The government is having an impossible time offloading its failed S&Ls, so it is holding GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sales at ROCK-BOTTOM PRICES.

To speed up the process, it has hired used-car salesmen to do the selling.That's how I met Smiley, who was standing outside Crazy Sam's Savings and Loan Lot in Rockville.

"Can I help you?" Smiley asked. "We have some unbelievable buys on 1987 and 1989 savings and loans. Here's a sporty little thrift model. It's hardly been used because the owner is doing 10 years in San Quentin. You can open up for business tomorrow morning."

"I'm just looking," I told him.

"Come over here. This is a steal. It comes equipped with six teller cages and has an Italian marble floor and Lalique chandeliers. You're never going to find one like this."

"Will you take my old S&L on a trade-in?"

"It depends. How much do you owe on yours?"

"I'm in the red for $330 million, but I expect to be bailed out by the government at any moment."

The salesman looked in his blue book. "I think that we can give you $450 for your bank. The taxpayers will pick up the rest. Come over here, I want to show you an S&L drive-in model. It was only used by a little old lady on Sundays."

"The safe is empty."

"The previous owner took that with him when he moved to Brazil. We'll install another safe from one of our other S&Ls. Do you see that savings and loan over there in the lot? We inherited that from a very close relative of the president of the United States. It's in tiptop condition, and we're selling it for $50 and a handshake."

"It appears to be in good shape," I admitted, "but there must be a catch if you're only asking $50 for it."

"We're just trying to clear out all these defunct S&Ls so that we can bring some more in. Our policy is, `Everything must go.' You'll never see bargain basement prices like this again."

"The one with the colonial facade looks nice."

"You have a sharp eye for S&Ls, sir. That happens to be the Abigail Adams Dime Savings of Miami. It only lost $1 billion, but structurally it's as sound today as when it was first chartered. The owners put in their own spa and golf course in the back for their family. I have been authorized to let you have this bank for $3,000, with 10 percent down."

"Three thousand dollars is an awful lot of money to pay for a busted bank."

"Okay, give me $2,000 and we'll throw in Charlie Keating's desk for nothing."