We’re on our way to the beach
to spend a long weekend with a family we’ve never met, apparently because
the auction committee at our local elementary school succeeded in its quest
to get us parents drunk (I say “
apparently” because the details of the evening are foggy).
Perhaps I should give a bit of context.
Most of the year, our schools are
upstanding institutions, focused
on educating our kids, teaching the
Golden Rule—treat others as you want
to be treated—and promoting sharing.
But at the annual fundraising auction,
parents enthusiastically jettison those
values. Nearly every school holds an
auction, and the goal is simple: to raise
as much money as possible in one evening by separating parents from their
wallets. And that often requires alcohol—lots of alcohol. I’ve heard of local
school auctions where free shots are
offered, and others where drink tickets
are handed out at the door.
My husband, Glenn, and I always
attend these auctions because we’re firm
believers in supporting our educational
system—and because we’re looking to
score good deals on Nationals tickets
and cheese platters.
The evening always begins with parents chatting politely. We check out bid
sheets for the silent auction, contemplating what to purchase.
A martini pitcher with cute, matching glasses?
Well, we think as we polish off our
first glass of wine, it is for the school.
Massage and facial at Elizabeth
The second-graders would be so
A gift certificate to Georgetown
We bid $40 for a dozen cupcakes, and
The 'Highest' Bidder
the next time we
circle past the bid
sheet, we see someone else has bid
$60. They didn’t
even go up by the
suggested $5 increment! It feels show-offy and vaguely
aggressive. Are they suggesting they love
their children more than we do? We console ourselves with a glass of vodka
topped with just a dash of orange juice.
Soon, organizers announce the
silent auction is about to end. That’s
when the parents swarm bid sheets
like lions circling a limping zebra. The
martini pitcher set that was a “maybe”
10 minutes earlier is now an object
of psychological warfare because the
same big spenders who stole our cupcakes (“Bidder 65”) have outbid us by
$5 for the set.
We up the ante by another five bucks
and stake out the bidding sheet (by
“we,” I mean “I”; Glenn is sampling pigs
in a blanket, not realizing our family
is in a Godfather-style showdown over
honor and pride). A woman wanders
over. Bidder 65, perhaps, camouflaged
as a sweet-looking room mother? I give
her the stink eye: That’s right, Room
Mom, hustle along!
A minute later, the bidding has ended
and we’re the triumphant owners of
an $80 martini pitcher with matching
glasses worth $35 perhaps. The set likely
will collect dust in our cabinet for the
next decade until we donate it to Goodwill (at which point Bidder 65 will pick
it up for a dollar). But I’m not feeling bitter about this because it’s time for the
live auction. That’s when the real action
“Hey, should we buy a weekend at the
beach for our families?” my friend Sonia
“Excellent idea!” I lisp.
Our drink glasses are empty again—
clearly they must be leaking—so I suggest a refill at the bar located conveniently nearby.
Then we notice that the beach house
in Lewes, Del., sleeps 16. Sonia spots a
friend across the room, and within 10
seconds, we’ve all decided to vacation
together! We hug in delight, then introduce ourselves.
“Wait,” the friend says. “I promised
my husband I wouldn’t bid on any out-
“Pfffft,” we sputter. “The beach isn’t
out of town! He meant trips to China.”
Inspired by that alcohol-fueled
logic, we begin bidding. And bidding.
Our husbands (the designated drivers)
try to secure limits to our spending,
but we brush them off with our new
catchphrase: It’s for the children! We
end up nabbing the beach trip by bid-
ding roughly twice what our husbands
“This is going to be amazing!” I say
to my new friend. She gives me an odd
look, and I realize the woman I’ve just
met is actually on my other side.
Suddenly I’m wondering what it will
be like to spend four days with total
strangers. But then I realize the auction
has provided the answer: That martini
pitcher will come in handy after all. n
Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel is The Best
of Us (Washington Square Press, 2013).
She can be reached at sarah.pekkanen@