Stalking the perfect classified ad

February 1, 2010

I love want ads. I love the way they come out each day or each week in the newspaper, and I also enjoy sneaking up on them online. Each classified ad is a story of failure or aspiration, of a beginning or the completion of a phase in someone’s life.

Shopping in the want ads section of the newspaper is much more fulfilling than a wander around a shopping mall. First of all, prices are much lower. The items for sale are already pre-selected, and the previous owner is usually able to provide useful information about the product in question.

Bet calls my sometimes frantic wild-goose-chases “Rod’s retail therapy,” but I love hitting upon an ad for something I want and then tracking it down before an other buyer beats me to it.

For anything good, speed is essential. Once I hopefully went to the office and picked up a copy still wet from the presses. Surely enough, it listed a snowblower which would fit my tractor. I called from the parking lot, asked directions, and then raced to a remote farm north of Lanark, beating several other contenders for a rusty, but lightly-used Lucknow snowblower for $300. What I hadn’t expected was the delightful conversation I had with the vendor, a retired executive from the CBC who had moved to the country years before. “When you start raising beef cattle, you don’t want to do anything else,” he told me in all sincerity.

Sometimes a victory comes as the result of determined driving, as well as good navigation. One Friday night I pushed through deep snow on a side road outside Carleton Place to find a year-old Aeron chair. Turns out that wasn’t the real challenge, though. The vendor was a woman living alone with two large dogs who were protective and not very well trained. I wasn’t entirely sure I would get out of the house with my hide intact, but at a third of its retail value the chair has proven an excellent acquisition.

People who sell things through classified ads often understand my need for a trophy, and I have made more than one unwise purchase. For example I laboured all one Friday evening to drag a band saw out of a stone house west of Perth. Lovely elderly couple, nice dog, lousy bandsaw, and I had a much better one at home. They had played me magnificently.

It’s also possible to blackmail a buyer into a rash purchase. One master salesman outside Merrickville conned me into paying $700. for a useless restaurant stove. I believed him when he told me that twenty people had called already, and that I had better get the thing out of there before he got a better offer. Tony and I strained our backs lifting this thing out of his kitchen and across a snow-covered lawn in the dead of winter. This was expensive tuition, and I still have to walk around the useless hunk of iron every time I enter the barn.

Sometimes technology works for the ad-stalker, and sometimes it doesn’t. In a mad scramble for a Massey Ferguson 35, I asked the owner for his postal code and lot number in an area off the main road outside Almonte. I made an appointment for between meetings and dashed out from Carleton Place. I searched and searched, and eventually limped into Almonte almost out of fuel. My cell phone had run out of battery from repeated calls, but I simply couldn’t find his house. MapQuest in this case had done me wrong, providing an elaborate route to the west side of the highway, while his home lay to the east. Bless him, the vendor waited for me, and the other purchaser, an ambulance driver and much better navigator than I, was a gentleman and let me have the Massey. One of my students borrowed his dad’s pickup, his uncle’s trailer, and brought it to Forfar. It’s been a fixture on the farm for the last six years.

Strangely enough, I have found that footwear purchased online fits me better than shoes I have bought in shops. Bet can’t believe that I can walk into a shoe store, drop a big chunk of money, and walk out with shoes that don’t fit, but it happens most of the time. On the other hand I have good luck on eBay. I bought a used set of hiking boots because I couldn’t believe the photographs. Nothing could be that ugly. The owner admitted that the boots squeaked and the plastic external arch supports and pale orange colour made them a poor choice for casual wear. The things turned out to be by far the best boots I have ever owned. With them I could actually hike considerable distances without going lame. Away I went with a backpack sprayer through acres of tree seedlings. The problem lay in replacing them after a few years. $435. I’m still combing eBay for another pair.

Then there was the guy who advertised a 3 pt. hitch cultivator in perfect condition at an address southeast of Merrickville. He proudly claimed to be 94 years old, and kept with this throughout the sales pitch. A similar delusion seemed to govern his attitude toward the cultivator. It wasn’t all there. After a while I realized the vendor wasn’t, either, and I made my way home from a long and fruitless wild-goose-chase. You can’t win’em all.

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