Saved by the bid

Art Buchwald
Cheers broke out in the Harborside garden when Art Buchwald, got the high bid he was looking for. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Pat Waring - August 2, 2007

When my daughter, Diana, was 12, old enough to get a kick out of the celebrities and glittery excitement of the Possible Dreams Auction, we went for the first time. We bought new flowered sundresses, packed sunscreen and snacks, and followed the crowd to Edgartown.

We read the program together, marveling at the amazing "dreams," which seemed almost within our reach. Things like a VIP trip to Disneyworld and lunch with Mickey or Goofy, backstage passes to the "Nutcracker" ballet at Christmastime, a beach picnic with a noted children's book author.

"Wow!" we thought, watching the bidding, fascinated as two or three moms or dads competed over some remarkable dream for their children that I knew Diana would love too. A few years later we'd become regulars. We knew enough to lug our beach chairs and take the shuttle rather than getting caught in gridlock traffic. We knew there'd be cold drinks and hotdogs so we didn't need to bring a picnic.

We also had learned that, even though they start at a modest figure, the bids immediately soar to heights unimaginable to regular Vineyarders like us.

And so I joined the auction action. Our tastes had changed some, now that Diana was in high school. But there were plenty of tempting "dreams." I knew I could safely bid $200 on the picnic for 20 friends and a serenade by James or Carly, or the walk-on part in "90210" or "Party of Five." Because I was certain that within minutes some mom or dad with the means to help Martha's Vineyard Community Services and make their kids happy at the same time would up the bid to $5,000. But raising my hand, hearing the enthusiastic spotters urge me on as the bids went higher - "$2,000?" they'd ask, pointing my way, supplicating - was thrill enough. I'd pretend to think it over, as if wondering if we really wanted that dream, while calculating how $2,000 was more than one month's salary, all of which was needed for mortgage and bills.

I'd shake my head, regretfully, "no." As another bidder bagged the prize for $10,000 or so, we'd settle back with our chips and sodas and enjoy the show.

Diana went to college and summers got busier, so we missed a few auctions. But in 2005, with Art Buchwald threatening retirement, we once again followed the crowd to Edgartown. The auction was just as we'd remembered - a sunny day, a happy crowd, an atmosphere of high anticipation. We settled down to watch.

The bidding began, and with Art's inimitable cajoling, bids soared to astronomical levels. Rick Lee and Susan Klein joined in with Art to the keep the cash flowing. Well-heeled bidders were snapping up everything from Caribbean villas to exotic golfing vacations, cruising with the Cronkites, dinners with luminaries, and Grand Prix jaunts, and price was no object.

The "dream" fairly jumped out at me. Tickets to the finale of "American Idol" in Hollywood and invites to the ultra-exclusive after-party. Diana and I had become "Idol" addicts, cheering our favorites, casting votes into the night. What a thrill to be there in person!

Bidding began modestly enough. $200, $300. Should I bid? Now it was $500, and the auctioneer was looking for $1,000. I thought a moment, then, adrenaline flowing, I raised my hand. Or, it raised itself.

"$7,000!" intoned Rick Lee triumphantly, pointing my way.

"$7,000?" I thought, "but it was just $500, how did it get that high?"

"Mom!" Diana looked at me with what I hoped was delight but what was clearly horror. "What are you doing?"

"Don't worry, it's fine," I soothed with a confident smile, while my ears waited to hear the bids rise to $8,000, $9,000, $10,000, $20,000. But all I heard was $7,000 and my heart was sinking fast.

I still thought I needn't fret. A trip to Hollywood. "American Idol" up close and personal. Wouldn't everyone want that? Who could resist?

"7,000, we have $7,000," kept booming through the microphone.

The tall, blonde spotter materialized at my side as I tried to shrink back into the shadows. "$8,000?" she asked me with a bright smile. I just stood frozen, as Rick Lee lowered the gavel.

"Sold, for $7,000," he intoned.

My dream had suddenly changed. "Let this all be a nightmare. Let me wake up - now! And please, Lord, don't let anybody I know see me." I'd watched the lucky high bidders before, excited and proud, waving to cheering admirers. Not me. And there was a couple we knew. "Congratulations," they called, beaming. I tried harder to disappear.

But I kept smiling, smiling like a proud Cheshire cat, as my mind raced. Where was I going to find $7,000? How could I spend $7,000 that I didn't have when I was behind on the bills I did have. We bought clothes only at end-of-season sales, ate tuna only when it cost less than a dollar, turned out lights and turned down heat. Car-pooled. Packed lunches.

"Mom!"

Diana was now in total shock. And what could I do but grin and bare it, pay the piper, lie.

"Well, Sweetie, guess you're going to the American Idol finale next spring," I said brightly, though by now a heavy weight had settled over me. "How exciting is that?"

"I don't even know if I can go," she said, looking nervous. "I think it's school reunion that weekend."

"Oh, don't worry, that's not until June," I said, still perky, the model mom, everything under control.

"I don't even know if I WANT to go to Hollywood, and that huge theater looks scary."

"Don't be silly, you will love it," I told her.

"But can we afford it? How are you going to pay for it," my practical child shamed me with the voice of reason.

"Don't worry, Honey. I'll figure it out. And you know what?" (I was determined to bluff my way through this with grace.) "This is the first big donation I ever made to Community Services. It's a really good cause. I've lived here for 30 years. At that rate it's like I gave $250 a year, and that's not bad!"

"It's worth it," I told myself. "Airfare to California, luxury hotel, food, taxis...it adds up." Slightly comforting, until I checked and saw the "dream" included show tickets and party invitations - period.

I was calculating desperately. Could I go up to the cashier and say I raised my hand by mistake? No way. Tell her the glass of wine and hot sun made me silly? Unh-unh. Sneak out without giving my name? Not a chance.

Okay, I had to get the money. Rent a room? Rent the house? Sell the house? Aha! Take a loan. That was it. The only way I could hold my head high, while my daughter and a lucky pal winged off to Hollywood. Of course, I couldn't go. I'd be working a second job to pay off the loan. Or could I wash dishes at Community Services?

The rest of the auction passed in a blur as I struggled to come to terms with my $7,000 faux pas.

When it was time to leave I approached our spotter.

"I think I owe someone some money," I choked out.

"Oh, no," she said, "That man on the other side bought it; you both bid $7,000, but he bid first."

Sweet salvation was mine! Relief settled over me like a warm, soothing breeze. I could breathe again.

"Oh well, Honey, I guess you won't be going to Hollywood after all," I told Diana. "But hey, want a Possible Dreams tee-shirt? We can afford it!"

So as the auction approaches next Monday I laud the committee for finding so many tempting "dreams," all the volunteers and staff who make this delightful and lucrative fund-raiser the best party in town. And I tip my hat to Art Buchwald, who, although not here in body, will surely be present in spirit, urging the bidders on as always. For those with fat checkbooks and the generous will to give, I urge you to bid early, often, and high. But for the rest of us - buy your ticket, buy your hotdog, buy your tee-shirt, and have a great time. But for heaven's sake, sit on your hands!

Possible Dreams auction, Monday, August 6, 4:30 pm, Harborside Inn, S. Water Street, Edgartown. Admission is $25. Rain date: Tuesday, August 7. For more information call 508-693-7900, ext. 267 or 374 or visit www.possibledreamsauction.org.