It's moral dilemma time in the old corral. My son Sam was on Craigslist, looking at laptops. (Think of a small boy with his nose pressed against the glass of the candy store. ) I have heard of Craigslist but never used it myself. Apparently one can find AMAZING DEALS there. Not as secure as eBay, but way better value. A friend bought Guitar Hero II there for about eleven dollars. I was impressed, as I am when I hear about people buying their house on frequent flyer points, or getting upgraded to the Royal Suite when they flash a jewelled credit card. I understand that Craigslist is free, which doesn't sound right. But so much about the world sounds odd these days that I have given up worrying about it. Is the coffee strong enough? Are the zombies in my book scary enough? Can Ed get to his soccer game? These are the questions for me.
Back to Craiglist. I found Sam's deal, and tried to contact the guy on the other end of the laptop to set up the deal. You'd think it'd be easy: you establish common ground, set up some basic guarantees, and away you go.
Not quite. My man Bill lives in BC -- a ways away from me -- and comes across as kind of cagy. He wouldn't even let me phone him directly. Long-distance charges? We used MSN (which was hilarious. I don't use it myself, but my kids do of course. I had Ed beside me typing away to this guy, explaining as he went along).
Sidebar: I must say I am impressed at the younger generation. I had assumed that MSN was a bunch of teens and tweens saying Wassup and LOL to each other because they have no real conversation. I was wrong. Not that the dialogue reads like Noel Coward or Ben Hecht. But talk about multi-tasking -- Ed had four or five conversations going on, including one with Sam explaining what we were doing. At one point Imo wanderd into the office, and signed into my keyboard to say hi to Sam. And they had a little chat. And then my laptop man signed back in with a counter-counter-offer.
What Bill wants is for me to send him some money via Western Union. Then he will send me the laptop. What if it doesn't work? I asked him. (One of my two basic fears.) Then send it back, he said. But I don't know your name, I said. I can't just send a package to Bill, c/o British Columbia. There was a long pause. Then he gave me a name and address. I tried to verify them, but 411 has never heard of Bill. Sigh. I suppose he could be sub-letting his place and using a cell phone. But I wish I had some assurance.
I figure there are two basic scenarios. The computer is way below price. Either it's shoddy, or it's hot. Either way, Bill is a crook. What I want is for the product to be hot. In other words, I want Bill to be a real crook, rather than a garage-sale crook. That way, at least I get a working computer for a great price. Moral dilemma -- how can I do business with a crook? Moral solution: I guess because, like any mark, I want the good deal. I want the 11.00 Guitar Hero. I want to be one of those guys who can brag about how savvy he is.
I expect to hear from Bill later this morning. I've set up a half now half on receipt deal. Which makes me feel like in control of the situation, since I'll only be throwing half the money into the wind. Will I get a cheap computer, or will I get what I deserve for dealing with a crook? Stay tuned ...