By BRIAN BERGSTEIN, AP Technology Writer
Kyle MacDonald had a red paper clip and a dream: Could he use the
community power of the Internet to barter that paper clip for
something better, and trade that thing for something else -- and so on
and so on until he had a house?
After a cross-continental trading trek involving a fish-shaped pen, a
town named Yahk and the Web's astonishing ability to bestow celebrity,
MacDonald is getting close. He's up to one year's free rent on a house
Not a bad return on an investment of one red paper clip. Yet
MacDonald, 26, vows to keep going until he crosses the threshold of
his very own home, wherever that might be.
"It's totally overwhelming, I'm not going to lie," he said by phone
from Montreal, where he and his girlfriend, Dominique Dupuis, live
with two roommates. "But I'm still trading for that house. It's this
The story begins last July.
MacDonald had spent years backpacking, delivering pizzas and working
other part-time jobs, suiting his jack-of-all-trades, restless
nature. He paid his $300 share of the rent by occasionally promoting
products at trade shows.
But he yearned for one piece of settled-down adulthood: a house, which
he knew he could not afford.
It's clear, however, that MacDonald has a knack for promotion. Asked
what he had talked up at all those trade shows, MacDonald slipped
right into his spiel for the employer, TableShox.com. "You ever sat at
a wobbly table at a restaurant?" he said.
Beyond a gift for advertising table stabilizers, he's a geography
buff, keeps a blog and writes short stories. Random interactions with
strangers and the rich kitsch of North Americana provide his favorite
Put it all together, and you have the outline of MacDonald's quest.
He advertised it in the barter section of Craigslist.org, the Web site
teeming with city-specific listings for everything from job openings
to apartment rentals. At first, MacDonald said merely that he wanted
something bigger or better for his red paper clip. No mention of a
house -- he feared seeming flaky.
While he was visiting his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, two women
gave him a fish-shaped pen for the paper clip.
Later that day, MacDonald headed to Seattle to catch a ballgame and a
flight home. Before the airport, though, he stopped to see Annie
Robbins, an artist who had just stumbled upon the Craigslist barter
section. She admired its anticonsumerist vibe, she said, so she
answered MacDonald's posting "on a lark."
MacDonald left her home the proud owner of a small ceramic doorknob
with a smiley face, made by the son of an artist Robbins knows.
Next up was Shawn Sparks, who was packing up to move from Amherst,
Mass., to Alexandria, Va. Sparks, 35, is a huge fan of Craigslist
barters, having acquired his 1993 Chevy Blazer in a trade for a used
Sparks offered MacDonald a Coleman camping stove. Sparks had two, and
didn't want to lug both on his move. And he needed a new knob for his
Done. The men celebrated with a barbecue at Sparks' house.
MacDonald gave the camping stove to a Marine sergeant at Camp
Pendleton, Calif., getting a generator in return.
East again. MacDonald swapped the generator for an "instant party
package" -- an empty beer keg, a neon Budweiser sign and a promise to
fill the keg -- proferred by a young man in Queens, New York City.
Before the trade, MacDonald left the generator in storage in his
hotel. When he went to claim it, he was told it had been confiscated
by the fire department because it was leaking gas.
"If there was ever a movie based on all that, that would be the
closest to losing it all," he said, recalling his anguish.
But more on movies later.
MacDonald reclaimed the generator by tracking it to a firehouse in
lower Manhattan, where he got a Tootsie Pop from the crew and petted
The beer package went to a Montreal disc jockey, in exchange for a
Here's where the project's grassroots purity may have gotten
compromised. MacDonald's blog, http://oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com,
was attracting attention, and MacDonald was invited onto Canadian
television. Our wandering man was asked if there was anywhere he
wouldn't go to trade the snowmobile.
An obscure place came to mind, so he spit it out: Yahk, a hamlet in
the Canadian Rockies.
Some publicity-seeking ensued. A snowmobiling magazine offered an
expense-paid trip to Yahk in exchange for the snowmobile. The trip
went to Bruno Taillefer, Quebec manager for the supply company Cintas
Corp. He got headquarters to let him give MacDonald a 1995 Cintas van
that he had been planning to sell.
MacDonald gave the van -- stripped of Cintas logos -- to a musician
seeking to haul gear. In turn, the musician, who works at a Toronto
recording studio, arranged a recording contract, with studio time and
a promise to pitch the finished product to music executives.
MacDonald handed the contract to Jody Gnant, a singer in Phoenix who
owns a duplex.
And that is how Kyle MacDonald has turned a paper clip into a year of
shelter in the desert.
Where it goes now, who knows. He says he has offers from Hollywood
studios to turn his story into a film.
But he pledges not to accept gifts or overly lopsided trades that
would undermine the peer-to-peer joy that he says has animated his
journey. Asked what he has learned from all this, he responded:
"If you say you're going to do something and you start to do it, and
people enjoy it or respect it or are entertained by it, people will
step up and help you."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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