Wednesday, April 23, 2008

moving on

Dear Craigslist,

I would never deliberately underrate your many excellent qualities. You are, for all intents and purposes, my link to the real estate market, the only means by which I seek apartments, free ugly couches, and sundry other goods--moveable and immovable, tangible and ephemeral--and, occasionally, my source of entertainment. (That ad from 2006 where the guy was asking for sex in exchange for a room in an ugly house in Riverside County? Brilliant.)

But it's come to my attention--as I attempt to find a new place to live in San Francisco--that you're not living up to your potential. Half of your ads seem to be written in all caps: which, let's face it, hurts the eye and sounds not so much like the shouting to which it is often compared as it does the ranting of some teenager on MySpace whose best friend just hooked up with her crush: "GO AWAY ASSHOLE I DONT LIKE YOU ANYMORE YOU SUCK." This jejune impression is only confirmed by the general lack of grammar and observance of any consistent spelling rules. Just a hint: you don't capitalize after a comma.

All of this would be nothing, if not for the fact that your ads haven't kept up with the technology that makes them possible. I've heard tell, from the elders of my tribe, that ads for apartments used to appear in newspapers, which charged by the word and which led to a series of commonly understood abbreviations: 4/3/2 w/Chn & gmtk in HD. Which was all well and fine when one was being charged by the word, but with essentially unlimited bytes available for all of our gushing about how wonderful our 450 square foot studio truly is, why do these forms persist? And why--why oh why oh why--in the age of cheap and easy digital photography does anyone bother to put up an ad without pictures?

Perhaps I should provide and illustrative example, chosen at random from the San Francisco board and apparently posted by a professional realtor:

"Rent $1050 deposit $1000.00 2 bedroom 1 bath carport
garbage is paid ava. 4/25/08."

Where's the rest of it, you ask? Well, you see what I mean. This is it. No pictures. No mention of a pet policy. Nothing besides what one could have easily gleaned already from the title of the ad, which was "$1050/2br 1710 Magazine St," other than the status of the garbage pick-up--and I don't know about you, but whether I'll have to shell out $20 a month for my trash disposal needs is the first thing on my mind when I go to look for a new place.

So, Craigslist, I think you'll agree that we have a bit of a problem. I'd like to make a proposal, and I hope you'll consider it carefully. At a minimum, your ads for apartments and homes should include:

1. The price and number of bedrooms in the title, and repeated in the post.
2. The number of bathrooms.
3. Whether it is a freestanding structure, and, if so, whether it has a yard and whether a gardener for that yard is provided by the landlord.
4. What utilities the landlord intends to pay for. If at all possible, these shouldn't break the laws of the relevant state.
5. Pet policy.
6. Any special amenities or features, i.e. ocean view, washer/dryer, bathtub with those nice little circulating jets, comes with its own harem, etc.
7. Amount expected for deposit.
8. Pictures. And not just exterior ones on sunny days, either. You could have punched a hole in the drywall for all I know. Or your bathroom could be pink.

What it should not contain:

1. Any subjective, unverifiable praise. I don't care if you think it's the nicest house on the block. Let me decide that, and then decide whether I care.
2. Barking about how you want good tenants who won't wreck the place. Of course nobody wants tenants who will wreck the place. That's why saying so is completely unnecessary. Offensive, too.
3. Suggestion that I will like it so much that I need to bring a completed rental application and a gigantic check to the first showing. It smacks of desperation and the delusion that the housing market hasn't experienced significant declines since the bad old days of 2004. In all likelihood, you're some speculator who bought up houses by the dozen because "everyone" was making a killing in real estate and you're now trying to unload them as rental properties, but simultaneously sticking your fingers in his ears to avoid hearing the daily reminders that each of your houses is worth $100,000 less than you paid for it. Don't inflict your insecurities on me. I wasn't stupid enough to buy back then.
4. Complicated series of demands about how and when I should get in touch with you if I'm interested. You're the seller here, and in a depressed market (see above). If you don't make things as easy as possible for me, I'm going elsewhere. Your condo is what's known in economics as a commodity: virtually identical in every way to the condo sitting next to it. If your neighbor is easier to reach, I'm going to choose your neighbor. NB: If you're advertising, you know, electronically, you should probably have some sort of electronic way for me to get in touch with you. I hear there's this newfangled thing called "e-mail," which stands for electronic mail. Know it, love it, use it.

If you follow these simple rules, Craigslist, I foresee our relationship as a long and mutually profitable one. If not, I'll probably still use your services, but I'll grumble about it a lot.

Sincere best wishes,


Posted by Shannon Chamberlain @ 8:32 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Suburban Condition

I've been tearing through the subgenre of suburban lit in all of its various manifestations: Cheever, in particular, like I'm on a train fast approaching the hamlet where everyone drinks too much on a Saturday and can't stop talking about it Sunday afternoon, but also some nonfiction anthropological stuff and pop sociology (Perfect Madness, The Mommy Myth, etc.), too. It strikes me that we call Roth a self-hating Jew for Portnoy's Complaint, we don't call Cheever a self-hating suburbanite for "The Swimmer" or "The Five-Forty-Eight." Surely "suburban" is as much a cultural category as Jewishness, for the latter is often denoted as cultural instead of religious. Granted that the former is of a somewhat more recent vintage, but still, it's hard to find a writer raised in its midst who doesn't either reflect its angst or react against it.

I've become something of a self-hating suburbanite lately, cheering on Cheever and shouting at the stroller brigades (inside my head, anyway) to pack it up and get back to work. This trend coincides with something similar in my mother, who--retired now--finds herself appalled by the bunko ladies and soccer traveling league mothers in Michigan and is veritably tetchy with the urge to do something, anything, again. (Spot the heredity.) We have long and involved conversations about the current political situation, which, sooner or later, boil down to a plaintive condemnation of the inwardness of the suburbs and its subsequent bright intense focus on the nuclear family circle to the exclusion of the darkness beyond. "If only they were just aware of something besides midget football league scores," we moan to each other. "Like, you know, the fact that Homeland Security can deport anyone, for any reason." I've started to mix my stereotypes, and categorize suburban mothers with other hated groups, like women who use and/or care about cosmetics too much. In fact, as anyone who's seen a mommy lately could probably tell you, she might be wearing mascara but you'd never know it under the flakes of pureed carrot and oatmeal dregs that have, somehow and improbably, ended up on her eyelashes.

If I were Greek and a peripatetic philosopher, I'd respond to myself as such: It is impossible to know another person's mind completely. Perhaps these so-called soccer moms (itself a troubled and ambiguous category) can spare a few moments from shepherding their wee ones from ballet to Kumon to Tumbling Tots to think about what lies beyond the gates of their stucco subdivisions, and do. Maybe, like the housewives of the Vietnam era, they are the organizers of boycotts and consciousness-raising groups, the creators of entire worlds unknown to those of us who drive out of those gates at 7am every day. Denying other people inner worlds as complex as mine is perhaps my worst and most alarming character flaw, and the first step to all sorts of appalling conclusions with disturbing historical precedents. And it occurs to me that my favorite Dostoevsky novel, The Devils--also set in the suburbs, or a sort of Russian equivalent--is about essentially the same thing: denying human complexity to entire swaths of people. I've always believed that we're drawn to what repels us about ourselves. I suppose I'm drawn to Cheever and the entire class of suburban lit. because that part of my personal history offends me; but then the offended part hits upon The Devils as an antidote to that smug superiority. Literary taste as a regulating system. I like that idea.

Posted by Shannon Chamberlain @ 12:23 PM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Berkle

(I don't know why I call it that, but it feels right.)

Provided my husband finds a job offer to his satisfaction, I'm moving to San Francisco to attend Berkeley's PhD program. As reported somewhere below--back when, you know, I was still updating my blog--the visit weekend was incomparable, the faculty smart and genial all at once, the fellowship offer generous, and the department in general conducive to pursuing my research interests in literatures outside of English. I've agreed to write up the narrative of my grad school application season (which I'm tentatively calling A Season of Migration to the North) for the livejournal community which held my hand through the heart-piercing anxieties of the last couple of months, and possibly host on this website other accounts of the same, written by my friends. Much is said about the competitiveness and general cutthroatiness of English graduate students, but our livejournal cohort--and we kind of are our own cohort, no matter where we go--proved itself quite the opposite, quick to jump on the negative, identify it for what it was, and dismiss the occasional anonymous commenter with little ceremony. Helpful and cheerful to a fault, we were genuinely happy to see each other get into programs, even if it meant others of us were out. So much for that myth.

Moving comes with its own anxieties, and I don't even want to admit the amount of time I spend on Craigslist looking for a new place. We're thinking a loft in not-quite-gentrified Oakland or smallish house farther north. I'd like to avoid another Pit of the Soccer Moms, the corresponding one of which my sister-in-law tells me is located somewhere around Walnut Creek, but other than that, I'm pretty open to whatever happens our way. Cheerful, even. For instance, I've stopped composing the list of things and people I hate in my head for most of today.

Posted by Shannon Chamberlain @ 2:22 PM :: (0) comments