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If you've ever wanted to own earrings that someone else left on the New York City subway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a deal you won't want to miss. Until 5 p.m. Friday, you will have the chance to bid on 106 such earrings — and a whole slew of other random junk — in the MTA's weird auction. By our estimate, forgetful New Yorkers are about to give the agency a cool $20,000 in revenue.

How to bid

  • 1. Go to the "Asset Recovery" page and choose one of the listings, which are loosely organized into categories. The listing contains line items that look like this:

  • 2. Print the listing out.
  • 3. Write the amount you want to pay for the lot. Yes, the lot. You are buying all of them, however many there are. In the example above, you should write down how much you want to pay for 68 digital cameras.
  • 4. Fill out the hard-to-read Authorization Form.
  • 5. Mail that form and the listing to the MTA. Or, since the auction ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, fax it.
  • 6. Find out if your bid was the highest, at some point, apparently.

This is how online auctions work in the MTA's world. It's like Storage Wars, Big City Edition.

So what can you get your hands on? There are two categories of surplus items: stuff people left on trains and busses, and the stuff used to make the trains and busses run.

What to bid on: Stuff people left on trains and busses

This breaks down further into four categories: electronics, musical instruments, toys, and jewelry. We matched each item against how much it sold for on eBay to get a sense of how much the MTA stood to make. The most valuable items are in the electronics category, which we estimate to bring in over $12,000. The least valuable is the instruments, which probably won't even bring in $1,000.

There are a lot of electronics. For example:

  • 2 Toshiba laptops
  • A Macbook Pro
  • 3 Kindles / Nooks
  • A printer (in case you want to participate in future auctions)
  • 114 MP3 Players
  • A digital projector
  • A Wii
  • 68 Digital cameras
  • 29 Game Boys
  • 12 radios
  • 19 calculators

Included in those calculators is one of those old types that prints the sums out on a paper roll. Some sad accountant had a bad day on the downtown C.

You can also buy what the MTA calls a "copier," but which is actually a crappy HP printer/scanner combo. We estimate it's worth ten bucks.

Short list: Two trumpets, a violin, a flute, a sax, a guitar. Oh, and a plastic recorder. Maybe start the bidding low on that one.

Toys and games
There are some sporting goods in this category, mostly tennis rackets ($320 worth in total). And a "Yoostar," which appears to be a device that lets kids be seen in videos on their TVs ($10). Three bicycles of varying quality ($900), and — the best item — a battery-powered scooter, battery not included ($350). There are also 295 books, 30 of them "religious."

And this listing includes household goods. Like a slow cooker or a hair trimmer. Want a used hair trimmer someone left on the subway? Fax in your bid!

Jewelry (The MTA calls this "Jewelry and Shoes," but there are no shoes.)
If you have 60 friends you need to buy for this Christmas, this listing is perfect. It includes:

  • 62 Watches
  • 62 Bracelets
  • 61 Necklaces
  • 106 Earrings
  • 82 Rings

That's one watch, one bracelet, one necklace, a set of earrings (give or take), and a ring for each person, with a few rings left over for you.

What to bid on: Stuff used to make the trains and busses run

The fun doesn't stop with used books and bracelets. The MTA is also auctioning a variety of stuff they don't need anymore. Like:

And, for the truly adventurous: 52,790 boxes of expired alcohol hand wipes. Which might just be enough to clean those 106 earrings enough where you'd want to wear them.

As we said, if you want to buy all of those lost items (but not the cars, etc.), it would cost you about $20,227 dollars. Or you could give the same amount to the MTA by riding the train 8,090 times. Seems like a better investment.

Photo: Some of the MTA's iPods.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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