Passers-by didn't ask many questions when they stumbled across the impromptu sidewalk sale on 18th Street NW on June 16. They simply browsed their way through the black trash bags and unidentified files that stretched for more than a block north of Swann Street.
Most began tentatively, eyeing the array of office equipment and supplies. Then, slowly, they began filling their arms and loading their cars with anything that looked usable: copiers, file cabinets, computers, tables, chairs, speakers, electric pencil sharpeners.
The merchandise had hit the sidewalk around 10 a.m., cleared out of the offices at 1828 18th St. NW by a crew of about 20 men. At noon, a pair of women in business attire, both barking furiously into cell phones, were presiding over its disposaltelling the browsers what was off-limits and taking offers on the rest.
Opening an old briefcase, one man discovered a wallet, still filled with credit cards and cash. A woman stopped and briefly considered a small fake Christmas tree, covered in garland, that rested on its side against a trash bag. Another man looked questioningly at a laserdisc of the movie Bugsy, still wrapped in plastic.
Others took a more purposeful approach. One man, in a purple shirt and jean shorts, darted among the items at full speed, grabbing everything he could.
"What about these blinds?" he asked.
One of the women, clad in a stylish green suit, turned toward him.
"Ten dollars," she said. She paused. "Five dollars."
"You're too nice," said a man accompanying her. The woman in green shrugged and went back to her cell-phone conversation.
"And what about my speakers?" said the man in the jean shorts. "Where are my speakers?"
The woman's friend threw up his hands. "I guess somebody took them," he said.
"Goddamn it," said the man. "Well, you could give me that copier for $25, then." He pointed at a heavy-duty Pitney Bowes machine wedged between trash bags on the sidewalk.
Another passer-by noticed a wheeled adjustable chairthe kind that goes for around $60 at Staples.
"How much for that?" he asked.
"Two dollars," said the woman in green.
He stared at her, and then looked down into his wallet. "I'll give you four," he said. She smiled.
The mailbox on the building said that 1828 18th St. was the home of C.A. Jackson & Associates, P.C., Attorneys at Law. According to the D.C. Bar Association, Clinton A. Jackson, the occupant listed in the phone book, was disbarred in June 2001, and he was subsequently investigated for practicing law without a license.
Just up the street, at the Dupont Market, owner Kevin Sheridan said that a pair of female attorneys had signed a lease and moved into the offices with Jackson a few months ago. But they had been subletting their part of the space, and hadn't realized that the regular rent was going unpaid.
So that morning, the U.S. marshals had interrupted a client meeting to usher the eviction service into the office. Jackson was out of town at the time. The attorneys had been left to piece together what had happened as the office furniture was carried out to the street.
According to the women's companion, they had been burned for some $2,000 by their lease arrangement. So they had set about recouping their money as best they could.
And they had found a willing public. The man in the jean shorts struggled to get his copier home before anyone else made a higher offer for it. Later, he came back and ripped a stapler out of another man's hands, saying he had already claimed the item.
By Tuesday, the best of the pickings had been cleared away. The Bugsy laserdisc, however, was still available. And among the unclaimed papers, untouched on the sidewalk, sat a yellow invoice for repairs to Jackson's 1998 Jaguar. CP