Recently, my wife and I went to one of those for-a-good-cause auction-dinners. If you've never been to one of these events, stay tuned, I'll explain it. If you have been to one? No explanation is necessary, because they are all the same ...
The purpose is to raise money for a Good Cause. How it generally works is that merchants and artists and corporate sponsors donate items, ranging from free trips, to art, to wine and what-not. It's a charitable deduction, the charity gets the money.
Usually, these event start with a reception at which one may wander about looking at, buying outright, or bidding on the donated items. Sometimes raffle tickets are sold.
Dinner begins, a catered affair which involves an entreé vulcanized to point where it would better serve as a steel-belted radial tire for your automobile than as food for human consumption. In the middle of sawing away at this rubberized whatever, speakers step up, dignitaries are introduced, awards given, children sing, all competing with diners talking non-stop. If whoever cooked this mysterious stuff in the middle of the plate was a contestant on Top Chef, they would be packing their knives and going home after the elimination challenge.
The speakers are almost always enthusiastic, dedicated to the cause, and generally -- let's be kind here -- less than adept at public speaking. The speeches, introductions, awards, and singing all go on for too long, and by the end of the evening anybody who says, "Thanks, I'm not going to give a speech." gets a resounding ovation.
But they always do anyhow -- give a speech.
Rule of Thumb: Consider how long you should speak to to a group of people who have all developed sudden and militant cases of Montezuma's Revenge. Got a time in mind? Good. Now, cut that in half. Unless you are juggling flaming elephants -- and even then, ten minutes is too long.
Somebody needs to gently explain to the folks who run these things that if you are going to introduce fifty people by name, you should read off the names, have them all stand up at the same time and take a bow, sit, and hold your applause until that happens.
What you don't do to keep the momentum rolling is have each of the fifty stand up, wait for the applause after each, and then go on to the next one. People are trying to eat what seems to be a slightly-warm hockey puck, and that's already difficult enough to do with both hands and a wouldn't-cut-butter-dull knife. Trying to applaud and manipulate dining tools at the same? Bad idea.
We were at a table of professional people, white collar folk, educated, urbane, and, because it was for a Good Cause, smiling through the pain and hoping for a glimmer of something to break the monotony. We'd bought stuff, contributed cash, and here comes the auction, by which time we would all happily give up our wallets just to be allowed to leave.
So the expensive wine comes up for bid.
Two of the men at our table are in a discussion about why they aren't coughing up more money. One of them allows as how the reason for him is simple: He has two kids in college.
Two kids in college! I hear that, the other guy says, raising his hand to God. Me, too!
Raising his hand to God just in time to offer several hundred dollars for the winning bid on the wine ...
Only ... he doesn't know it. The conversation continues until the auctioneer's rep comes over and asks the unaware fellow for his bid number ...
Laugh? Oh, I confess I had tears running down my face I was laughing so hard. Me, and everybody else at the table. Well, save for one guy who didn't really think it was very funny at all ...
Did you, uh ... win? one of our table asked, deadpan.
That set us off again.
It got straightened out, the previous bidder was happy to step up, and our guy was willing to make up the difference, but it was like a scene from a screwball comedy.
A word of advice: If people are bidding on expensive items in such circumstances, that is not the time to wave to your friend across the way, nor comb your hair, or shoo the fly off from your stale bread.
Sit very still.
Better, go to the bathroom and stay there until they are done.