Adjustable lap desk
Vicky emails me to say that she’s VERY INTERSTED. The lap desk sits over your legs and the top surface has an adjustable angle so you can do your crossword without having to crane your neck.
I’m selling the desk for ten dollars, but Vicky’s emails make it sound like she’s struggling to come up with the money. She’ll also have to talk her husband Doug into making the hour’s drive into Pittsburgh. He hates driving in the city and she doesn’t have a license.
The greatest obstacle, though, is Vicky’s size. She asks me for measurements, and though she says she could never fit her legs into the sixteen-inch space between the magazine or remote-control baskets that support the desk, she’s going to buy it anyway. “It’s so Victorian,” she says, and I think she’s wrong. I’m surprised she knows the word.
I meet Vicky on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, proclaimed “Pittsburgh’s Little Italy” by a proud, garish sign at one end of the main drag. Aubrey and I are throwing our goodbye happy hour at Silky’s, where we’ve spent little time except at other peoples’ goodbye happy hours. Such things happen often in grad student communities, but Aubrey and I are the last to leave in a particularly busy season.
The lap desk is the last thing I will sell before we leave Pittsburgh in a few days. We are leaving because of Aubrey’s fellowship at Colorado College, and I’ve been selling like a maniac, both to simplify the move and to justify having quit my job in April, fully three months before our wedding and four before we’ll depart for Colorado Springs.
Outside Silky’s, a white minivan pulls up to the curb where I stand holding the lap desk. Doug hulks over the steering wheel, his brow obscured by a Larry the Cable Guy cap and his nipples showing through a mesh camouflage T-shirt. As Vicky squeezes out of the passenger’s side, her old-school housecoat snares itself on something automotive and nearly takes her down.
She regains her balance, laughs, and without any greeting reminds me that the desk doesn’t fit her lap. “But like I told Tim,” she says, “if I have to put it over one leg, I will.”
I’m struck by her British accent, the kind I imagine I’d hear from sheep farmers in small towns on the border with Scotland. I wonder how Vicky ended up here: in a minivan, married to Doug, outside a bar an hour from home, buying a lap desk she can’t really use with money she doesn’t really have. My eyes water. The whole scene is so Pittsburgh that, for the first time, I begin to miss it here.
Perfect pullup, brand new in box
Our second week in Colorado, Curt writes to tell me he’ll take the Perfect Pullup, with the ab straps, swing arms, and rotating handles that you think might slow your 30-year-old body’s rapid aging. I bought the unit for fifteen dollars on a deal-a-day website the winter before the wedding, but I’m selling it for twenty in the unopened box. I didn’t realize I’d have to mount it with screws, and it didn’t seem worth damaging the walls.
On my friend Jay’s recommendation, I bought another pullup bar from Target, the kind that hangs in your doorway, as if by magic. I got several bites on the Perfect Pullup in Pittsburgh, but nobody closed the deal. On moving day, I loaded it into the seventeen-foot truck with the rest of the stuff I couldn’t sell.
I notice that Curt’s phone number, like mine, has an out-of-town area code. When I call him to arrange a meeting, neither of us can suggest a place. We don’t live near each other, and don’t know the town well. It lies on me, the seller, to compromise, so I offer to meet him near his place. Curt suggests we meet that evening in the parking lot outside a Wal-Mart on Woodmen Road. Once I agree, he starts to make small talk, but I excuse myself with a lie about having some urgent errand.
I arrive at Wal-Mart 15 minutes late. I haven’t been this far east in Colorado Springs yet, and in the thin air, my scooter struggles on hills smaller than the ones it handled with pep in Pittsburgh. I have to pull over often to let schools of light trucks pass me, their engines shouting and horns mocking as they emerge from the blinding sunset.
Curt tucks the Perfect Pullup behind the seat of his truck and leans on the door, trying to force a casual demeanor. He asks me where I’ve moved from. I can tell he’s just waiting for me to get through my answer so he can share his.
“Pittsburgh,” I say, “Pennsylvania.” I mention Aubrey’s job at the college.
Without my asking, Curt mentions that he moved from Arizona for an internship with a man whose name I don’t recognize. Curt tells me the man is Lance Armstrong’s trainer, and seems surprised I didn’t know.
He says, “So far, I’m loving the Springs. Spent all day on my bike today, just exploring.” Without a job, I have nothing if not time to explore, so I don’t immediately figure out what the implied alternative might be. Curt’s pride in having avoided it, though, is impossible to miss.
He asks me if I ride. “Not particularly,” I say, but it’s a lie. In fact, I can’t wait to get on my bike, to ride around a city with hundreds of miles of bike lanes and paths and perfect weather every day. I rode fifteen or twenty miles most days in my last two years of college, but on my first ride in Pittsburgh, a city bus ran me off the road.
I can tell Curt wants to be friends, but I’m not ready to settle for him. We only just got the apartment unpacked, and I’m sure when I get a job I’ll make better friends than Curt could ever be, with his internship and his contrived body language and his penchant for just exploring. I make an excuse to leave and hop on the scooter, riding back into the sun that pours over the city from just over the mountaintops.
Canon PowerShot A95 (5 MP, 3x optical zoom)
I will never learn False’s real name. His emails list the sender only as “False.” He’s buying a digital camera from me. We’ve been in Colorado Springs for a month now, and I still don’t have work, so I’m selling the camera for a hundred dollars, less than a quarter of what I paid. It has a swiveling display that lets you take low- and high-angle shots without having to scrape your knees on the pavement or risk perching on some rickety chair.
I’ve known enough Nigerians to know False’s accent when we speak on the phone. It’s a Sunday morning when I call him, and he wants to meet me later, on his way home from church.
On our front patio, False talks me down to eighty dollars, then asks me what I do for a living. “Ask me again next month,” I say.
He looks puzzled, so I explain that the job search isn’t going well so far. The jobs that do come up don’t suit my background, and anyway it’s a competitive market. False nods sympathetically, sensing the shame of the jobless, which I didn’t predict I’d feel when Aubrey and I decided to accept her fellowship rather than heading to one of the MFA programs that offered me funding.
False tells me that when he first moved here, he worked at Whole Foods. “It’s a good place,” he says. “I had to leave because it wasn’t enough money.” I can’t tell if he’s giving me the tip out of compassion or as a kind of mean joke, as if to say, It’s not good enough for me, but you are desperate.
When he’s done talking about Whole Foods and how he started his business with less than he’s paying me for the camera, False tells me he doesn’t have the cash on him and asks if I can follow him to his house.
I don’t recognize the neighborhood he mentions, but it sounds far away. I tell him I’m short on time—an obvious lie—and offer to follow him to an ATM on the scooter. I’m too embarrassed to tell him I can’t make it outside downtown.
Adjustable-height portable workstation / desk
A few days after I sell the camera, Mike emails to ask about a rolling laptop stand with adjustable height and a tilting platform. The platform has two black plastic guardrails to keep your expensive laptop from crashing to the floor like the dead weight it can be if you’re not working. I am asking fifteen dollars, a bit less than what I paid when I bought the stand at Rite- Aid, when my freelance career was at its peak and I was working from home daily. I have scratched the stand thoroughly.
On the phone, Mike has a dozen questions, since, as he takes care to explain, he can only tell so much from the picture. What are the minimum and maximum heights of the desk? How many of the casters lock? How big are they? Can I describe the mechanism that allows the cantilevered platform to swivel? What’s the platform made of? Is it cherry?
I say, “Good eye. I think it’s a composite stained to look like cherry.”
Mike asks his questions like he has them memorized, with a kind of vocal predictability that reminds me of the telemarketing job I had in Pittsburgh for three weeks when I first moved there. Our company only made calls for respectable non-profits, but the people we talked to still got angry as often as not. I was already working days as a proofreader at a marketing agency and nights at a Thai restaurant, so I quit after the first paycheck and downgraded my cable until my promotion to Jay’s department at the agency a couple months later.
As the phone call ends, I think the precision of Mike’s questioning might be an early and mild symptom of the military presence in Colorado Springs we’d heard so much about. Later, after I greet him on the patio, he gives the laptop stand an Army physical, spinning each wheel, checking my measurements, adjusting height and tilt several times each. It’s annoying, but I enjoy the company. When he learns I’m new to the area, he recommends a nearby Caribbean restaurant that his sister-in-law and her husband own. He doesn’t suggest we head there for a drink, or meet there for lunch with our wives. Instead, as the sun goes down and the evening chill sets in, he leaves our patio and packs his new furniture into the truck.
PowerMac G4 “Sawtooth” 450Mhz / 20GB HD
In Pittsburgh, perhaps one out of every ten emails I would get from Craigslist would end in a sale. My first six weeks in Colorado Springs, I am three for three. Then Timothy’s email comes. Timothy says he wants to buy the old Macintosh I bought from Jay, who’d bought it from the marketing agency. At 25 bucks, a fraction of what I paid, the machine’s a bargain. It has four slots for memory and two hard-drive bays to stave off the sense that the upgrade you really need is out of reach.
I respond to Timothy. I want to ask him what he’s like, whether he’s a cyclist, who he works for and if they’re hiring. But I restrain myself, telling him that, yes, the PowerMac is still available. And that I hope to hear from him soon.
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