A moving sale
We had spent a year in a large city apartment building, the kind where you nod to passers-by in the corridor or elevator but never learn their names. Then we posted a rather prosaic announcement on the laundry room bulletin board: ''Moving Sale.'' No name, just our phone number.
Apparently urban dwellers wait out the sloshing, spinning, and drying of clothes with few diversions. Our little advertisement competed only with an invitation to a political rally that had already occurred and a polite request to please remove lint from the dryers. While our three-by-five card did not actually say that we had fabulous bargains at ''Everything Must Go'' prices, it did not deny the possibility, either.
Business soon appeared. As prospective customers appraised our goods and chattels, we considered whether to admit the table legs were scuffed by a former puppy who teethed on them or to try to pass off the dents and scratches as normal wear and tear which would never show with a little polish. The truthful explanation worked best: It appeared to establish a nostalgic bond with ambitious young executives whose residency in this building excluded them from the luxury of bringing up a child, let alone a puppy.
The books on sale drew us into critical debates with the most literary customers, while the records brought exclamations of ''That was our song!'' or '' 'My Fair Lady'? Could I hear that one?'' One evening a true music-lover named William gave Doug a three-hour synopsis of music history. William may never know what long-held prejudices his patient explanations overcame.
We, no less than others before us, had some sentimental pangs about parting with treasured possessions. We owe the gradual surrender of lingering regrets to those purchasers who did not withhold their delight in what they were acquiring.
But the biggest surprise was what wonderful and compatible neighbors we had.
Take Gloria, who lived right next door. Too late we discovered that she had grown up in India. And that among her treasures was a miniature painting done on a fragile pressed pipal leaf, sent to her as a Christmas card from a friend in that country.
All along Gloria had been right behind our television set with a leaf-painting that was a launching pad for lovely, lively reminiscenses from an exotic place. Just a common wall separated neighbors who might have shared a common interest.
Gloria eventually bought our recliner as well as our dining-room table and then insisted on leaving the recliner in place and installing her own table for our use until we moved. That's the kind of gentlewoman Gloria is. Alas, if we are to continue the lovely friendship just begun, it will have to be by correspondence.
In a way, it was this highly polished Chippendale drop-leaf table of Gloria's which introduced into our up-to-that-point decorous sale the temporary character of a fast-paced auction.
For the next day, while I was at my office and Doug was ''minding the store, '' another neighbor - Said, recently from Pakistan - came bargain-hunting. He offered $35 to buy Gloria's table out from under us.
Doug called me to ask whether Gloria wanted to sell it. Yes, I replied, but the price was $50. At that very moment a young go-getter in my office overheard the conversation and shouted: ''A table? I'll pay $50 for it sight unseen.'' Doug, forced into the unwilling role of auctioneer, told me to urge my office friend to appear at once if he was serious, a message that dispatched him from the office on the run.
Said, meanwhile, had pieced the whole transaction together and recognized the threat of a higher bid. He peeled off $50 in cash and headed for the door with Gloria's table.
On his way out, Said noticed a small gold-framed picture of a Muslim motif. Apparently he was afraid that someone would beat him to this highly desirable object (I knew of no other potential customers for it and anticipated it would be sent to ''Goodwill'' with whatever else was left over). He commissioned it by telephone, without bargaining, as soon as he got home.
Picking up the picture became the second in a series of visits by Said; indeed, he was a frequent caller that final week, soon introducing us to Kalim, his courteous and dignified nephew. We found something polite to say about Pakistan, and they found something polite to say about America. We wished we had met these two young men sooner.
Instead of price tags, we had prepared a price list, on which descriptions were necessarily succinct. I am not quite sure why I happened to describe one item more fully as ''original painting of ships in Seattle harbor by Edgar Forkner.''
''Seattle'' drew a former resident of that city to this painting. He had come to find quite practical items: a hide-a-bed, a lamp, a desk. But he left instead with the painting. I like to think that the apartment furnishings he had wanted to upgrade seem satisfactory as he admires his new possession. A desk can be improvised a bit longer, and a man who nourishes his aesthetic sense first is our natural friend. Why didn't we know him all year?
Our ''open house'' (we stopped thinking of it as a sale after a while) gave us joyful practice in hospitality. It gave us a warm feeling for those until-then anonymous co-peoplers of our building.
Its biggest lesson was in the proper timing of a moving sale: You should hold one when you're moving in, not when you're moving out.