Friday, July 21st, 2006
Before all the medical drama of the weekend, I initiated my friend Kristen into the world of the Moundville antique auction.
I’ve mentioned this auction before, and my thoughts of it are usually accompanied by guilty stomach pains (rather than gall bladder) because I always manage to spend more money than I planned.
The Moundville auction is “special.” It’s the auction for folks who don’t mind their “antiques” a little dinged up, and who don’t mind wading through a bunch of junk to get to them.
When you walk into the auction building, the first thing you notice is the heat. The room is packed with stuff and bodies, and there’s no A/C. Your thighs stick to the metal chair, your clothes cling and crumple, your hair wilts, your face shines. You learn to wear extra deodorant.
Once upon a time, you were an auction newbie, terrified of accidentally bidding on something, but now you wave the index card with your buyer number on it to cool your face. You are unconcerned about being misinterpreted because now you know that eye contact with the auctioneer is the real key.
On all four sides of the room, antiques and non-tiques are piled, chairs on top of tables on top of desks. You wedge yourself between dressers and sideboards, around people and armchairs to check out the goods. You find almost nothing you want, let alone must have. That scratched up table might be good for the sewing machine. That chair is kinda cute. That rug is okay.
Then the bidding begins. Furniture, collectibles, glassware, picture frames, and other random junk surfaces in the arms of the shy, sweaty teenage assistants. Some stuff looks so much more appealing now that it’s out on display. Other stuff is hideous, but you must whisper about it behind your hand because at least one person here will want it.
One auctioneer down front singsongs the bids into a microphone, while several guys stand around the perimeter calling a staccato “yep!” when they see a bidder’s hand. When the bidding is fast and hot, you hear, “Yep! Yep! Yep!” and you slide forward in your seat to get a better view.
The other auctioneer is a character, like a grumpy guest star on the Andy Griffith Show. He barks orders at the teenage assistants, and he might even snap at auction attendees who are chit-chatting instead of bidding.
But he’s half the fun. You never know what he might say. He could wave his hand toward a table of glassware and say, “Let’s sell some of this junk next.” Or if the bidding isn’t going well, he could make outrageous – yet convincing – claims about the item’s value, or even berate the audience for not bidding. Then he could make you laugh or remember your name, and you would shake your head and forgive him.
The auctioneers, the stuff, the cheap prices, the hard sell, maybe even the heat – it’s a lethal combination. You bid on one item, and when you win it, you’re hooked. The bargains keep on coming. You find yourself with two rugs when you only needed one, and oh no, another chair! You write down the wins on the back of your index card, and the numbers are so small that you feel a little giddy. But then the column gets longer.
When you’re ready to leave, you hint to the auctioneer which items to put up for bid next. He obliges, and you end up with one more item, one more number on your index card.
Then you go to the checkout counter and hear the total and try not to flinch. All those great bargains you got add up to a big fat sum plus 10 percent plus tax, and you write a big fat check for way more than you planned to spend.
Your husband grumbles – or if he’s not there, you text message him, and you can imagine him grumbling. But he (or some other hunky male) obligingly loads up the stuff anyway.
On the way home, you talk about your wins in glowing terms to keep the guilt away. You unload the stuff and find places for it, or pile the more useless stuff in a corner somewhere and forget about it.
And just as you’re making vows not to attend another auction for a while, a sheet of tri-folded hot pink paper arrives in the mailbox. Across the top in black: AUCTION.
You’ll be there.
Bridge lamp with painted glass shade, $20, a purchase from last Thursday.