The assignment I laid out for myself was a simple one. I’d spend Wednesday morning at Suffolk Police headquarters with $100 in my pocket, and I’d write about how far I could stretch that chunk of change at a police auction.
Somebody better tell Forrest Gump that simple isn’t always as simple does.
“What a great idea,” everyone was telling me.
“I can’t wait to read it,” they all said.
Unfortunately, nobody warned me about the basic checklist of five guidelines I needed to follow before heading to the auction:
1. Bring a chair to sit in. You’ll feel like a complete idiot standing in the hot sun all day while everyone else around you is sitting in comfortable lounge chairs.
2. Wear sunscreen. If you don’t, by 11:30 a.m. you’ll begin to look like The Man with One Red Face.
3. Bring a truck, or make sure you only bid on small items that you can fit, along with yourself, in your tiny little Dodge Neon — unless, of course, you are purchasing something that will drive your car for you, then you can always just take a cab home. (More on this overlooked detail a little later.)
4. Bring tools with you. You never know what you might need to disassemble in order to make it fit in your car.
5. Eat breakfast before you go. Chili dogs at 10 a.m. are never a good thing for your stomach or self-esteem.
Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes is credited with coining the phrase “To be prepared is half the victory.” Miguel de Cervantes I am not. If I only knew what the other half of the victory was, I might have had a fighting chance Wednesday.
I rolled up to the auction at 9 a.m., just in time to see the steal of the day. One man purchased a 46-inch Insignia LCD high definition television set for $160. My mouth began watering. “If this guy can bring home a $900 TV for $160, the possibilities of what I can get for $100 are pretty interesting,” I thought.
The next item up: five Pear-brand dresses. Suddenly, my mouth was a tad more dry.
Still, I have to admit, if you show up with a decent wad of cash, you can find some great deals on quality, unopened, once-stolen merchandise at a police auction. One man bought a Craftsman 3600 watt generator for $315, about half what he would have paid in a store. Another man bought a Paslode nail gun for $130, a savings of about $150 for the same item at Home Depot.
The real star of the auction was an older gentleman named Morris, a regular, it seemed, because everyone knew him. He spent his morning outbidding everyone on women’s and children’s clothing. He told me he gives the clothes away to people he knows. I was relieved to hear that, after he spent $5 on three women’s bras, size 36B.
Morris led a motley crew of auction bidders who seemed more like Applebee’s regulars than regulars of Sotheby’s.
Among my favorite items auctioned off Wednesday: a set of two crowbars and a bolt cutter. (Gee, I wonder if those items were used within the boundaries of the law.)
So, what did I buy?
Well, since you asked, after I spent my first $6 on two chili dogs and a Coke, I spent the next $54 on a men’s mountain bike with an air-cushion seat. I felt like Rickey Henderson at the time, as if I had stolen this item right out from underneath my fellow bidders, who went as high as $180 to buy other bikes.
There were just two problems: Rules 3 and 4. No, I did not drive a truck to the auction. And I did not have so much as a Swiss Army knife on me.
I had set just one other rule to supersede my $100 budget. If I hadn’t spent it all by noon — more than three hours into the auction — I would leave for work.
So when the auctioneers called for a 15-minute break at 11:15 a.m., I figured I better get my bike in the car so I’d still have enough time to spend my final $40.
So I wheeled my bike over to the car and opened the back door, ready to slide it in.
“Hmm, looks like I’ll need to go to the other side to turn the wheel,” I mumbled to myself.
When that didn’t work, I figured I’d need to lay it down through the trunk and into the back seat. That almost worked, but it appeared one of the pedals was caught on something in the trunk. So I gave it a little more pull. Turns out it was the front brake, which I accidentally shredded on a piece of metal.
Thirty minutes, 13 pounds of sweat and 10 greasy fingers later I decided to give up. There was no way in hell that bike was making it into my car.
So I left my first auction with 60 fewer dollars than I came with, and nothing to show for it but a stomach full of chewed-up chili dog.
At least I had some cash left for Alka-Seltzer.
Grant Parpan is the editor of The North Shore Sun. The News-Review’s sister paper. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-744-0404, ext. 11.