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Overheard in New York

'Tis the season for stockings to be hung by the chimney with care -- but first, they have to be found, taken out of tissue paper, and inspected for leftover lumps of coal from last year.  In many homes, this involves a trip to the attic or the basement, where slightly battered cardboard boxes marked "Xmas" hold happy memories.  New York apartments, however, typically lack such generous storage space, and it was thus that I found myself at a local ministorage facility over the weekend, searching for my favorite stocking.

While surveying a stack of boxes that look like something from an Indiana Jones movie and trying to remember where the Christmas ornaments might be, I overheard a heated negotiation in an adjacent area.  Someone was obviously planning to buy a large quantity of something from someone else -- well outside of the usual wholesale channels. 

I could have minded my own business.  Instead, I quietly drew the door to my unit shut and listened to the following exchange:

"Fifteen dollars."

"Five."

"Don't you like me, man?"

"Of course, I like you.  But I can't do more than five.  The economy, man."

"OK, seven fifty.  I have everything you want -- J'Adore, No. 5, everything."

[Aha!  Perfume!  And presumably either counterfeit or grey market (genuine trademarked goods flowing through unauthorized channels), unless Dior and Chanel are doing business through the same ministorage-based rep.  And $7.50!  On the street, these guys ask for at least $40 or $50 and usually get $25 or $35.  Madison Avenue could use margins like these at the moment.

The conversation continued for some time, as quantities in the hundreds, brands, and dates were established.  I began to get a bit chilly and to realize that this intrepid girl reporter thing was not getting me any closer to my Christmas stockings.]

"Anything else you want, my friend?  I can get electronics, iPods."

(Inaudible.)

"They all come from China, man.  All the good stuff."

"OK, man, this is good.  I'll find you."

(Sounds of boxes being moved, a clanging metal door, one set of departing footsteps.)

At this point it occured to me that my Christmas stockings might well be at home, put away with the seasonal table linens, rather than boxed in storage.  And in any case, I was in need of a good, stiff hot chocolate. 

As I waited for the incredibly slow freight elevator, a man rolled up beside me with a stack of boxes on a dolly.  I couldn't resist a sideways glance.  They were plain brown boxes, about the size one might use for office files but a bit flatter, with crooked handwritten notations of the contents:  D&G, DNKY, and, sure enough, No. 5. 

I thought it the better part of both wisdom and elevator etiquette to remain silent and nod politely, though as we exited on the main level, I glanced back at the posted rules and regulations for the storage area.  Near the bottom of the list was a prohibition on storing contraband -- though whoever wrote it had banned "trademark-infringed goods" rather than "trademark-infringing goods," which would technically leave my neighbors in the clear.  Still, the law of the land and the law of the ministorage facility are not identical, and I had clearly overheard a deal not likely to be burdened with customs duties, sales taxes, or the usual formalities of commerce.

And I know exactly what I don't want to find in my stocking on Christmas morning. 

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