I’ve previously posted on the difficulties of selling items on Craigslist. I’ve since learned that buying items can be just as difficult.

Last month I looked to see if anyone was unloading soon-to-be-worthless ski lift tickets. Mostly there were a glut of sellers trying to get $10 for widely-available $20-off coupons, but there were a few deals to be had. One was a half-price ticket to Jiminy Peak, the closest mountain to me, and since I already had some free junior tickets here, this seemed like a good deal. There were two possible red flags: one, the seller was also offering $20 in cafeteria credit for $19; two, the message said “SERIOUS BUYERS ONLY!!!”

I called the number (Manhattan area code) and reached Alexei. “I don’t have the ticket”, he said in a thick but understandable Russian accent, “my friend Sergey in Albany is selling them for me”. So I called a second number. This time the connection was crackly and intermittent. “I’m on the slopes!” I could make out. “Call again and leave a message!”

But Sergey never called back. I left a second message the next day, and one more the day after, but I would never heard his voice again. In the meantime I found an even cheaper ticket on ebay at a “Buy it Now” price.

I wouldn’t have given this incident much more thought, except that Alexei wouldn’t leave me alone. “Did you reach Sergey yet?” he would ask, on my voice mail. “It’s five minutes before noon, so he’s almost ready for his lunch break – that would be a good time to call him”. Or, “he’s just gotten out of a meeting” or “he is driving home from work now – excellent time to reach him”. Why did he have known so much about his associate’s daily itinerary? Or is Russian one of those languages that lacks a conditional tense, so that context is all that distinguishes “he’s just gotten out of a meeting” from “he may have just gotten out of a meeting”?

I eventually told Alexei I was no longer interested, but from time to time I checked on the Craigslist posting. Every few days, he dropped the price by a few dollars, while leaving the 5% cafeteria discount intact. The snow was melting fast – which would disappear first, the snow, or the ad? Alas, it was the snow. At season’s end the ticket was offered at about 80% off.

(My theory: When I reached Sergey on the slopes that day, he was using that lift ticket. He figured, incorrectly, that no one would ever answer his stupid cousin’s stupid classified ad. Later, munching on Bosco Breadsticks washed down with Red Bull, he thought he probably should send his cousin some money, but then remembered how he looked on skis and decided he didn’t deserve it.)

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