The Silent Treatment : A Columnist Is Auctioned Off for Charity

For small institutions that don't have big fund-raising clout, the silent auction has become a key to modest goals.

Recently we went to an auction run by the PTA of Mar Vista School, on the Westside, to raise money for its computer program.

We were there because two of our grandchildren are pupils at Mar Vista, and our daughter-in-law, Gail, had invited us.

There was to be both a silent auction and a vocal auction, the silent auction coming first. Gail had beguiled me into offering myself as bait in the vocal auction, the prize being lunch and a tour of The Times. I was on the block.

When you enter, they give you a large card with a number on it--your bidding number. We took these into a large classroom where the silent auction was going on.

The items at auction, or descriptions of them, along with bidding sheets, were set out on long parallel tables. The room was crowded with people going up and down the aisles between the tables, making bids.

At one end, a finger-food table offered celery and jicama sticks with dip, cookies, crackers, cheese balls and that sort of thing. I hung around the table, sipping decaf and nibbling jicama sticks and watching my wife move up and down the aisles, studying the auction items and occasionally writing down a bid.

Most of the items had been donated by friendly local entrepreneurs. Dinner for two at Coco's. Lunch for two at Fratello's. Piano lessons. Karate lessons. Dance class. A lawyer had offered a simple will. Lube, oil, filter change. Ten car washes. Automatic dog feeder, with timer. Body massage. Haircut, blow-dry or set, includes shampoo.

I didn't see anything I really needed. I was tempted, though, by a game called Midlife Crisis. The blurb said: "Can you survive your mid-life crisis without cracking up, breaking up or going broke?" The game came with a bottle of Napa Valley Chenin Blanc. Good thinking. The trouble was, my mid-life crisis was already past.

I also considered a computer software program called Writer Rabbit. A beginning course in writing. Good idea. Start all over again. Maybe do better. Learn how to write complete sentences.

"Why don't you get the automatic dog feeder?" I overheard one woman ask another.

"I don't have a dog."

"You could feed your children their Corn Flakes."

I wandered off through the school to look at the things on the walls. In one half-darkened hallway I saw a display under the heading "Room 23 Fights Prejudice." Below it were several shield-shaped cutouts on which pupils had written their dreams for peace. "I have a dream. I dreamt there was no killing in the world . . . ."

I passed the political announcements. "Vote for Ryan. He'll keep on trying." "Vote for Me if you want what's good for you. Tim Liggett." "Vote for Gary. He's one rung above the competition. A leader. The top of the ladder."

Rest easy. We will always have politicians.

Under a glass case I saw a poem on winter fun by my grandson, Casey:

When I go out of my house in winter

It will be very nice

I will go skating on the cold ice

When I go out of my house in winter.

So the lad was not only a T-ball star; he was a poet. And a poet with imagination. As far as I knew, the only ice he had ever seen was in the refrigerator.

Next to Casey's work was another, by David Gorin:

Cold winter breeze

It's possible to sneeze

I dress very warmly

So I won't freeze

Cold winter breeze.

David lives near my grandson and is about as likely to freeze as a papaya. Understands the apostrophe, though.

Another wall was covered with "We are the world" and "Welcome to Mar Vista" written in poster paint in several languages around a map of the world.

The vocal auction was starting.

Many of the items were choice, and the bidding was high. An autographed Laker basketball went for $105. A knee pad signed by Magic Johnson also brought a good price. My son and daughter-in-law brought in $115 for a Sunday sail in the family boat. A seamstress bid the top dollar on her own made-to-order Halloween costume. "It's for a friend," she explained.

"Why can't I do that?" I whispered to my wife. "Bid to take myself to lunch?"

I figured it would be cheaper to take myself to lunch than to take myself and another person. Besides, I was afraid no one would bid for me. My value was listed as "priceless."

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. A young matron whose daughter is in Casey's class bid $105 for lunch with me and a tour of The Times. It would have been enough to pull me through mid-life crisis. Not only did she look like an engaging luncheon partner, but it also would be my first tour of The Times.

The silent auction bids had been tallied. We went back into the other room to pick up our loot. I was relieved to find that my wife had bought only a couple of small trinkets.

I had been afraid she'd buy the automatic dog feeder.

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