“Do I hear $500?” yells the auctioneer as a man standing next to him on stage parades another peculiar sale item at St Vincent de Paul’s annual CEO Sleep-out auction. An enthusiastic bidder sitting somewhere in the middle of the crowd quickly flashes his hand into the air like a fish momentarily surfacing for oxygen before returning to the deep to contemplate it’s next move. “We have our first bid!”
The thought of making a bid for an item, any item, is one that automatically gets the heart racing. Vying in a dynamic face-to-face battle in a room full of strangers all of whom are after the same goal of winning the elusive prize offers an intricately poised competition off-setting money, desire and ego. The fact that it’s egged on further by a quick-talking and excitable auctioneer only adds petrol to the fire.
“Do I hear $1000? $1000, anybody? All donations are for charity so make sure you bid generously”
Typically when bidding at an auction we are stating that a) we want to purchase the said good and b) we can afford the said good. What made my bid crazy though was the fact that neither of these points could apply; my goal was never to win but instead make a bid for an item I neither needed nor could afford. In doing so I would for that one fleeting moment in time feel the rush of competition; the fear of over-committing and the sensation of ignoring commonsense. Existing at this moment far beyond the confines of my own comfort zone, it would then take the bid of another punter to relieve me of this strangely desired feeling of helplessness. It’s these moments of no control that I love in life. The risk was huge. Comfort is a killer.
A second person sitting towards the front of the crowd coughs loudly as the auctioneer continues to rant at an uncontrollable pace. This time it’s her hand that flashes high up in the air, indicating that another hungry fish lurking in the depths.
“$1000! Thank you, maam. Raising again now by another $500, let me see $1,500. Where is it?” The fish were biting tonight.
This auctioneer is no rookie; he knows how to work a room and everyone fidgets in an attempt to avoid eye contact as he encourages more bids from the wealthy crowd. He is that good. Comprised of 300 of the most influential CEO’s in Australia, the whole night is in aid of raising funds for Australia’s homeless population. With each person present earning top dollar in their respective industries, heavyweights from the banking sector, investment groups and multinationals guaranteed that I was the poorest person in the room by a long shot (if I’m going to be honest, most 18 year olds would earn more than me if they tried). There is though one man standing next to me at the back of the room who was in a far worse situation. His name is Wayne and he is homeless.
Wayne had just got off stage himself. He’d been invited to speak to the audience of the plight of the homeless and gave an inspirational speech about his own life living on the streets. Dedicating his time to offering mentorship for youths living on the streets, Wayne had developed a training program for these younger souls that not only kept their body’s healthy but instilled into them the notion of respecting yourself and others. He was awesome and just quietly one of the funniest and more confident people I’d met that night. Chatting and joking towards the back of the room, we’d become mates quickly.
“You know I’ve always wanted to make a crazy bid at an auction” I whisper to him as the auctioneer continues to seek out generous offers from the other side of the room.
“Mate you should have a crack now. It’s for a bloody good cause.”
This I couldn’t argue with but more recently I’d been thinking that as opposed to putting myself into imminent debt by making an offer that in reality would not go too far to adding any significant money amount to a worthy cause, I could instead wait to make a bid at a later stage in my life where perhaps I would have the means to make a more significant financial contribution at a charitable auction. My dream was that I would donate $1,000,000 for an item of no value, hence still being ‘crazy’ but with a far more positive outcome for others. I was convinced this was a better option.
Another flailing arm belonging to a lady at the front signals to the auctioneer that he’s doing a good job,
“Thanks you Madam! We now have $1,800! Any takers for $2,000?”
Everyone was getting involved.
With an energy sweeping the room that encouraged the generosity of the likes I assumed only high-rolling CEO’s could and would partake in, previous items in tonight’s auction have sold for staggering amounts, far beyond their actual value. Similar to my own thoughts, it seemed that people were not interested in what was being bid on, just the fact that all money bid was going to a good cause. It’s fun to watch and as another bid brings the total to $2,200, I resign myself to the fact that my crazy bid would wait for another time. Getting involved would be stupid at this stage.
Of all of the auctioned items on sale, the one currently being showcased on stage is by far the most bizarre. Having never seen anything like it myself, my best description would be that it was a giant, bright-yellow, sleeping bag that had been for some seemingly useless reason converted into a spaceman-styled suit to be worn around the house by someone I could only imagine lacked any desire in life other than to become a piece of furniture. With floppy boots and large gloves resembling oven-mitts in-built to the costume, the only exposed part of your entire body would be your face and even this could be minimized if the drawstring was to be pulled on the hood. I could only assume that it would require at least one other person to aid the user to get into the suit and a legal agreement that the same person be on hand for extracting the user at a later stage. It was brilliantly useless yet worryingly desirable.
“So do we have $2,500 for this stylish piece of clothing?” Yelled the auctioneer, probably surprised himself that the momentum that the bidding seemed to be escalating. With that a man near to me puts his hand up proudly. This was a bid owned by someone whose generosity could only be eclipsed by his sense of humour.
“Thank you, sir! What an offer.”
Laughter fills the venue and a few curious heads from the front of the room even turn around to see which crazed individual has made the last bid. Even without knowing this man I feel nervous for him in hope that he doesn’t get lumped with the horrible spacesuit but that intangible feeling that we ‘re nearing a climax of some sort tells me that his chances of being outbid are low.
“Ok we have $2,500! I ask whether there is anyone in the room willing to go to $3000?” continues the auctioneer.
Even the thought of another raise makes me feel queasy. Although over the five minutes of bidding to this point there had been at least 6 big-hearted bidders, I already feel sorry for whoever ends up with this ridiculously expensive spacesuit. The only soothing thought is that these people are all running large and successful businesses that were certainly paying them handsomely.
“$3000 is the final ask. Currently with the gentleman at $2,500. Going once!”
The crowd anticipation is huge as an eerie hush falls on the room. Eyes dart around in search of one last person to throw their hat in the ring but no-one dares to take the bait. The fish are suddenly quiet.
The end is near and I stand there with my hands in my pocket wanting to offer a pat on the back to the brave man in front of me.
The silence is suddenly broken;
“You sir! Is that a new bid of $3000?!”
Surely not! Has someone bid $3000? Yes! The room gasps as one as all heads spin around searching for the person who the surprised auctioneer is now pointing at. It’s as if we’ve all gathered at the bottom of a cliff, collectively looking up at someone who’s about to jump. My heart skips a beat and only one second later, when I notice that everyone is looking directly at me, do I realise that it’s my hand stretched high-up in the air! I’m the one who’s made the bid of $3000! What? My reality instantly warps into what feels like an out of body experience as my mind races to make sense of the confusion. I didn’t ask my hand to do that!
“Sir, is that a bid for $3,000?!” repeats the auctioneer, now talking directly to me as an entire room of wealthy CEO’s look at me.
My hand strangely stays extended to the roof as my heart beats the inside of my ribcage in fear. I feel a chill consume my body as my stomach reels in nervousness. I don’t have $3000, less the desire to become a piece of furniture! Looking up to my guilty left hand, it’s only now that I realise what’s happened; it’s Wayne! His hand is wrapped around my wrist. He’s grabbed my arm and shoved into the air. I’m helpless. I can only assume he’s done it in good nature and not as a way to spite me. Either way, there’s no escape now.
“Sir? Is that $3000?”
Peering now back across the room, directly to the auctioneer, I feel 300 pairs of eyes waiting for my response in anticipation. It’s decision time. Up to this point the spirit of the whole event has been amazing and I fear being the one to taint this. Taking one more moment to contemplate an escape plan in this moment of complete internal panic, I see there being just two options; jumping through a near by window and hiding under a rock or taking responsibility for this unique situation.
“Yep!” I scream at the top of my lungs, unable to control the volume of my voice, “$3000!” Again the room gasps, some even clap. I simply try to not to fall over.
My feet are planted. I’ve never jumped through a window.
“We are at a fantastic $3000 now. Do we have an advance on this folks?”
I can hear the questions being asked but still things are taking a moment to catch up in my own delayed reality. It’s horribly ironic that I am the only person in the room unable to afford, yet I am the one currently winning this auction! I bite my bottom lip and stand on my tiptoes mentally urging someone else to help me. I need another bid!
“$3000. Going once!”
No-one moves. A pin can be heard dropping.
The fish are all gone
“Going three times to the lucky man at the back of the room?”
Anyone? Anyone at all?
“Sold to you sir at the back of the room! Well done sir”
I’m a fish, floating belly up in a pond of confusion. I smile as strangers around me pat me on the back, Wayne included.
With nothing of any sense entering my head, I’m moments later being presented with the giant, bright yellow spacesuit. It’s looks even more useless up close. My concept of time and reason is lost. I squint as it’s dumped in my arms. Strangely though and without meaning to, I sense that I can’t stop smiling. Although feeling completely powerless, I feel something good has happened. The organizer shakes my hand and noticing my bewildered expression asks if everything is OK. I laugh uncontrollably as a way to release pent up nerves and anxiety.
“Yes I am. But can I tell you a funny story?!”
Her hand covers her mouth in embarrassment as I begin to explain what has just happened. She reacts as if she was the one who threw my hand up into the air, not Wayne.
“Sebastian, well look we can easily cover this cost for you with the caliber of people of people in the room. No need to worry and at the very least we can get the gentleman who bid $2,500 to take the prize. He’s got the money, unlike you! It would be crazy of you to follow through with this!”
This last sentence I couldn’t agree more with.
Over hearing the conversation, the playful and boisterous Wayne approaches me with outstretched arms. He’s just realised what’s happened,
“Seb I’m so sorry mate! I though you was one of the rich CEO’s!” We laugh. “I was just trying to have a laugh with someone I thought could afford to help!”.
I thought this might have been the case and as such Wayne only did something that I most likely would have contemplated as well if standing at a charitable auction next to a man whom I thought slept on a bed of money. His intention was only good.
“Mate I can find some money for you and we can go halves” Wayne continues.
For a man who lives on the street, this offer is something that only adds to my respect of this man and my mind finally catches up to reality. I have complete clarity and things now are as clear as they’d ever been.
Sometimes in life things happen. At these moments we have a choice; to act one way or the other. This is what shapes us as people, I think. Having no control of what’s happened up to this point, it’s only now that I realise I’m exactly where I need to be; completely out of my comfort zone, without a clue how I’m going to find $3000.
That was a crazy bid.
“It’s alright guys. I’d like to commit to my bid. I don’t need a spacesuit and I can’t afford it either. It’s perfect. ”
Holding my prize in one hand at my side, there is only one thing I need to do.
“Wayne, this is for you mate. It’s our prize” Wayne begins to laugh
“Are you kidding? Mate I live on the streets of Kings Cross; if I’m seen wearing that I’ll get bashed!”
Wow this suit really is useless.
Number – Make a Crazy Bid- TICK!