Charon Does Not Dicker
“Life’s too short to haggle” my brother said. I didn’t think he meant it.
Alan called me one Friday last summer to ask for help. He found a large wooden armoire on Craigslist and needed me and my truck to get it home. He was a Craigslist newbie and I considered myself a master. I bought almost everything my family needed that way, and I got the best price. People list the price they don’t expect to get, just to haggle for the price they actually want. It’s an unspoken agreement. I looked forward to the trip. Alan and I didn’t see each other very much.
That Saturday morning, Alan jogged to the truck and belted in. We did the usual ‘hows-the-wife-and-kids-that’s-cool-when-are-we-gonna-get-together’ thing. It ended the same way, every time. We’d say we’d call and set something up. We rarely did.
“So, fifty bucks?” I asked.
“Yeah” Alan answered. “Looked good in the picture. Worth fifty, far as I can see.”
I laughed. “No, man, you never pay what’s in the listing.”
“Are you kidding me? It’s Craigslist.”
“It’s a rule. You haggle.”
He laughed. “You remind me of that scene from Life of Brian. ‘Wait a minute, we’re ‘sposed to haggle. Ten for that, you must be mad’.”
I laughed, remembering my favorite Python movie. Alan still held out for Holy Grail, but that’s because he saw it first-run, in the theater, stoned. He had a full ten years on me and did things almost impossible when I was coming up.
“I’m saying I get stuff all the time from Craigslist. Never pay the asking price. You remember that bike I got for Kyle’s birthday last year?”
“Guy wanted a hundred. I got him down to sixty-five.”
“Was it worth a hundred?”
“A thing is worth what I’m willing to pay for it, and I wasn’t willing to pay a hundred.”
He shrugged and checked his phone for the address. “Okay, that’s you. How long did it take?”
“To get to sixty-five?”
“Maybe… twenty, twenty-five minutes. He wanted that hundred.”
“Could you afford a hundred?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
He gave me that older-brother smirk. “Seems like the old stepping over dollars to pick up pennies thing, to me.”
“Pennies? That’s better than seventy bucks an hour!”
“And maybe he needed that hundred.”
“Then he should have held out.”
“Umm hmm.” The smirk didn’t let up as he read out the address to me. He offered me gas money, like always, and I refused it, like always.
“I dunno, Paul. Maybe if it’s in worse shape than it looked in the pictures, I’ll offer less. But like I said, fifty’s fine. Life’s too short to haggle. Charon will demand full payment for my boat ride to Hell, and he won’t haggle. No reason I should waste my breath before then.”
“It’s the principle of the thing.”
“Principle?” He rubbed his forehead over his right eye and frowned.
“Yeah. You okay?”
“Bad headache. Started this morning. Behind the eye.”
“Damn, I hate those.”
“Never had one like this. Took some aspirin. Didn’t touch it. What principle?”
“Like I said, people on Craigslist expect you haggle. It’s a sport.”
He laughed, still frowning at the pain. “Well there you go. You know I suck at sports.”
“You know what I mean. It’s fun.”
“Not my idea of fun.” He closed his eyes and winced. “Whoo!”
“You okay? Wanna go home?”
“No, no I’m okay.” He took three deep breaths. He always did that, to shake off whatever bugged him. A deep inhale through the nose, slow exhale through the mouth. Three in a row. He looked up and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s better. Man. Whoo.”
“Yeah, sure. Just a thing, I guess. You know, bodies. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ‘em.”
I laughed. We drove the rest of the way to the seller’s house and I argued enough to make him give up. “Okay, little brother” he said. “First thing I’ll say is, ‘fifty for that, you must be mad’.” I said that was not the best opening bid.
The seller, a guy named Dave, had the armoire out on his front deck. Alan and I looked it over, top to bottom, inside and out, nodding but not saying anything. It really was nice, worth more than fifty, I admitted to myself.
Alan offered twenty-five. Dave smiled, and I knew my brother had found a live one for his first time out. He held his arms out, palms open, and said, “Oh, come on. Half? You can do better than that.”
If I’d had time to coach Alan, I would have told him to insist the seller come back with a price. Never leave it open-ended. But Alan said “Thirty, then.”
“Dave folded his arms. “Forty-five.”
Alan said, “Turchee fi.”
“Thridy, threet, tee…”
Dave and I both jumped to stop him toppling over like an old, rotten tree. We laid him on his back, calling his name. I slapped his face. His eyes were wide and fixed on the porch ceiling. He kept trying to talk.
“Tee, teety. Teek.”
Dave ran to call for help. I cupped my brother’s head in my hands and stared into those fixed eyes, begging him to look at me. What once were words, then tries at words, slowed to a soft, repeated syllable.
“Te… te… te…”
He was gone before the medics arrived. Brain aneurysm, they said at the ER. No warning. No reason, other than plenty of people have an aneurysm and some of them rupture. His was one.
I pay full price for everything now. Life’s too short to haggle.