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Sold! To the lady with the fastest mouse!

'hurry up. only 15 minutes and 3 seconds left," my youngest hollers. I pull up a stool and sit beside him in front of the computer screen. We're riding out the last of our online auction.

For sale: One rusty 1930s Emerson fan, nonworking, mouse-chewed cord, creepy cage that shouts 'finger chopper,' chip out of the base, definite signs of neglect. It's a beaut.

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"Hit the reload button," I say.

Click. The screen disappears, then quickly reformats. We have 12 bids and $118.50.

"Everyone's waiting till the last minute to bid," my son says.

"It can't possibly go any higher," I say. I'm already counting my profit. "Can it?"

My husband drags in a kitchen chair and joins us. "Don't be so sure," he says. "There are a lot of nuts out there."

Now there are three of us sitting in front of the computer screen, hitting the reload button, and waiting for nuts all over the world to pounce on one vintage fan in southwest Missouri, USA.

My daughter wanders by and hears the commotion. "What's going on?"

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I hold up eight fingers. "Only eight minutes till the old fan expires," I squeal. "Come here, come here!"

Now there are four of us crammed in my office, eyes focused on the screen, holding our breaths, divvying up MY dollars.

"Hit the reload."

Click. "Thirteen bids. It's up to $125!"

How high will the old fan go? We reread the description to make sure that we emphasized the fan's flaws and didn't oversell the merchandise. The photos clearly show that this fan was tossed to rot in a drafty barn many seasons ago.

Will a last-minute Internet sniper infuriate the other bidders but make the seller (me) even happier?

And while I wait for the minutes to click by in my air-conditioned office, I think about the dozens of farm auctions I've attended. Today's online auctions are a horse of a different color. No leaning against the splintered auction wagon while standing in drizzle, then wading through a muddy pasture to get another hot drink at the snack wagon.

No worries about scratching your head and accidentally buying a galvanized bathtub. No camping under a stranger's armpit so you can get a closer look at the Fiesta bowl. No figuring how to outmaneuver that other bidder who lusts after the wicker rocker.

It's quiet at this sale, too quiet.

"Sold. Two hundred bucks," my youngest says. "Can you believe it?"

When the check arrives and clears, I'll believe that I've really been to an auction.

Meanwhile, I go back to the kitchen a little richer, but I can't stop hankering for a sloppy joe, served up in a paper boat, from the snack wagon.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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