Art of the (online) deal - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Art of the (online) deal

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Posted: Monday, April 17, 2006 10:41 am | Updated: 4:00 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Jody Gnant’s dreams are held together by a clever Canadian man with a paper clip. The Phoenix singer/ songwriter was looking for a way to finish her album when she stumbled upon Kyle Mac-Donald and a seemingly crazy scheme that’s warming hearts across the country.

MacDonald’s plan was simple: Start with a paper clip, barter it online for something better, trade that thing for something else — and so on and so on — until he gets a house.

Gnant is the latest participant in the offbeat quest.

MacDonald gets a year’s stay in her duplex. She gets a recording contract.

MacDonald will fly to Phoenix on Wednesday to finalize the trade.

Gnant was one of many to to jump at the offer, but she said she believes MacDonald recognized something special in her.

“Kyle is really smart, and I have to imagine in all of this, he would pick the person who would get on this magic train with him and believe in something seemingly crazy on the surface, but deep down we all believe is possible,” Gnant said.

After years of backpacking, delivering pizzas and working other part-time jobs, suiting his jack-of-all-trades, restless nature, MacDonald yearned for one piece of settled-down adulthood — a house.

But he knew his occasional promotional gigs at trade shows wouldn’t bring in enough cash to buy one, so he applied his talent at promoting products in a different way.

He advertised a red paper clip in the barter section on, a Web site teeming with city-specific listings for everything from job openings to apartment rentals.

At first, MacDonald said he merely wanted something bigger or better for his red paper clip. He dared not mention a house so early on, since it might seem flaky.

While he was visiting his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, two women swapped a fish-shaped pen for the paper clip.

Later that day, MacDonald headed to Seattle to catch a ballgame and a flight home. En route to 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’s posting “on a lark.”

She traded him a small ceramic doorknob with a smiley face in exchange for his fish pen.

Next up was Shawn Sparks, 35, a huge fan of Craigslist barters who had once used to Web-site to trade a used laptop for a 1993 Chevy Blazer. Sparks was packing up to move from Amherst, Mass., to Alexandria, Va. and had two camping stoves he didn’t want to lug on his trip. He also needed a new knob for his espresso machine. So, he traded one stove for the smiley face door knob.

The men celebrated with a barbecue at Spark’s house.

And later the stove was handed over to a Marine Sergeant at Camp Pendleton, Calif., who gave MacDonald a generator in return.

East again. MacDonald swapped the generator for an “instant party package” — an empty beer keg, a neon beer advertising sign and a promise to fill the keg — proferred by a man in Queens, N.Y.

Before the trade, Mac-Donald 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 fuel.

“If there was ever a movie based on all that, that would be the closest to losing it all,” MacDonald said, recalling his anguish.

MacDonald reclaimed the generator by tracking it to a firehouse in lower Manhattan, where he got a lollipop from the crew and petted their Dalmatian.

The beer package went to a Montreal disc jockey, in exchange for a snowmobile.

The concept sparked the public’s interest, and Mac-Donald’s blog, http://

began attracting attention.

A Canadian television show invited the wandering man on as a guest, and asked him 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., who convinced his company to let him give MacDonald a 1995 Cintas van he planned to sell.

MacDonald gave the van — stripped of Cintas logos —to a musician seeking to haul gear. In return, 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.

Gnant, who calls her music “Bohemian geek soul,” said she will live in her recording studio for a year while whomever trades MacDonald next resides in her home. She has no worries about what kind of person her tenant will be.

“Everybody I’ve met that’s been involved with this project has all had the same happy-go-lucky feel to them,” Gnant said.

Gnant said she will leave for Toronto in May to record her album, which is already set to contain a “red paper clip” song.

“My dreams are held together with a paper clip now,” Gnant said.

MacDonald continues his house quest. 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. He has already had offers from Hollywood to turn his story into a film.

“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 obsessive thing.”


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