I met the guy in the darkest parking lot available along Route 4, a place where weeds have long grown over what used to be a thriving parking lot.

I killed the engine and waited, listening to the solemn ticking from beneath the hood. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted uneasily. Crickets chirped and frogs croaked from their secret places.

At one minute before 10 p.m., the stranger arrived, the parking lights of his old sedan glowing like vampire eyes in the gloom.

He got out of his car and I got out of mine. The twin slamming of doors silenced the forest creatures and the game began.

“You got the goods?” I asked.

“I got ’em,” he replied. “Told you I’d bring ’em, didn’t I?”

He popped the trunk and stood back, arms folded. I leaned in for a look, always aware of his position behind me.

“Looks good, right?” he asked.

“It looks all right,” I said. “Little bit scuffed. Will you take $45 for her?”

Turns out he wouldn’t take $45 for her, so I forked over the full $50.

And that, my friends, is how I ended up with the sweetest discount truck-bed box you have ever clapped eyes on. The foam liner, the rotary latch and re-enforced hinges …

Of course, the dang thing didn’t fit in my truck.

So a week later, I found myself in another parking lot with a different stranger leaning into MY trunk and complaining about scuffs.

“Kind of scratched up, ain’t she?” the man said. “Will you take 40 for her?”

I love buying and selling through the Facebook swap and sell pages. Or through Uncle Henry’s, Craigslist, Sun Journal classifieds or any of the gazillion sites that are out there.

Meet a stranger in a dark parking lot to make a deal and you will feel like a Martin Scorsese gangster — even if that deal is an even swap of a three-speed power blender for a king-sized bed skirt with matching pillow shams.

And that blender better come with smoothie recipes, or someone’s going to end up six feet down, you hear me?

The whole system of online sales and bartering is a Christmas-like thrill. You were never going to use that George Foreman grill again, but suddenly someone else wants it and that someone might be willing to part with a still-in-the-box Slanket, if you play your cards right.

The human element is what makes the transaction fun. You’re not buying that X-rated lava lamp in a store — you’re swapping for it with a complete stranger you’ll meet at the park ‘n’ ride next to the highway, not knowing if this stranger is going to be a perfectly ordinary fellow or a deranged spork killer, fresh out of the asylum.

There’s the whole feeling-out phase you do over the phone before the deal goes down, with each party suspicious that the other might be a sleazy hustler with some kind of con in mind.

There’s the selection of a meeting place — some folks prefer a busy, well-lit spot for safety, while others prefer darkness and seclusion. Who really wants to be spotted in a Denny’s parking lot swapping an X-rated lava lamp for the complete Engelbert Humperdinck album collection?

There’s the haggling — a back-and-forth form of negotiation required by some kind of natural law — even if you reach a point where you’re haggling in penny increments.

The end result is that you’re getting rid of something you tripped over while cleaning the basement (Honey, how long have we had this weird leather swing?) and getting something awesome, like a bounce house, snow-cone maker or live bait!

At a lot of these swap-and-sell sites, it’s like Christmas every day of the year — with toys as big as mobile homes and as small as pogo sticks up on the block.

And speaking of Christmas, who wants this sexy leg lamp to put in the window? It’s like new, comes with a bulb and I might be willing to take $45 for her.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Live-bait barterers can email him at [email protected]

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