I get discombobulated at auctions. With all the shouts and arm waving of dueling bidders and the “Going, going!” warnings of the auctioneers, my adrenalin gushes and I forget to stay quiet and motionless because, to paraphrase an old song, “Every little movement has a meaning all its own to an auctioneer.”
At my very first auction I was anxiously bidding on a chipped soup tureen determined to outdistance the other bidder when a kindly old lady pointed out that the “other bidder” was me.
Once at an outdoor auction I was swatting attacking yellow jackets not realizing I was in a bidding war with two other guys until I heard, “Sold to the wildly waving gentlemen for one hundred dollars!” The abstract painting is still hanging in the back of my closet. It might be upside down. I don’t know for sure.
I realized I had to quit cold turkey or sit through auctions with my hands in my pockets and wearing dark sunglasses. Even a significant blink at the wrong moment can cost you big bucks.
Then one fateful day my editor shouted, “Newman, I want you to cover a really interesting auction today.” I was in shock. My hands will be out of my pockets, busy taking notes!
It actually was a very interesting auction. Someone was parting with his World War II B-25 bomber, the same model Jimmy Doolittle and his small squadron flew to bomb the Japanese homeland in 1942 to avenge the Pearl Harbor attack. The MGM movie “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” was a dramatization of the raid.
Some of the bidders were Air Force vets and so was I. Some had fond memories of flying in B-25 bombers and, Lord help me, so did I. As a rookie in 1949 I’d hitched rides on the bomber to get home on leave quickly and cheaply .
I interviewed the handful of prospective bidders, trying to keep my reporter’s distance. One man said he had fond memories of flying in the twin-engine bomber including a low level flight over downtown Boston with one engine on fire. I’m sure this didn’t become a fond memory until a day or so after the safe landing.
Another man, a pilot, said he’d like to plant the bomber on his farm so he and his buddies could hang out in it, a really dramatic clubhouse. I thought I’d like to join that club if he was the low bidder.
A Morristown N.J. man, planning to open a hobby shop, envisioned the Billy Mitchell bomber as a great attraction, seemingly poised for takeoff in front of his future shop.
The auctioneer began. “This is an as-is sale.” ( That’s where you get the real bargains, I thought.) “There are no guarantees.” (Who needs a guarantee? What pitfalls are there to owning a neat B-25 bomber? Well maybe some fussy zoning board rules, but there must be some place a guy can store it for occasional visits, to sit at the controls making engine noises and pilot-to-tail gunner commands.) I was beginning to forget about my serious addiction.
When the $1,100 minimum price was announced, I wrecklessly took my hands out of my pockets to count on my fingers. I thought, if I cut lunches and gave up bowling for two or three years…….
“I’ll take it at $1,100” was shouted. My goodness, was that me? How will I ever explain to my wife I’ve bought a ten-ton bomber? She’s very understanding, but there’s a limit. Someone was shaking the hobby shop guy’s hand. He must have bought the bomber. What a relief!
Returning to my reporter’s role, I asked, “Where will your hobby shop be? I was thinking of hobbies I might adopt as an excuse for B-25 visits. “I don’t know yet,” he said. “I have to find a town that will allow the plane on commercial property near a major highway.”
That was 46 years ago. I never heard tell of the bomber again. It was probably downed by township ordinance flak.