Last weekend, I went to a wonderful benefit honoring the fine work of a large Los Angeles charity that provides critical services like housing and health care to financially challenged gay kids and adults. It was a beautiful, funny and moving event. But the moment that really made me break down, the moment when I lost all emotional control, was when I won two items in the silent auction.
Perhaps I should explain.
Most benefits these days have such an auction, where participants bid on random stuff – a basket of DVD’s, Botox injections, framed jailhouse poetry by Todd Bridges – by writing down amounts on a bid sheet. Typically, this is a civilized process where people attempt to outbid one another on items they particularly want.
Now, I had long ago learned that the key to successful silent auction prize snagging is in the last-minute bidding. Bidding early on only increases the price of the item, thus rendering it the kind of purchase that – in your what-the-hell-have-I-done hangover the next morning – you rationalize as an extremely generous donation to the charity. One you had no business making.
Early bidding also insures that you’ll be outbid, since people have an hour or two to top it. And rest assured, they will. The smart auction bidder swoops in and makes their one and only bid at the last second, and only for an item whose cost has not been absurdly bid up, thereby snaring the prize and insuring that the price of the item remains a steal – a purchase of such extraordinary value that it serves as a keen reminder to anyone within earshot of your outrageous financial acumen.
Well apparently, others have learned the wisdom of my techniques, for more and more, I find myself hovering over an item at the last minute – my item, mind you – next to someone doing the exact same thing. And not in a friendly way. Perhaps it’s the free-flowing liquor that makes someone decide they will kill or maim to win that Jonathon Adler lips vase. Maybe it’s the desperate desire to inflate one’s self worth by owning a stick drawing done by Kelsey Grammar that makes people ready to rumble. But whatever the case, there is something about silent auction bidding that seems to bring out the worst in people.
Case in point: at an event a few months back, I had placed a bid on a set of ceramic plaques by the pop artist Peter Max. (This sounds much more hoity-toity than it really was; there are thousands of these plaques, it ain’t like I was buying an original.) In typically brilliant fashion, I placed my bid just as the auctioneer was counting down the final seconds before closing. The bell rang, and I won. Then, to my complete shock, an older man in a tweed blazer stepped in front of me, pulled the bid sheet off the table, and proceeded to write in his own bid – AS they were collecting the sheets.
I confronted him, but he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “No habla Ingles”. (He was white.) I should have complained, but I was loathe to make a scene at a benefit, since nothing says “misplaced priorities” like complaining because a charity got more money for an auction item. These auctions are also staffed by volunteers who really aren’t in the mood to referee a fistfight over a signed Grease 2 poster or a facial.
But I wasn’t about to let this happen again. So, at last night’s event, when I found two items I wanted, I set to work.
The items were conveniently located about five feet apart; so I began to calculate whether I could drape myself across the table like I was the charity’s Man of the Month, thus obscuring the items in question with my head and feet. The fact that I am generally not considered any charity’s Man of the Month became moot when a volunteer noticed what I was doing and requested that I not attempt to recreate a Playgirl centerfold atop a card table.
Still needing to scare the other bidders away, I did what any reasonable, determined silent auction bidder would do. I began crazy talking.
This, for those who have never tried it, is simply a running commentary filled with colorful epithets and meditations (spoken in an outside voice) on the ways in which you would enjoy dismembering various attendees. I have found it to be highly effective and quite easy to do, since most of us have a few of these stored up from the drive to the event.
Success! I scored two of the three items I bid on, the charity got a small lump of cash, and no one was hurt (if you don’t count the eight-year-old girl who overheard my remarks and is now in counseling).
So you can see why I was so moved by this event. I mean, nothing says “giving to others” like getting a smokin’ deal on Christmas presents.