Abigail Rowe already had a couch, a transfer from her ex-boyfriend's brother. Like most of her furniture, it was free and functional, a placeholder for a more stylish piece that she would one day buy.
But one day she came earlier than expected. In 2018, Ms. Rowe was browsing Craigslist in the Free Stuff section when she saw the perfect couch: a bulging pink love seat in the shape of a pig.
The upholstery was shiny, almost smooth, as if the pig would gently reject any attempt to sit on it. His eyes were blank and slightly downcast. Its tail, a piece of untangled thread sticking out of its hindquarters, looked like an afterthought compared to its carefully carved hooves.
"The pig is expressive and kind of dejected," said Ms. Rowe, 25 years old. "It looks inviting."
The person who posted the listing for the couch claimed to be a furniture artist named Andrew who was clearing space in his studio. The ad said he would give the pig couch to anyone who could explain in detail what it meant to them.
Mrs. Rowe responded with a poem. When Andrew didn't reply immediately, she began to doubt his intentions. A reverse image search revealed her fears were well founded: Here was a 2016 ad claiming the couch was available in Nashville; There was another indication that the pig couch might be picked up in Boca Raton, Florida.
Finally, Andrew texted back claiming it had been set up. A woman he met on OkCupid posted the ad and gave his phone number after getting angry when she learned that Andrew was not vegan. He claimed so in messages to Ms. Rowe viewed by the New York Times.
Ms. Rowe had fallen for a recurring Craigslist scam. For at least five years people have used the site to claim they are selling or giving away that particular pig bed, according to old listings unearthed by Ms. Rowe. It is unclear whether one of the posters benefited from the project or whether it is just a carefree piece of performance art. (Some of the ads ran on April Fool's Day.)
The pig couch reappeared on Tuesday, this time in New York City. "Unique Pig Couch," was the Craigslist post. "I'm selling it for $ 250 even though my boyfriend and I bought it for over 11,000 and it's in pristine condition. I need someone to pick it up as soon as possible because my new boyfriend hates it and does it for him unfortunately is not negotiable. "
The person behind the New York list, Marisol Martinez, has a history of benevolent trolling on Craigslist.
In 2011 or 2012 – Ms. Martinez couldn't remember – she was frustrated with her way from Manhattan to Brooklyn and posted an ad asking for someone to take her across the East River in a boat. She wouldn't stick to a set schedule, she said in the ad, and rides had to be free. Certain topics of conversation would be taboo. Some people replied angrily, calling them arrogant. Others wrote their poems. Some asked if she would get gasoline.
"It proves the absurdity of a city where so many strange people live," said Ms. Martinez, 31 years old. “It was a good start to understanding that you can ask about things and bring them into town. And people will bother you too. "
She moved to other lighthearted posts. In one case, she posed as a snail who had upgraded to a larger clam and was trying to rent the old one. ("It's perfect for juvenile gastropods looking to expand their habitat while avoiding predators. They'll love the rare left-handed spirals, steep opening, and funky asymmetrical vortices.") In another instance, she advertised her services as "Fragmented Consciousness Technician" who offers to repair people's broken brains.
"I think I am a cheater in some definitions," said Ms. Martinez. "I posted something that wasn't true."
She stumbled on the pig couch while helping a friend search for a statement couch online and was immediately drawn to its "unsettling texture" and melancholy face. "I think a couch with a face is probably something we are more likely to look at from a biological point of view," Ms. Martinez said.
By posting the fake ad, she was not attempting to steal anyone's money. Instead, she hoped to lift the spirits of her New Yorkers during the seething collective nightmare of 2020.
"I thought I was going to create a semi-credible but divisible or interest-worthy post to get people excited about the craziness of the city," said Ms. Martinez. "I definitely don't want to take money or waste time trying to buy a couch out here."
Her contribution caught the eye of Ms. Rowe, who has made it a hobby of cataloging the pig posts. It also caught the attention of the creator of the pig couch himself – Pavia Burroughs, a 31-year-old fiber artist from Philadelphia.
First of all, Ms. Burroughs wants the world to know that this is a chair, not a couch.
His name is "Hillhock", a portmanteau of "Hillock", a small hill to sit on, and "Ham Hock", a piece of pork. It is hand-sewn from velvet and satin and filled with foam, which makes it surprisingly light despite its mass.
It was originally part of a living room set – including a rug, side table and lamp – that Ms. Burroughs introduced in 2011 as part of her sculpture thesis. The carpet made of paper should look like dirt. and in it grew paper flowers, myrtle and bloodroot that climbed Hillhock. The end table had a fiber root structure that streamed out from one side. The lamp was a normal lamp.
Ms. Burroughs was inspired by a picture in Masquerade, a picture book by Kit Williams that she thought about as a child. One side shows an elderly man sitting on a pig and playing the violin while the pig sheds tears from one of his eyes.
Mrs. Burroughs exhibited the chair and then tried to sell it. She didn't get a lot of buyers, so she cut the price. Several furniture blogs have posted pictures of their work.
"It was oddly a first life where blogs went viral and laughed at it," she said. "When I finally sold it, it went into this weird virality of people pretending to be selling it."
The last public listing for Hillhock was $ 950, but Ms. Burroughs said she remembered it was traded for about $ 500. The buyer's name was Matt or Mike, and he appeared to be a businessman. He was driving from Maryland to pick up the chair she had kept in her room and used as a place to store dirty laundry.
Almost a decade later, Ms. Burroughs is still making art. It can be a little frustrating, but mostly funny, that such an old piece has become her most famous work.
“The pig couch is now part of the internet. It's bigger than me, I have no property, ”said Ms. Burroughs. “Was any of the Craigslist entries real? Is it actually traveling across the country? "
It turns out that Hillhock is still in Maryland. The buyer, a cybersecurity executive named Martin Roesch, drove the pig's couch straight from Philadelphia to the offices of his startup Sourcefire. Mr. Roesch's company made software called Snort that would sniff packets in Internet traffic to detect threats, and his mascot was a pig.
"This thing was super cool and I said," Oh God, I have to have it, "said Mr. Roesch." It has that kind of lost expression, I think from its eyes. I find it more sweet than sad. " Installed chair in his office, his employees were delighted.
In 2013, Sourcefire was acquired by Cisco, and Hillhock moved the company to Cisco's Maryland office, where the chairman ended up in a meeting room, Roesch said. "I think it became more of a talking point at that point, although I saw people sitting on it from time to time," he said.
Mr. Roesch left Cisco last year and said the piece was "on loan" to his previous employer. Since its last turning point as a viral sensation, Mr. Roesch has received several offers to buy the couch. He is considering it.