Lost & Found & Hope & Greed

Who in his right mind would bid hundreds of dollars for an abandoned suitcase, contents unknown?

Winning bidders pay up, then wait like expectant parents behind a velvet rope while their item is fetched. They are eager and fearful -- for like newborns, unsatisfactory items cannot be returned. Mixtures of avarice and wonder share time on their faces. Disappointment is almost inevitable. "This isn't an auction," decries an angry man in a soccer jersey, stalking away. "This is what I call a farce!"

"They got ringers in there," posits Scott, a pudgy, middle-age white guy dripping sweat and dissatisfaction from his brow. "Their buddies are telling them what to bid on, 'cause they know what's in them." He pauses to adjust his glasses. "The camera I wanted went for $250," he continues. "I could buy new for that." He'd come to the auction hoping, like everyone else, to score a cheap find, maybe a decent suitcase for twenty or thirty bucks. Scott's wife, a stern harridan in the prime of her harping years, stalks over to find out what Scott is up to. "You're gonna print my husband's views?" she inquires suspiciously, angling to read notes of what her idiot husband probably said.

"This is hardly a 60 Minutes exposé on Scott's view of the world," I offer.

Scott blinks in learned silence as his wife scowls. "Let's go, Scott," she demands, pivoting toward the elevators. He lumbers apologetically after her.

Jorge Lazo, a compact 43-year-old Afro-Cuban real estate agent, saw a spot about the auction on the previous evening's news. Figuring a treasure hunt was better than roasting on the beach, he awoke early, slipped on a pair of khakis and an orange T-shirt, and went to the ATM. "It's like going to a casino," he says. "Pure fun." He has spent $270 to win two black Samsonite suitcases, one large and one small.

Lazo unzips the larger bag, inhaling nervously. "Moment of truth," he mutters. Unzipping complete, he folds back the flap to reveal lots of clothes, in pink flowers and red checks -- and about the size of a toddler. "Oh my God!" he exclaims. "I don't have children!"

Daunted but hopeful, he turns to the smaller suitcase. "I have a weak heart," he cautions. Reaching into a side pocket, he pulls out a pair of briefs, clearly soiled. "Ah! Dirty underwear!" he cries. The interior of the bag offers up men's clothes and a belt.

Lazo sags, then begins to rezip the bag. A couple of jocular voyeurs leaning against a railing nearby laugh at Lazo's misfortune. "Well, if you have kids someday, at least you're all set," remarks one man. The other steps forward to offer a bit of advice to the reeling gambler. "You gotta look for designer cases," he advises. "That way, at least you get a good case. Take it from me, I used to work for the airport."

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