About a year ago we went to a nonprofit fundraising dinner with a silent auction. I made my husband promise not to bid on any of the items unless we really wanted them.
This had been a problem at other fundraising events. We tend to go to grassroots charity events — not high-rolling black-tie galas — and often there are silent auction items with no bidders. We look at the empty sheet of paper and feel sorry for the charity and the donor, whose offering looks as lonely as the uncool kid in the lunchroom.
So we place a bid, figuring other people will certainly jump in after us and buy the item.
And we end up going home with armfuls of unwanted winery tours, glass bowls, and framed wildflower photos.
This time we showed restraint. There was nothing unusual on the silent auction table anyway – aquarium tickets, dinner for two, a day at a spa. But then I noticed there was also a live auction — and one of the live auction items was an electric guitar autographed by Bruce Springsteen.
Or should I say, “Br-u-u-u-u-ce!”
Okay, I’m a stereotypical aging-boomer, bleeding-heart-liberal, former-New-Yorker Springsteen fan. So I got all excited and started doing a little jumpy dance and maybe even playing a teeny bit of air guitar. I told Sam that I wanted to bid on the guitar – just one bid, the opening bid of $500, and no more.
We went in to dinner. It was a lovely dinner. We had wine, we sat with friends. In fact, we sat on either side of our friends since we hadn’t seen them in a long time and we see each other every night. Sam held our auction paddle. When the bidding on the guitar started, I admit to giving a few little “Bruce” hoots. (Just a few.) Sam bid $500. It was grand fun.
Someone else bid $1000. I figured this had now become a spectator sport. It was still fun.
And then Sam’s arm was up with the paddle again. $1,500!
The friend sitting next to Sam was egging him on and they were laughing. He was too far away for me to lean over and whisper “stop.” I couldn’t nudge him with my elbow, couldn’t reach him with my leg to kick him.
Someone else bid $2,000. It was too noisy to make myself heard across the table. Sam bid $2,500. Stop, I waved frantically. The room seemed suddenly silent. I looked around for someone to hold up a paddle and outbid him.
No one did.
We were now the proud owners of a $2,500 autographed guitar. We don’t play guitar; our daughter already has a guitar; and aren’t owners of celebrity guitars supposed to keep them in special climate-controlled trophy rooms filled with other rock memorabilia?
We don’t have a trophy room. In my freelance-writer incarnation last year, I hardly even had what you could call income. That $2,500 equaled two or three years of my personal clothing budget.
“He thought it would make you happy,” one of our friends said consolingly. That made me even madder. After 21 years of watching me clip coupons and re-use yogurt containers, he thought I would be happy to spend $2,500 on an autographed guitar?
We drove home, my anger morphing into a stunned sense of betrayal. How could Sam have misjudged me so badly? What happened to our famous teamwork? Did he know anything about me at all? Had I been married all this time to a stranger?
This was one of those moments that in fiction would have been a turning point: Disillusion. Dissolution. Gabriel Conroy’s sudden understanding of the hollow core of his marriage in The Dead.
Instead I went to bed. In the morning I called my sister, who is an even bigger Springsteen fan than I am. I asked her what I was supposed to do with the Goddamned Guitar. It seemed obscene to bury a $2,500 autographed guitar in the garage under our 1970s record albums, outgrown ski clothing, and cages from deceased hamsters. I wondered if we should sell it on eBay to someone who really wanted it, or if we could return it to the charity to auction off again next year.
“WOW!” she said.
She went on for a while about how $2,500 seemed like a bargain price. She suggested that I wait for a few weeks, then hang the guitar on a wall and see how I felt. If it made me laugh, keep it up there. If it made me want to kill my husband, move it to the garage.
“Oh,” she added, “can you leave it to me in your will?”
I’d like to say that I ended up with some kind of deep epiphany – that I was touched by Sam’s generous spirit and came to love the guitar as a symbol of his love for me.
But in reality, it was more a matter of letting things go.
I try not to get angry when my daughter leaves clothes on the floor of her room. I silence my shrieking miser-brain when Sam spends a zillion dollars on a new bike. Living with people is like that – a hundred little things that could make you crazy, but if you value your peace of mind and your relationships, you let them go.
We ended up hanging the guitar over our stereo in the living room, the corner that Sam has made into a music nook for practicing saxophone. It’s still there.
Next month, I’m going to see Springsteen when he comes to San Jose for his Wrecking Ball tour. Four days earlier, we’re going to the 2012 edition of that charity dinner where we bought the guitar.
We’ll be sitting with the same friends. There will be another live auction.
This time it’s a Rolling Stones guitar. Sam says he won’t even consider bidding.
Still, I think this time I may hold the paddle.