[The management wishes to inform you that this drivel was originally posted on September 28, 2008. We beg your indulgence to repost it mostly so B can rub my face in it.]
We went to the Black Horse auction north of DeForest and planned to spend pretty much all day there. Haven’t done that for quite a while. Haven’t gone to the auction first thing in the morning in quite a while, either, but it pays to get there early so you can have a good look around at all the junk laid out on the tables. That way, you can get some idea where the most interesting action might be.
We go there for the drama, not to buy the junk. Somehow we usually end up buying junk, but the fun in going is watching the junk get sold. I watched two guys furiously bid against each other, upping the ante ten dollars at a time, until one of them ended up paying one thousand dollars for an old book. A single old book! As he looked it over, I heard the guy standing next to him ask: “Did you get what you wanted?” The buyer gave his head a quick shake, not to answer “no” but as if to clear out the craziness rattling around in there. “I sure hope so,” he answered.
The most amazing drama we saw all day, I have to say, was right in our laps. As we made our first rounds, My Darling B zeroed in on a sewing machine table at the far end of the back room, not because she needs a sewing machine but because, if she spots anything that appears to be related to sewing, she has to stick her nose in it, just as sure as her cat has to stick its nose in a door that’s left cracked open. And a good thing she did, too, because when she flipped open the folding top of the table she uncovered a Bernina, a brand of sewing machine that even dopey old me can recognize as a high-quality machine that’s sought after by anybody who likes to sew. It was an old machine, but old Berninas are like old Chryslers; they’re built to last and are even more sought-after as they get older.
So even though she didn’t need another sewing machine, there was really no question that we should buy it, if it went for a reasonable price, meaning ten bucks, maybe fifteen, tops. That presented us with a couple problems: B figured that a reasonable price for that particular Bernina might be somewhere in the neighborhood of two-hundred dollars. We were deeply conflicted between our usual inclinations to be tightwads and our recognition that this was a rare find. And, if we bought it, we would have to figure out a way to get it home. Not the sewing machine, that was the easy part. The sewing table it was mounted on, though, stood about waist-high and was three feet wide. I eyeballed it and declared that we would have no trouble getting it into the back seat of the car. Okay, I lied. I wanted her to have it, and I would have gone begging for a screwdriver and a pair of pliers off somebody so I could take it to pieces if need be. But I didn’t tell her that, I only told her not to worry about it.
The only other problem we had was that, at every auction, there are invariably people prowling around who buy up all the best furniture, appliances and various knick-knacks, stuff them into the huge panel van or trailer they’ve got parked in the middle of the road outside and take it all back to their shop or sell it on e-bay for a tidy profit, and they know their profit margin to the nickel. If you find yourself bidding against one of these guys, you’ve got to be prepared to bid high and take comfort in knowing that, if he’s still outbidding you, it’s worth a lot more than you thought it was.
After talking it over, we decided B could go as high as two-hundred, but even with a cap as high as that she spent the rest of the day with a nervous knot in her stomach, worried that one of the collectors would be there waiting when the auctioneer got to the Bernina. It was one hell of a long wait. An auctioneer didn’t get around to the back corner of the back room where the Bernina sat waiting until much later in the afternoon, but B watched him like a hawk all day to make sure she didn’t miss it. I ended up watching him pretty closely, too, because her nervous flitting back and forth got me wanting to see how this was going to play out.
You can never really tell how high the bidding’s going to go on any item. If it’s an antique, you can guess that somebody will probably recognize its value and it will sell for a mind-boggling amount of money, but every so often nobody will realize what it’s worth and somebody will walk off with it for a buck or two. And sometimes you’ll have your eye on a worthless piece of junk like your favorite Bobby Goldsboro album, and you’ll get used to the idea that you’re going to walk away with it for a buck as you wait all day for the auctioneer to get around to it, but when he finally does there are six other people in the crowd who remember it was their favorite Bobby Goldsboro album, too, and the bidding rockets insanely to a hundred fifty bucks, leaving you to trudge away empty-handed.
As the auctioneer sold one item after another, getting closer and closer to the Bernina, B pointed out the people in the audience she suspected of being dealers, or sewers who knew what the machine was worth, or just people who saw her coveting the machine and were there to ruin her day. The auctioneer sold off some picture frames, a king-size bed, and a repulsive coffee table before he came to the Bernina and by that time there was a very thin crowd of only a dozen or so die-hards eagerly waiting for him to get to the last item. They stood poised to bid. I expected no less than a fist fight to break out.
It didn’t help B’s nerves any that the auctioneer himself recognized the Bernina as a quality sewing machine and said its name loudly, over and over. “What am I bid?” he began, “Who’ll give me a hundred fifty?” Nobody flinched. Nobody ever takes the opening bid. Nobody ever takes the first two or three bids the auctioneer starts with. I don’t know why he even bothers starting so high, but I suppose there must have been a few times he’s hooked an over-eager newbie that way. He backed the opening bid down until he got to ten bucks, and B couldn’t stand it any longer. “I’ll take ten bucks!” she yelped.
“I’ve got ten dollars!” the auctioneer barked out. “Who’ll give me twenty?” No takers. “Who’ll give me fifteen?” Still no takers. “Twelve-fifty? Who’ll give me twelve-fifty?” Amazingly, still no takers. What in the name of seven flaming hells were these people waiting for? He prompted the crowd several more times for a bid of twelve-fifty before giving up and selling it to B for ten bucks. Ten bucks! When I checked later on e-bay there was an enamel pin that looked like a Bernina selling for fourteen ninety-five!
And, lucky me, I didn’t have to take the table apart. It just squeeked into the back seat of the car after we turned it upside-down.