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Free Ain't Free

And don't you forget it

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Just so you know, I will never ever live this down. Grant Henry himself will make sure of that. He will be five feet away from me for the rest of my life, ready with the evidence of my idiocy, ready to whip it out and slap me over the head with it the second I start to think maybe I'm not such a bovine after all.

"'Free!'" is all he'll have to say. "'Free Delivery!'"

As if he himself were so impervious to scams on Craigslist. I remember he once used my buddy pass to fly to Jacksonville to buy a 1985 Volvo ("The two-door kind, just like I had in college!") from a young woman who said she had to sell it quick because she was starting an internship at a fashion magazine in New York the next month. He said he felt something, some slight poke in the gut the second he pushed the "send" button on his PayPal account, but he brushed it off. The girl had all the components Grant looks for in a seller: rushed, naïve and nice. Grant gets most of his cars from people like this, then Grant -- who is not rushed, not naive and certainly not nice -- re-lists the same car in the same site and sells it for twice what he paid.

But it ain't like Grant don't get his own ass bit now and again. Take that Jacksonville hosebag. Grant stood curbside at the airport as she pulled up in the car as promised, only that was about the only thing that went as promised. The Volvo was a rolling wad of rust and Bondo, because the girl, it turned out, had not used an actual photo of the actual car in her ad, but that of one taken 20 years ago. Then when she -- all 5 feet, 2 inches and 300 pounds of her -- opened the door and got out, Grant saw that the driver's side seat sat lopsided in the frame. Whatever, the car was his now and there wasn't much for him to do but get in and point it home for the six-hour drive.

"I'm sitting in a rusty shit pit," he wailed to me over the phone as he ambled onto the interstate. "Gravel from the road is flying up through the holes in the floorboard. It's stinging my ankles! I'll never make it home."

I was laughing so hard I could barely hear him. "Serves you right, you greedy weasel."

"I think I smell carbon monoxide."

He made it home but took a dive on that one. I still consider him the Craigslist master, though. He was the first I called when I spotted the vintage 1964 Streamline trailer ("no rust! well-preserved!") for only $2,700 online. I jumped on it like a blue jay on a june bug, just plucked it up and marveled at myself for being the first to stake my claim on such a find. "Bitch, look at this," I taunted Grant, attaching the photo of the trailer. "It's mine, mine, mine!"

"Girl, what the hell are you thinking?" he answered. "Where are you going to put a 24-foot trailer?" Grant bitched at me, and this from a guy who once bought an entire truckload of old egg beaters to use as garden art. "Your ass is already buried in trailers."

"You're just jealous, you crusty bag of barnacles," I insisted, but he was right. This would have been my third trailer, and since it's impossible to access my backyard by trailer without demolishing the laundry room off the side of my house, they'd all have to sit in a circle out front like a little trailer park. I personally don't consider that a bad thing, but my neighbors might take issue.

"But this one is a 1964 Streamliner in perfect condition, sorta, with working taillights and everything," I whined. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime special opportunity because the guy is delivering it to me from Dayton for free," I said.

"Ain't nobody doing nothing for free," Grant warned me. "Free ain't free."

So I called my sister Kim, who lives in Dayton. I sent her as an emissary to pay the man his deposit. It probably took her two entire minutes to assess the situation. "It's a scam," she called to tell me with finality. She was leaving the locked lot where the trailer was parked. The "seller" had no key to the lot, but he did have a "purchase agreement," which, once signed, essentially entitled him to take a $1,000 deposit -- in cash -- on the trailer without stipulating any realistic obligation to deliver it.

When Kim, an attorney, pointed that out to him he took very florid offense to her implication, but still refused to correct it. Further, he refused to produce a driver's license to show he'd be capable of transporting a 3,400-pound trailer 1,000 miles, or any identification at all that proved he was a legal party to the sale of the trailer. "So you saved yourself a thousand bucks," she said, "no charge for the attorney fee," she laughed. "It's free."

But free ain't free. I will pay for this forever.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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