical conditions. I pay a lot of co-pays for meds and frequent specialist visits (plus my co-pays particularly suck because one of my conditions requires that I go to the ER and get IV drugs any time I have symptoms, and the ER is $100 per visit) and I pay out-of-pocket for stuff that my insurance doesn't cover. There have been recent years that my medical bills were up near my yearly salary. (I've not paid them, and they've gone to collections and ruined my credit.)

Before they had the universal healthcare thing, hospitals ran their own freecare systems. I used to just go into their financial aid office, show them my medical bills that were close to my yearly income, and they'd agree to cover them since there was clearly no way for me to pay them. Now, the hospitals can't do their own freecare, and those funds are instead under the state "safety net" program, also administered by the MassHealth people. This program only looks at your yearly income, not anything else. Since my yearly income is a bit above their close-to-poverty limits (which are somewhere in the 20,000s for our family), they can't help me. It doesn't matter that my outstanding medical bills last year were close to my yearly income and I obviously can't pay them and also have housing or food.

Also, to add in a few thoughts about why this particularly burdens GLBT families:

My employer only offers single-person insurance plans and family insurance plans. (A majority of employers in the area offer two-person plans, according to surveying that has been done by the GLBT media). Since the federal government refuses to recognize my same-sex marriage, I pay extensive federal taxes on my health insurance plan, and the family plans make this even worse for my spouse and me. When I pay $312.87 per month for insurance premiums, the IRS considers $111.34 of that (the cost of the individual plan offered to us) to be allowable as a pre-tax deduction. I then have to pay taxes on the additional $201.53, since the federal government does not allow me to spend pre-tax dollars on my spouse. My spouse then has to declare the $201.53 as taxable income, for the same reason. The guidelines state that the entire amount paid above the amount of an individual plan is taxable for both of us; we are not allowed to discard the additional amount that we are forced to donate to my employer. Not only are we subsidizing other people's larger families, but we're being taxed on this donation as if it were income. We're paying the price for being forced to have a family plan THREE TIMES, not just one time like opposite-sex two-person families. If my employer were to offer a two-person plan costing roughly $200 per month, my spouse and I would each only be taxed on the additional $100 or so per month, rather than the $200 we pay taxes on because of the family plan. Having a two-person plan would reduce each of our taxable incomes by about $1200 per year, while increasing our available take-home income by about the same amount. Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) has written a number of papers explaining why refusing to offer a two-person plan unfairly burdens same-sex couples.

Walking 20 miles to feed hungry people while ignoring hungry individuals

Ah, the irony. Spare Change Guy didn't seem to be getting any donations.