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In this story, people visit an agency where they can exchange bodies (or, if you prefer, minds) with other people at random. It's a popular form of entertainment, although it is controversial enough to be strongly regulated. If I remember it right, the protagonist is a businessman in his forties or fifties, not happy with the way his life has been going, and something goes wrong while his mind is in a sort of buffer awaiting transfer to a body. An agency representative announces that there has been a dreadful error and everyone's minds in the buffer are now unidentified, but don't worry, we'll get you back eventually. If you find yourself in the wrong body, just pull the cord and it will switch you into another one. This is going to take awhile, and the protagonist keeps finding himself in the wrong body, which always has some residual memories. Once it's a senator who had given a speech about Americans' "God-given right to switch bodies," relating to the controversy over mind transfer. There is certainly going to be a public debate now! Much later, it is clear that something has gone wrong; the protagonist should have found his body by now. He switches into a young man's body, one much better than his own -- no, it has terminal leukemia; this visit to the body-switching parlor was a last treat. He indicates that this is the right one, allowing the young man a chance to live on in his own aging body.

Short story read in an English-language anthology, probably in the 1960s to 70s.

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    Reminds me a bit in part of "Chateau d'If" and partly of "Mindswap" but I don't think either of them is it. – DavidW Aug 21 '19 at 4:29
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    I've read this. Probably in late 1970s. But I cannot think of title or where I read it. Definitely not "Chateau d'If" or "Mindswap". – timbp Aug 21 '19 at 9:40
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    Agree; it's definitely not either of these two stories. But thanks anyway for clearing the board. – Invisible Trihedron Aug 22 '19 at 0:41
  • This reminds me of "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" even though that can't be the answer. – Paul Aug 22 '19 at 23:38
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I believe that this is Robert Silverberg's "Ringing the Changes", a short story originally published in 1970 in Anne McCaffrey's Alchemy and Academe and reprinted many times afterwards. It matches the description in nearly every detail. (One difference, instead of pulling to cord to indicate a mismatch, they are asked to raise their left hands.)

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  • Y-e-es, I think you are right. My thanks! Judging from the other stories in the books, I believe I read this, not in Alchemy and Academe, but in Robert Silverberg's collection The Reality Trip and Other Implausibilities (1972). How did you find it? – Invisible Trihedron Feb 1 at 23:06
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    @nvisible Trihedron It rang a very vague bell -- I knew I'd read it somewhere, but I couldn't remember anything specific. The two names that came up in my head as I was trying to remember were McCaffrey and Silverberg. So I looked in the very small number of McCaffrey original anthologies first, and there it was. – Mark Olson Feb 2 at 0:56
  • It is instructive that this process works for so many people, at least part of the time. That is, a vague hunch of an author that turns out to be right. In my case, I remembered so many details because the story was original and left a lasting impression; I probably read it two or three times -- but forty or fifty years ago. I have rediscovered many stories by recognizing the cover art. In this case, it only looks vaguely reminiscent, but it's probably the right one as the others don't look familiar at all. – Invisible Trihedron Feb 2 at 1:15

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