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Facebook Marketplace: A love story

Two vintage armchairs in front of a vintage furniture store in Berlin, Germany. (Getty Images)
Two vintage armchairs in front of a vintage furniture store in Berlin, Germany. (Getty Images)

My cell phone is full of numbers belonging to characters my family does not know. Hookups I’ve had in unfamiliar neighborhoods, on the street, in doorways, in building lobbies. Quick, quasi-anonymous, cash-only deals. Each time I drive to an assignation, I hope the dealer who has the thing I’m jonesing for will not be an axe murderer.

Marcia Skier. Khoby Barcart. Courtney Blender. I arrive, eyeball their merchandise, hand over the money I have folded in my shorts pocket and disappear into the night. Well, mid-day, usually. What with LA rush hour traffic, nobody deals stuff in the morning much, and old ladies like me don’t like driving after dark.

My name is Julia. I am a Facebook Marketplace addict.

It started innocently. I had foot surgery in June, so no more running up and down my stairs, my pandemic exercise of choice. As a person in the last quadrant of my life, some kind of steps must be taken to keep my blood pressure under control. I started fantasizing about an old flame of mine, one that predated my husband of the past 30 years. A sleek piece I met at the gym that left me sweaty and satisfied in a way I haven’t been before or since: gorgeous, simple, old-school, polished, easy on eyes — and feet. A NordicTrack ski machine. In the 1980s I wanted one so desperately, but my love was unaffordable on my magazine assistant’s salary. It was not to be.

The long-coveted NordicTrak, found on Facebook Marketplace and now at home in the author's living room. (Courtesy Julia Claiborne Johnson)
The long-coveted NordicTrak, found on Facebook Marketplace and now at home in the author's living room. (Courtesy Julia Claiborne Johnson)

Recently my adult daughter furnished her Ohio apartment almost entirely via the Marketplace. I’ll try it just this once, I thought. Minutes later, bingo. My young heart’s desire, on offer a 20-minute drive away. Lightweight and so an easy pick up, all wood and pulleys and powered all by me, its placement in my house not dictated by the proximity of an electrical outlet. All mine at last, and for under a hundred bucks.

The rush was indescribable.

The seller, Marcia, gave me her number in case I lost my way to her house in the Valley. I entered her in my cell as Marcia Skier, so that when I got around to pruning contacts, I would know who this Marcia had been to me once. This Marcia and her unseen husband were actors who’d moved to LA in the 1960s. He’d adored the NordicTrack, she said, but it had been folded up in her garage for years. She was finally ready to let it go. I didn’t ask “Why now?” I sort of knew already. If not for COVID protocols, I would have hugged her before I left.

My relationship with Facebook Marketplace might have ended there if my son hadn’t unexpectedly found the perfect studio apartment. He has a finely tuned aesthetic and wanted a particular Art Deco bar cart for his place, two golden circles joined by a pair of mirrored shelves, like the one the woman moving out had, that fit a particularly spot as if made for it. (Clearly she had a honed aesthetic, too; she was a designer, only leaving that perfect apartment to move into a bigger place with her boyfriend. Of course I asked.)

I remember the wild, unreasoning lust aroused by a half-naked apartment.

I typed in “vintage bar cart.” Boom. A baseball-hat wearing hipster who lived over by Dodger Stadium was selling the very one we were looking for. The dude reminded me of a sleeker version of Judah Friedlander’s writer on “Thirty Rock,” but with better eyeglasses. Fabulous glasses, really. I asked if he was some kind of designer. Nope. Playwright who’d moved out from New York to work in TV. How could he part with his beautiful cart, I asked. He shrugged.

I knew that shrug. In my youth I had been one for buying furnishings that telegraphed what I thought of as “the new me,” only to realize once I got it home that I would never be that person. I could see him imagining a Golden-era Hollywood incarnation of himself, trundling out martinis for Nick and Norah Charles, only to feel ridiculous the first time he tried that. Bye-bye bar cart.

Young Courtney Blender of Beverly Hills wanted to unload a stainless-steel Cuisinart machine, highly rated but seldom used by her. She ran down with the goods, plugged the blender into a socket in her lobby to prove it worked and, exuding a strong good riddance vibe, raced back upstairs to her work Zoom. The Cuisinart was clean in the way that passes when you’re an attractive someone in your 20s with better things to do than stand over a sink, a toothpick in one hand and a blender lid in the other. I, too, in my acquisitive youth, would buy a household good I was sure I couldn’t live without, only to have it morph into a household bad once I realized its upkeep was more trouble than it was worth. If you purged mistakes like that from your house fast enough, it was like it never happened — the appliance version of a one-night stand.

The author's son's furnished living room, complete with vintage bar cart, left, compliments of Facebook Marketplace. (Courtesy Julia Claiborne Johnson)
The author's son's furnished living room, complete with vintage bar cart, left, compliments of Facebook Marketplace. (Courtesy Julia Claiborne Johnson)

My son’s place is fully furnished now with just the right amount of stuff. No clutter to trip over yet. Dang, I wish I lived there.

I know I should be over Facebook Marketplace, but I just can’t seem to quit it. I need nothing, trust me, yet when I’m scarfing down my lunch, I still scroll through to see what’s up for grabs. Good grief, Zeke in Highland Park, what were you thinking when you bought that hideous floral armchair? I can’t understand it. I bet he can’t either.

What I do understand is that I’ve exited the gathering-up years and have entered the era of letting go. But oh, to have a whole life of acquiring — both the excellent and the bad — ahead of me again. I remember the wild, unreasoning lust aroused by a half-naked apartment. I have known what it was like to want something so desperately until I had it, and then, for some reason or another, not to want it anymore. Reading through those listings, I can’t help imagining mini-soap operas. I could stop anytime, maybe, but why should I? I’m a novelist. Every time I indulge I tell myself what I’m really doing is fishing for inspiration. A juicy hook to hang a story on. I can buy that explanation.

For example, why is Michelle in Culver City getting rid of that nice rug? Moving to a place where a 5 x 8 just won’t fit? Or — did she and her lover use it to smuggle a body out of her apartment, and now she can’t stop thinking about it when she lies awake at night? Hmm. Culver City is only about a half-hour’s drive away. It is a gorgeous rug.  I cannot buy that rug. Can I? No. Absolutely not. Still, I check in a few dozen more times before the day is out to see if it’s still available.

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Related:

Julia Claiborne Johnson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Julia Claiborne Johnson is the bestselling author of  the novels "Better Luck Next Time" and "Be Frank with Me."

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