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Rant #252
(published November 10, 2005)
Why Free Stuff From The Internet Is A Bad Idea
Why Do I Do Stupid Things To Myself?
by Jessica Longo
Free stuff always seems like a good idea, because, you know, it's free. But most people forget there is often a catch. That casual encounter from Craigslist because you are looking for something wild is going to leave you with some wildlife to remember him by as you scratch your way to the doctor for std testing. The free computer has a virus that will wipe out everything you've ever done involving a computer—good and bad—and then somehow send your mom, your boss, and your first grade teacher, who you always run into at the grocery store, the home porn you made with said CL partner.

Okay, I should interject and say I never used to be this bitter and I'll also preface this by saying that I'm aware I'm an idiot. In the past, I've defended Freecycling™ and bragged for hours about its wonderfulness. I have a typewriter that I've used once for about five minutes, five minutes after I picked it up. I've met random people outside my office to receive rotary phones for my mom's school play and mailed them from California to New Jersey, and I've given away a bottle of conditioner because I couldn't stand the way it smelled. Those all had happy endings. Then I had to go and get greedy and post to see if anyone had a bike to get rid of. And boy, did someone.

She* sent me an email saying she had a bike I could indeed have. Needed a little work but her friend had recently fixed it up and just so I know, it had been to Burning Man a few years ago. I thought of my roommate's bike in the backyard, covered in a gentle, light dusting of playa dust, like everything that comes home from Burning Man and thought great, no problem; when can I pick it up?

Of course, she lived at the edge of the city by the ocean a.k.a. hella far away. As I drove my car over (that had fit a bike in it once before, I had thought) I fantasized about my new bike, trying not to get my hopes up too much for the Best Bike Ever, and stupidly figured the journey over meant the bike could be worth it. You can't expect to not have to work a little for something free, right?

Then she shows me the bike. Or more exactly what used to be a bike. I was prepared for something less than stellar, but this rusted bike needed a lot more work than a new chain. It needed to be put to sleep. I didn't realize I had volunteered to come pick up a bike that had been dredged up from the bottom of the ocean.

"Oh, wow. Thanks. This is great." I think I might even have said that I was so excited for this great bike. Fuck. And of course, I didn't say, "Um, maybe this isn't going to work." She pats the seat; "It's got a great seat." Seconds later when I am trying to mush it into my hatchback Focus, the seat leaves a sticky black residue all over my hands and it doesn't wipe off. Good God, am I glad I'm up to date on all my shots. Every time I touched a different piece of the bike, some other foul substance rubbed off on me. My hands. My clothes. My car. This was not just desert dust or bike grease. I don't even know—or really want to—know what the hell it was.

Before I even get the damn thing in my car, I'm thinking how the fuck I can get rid of this eyesore that's masquerading as a bike and isn't even something that you would want to be near, much less touch. But before I can get rid of it, I have to figure out how the hell I can get it in my car and get the fuck out of there. And the kicker: it doesn't fit in my car.

I struggled with the bike, twisting and turning the handlebars every possible way, pushing from the trunk and then climbing over the front seat to drag it in, and then starting over, wrenching the bike out of the car, trying handlebars first, and then the back tire, and then anyway it would bend, and getting more and more covered in this rusty sludge. The part of me with common sense, the part I really need to stop ignoring, is thinking, how ridiculous is this, just ditch it. Leave the bastard in the street and drive off. And then the other idiot part: Oh no, that would be so rude; what if this completely random stranger who I will never ever see again and I owe nothing to sees me abandon her terribly awful bike? I also couldn't shake the feeling that I was being watched from the window and probably laughed at. And I was right.

Helpful Freecycle Bike Girl came back down to the car. There was no escaping. There was no "Well, it won't fit. Damn. Oh well," and then driving off bike-free into the sunset. There was dedicated maneuvering of the bike, profuse apologizing for having to have her help me, me repeatedly getting caught on the bike handlebars and trapped between the bike and car as we tried to shove it in the back. When we were really damn sure that it wouldn't fit, there was a search for twine to tie the hatch door down and TWO fucking hours later, I am driving slowly home, with diseases seeping into my skin, my car trunk tied sort of closed with hundreds of millions of knots and that bike in the back, ruining everything it touches.

I made it home without incident, despite having to fight the strong urge to swerve to run over the happy jerk bike riders riding their nice happy, clean bikes, and after untying hundreds of millions of knots while on all fours in the street under my car, looking and feeling like an asshole, finally my enemy was out of my car. The twine sliced open my hands; the bike gears scratched the fuck out of my fender. I'm coated with orangish-brown, gritty toxic waste. This bike with its half-peeled off star and rainbow stickers and cracked neon spoke covers hates me and I sure hate it. I have no plans for fixing it up. I have plans to leave it outside my house and hope that someone will steal it. But then the voice pipes up again: Well, the chain is just off. Try it out. Give it a chance. I've all ready wasted so much time on it.

The chain, of course, was covered in something worse than I could have imagined and had yet encountered, and I almost cried looking at my hands that I feared would never be clean again. I tried to wipe them off on the little green plant outside our apartment that I know my roommate's dog likes to pee on.

I climbed on the bike. The seat was too high, but I had no plans to sit on it without wrapping my body in saran wrap anyway. I make it three houses down, the chain falls off, and I try to jump off and end up falling over, tangled up with the bike, almost smashing my face.

I dragged the bike in front of our garbage cans, teaching the little girls next door new swear words, and left it, convinced someone would swipe it in seconds, because that's always what happens in my neighborhood.

I went to check on it a few hours later and it was still there, the smug asshole.

This was where the story ended, but as I was writing this, I heard one of my pedophile (yes, really and yeah, that's a whole other story) downstairs neighbors asking my roommate if he knew whose bike it was because he needed one and it shouldn't be thrown away. I screamed too loudly down the stairs, "Just take it. It's yours. Taaakke it! Happy Birthday."

Now the damn thing is permanently parked inside our front gate, mocking me every time I leave and every time I come home. But this is still not the end; oh no, of course not.

My bike-owning neighbor was apparently not happy with the free bike either and interrogated one of my friends who stopped by, demanding to know if she was the girl who gave him the bike, and who was this girl who gave him the bike, and why would anyone give someone a bike with a broken chain. He warned her not to touch it though and to tell other people not to touch it, but not because of its condition. Because it was his. Not only was he pissed off, he bonded with the damn thing. If I hadn't moved today, I would live in fear of both of them, angry and covered in toxic goo, silently waiting for me for hours until I came home through our perpetually dark entrance.

Lesson learned: free shit = nothing but trouble and disease and creepy neighbors out to get you.

And I still don't have a fucking bike.

* I like to think that this bike-giver-away-er really just didn't realize how cruel she was by offering it to me. She seemed like she meant to be nice and I'll feel bad if she ever reads this. See, told you I am an idiot.

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