Did I ever tell you about the time I almost had a pet koala?

I was looking at my pictures from the zoo in Vienna, and they reminded me of a story that I’ve only told a few but I think would appeal to many, considering it has three of the basic ingredients for greatness: 1) free stuff, 2) cute, furry animals, and 3) human stupidity.

I had moved into my first post-college apartment in Los Angeles and was in the settling-in phase, casually surfing craigslist for furniture, books, or anything free that looked cool. Cat-scratched couches, hole-y bean bags, craigslist was a sofa graveyard; it was where bad interior decoration went to die. Thoroughly jaded, I crawled my mouse over to the jobs section, resigned to actually start searching for a means of living, when one simple sentence caught my eye.
Free koala to good home
Do my eyes deceive? Surely that can’t be real, and if it is, there’s no way that it’s legal. Still...

I clicked through to the ad, and there, on the page, was a very homemade-looking photograph of someone holding a koala in what looked like your standard LA-area backyard, or what passes for one. The ad revealed that the person giving away the koala used to be a zookeeper in Australia, had the animal for a pet there and somehow brought it over to the US when she moved. She glossed over any details regarding legality or morality, but the tone of the ad seemed to convey a deep caring for the animal, as though the owner was looking for a trustworthy and reliable babysitter for a small child. Despite my incredulity, I came to believe it as authentic, and then came the difficult part.

Could I, Mark J. Lehman, be the proud new father to a pet koala?

What if the woman giving away the little fellow expected a koala expert? My fingers raced furiously over the keyboard, pouring through site after site on the internet in my haste to learn about koalas. I would need to know precisely how much eucalyptus these animals eat every day, where I could house and protect such a creature, how I could guard it from any neighborhood dogs or, for that matter, nosy neighbors.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, I made a judgment call. Yes, it would be hard work, but I was willing to put forth the time, effort and money—despite my lack of employment—to provide a home for an amiable new friend. Heck, the fur ball would probably be the best motivation to get a decent job.

I surfed back to craigslist and found the ad again, scrolled down to the phone number provided, and with sweaty hands and jittery nerves, dialed each of the 10 digits and prepared for glory.

One ring, two rings, then a click and... “Hello?”

“Um, hi, I’m calling in response to your ad on craigslist regarding the koala...”

“Excuse me?”

I paused. Had I been made? Could she tell just by my voice that I was no expert? Did my youth discourage her from even hearing me out? No way, keep cool, you’ve got this puppy in the bag, so to speak.

“The, um, koala. Your ad on craigslist giving away a pet koala to a good home. I’ve got one. A good home, that is, not a koala, though I’m sure the new one would love a friend, but honestly I don’t know if I’m prepared to care for two koalas...”

Laughter. That’s all I hear. Laughter, drowning out the sounds of my heart breaking in half.

“Oh wow. I, um... wow. Sorry, I don’t have any idea how that got there, but I don’t own a koala. Sure you’ve got the number right?”

I repeated it back to her as I read it from my phone, at the same time double-checking it on the screen.

“Yep, that’s me. How strange. Well, sorry about that. Bye.”

The phone nearly fell from my hand as it was weakened from sadness. I dropped it on the desk, and slowly leaned over, elbows on my knees, head in my hands. You wouldn’t think this would affect me so much, but in the 45 minutes that had passed since I first found the ad, I had fully convinced myself that a pet koala was the key to solving all of my problems, as well as the issues and crises facing the world today. Well, perhaps not, but it had become essential to my settling into my new apartment and my new life, and now it was gone.

I swore off craigslist for a couple days. The lingering pain, like post traumatic stress, was just too much to handle. But I eventually bounced back and am now able to tell, in humorous detail, the story of the time I almost had a pet koala.
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