The advertisement said that they were auctioning off a John Deere lawn tractor. I was in love with the idea of owning a riding mower. Well, I was 18, and as long as I was living in my parents’ house, it was going to be my job to mow the lawn. And, I was tired of pushing a mower around that acre and a half. I heard you could get used equipment for a lot less at these estate auctions, so I went, hopeful of bringing home a bargain. When the auction was over, three hours later, I brought home an old recliner and a small bookcase in the back of the car. No John Deere riding mower. Well, what did you expect? It was an auction.
I have been intrigued with auctions for most of my life. When I was really young, Dad would take us to the livestock auction once in awhile and we’d watch the old farmers bid and we’d admire the cattle, pigs, and other miscellaneous beasts. I don’t remember much about how it happened, but I do remember coming home with Goldie, a sweet old goat. She was supposed to give milk and be bred, but she was never good for much more than being fed and watered. Never gave milk, never had a kid. But, what did you expect? It was an auction.
After my experience at the auction when I wanted to buy the lawn tractor, I stayed away from auctions for awhile. But, right after I married the Lovely Lady, I saw an ad for an auction in our town and went to see if there was anything which would be useful for furnishing our little house. I was looking for a sofa and love seat. A few hours later, I came home with a leaky aquarium and a non-functioning blender. Didn’t need either one. Never used either one. What did you expect? It was an auction.
After other similar experiences, I’ve finally decided that I don’t do well at auctions. The first rule of auctions is that you must know what you’re bidding on. The second rule: know your limit. Decide ahead of time what the item is worth and don’t bid more than that. Besides the fact that I couldn’t stick with the first rule, I certainly couldn’t follow the second rule because what makes auctions successful is the competitive nature of the activity. The bid is entered and for a moment the item is yours. The next thing you know, someone else has stolen your thingummy right from under your nose! You can’t take that lying down, so you bid again. Higher and higher, little by little approaching your limit, until there you are, right at the price you promised you wouldn’t go over. But, the opponent has once again taken what was rightfully yours and for only one dollar over your limit. Two dollars won’t break you! So, you bid again, only to find that once you’ve exceeded your limit, it gets easier and easier to surpass it, with each successive bid. Before you know it, you own the whatchamacallit (which you really didn’t want and absolutely don’t need) and have paid an astronomical amount! I don’t do well at auctions.
A few of my friends and I used to go to a local consignment auction on Friday nights, just for fun. One Friday evening, one of these friends decided that he needed a refrigerator and could get one for a good price while at the auction. He looked them over and picked out the one he wanted. Still unsure, he made the mistake of believing the auctioneer’s repeated promise: “working all the way” (everything in the auction was working all the way) and bought himself a beautiful, non-working refrigerator. When he tried to return it, the staff at the auction pointed to the signs hanging all around the smoke-filled interior of the auction barn…the ones reminding you to “Buy at your own risk. All items sold as is, where is. Absolutely no returns.” But, the staff suggested, it would be fine if he wanted to run the refrigerator through the auction again. Sure they’d collect the commission again, but they could sell it! They did one time before, remember?
Auctions have been a continuing life-lesson for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my lack of self-discipline. I’ve learned that putting myself in that kind of competitive situation only makes my common sense disappear into thin air, to be recovered at a later time, when I’m sadder but wiser. Fortunately, these life lessons have come at a relatively inexpensive cost. Many don’t learn the lesson until they’ve been defrauded of huge sums of money, all because they were sucked into the competition and didn’t make sure of the merchandise before it was purchased.
Come to think of it, much of life is like the auction. Promises are made, which no one can be compelled to keep. The price paid for those empty promises is much too high and frequently, the merchandise is faulty, even fake. Most of us have jumped at those empty, wasteful opportunities at some point in our lives, only to repent of the venture, often too late. Easy money, easy love, easy life. All are falsehoods, with a price tag we cannot afford and a result that is incredibly inferior to the promised experience. Yet, we rush headlong into the competition, confident of winning, assured of happiness awaiting us at the end of the bidding. Life is littered by such experiences, which mar the journey, but too frequently the hard lessons are forgotten, and we leap at the next such opportunity, only to repeat the outcome.
Meanwhile, I keep getting these ads for auctions of music stores going out of business. I’ve been thinking that I should go and buy some of the great instruments they list, but I’m pretty sure all I’d come back with is a box of guitar picks and a couple of junk guitars. What else would I expect? It is, after all, an auction…
“If somebody brings them, we’ll auction them. We’ve got a license to sell pigs too, but we don’t. They’re too messy and smell too bad.”
(Curtis Barfield~ Georgia auction owner)