Grandma And The Unspeakably Ugly Chandelier, Or What Not To Do At An Auction

by Judith Katz-Schwartz

Dateline: 4/12/99

This is a cautionary tale, meant to give you the benefit of my experience. And maybe it will make you smile.

I was the cashier for Barn-man, my favorite auctioneer. Mom and Grandma were in the audience, along with 100 or so other people, all looking to spend a pleasant Saturday night acquiring more "stuff" . Suddenly, I heard Barn-man say, "You don't want it? You were only scratching your nose? It was a mistake...?."

My mother turned to Grandma with an impatient look on her face. "How are we gonna get that in the car, Ma?", she said.

The two ringmen (one of whom was Artie) dragged a huge cast iron contraption across the floor (it resembled a bear trap with chains) and deposited it in a rusty pile at Grandma's feet.

"Luzzem!", Grandma growled in Yiddish, a warning command to Mom, to Artie, to me, to anyone who dared approach the junkyard reject now lying there on the floor. "Leave it."

I thought about it a moment and, wisely, decided to say nothing.

It was filthy, and at least three feet in diameter, with those ugly black chains. It reminded me of some medieval torture device, a portable pillory or something. And there it sat in front of Grandma for the rest of the evening. When the auction ended, we tried carting it home, but it wouldn't fit in any of our vehicles, so Artie drove our big old retired Port Authority of New York and New Jersey van back to Barn-man's place the next morning, and picked it up. He wrestled it into our basement, and we all stood around and stared at it. It was an old, no, ancient, very ugly and very rusty chandelier, one that had never been electrified. It had about thirty candle holders.

"Grandma," I said. "What are you going to do with this?"

"I'll give it to Dr. Bob. It goes with his place".

Dr. Bob is a friend of the family, the only medical professional my grandmother would ever allow anywhere near her. He doesn't have an actual medical office, preferring instead to work for an organization of doctors who make house calls. As a result, he was available to Grandma whenever she needed him. And he has always had a way with geriatric patients, so she trusted him, or was charmed by him. Whatever. He was our link to proper medical care for Grandma. Bob lives in an apartment on the west side of Manhattan. The first time we visited his home was at Christmas, and he had an old iron chandelier in his dining room, in which he'd placed lighted candles.

"This is the only time I ever light that thing," he told us. "It's such a fire hazard."

Now, I know it's obvious to you how Grandma's mind was working. After all, if you have one candle chandelier, then you must need others, right? And it doesn't matter what condition these other ones may be in--the point is that you just need more! So, that ugly, dusty, rusty thing took up residence in my country house for close to a year, until we could count on the correct convergence of circumstances: we knew we'd see Bob at some party or other, and the appropriate jumbo-sized vehicle was available. Then Artie and I were ordered by Grandma (of course!) to deliver the chandelier to Doctor Bob.

He was so polite. He thanked Grandma profusely. When the party was over, he asked Artie and me if we could take the chandelier up to the auction house and sell it at the next auction.

Which brings me to the purpose of this article. Grandma broke one of the cardinal rules of auctions (not that Grandma cared one whit about the rules anywhere, much less in some old auction house where her granddaughter works and can smooth everything over). So, here, beginning with the rule that Grandma broke, are a few basic guidelines for auction house etiquette:

1. Never buy anything you can't fit in your vehicle. Really, Grandma, where are we supposed to put Mom?

2.Never scratch your nose (ditto pointing at anything or waving to anyone). Coffee tables all over the world are littered with frighteningly ugly objets for which spouses were forced to pay way too much of their hard earned money after their mates noticed Kathy (or Katrinka, or Ming Lee) standing in the doorway.

3. Never bid on anything you haven't carefully inspected. Unless of course, you really wanted a tea set with seven cups (three with no handles) and six saucers.

4.Arrive early.You folks who walk in just as the auction is beginning, or even later than that: nobody appreciates having you hold up the auction so you can look at something that's being put up for sale. And we don't think it's cute that you're rooting through the cartons back there when the exhibitiion is over and the sale has begun. There are restroom facilities and homemade refreshments. You have everything a human could want here, it's your home away from home (not!), so please drag your carcass in here and look at everything before the auction begins.

5. Hey, you! Don't stare into space--the auctioneer is looking at you. Yeah, you! If you're bidding on something and have decided not to go any higher, signal the poor guy by a shake of your head. Let him know you're done. Don't make him look at you and say, "Fifty-five? Fifty-five? Fifty-Five?" about a hundred times. Puh-leeze!

6. Don't even think of trying to rewrite the auction rules. This is another reason to get there early. If the item wasn't what you thought it was when you bid on it, don't hold up the auction by trying to get the auctioneer to take it back. When they announce the rules of the auction at the beginning of the sale (like the one that says "all sales are as-is and where-is, and they're final".) , they actually mean it. All of it. And showing up late is no excuse.

7. La-dee! You're holding up the line. Do you mind if we get home sometime before dawn? Yes, there's a buyer's premium. Because there is, that's why. Yes, the tax has to be added after the buyer's premium. Because it's the state law, that's why. No, we don't accept third party checks. Because we are just very good looking, not stupid, that's why. Ma'am, would you mind actually signing your check?

Your comments, as always, are welcome. If you have something to say, write to me.
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1999 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.