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On a recent Sunday my roommate and I dragged ourselves out of bed for a promising estate sale on mansion-lined Hutchinson Street. The ad said numbers would be distributed at 9:30 and the sale would begin at 10:30, and half a dozen people were already in line when we got there at quarter past nine. We waited as 9:30 came and went with no sign of life from the house.

The line continued to grow, as various all-terrain vehicles rolled up and deposited women in comfy leggings and sweatshirts and the drivers went off in search of parking, some returning with Starbucks products. Toward 10 my roommate began grumbling that we were wasting our time, it was too cold, we should go home. I convinced him to hold out a bit longer.

By 10:30 the line of about 40 people snaked along the wrought-iron fence to Marine Drive, and the mood of the crowd was turning ugly. A woman in front of us groused to her husband, "We should call and find out what's going on." "Yeah, let's call the number in the ad," someone else chimed in. A man behind me pulled out a portable phone and dialed. Busy. "Maybe someone in the back of the line is trying to call," he joked.

Then a few murmurs made their way up to us. Someone at the end of the line had called, from another portable phone, and gotten through to an answering service: The sale had been postponed to next week. The crowd--heads shaking, not believing the indignity--dissolved into the street, empty-handed.

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