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The Secret Of My Obsession

An epic quest in which one man tries to reconcile his appreciation for great design with his abhorrence of overpriced retail–with only his wits, his pickup truck, and that all-mighty leveler, Craigslist, to guide him.

The Secret Of My Obsession
[Photo by Emiliano Granado | Illustrations by Pierre DuBois]

The film Six Degrees of Separation ends in a conversation between a matronly uptown art dealer (Stockard Channing) and a street-kid grifter (Will Smith). He’s robbed, conned, and tricked her. She vows to give him a job–under the condition that he turn himself in to the police and serve a few months in jail. She’ll find him an apartment and persuade her husband to lend a hand too.

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“I have no furniture.”
“We’ll help you out.”
“I made a list of things I liked at the museum. Philadelphia Chippendale.”
“Believe it or not, we have two Philadelphia Chippendale chairs.”
“I’d rather have one nice piece than a roomful of junk. Quality always.”
“You’ll have all that.”
“Philadelphia Chippendale! And all I have to do is go to the police.”

I have a quasi-erotic attraction to well-built and beautiful objects. Furniture, fixtures, appliances–it is an across-the-board phenomenon, with unpredictable, contradictory-seeming implications. I’m smitten by everything from fabric patterns to the pennant-shaped washers beneath the chromed lug nuts of one-in-every-10,000 18-wheelers. My head turns, my attention is captured, I am almost wounded (definitely smitten in the beaten-or-struck sense of the word) when the right object hits my eye in the right way. As a friend once put it: “I have a terrible defect. I like to see beauty.”

Recently I have aggressively indulged this weakness in the realm of high-end domestic appurtenances, namely appliances and fixtures. Such items are overwhelmingly engineered by Germans (Bosch, Duravit, Dornbracht, Miele, which sounds Italian but 100% isn’t); often by bona fide Italians (Alessi, XO, and Bertazzoni, which was originally La Germania, natch); occasionally by Americans (Viking, Sub-Zero); and in one case by New Zealanders (Fisher & Paykel). But to the same degree that I lust after what’s produced under these brand names–with exceptions: Viking fridges are junk–I am offended by how much they cost, and how divorced from manufacturing reality, let alone ethics, the pricing seems to be.

Why am I thinking about all of this? I bought a three-story, wood-frame, two-family dwelling in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and am preparing it for tenants. Bedford-Stuyvesant, until recently, was, in the words of one of my neighbors, “the ghetto of America” (slogan “Bed-Stuy, do-or-die”) but is now branded as Clinton Hill, which is branded as Fort Greene, which is branded as “Brownstone Brooklyn.” On two-block Claver Place, the smell of ganja wafts most evenings. To the frustration of recent gentrifiers, a Guyanese reggae club (slogan: “Jah is living”) had been operating illegally, packing 800 people at $20 a head into a backyard, with a cut, according to one neighbor, going to blind-eye-turning cops. It was here that I found my house and its large detached garage, on a 25-foot-by-127.5-foot lot. As the owner of a pickup truck and a small motorcycle, I’ve always lusted after a garage in New York.


I bought the parcel for $710,000 with the help of a 2.25% line of credit with Wells Fargo and began renovations with the intention of cash-out refinancing in six months, after upgrading the interiors and facade. The mortgage and rental numbers suggested I could have my garage for free.

I would need to do some serious upgrading to make this happen. The initial appraiser’s report described a bathroom vanity “at the end of its economic life” and was kind in calling the kitchens’ appointments “economy grade.” I visited an appliance store a friend described as having “great prices” but left feeling lied to and price-gouged. Still, I needed to do something. I wanted the post-renovation apartments to be low maintenance, high quality, and beautiful, because, Jah knows, when things are beautiful, they are loved and taken care of. But the more I shopped for the beautiful, the more outraged I became.

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On the web, I began searching for the best fixture producer I had ever heard of, Dornbracht, which claims to make “100% of its products in Germany,” with “the highest quality of manufacturing.” Its website, no doubt 100% translated from the German (adding to the appeal), contained the sort of bold assertions that deeply reassure the maintenance-concerned landlord/aesthetician: “Although Dornbracht fittings . . . have been copied many times, nothing has ever achieved such creative and functional durability. The products, fittings, accessories, and systems . . . are unique and irreplaceable. . . . As Matthias Dornbracht, the managing director responsible for production, logistics, and purchasing puts it, ‘Not a single millimeter, not a single radius is changed for the sake of increasing the number of items manufactured per unit of time.’ Production takes second place to design.”

I soon found its single-lever lavatory mixer for sale on homeperfect.com, the original price struck-through–“Was $1,283.00”–and replaced in red, bold, with a new one: “$898.10.” On the same site, a 24-inch towel bar in polished nickel that originally had cost $587 was now a mere $257.94.

This was a galvanizing experience. I am often reminded of my own ignorance, but I do know that the moment one decides that it might be okay to spend $257.94 on a towel bar is the moment that one becomes party to, at the very least, corruption, and quite possibly some deeper cultural wrong.
And all the high-end stuff on AJMadison.com (the go-to, volume seller of new, warrantied appliances) to which I was drawn was priced this way: Viking 30-inch range: $4,979. Bosch Axxis condensation dryer: $1,074.60. Bosch Axxis front-loading washer: $1,254.60. Bertazzoni 36-inch copper element/sealed-burner range: $3,799. Miele G7856 “professional” dishwasher: $5,449. (Did the moniker “professional” mean that all others were “amateur”? The answer lies in the fact that it can do a load in six minutes.)


The pricing was so venal that it seemed to be part of a conspiracy. And the low-end manufacturers were complicit, or possibly even coconspirators, in making their stuff noisy, ugly, cheap. I needed a 30-inch “counter depth” (sub-30-inch) fridge in order to fit into the limited kitchen space I had in the garden apartment. The only decent-looking 30-inch refrigerator offered by A.J. Madison was the German-made Liebherr CS161. Cost: $4,000. Of course, as my friend Mike put it, the handles had sexy “hydraulic action” that compelled one to open the doors over and over again. (The power bill would go to the tenants.) But how could it be that this was the least expensive of the five brands of high-quality fridge that would fit a 30-inch space? It seemed like holding design hostage from those who could not pay.

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All of the above were manufactured in the first world, in ethical/living-wage-making settings. My naive idea of a fair price for a good-looking stainless-steel fridge, with one of those in-door alcoves for ice and water (and maybe a digital readout of the weather?), made in conscionable conditions, was $500. What could I actually get for that? Danby Appliances’ 10-cubic-foot freestanding, top-freezer refrigerator with two adjustable glass shelves, made in the People’s Republic of China. A.J. Madison said it had 10 “features,” among them “interior light.” I looked at it, looked at it, looked at it, looked at it . . . and realized that if I were a renter forced to share a lit interior with Danby’s pointless curves and pebbled surfaces–great skin, human or machine, correlates to expenditure–I’d be plotting my departure the moment I moved in. I wanted renters with longevity.

My conclusion: It’s a moral failing to buy retail, and it’s spiritually debasing to live with crap. Paradox? No. There was a solution.

The fact that all the manufacturers I liked had managed to enshroud themselves in a rarefied air was made laughable by the fact that I could find their products where they did not want me to look. Deflation of rarefication could be accomplished by a single powerful word, with which I would replace Will Smith’s “the police” in my own version of his above-quoted paean to quality: Craigslist.

Craigslist! The truly open market.


My first two purchases were fixtures. I decided to search for “Dornbracht” and see if anything came up. Two hits. The first led to a 20th-floor loft on 17th Street in Manhattan, where Maria, a woman around my age (early forties), held out a white box containing a heavy silver object in a white plush bag. A gooseneck faucet. I asked why she was selling it.


“It doesn’t have hot.”

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Two braided-steel water supply lines protruded from the base, one marked with red tape.

“Uhhh.” I could’ve lied. “It definitely is designed for both hot and cold.”

“But it only has one handle.”

“You swivel it to change temperature.”

Awkward silence.

“Anyway, I’ve bought a replacement and don’t need this one.”

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“Will you take $100?”

“I paid over $500.”

I shrugged, said I was sorry, and turned to go. At which point she said, “Oh, fine!” and, in the end, took $120.

This was addictive. A perfect thing for nearly 80% off. I’d give it to a tenant. It would engender a relationship of mutual respect–and, if I were to believe Matthias Dornbracht, it would never break. The other Dornbracht listing led to an executive at Vornado Real Estate Trust–the ubiquitous and ruthless-seeming owner-managers of more than 100 million square feet of commercial space. Her name was Amelia, and she was selling a dozen bathroom faucets a company architect had ordered for one of its buildings’ lavatories by mistake. “We needed a hands-free sensor, but he got these, with handles, for some reason,” she told me, “and we can’t return them.”

I asked how firm she was on her price and she replied, “Considering they go for $900-plus each and are new in the box, I’m not going to accept a lowball offer.” Okay. But then why sell on Craigslist at all? If Vornado didn’t have the pull to demand a waiver on a restock fee, then who did? She offered to meet me either at the company offices in midtown Manhattan or her home, a walk-up in Brooklyn. I opted for the latter and found the fixtures were so perfectly made, nestled in molded-foam caverns, that they seemed to have been pulled fully formed from deep in the earth.

I gasped when I saw them.

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And then I offered $500–for three.

Deal. Plus a free Eddie Bauer duffel bag to carry them in.

This was a misleading initiation. Both of these sellers understood the rudiments of civility, and, not being avaricious, were mostly interested in avoiding protracted negotiations. I would later make the mistake of dealing with a man who changed his price repeatedly and told me, “I know you’ve got a lot of money!” Another oscillated between sycophancy and aggression. When I wanted to come see the freezer/fridge he was selling, he replied that I had a “good heart.” Then I commenced haggling and he exploded: “This piece cost $4,900. You not care my money brand new.”

A psychoanalyst in Jersey City was curious as to why a scruffy not-so-young man in an old truck was purchasing her used Duravit toilet. She delivered a doubtful stare when I said I needed it for a rental bathroom with outdated fixtures. She gave the toilet a farewell glance, looked back to me, back to the fixture, to me, to the fixture, to me, and asked, “What do you do?”
Another seller texted me a poem:

Sorry about the toilet.
Cant longer sell it no more
Cuz we cracked it in half wen we’re
Carrying it outside…

And a plumber in New Jersey with extra inventory told me I was wise to avoid “Home Depot shit,” explaining that his Toto toilet’s bowl had extra value because it was treated with SanaGloss, which “reduces the bacteria dramatically. People in Montclair love that.”

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But how, perils aside, was I going to stop after such an auspicious beginning? Clearly an untapped surfeit of both waste and impatience was out there waiting to be exploited.


The word brand first appeared in print a thousand years ago, in Beowulf–which, after a few hours’ shopping on the web, sounds less like an immortal work of Dark Ages lit than a corporate consolidation. Bang & Olufsen Beosound and Wolf Gourmet Stoves have united to provide high-performance grilling and lossless digital audio!


In the 11th century, the word described “an act, means, or result of burning.” From Beowulf: “Hý hine ne móston bronde forbærnan,” which translates to, “They could not consume him with fire.”

Consume!

My friend Mike, admirer of hydraulic handle action, told me, when I announced my intention to write about branding, quality, and the bonanza of Craigslist, “Careful not to blow the lid off it, man! If everybody knows what a gold mine it is here. . . .” He shook his head. He’d recently renovated his place, a few blocks from mine. “Dude, we did it for a song, and Craigslist was the highway to making that happen. It was like, check it out: I’m super-scrappy, and I’m the hardest-working person I know. And I’m gonna take those two things and I’m gonna turn a house that’s been abandoned for 10 years into the asset that it always could be.”

This was my goal too. I picked up a few other fixtures, and then I moved out of the realm of the easily portable. I needed two stoves, two fridges, two dishwashers, two toilets. I had one undeniable asset: my 1960 Chevrolet Apache pickup truck. This would allow me to move fast on deals and access Westchester and North Jersey, where a preponderance of new or near-new high-end brands are located. It was no surprise that such proximate-but-not-there places, with hefty tax bases but none of the lifestyle benefits of, say, Marin County, would foster a culture of compulsive expenditure (aka churning discontent).

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I began to think of New York’s perimeter as a horde, protected by the dragons of speed traps, insensitive signage, and an almost-visible smog of ennui. Having a pickup truck with which to go after this neglected bounty–yea, a faithful steed–was almost on a par with having a magical power.

I was on a mythic quest to rescue enslaved appliances from people and places that had cast them out. There was a sense of redemption, a sort of knight-errant feeling to seizing these items from their suburban exiles and bringing them to my castle to begin anew. Inherent in the process was an almost chthonic reprisal of various archetypical roles of masculinity: hunter-gatherer, explorer, liberator, wheeler-dealer, con artist.

Consumerism and the ease it promises is pagan. The purchaser becomes a sort of emperor. The Viking that serves him is a willing slave. Sub-Zero has merged with Wolf (neutralizing the possibility of the joke above), making a neither-nor company that, as the website spins it, “just made sense, this marriage of ice and fire, cold and hot.” Sub-Zero/Wolf sums up its brands’ shared ethos as “the steadfast refusal to compromise.” To live as a god. A powerful illusion. The idea of a brand is still freighted with ancient concepts of nobility and deity–the ingredients . . . yea . . . of Beowulf. . . .


Anthony was a contractor in Rye who’d ripped a Viking out of a kitchen for a woman he described, unchivalrously, as “a food snob” who “never cooked.” The range retailed for $4,979. He was asking $1,800. Assuming he’d gotten it for free, I offered $800 and said I’d drive up to Westchester immediately. Three days and 12 emails later, we settled on $1,187.50 (the price point for a Frigidaire, Samsung, or GE).

When I pulled into the driveway of a house on a gentle hill, a man with thick black hair walked out of the garage, looked me hard in the face, and asked, “Are you passing counterfeit bills?”

I stifled a laugh and deadpanned, “Nope.”

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Still looking dubious he said, “I’m going to take a photo of your driver’s license just to be sure.”

I asked for the same. We exchanged pictures–his was better–and I handed over 59 twenties, a five, two ones, and two quarters. The stove was immaculate, though the letterpress markings specifying which knobs activated which burners had been rubbed into half-illegibility.

“She was a clean freak,” Anthony explained. “She made her maid clean the shit out of that thing.”

The perfectly clean Viking weighed 500 pounds. Anthony and I were barely able to heave it onto my steed’s bed. Then he threw in a Viking exhaust hood for free. When I got back to Brooklyn, I needed two friends and a neighbor to unload the stuff.


Inherent in most mercantile transac-tions is the question of who’s conning who. Perhaps that’s most painfully true with fixed prices. The knowledge that you are powerless. Trapped by a series of compacts designed to benefit those more powerful than you. Power is certainly in the foreground of that scene from Six Degrees. As is sex. Quality and beauty being both erotic and substitutional, the refuge of those whose lusts cannot be gratified. We displace our desire onto objects. While we have lust to thank for the scarcity of lustworthy objects, over the course of the past century the explosion of population begat mass production begat ubiquitous shit design. Objects worthy of our admiration are ever more rare. If Chippendale had survived into the present, it would be embossing its name in 18-gauge stainless steel.

Having acquired a cut-rate Viking, I got curious about Bertazzoni. The 131-year-old Italian company’s stoves had teardrop-shaped cast-aluminum knobs that felt even better in my hand than the Bakelite top of my Chevy’s shifter. They rarely came up for sale in New York.

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Suddenly, one appeared on the Washington, D.C., Craigslist: “36” PRO Series Free Standing SS Gas Range – $2500 (Ocean Pines).” This was on the north shore of Maryland, just across the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey. Partially out of a desire to escape New York in February, I decided to go for it, offering $1,000 and attempting to charm the seller into accepting such an egregious lowball by saying that I’d be driving down from Brooklyn.

A reply came back two days later from a man called Ed: “doubbly sorry guy you cant buy a piece of shit stove for 1k 2000.00 will take it.”

Time to haggle, Craigslist-style–which requires patience, insistence, charm, genuine apology, denigration of Craigslist, and establishing oneself as a responsible person.

Hey Ed, thanks for the candid reply. Maybe laugh out loud. If you go down to 1,300, I’m your man. But I just bought a perfect Viking for less than 1200. So I got to stay close to my budget. All best, Sean

R U SURE THE 1300 WAS NOT A TYPO AND SHOULD READ 1800 THE 3 SHOULD BE CLOSED TO LOOK LIKE AN 8

That was no typo! And I am offering cash in denominations of your choosing. . . .Why are you selling, btw?

WHAT THE HELL IS BTW AND THE DENOMINATIONS ARE 18 100S

Btw: by the way.

I would offer more, and I appreciate the communication (Craigslist can be such a hassle), but I’ve got to drive down from NYC, which is half a day at best, and $100 in gas for my truck. $1,400 is the best I can do.

DRIVE SOMETHING THATS NOT A PIG AND GET THE 18 BIG ONES AND GET YOUR ASS MOVIVG

Maybe it was the bleak winter, or some deeper sadness, but I found myself investing outsize amounts of hope in this small relationship. I now genuinely wanted to meet Ed. I wanted his stove. I wanted to meet the tenant who would want the stove. I sent Ed a picture of the truck (with the Viking in the back) under the subject heading “Don’t call it a pig!”

And that did it. Exchanges entered a different register:

truck looks great nothing a good paint job cant fix a friend in boston has one completely restored. the viking looks like what i just purchased

I said I still wanted his Bertazzoni. The reply: “1800 and thats not cuervo.”

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I reoffered $1,400, saying my fingers were crossed.

sean boy were getting closer, are you sure that 4 is not a 9, come on my beer fund is low. if see it more my way i will be in md from tonite thru mid next week. dig a bit deeper. forget crossing fingers, pull out da wallet

I suggested we meet in the middle at $1,600 and the deal was done: “we are good to go glad you woke up.”

And so: 4 a.m. actual wake-up, two tanks of gas, $30 in tolls, a $30 ferry ticket, a day on the road with my 8-year-old son, Owen. (I let him do the shifting: “It was exciting!” he’d proclaim later. “We got to meet new people, and we got to go on the ferry.”)


Ed turned out to be a strapping man with a kind face and a bad back who’d retired from the restaurant business. He lived in a gated seaside community that was so inviting when viewed against February New York that Owen asked, with total seriousness, “Dad, can we move here?” It was easy to get some friendly people to help load the stove, wrap it in protective plastic, carefully tie it down.

I bought an XO Ventilation fan to hang above the Bertazzoni. It needed an Italian sidekick, and XO described itself, with unconventional punctuation, as “putting into practice our vision of becoming the most innovative; customer oriented Appliance Company in the world. Designed and manufactured by the leading ventilation manufacturer in Italy.” John, the seller, was unloading a $725 model for $400. I offered $300. He agreed and gave me directions to a parking lot in West New York (New Jersey) where he’d be waiting “under the home depot sign thats held up by a black pole.”

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At the center of a blighted landscape I found an earnest-faced boy with round tortoiseshell glasses, just out of his teens. I handed over the cash and asked why he was selling it, in a voice that must have suggested my confusion about how he’d even come to own it.

“I’m a chef.”

“Oh!”

“In a public school.” A sheepish look. “I bought this so I could experiment on my own in my basement.” I pictured laundry, a single bed, video games, nary a nonmaternal female. “But the ceiling’s too low and I can’t use it. So I’ve got to sell.”

I then spent an hour stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel and vowed never to return to Jersey by light of day. That way, even if I got stuck in traffic, I wouldn’t have to look at it.

I had my fire. Now it was time for the ice. I’d been conducting desultory searches under “stainless steel” plus “refrigerator” for weeks and failing to find anything that worked, just a collection of too-wide, wrongly hinged, ugly-paneled flotsam. It was impossible to wade through it all. When I’d narrowed the search to Sub-Zero–the high-end industry leader–I’d still gotten the length of my arm in hits. Mine were also complicated parameters: a 30-incher in one spot, with left-hand hinges (the majority of what I found was hinged the other way) and a 36-incher in another. The latter had to have French doors. Both had to be “counter depth” (sub-30-inch).

Logistical difficulties were compounded by the fact that no friend so much as wanted to leave their apartment, let alone haul a used refrigerator out of someone’s far-flung suburban kitchen in the middle of an unrelenting cold snap. I’d have to coordinate at least four guys (all, increasingly, suffering from various midlife injuries and stiffnesses) to drive to Jersey and manhandle a 7-foot-tall, 500-pound rectangle.

Nearly defeated, I was poised to go retail for dimensional precision and curbside delivery. Then I happened onto this: “Liebherr CS 1611 free standing 30″ fridge – $1199 (Scarsdale, NY).” I’d heard rumors that Sub-Zero is so threatened by this neophyte brand that its employees were encouraged to clandestinely denigrate it on product forums, and that sales reps had told retailers they’d have to choose between their products and Liebherr’s. (“We would never condone or encourage voicing negative sentiment toward a competitor on the phone, online, or otherwise from our employees or distributors,” says Michele Bedard, Sub-Zero’s VP of marketing.) A picture showed left-hand hinges. And Scarsdale was a name out of an epic poem of battle if ever there was one! Adding to the delusions of heroism that had adhered to my quest, I pictured fog, dried blood, wounds, moss on old stones. I emailed this message:

Dear Seller,
I’m interested [in] the fridge and wanted to ask, with apologies, if you would take $700 for it. Sorry to turn Craigslist into an open air market–but here’s hoping!
All best,
Sean Wilsey

Fourteen minutes later, this response:

I would take $750 for it.
Carolyn ❤

I hit the road the next day. Clear weather, light traffic. Off the Hutchinson River Parkway was the mythically named Dale of Scars, where a serpentine road was aflow with silver SUVs. The road was bordered by an old fieldstone wall. Rolling lawns stretched into the distance. I imagined golf, battle. Owen, were he along, would have wanted to live here, too. Around the corner from a middle school where police cruisers were guarding the parking lot, I found a huge frame house under renovation.

Carolyn–a blade-thin woman with wavy blond hair, in a fitted, quilted, black coat, leggings, big sunglasses–got out of a black Mercedes SUV. She rounded up five Spanish-speaking men who loaded the fridge. One gave me a thumbs-up on the truck.

I asked, “What’s with the cops at the school?”

Carolyn said, “That’s since Newtown. All parents have to get fingerprint-scanned for admittance.”

She asked if the fridge was for me or if I was a reseller, saying she was curious because it had been one of a pair, and she’d sold the other to somebody who’d driven down from New England and intended to make a profit on the resale “in an urban market.” I sensed a kindred spirit. I told her what I was doing and described the brands I’d bought on the cheap for my rentals. Miffed, she exhaled a visible puff in the cold air, gave a little hip jut, and pronounced, “That’s the stuff that I have.”

“Well, my Bed-Stuy rental will be like your house.”

She gave a tight smile. But then, before I left, she graciously got up in the truck bed and let me take her picture with the fridge.

Back on the lawn-fringed road, I felt a Robin Hood–level sense of satisfaction. And after the fridge was salted away in my ganja-wreathed garage, the feeling increased. It had a function called “SuperCool” that would bring a beer from shelf to drinking temperature in 10 minutes. Perfect for Bed-Stuy.

Maybe Robin Hood really was the right comparison. I felt like a repossessor, a subversive, a saboteur. Coming by these things via Craigslist was a form of protest. And a successful campaign left me filled with the tingle of battlefield victory over an oppressor. A hegemon. I was setting things right. I would love these appliances as I could never have loved them if I’d paid retail.

I went on spring vacation in a warm climate the next day. Every time I had a quiet moment by the pool, drifting off into sunscreen-scented reverie, I found myself thinking of the fridge. As Jude Law put it in The Talented Mr. Ripley, referring to his own seaside love affair with an appliance, “I could fuck this icebox I love it so much.”

But dramatic failure was borne out of this success. A guy named Nazareth, in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, had a Liebherr, too–“brand new in box.” Carolyn’s Liebherr came with a faint odor of wilted vegetables.


New in box.

I wanted it.

But Nazareth attempted to forestall all bar­tering by writing, “I am sacrificing a lot. I
have a funeral in the family . . . Be nice. . . . Sean name a biblical name.” His price? “product is $4000.00 . . . $3600.00 ok.”

I said no.

He said, “$3000 today.”

“Sorry.”

“2500 today right.”

“Sorry.”

“2000 today cash Only right now. Later no deal.”

“I can’t spend that much.”

“When you have 2000 cash in hand call me only for you.”

I let two weeks go by and wrote: “Hi Naz, it’s Sean. . . . Thought maybe we could make a deal.”

He replied, “I am lost sacrificing my own children moneys.”

I struck fast at $1,500. He countered at $1,700, then dropped to $1,600 and gave me the name and address of his “brother” Dave, who had the fridge in his garage. I left for Jersey immediately, greedy for “new in box” at 60% off.

I called this brother en route. Dave explained that he ran a trucking company, and Nazareth was his third cousin. Dave seemed sane–and was only expecting $1,400! Who was conning who here? I kept driving. New, I thought. In box. It took over an hour to slog through downtown Brooklyn, midtown Manhattan, the Lincoln Tunnel, suburban sprawl. I edged along the margin of Jersey, toward the Palisades, Google’s map app guiding me. At the moment my phone’s screen told me I was 450 feet from my destination, I got a call from Dave.

“Sean, I didn’t even take a shower. I just ran out of my house. I’m on my way to the turnpike–my driver he rolled over a tractor-trailer and they’re taking him to the Newark Hospital. I’m so sorry, Sean. I give you a discount. I call you Saturday.”

But Dave wouldn’t answer my calls the next day. And Nazareth said he had another buyer.

“Oh, Naz,” I said. “We had a deal. I came out there.”

“No deal,” he said. “You always cry.”


A dishwasher brought about the redemptive experience of my Craigslisting career. I’d come close to buying an old model Bosch for $75 on the way back from Maryland, but the deal fell through because Owen and I were too exhausted to make the detour. Early in the quest I’d seen an ad for a pair of Miele professional models that listed for $5,000 apiece. If I wanted something maintenance-free, this was the grail. There’d been no asking price. The ad had just said to make an offer. My casual lowball ($400!) for one had been met with silence. Now I tried again, for both.


Dear Seller,
I wrote a couple weeks ago with a (pretty measly) offer on one of your dishwashers–which you understandabl[y] ignored. But now I need two and wanted to find out what you would consider taking for both. If you could please let me know I would be grateful!
All very best,
Sean Wilsey

The seller replied: “They have never been used. These are on long island. . . . If you really want both, make me a great counteroffer.”

“If you’d take 1,500 cash for both I’ll come get tomorrow afternoon!”

“How about 1,600? Cash would be good. . . .”

The seller’s name was Anita and when we spoke on the phone she said her husband, whom I’ll call Naresh, was a general contractor for “a number of very particular clients in the Hamptons.” After he had installed these two dishwashers (in a single kitchen), his particular clients changed their minds and had them taken right back out.

Anita said, “I wanted to put them in our place but it would have been too hard.”

She gave me a set of manuals and told me that if I had any problems to let her know. It seemed like she was about to offer me a warranty. After Naresh and I had loaded them in the truck, and the couple had posed for a picture, I asked about the Mieles’ former owner.

“Was it Martha Stewart?”

After a brief pause, “I can’t say who it was.”


The question hanging over all the time and effort I put into assembling my appliance brigade–“Will they work?”–was about to be answered.

I put one of Anita’s dishwashers in my house. This required the assistance of an electrician (six-minute wash cycles don’t happen at 110 volts) and a day of work. When we flipped the 220 breaker, the Miele’s console lit up . . . and then died. It was like being jilted by a lover; until I realized the door’s locking mechanism had not been properly seated.

A small adjustment.

The lights came on and stayed on. Then a load. The dishes emerged not so much clean as rebirthed–as though they’d just come straight from the kiln. I loaded it up after dinner that night and sat on the floor, watching, listening, feeling a childish pride that human beings could make something that worked so well. It was like attending a NASA rocket launch in the 1960s–in my kitchen. Then I had a dinner party, and all the male guests voluntarily gathered around the Miele to do dishes.

I now look at other dishwashers and think, Amateurs.

All the stuff in the rental has worked as new . . . so far. But will these objects ever, truly be mine? No. They’re less possessions than physical refutations of all the snooty slogans under which they’re sold in the retail world; totems of their previous owners, the time spent acquiring them a sacrifice to the hope of finding tenants I’ll love. More paganism there.

But imagine for a moment that I haven’t taken you through all of the above. What would you say if I told you I could get you top-of-the-line appliances for as much as 85% off? Would you call me a con man? Would you rent my apartments? You should at least come see them. I’ll be having an open house. Just search for the following combination of keywords: Miele, Bertazzoni, Viking, Liebherr, Dornbracht–and Bed-Stuy.


Sean Wilsey is the author of the best-selling memoir Oh the Glory of It All. This is his first piece for Fast Company.

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