A heavy and chilly bank of fog rolled in over last night's Possible Dreams auction in Edgartown, but it did nothing to cool down the bidders who went wild for items featuring Carly Simon, David McCullough and Walter Cronkite.
By the time the marathon event wrapped up some three hours later, Martha's Vineyard Community Services had raised $403,600 from 48 dreams, topping last year's $325,000 mark by a margin of nearly 25 per cent. About 800 people turned out for the fund-raiser.
Auctioneer Art Buchwald was back at the block after a one-year hiatus recovering from a stroke, and he wasted no time pushing up the bids at a steady clip, one thousand or even five thousand dollars at a time in some cases.
"Why are the increments so high?" he asked. "The only reason is we want your money. Everything we do here is to help people on the Island. We owe them." And besides, he added, "Don't worry if it gets too high. Just sell the house."
The crowd welcomed back Mr. Buchwald like an old friend and they waited happily for his ample supply of one-liners. But they also waited for those moments when a jolt of energy would send a shockwave into the bidding and take everyone into a wholly different arena.
And last night, it happened with what would have seemed at first glance to be one of the more unlikely dreams. It had nothing to do with television. movies, pop music, theatre or professional sports, and it was not a trip to anyplace exotic. And unlike several other dreams, where the donor made an in-person plea for generosity, this one had no such backing.
Still, the idea of going to Quincy, Massachusetts and taking a tour of the John Adams house held vast appeal. It probably had something to do with the fact that the personal tour guide was the Pulitzer-winning historian from West Tisbury, David McCullough, whose newest biography of Adams is already a huge bestseller.
The bidding started at $5,000 but in seconds, it had doubled. Then it jumped twice, in leaps of $2,000 apiece. By the time the dust settled, the final price was $21,000. In the second row, you could see a hand shoot up in the air, triumphant and clutching a copy of Mr. McCullough's John Adams.
For the bidders, though, any victory was a cause for celebration. It wasn't quite clear which one was the winner, but when a Bill Smith clambake at the Cliffs for 20 people pulled down $4,000, it was Rose Styron who turned to Lucy Hackney, smiled and raised her hands to slap a pair of high-fives.
If there was a climax of the evening, it came in back-to-back dreams whose donors were made famous by their voices. First was Carly Simon and then Walter Cronkite, both coming to the microphone to boost the bidding.
Ms. Simon, true to form, worked magic with the crowd, literally singing up the bid amounts. Wearing sunglasses and a shoulderless striped top, she set the tone with the simplest of introductions. "What a beautiful evening. We could write about it at my house," she said. "Your voice, my voice. I burn you a nice CD, and you go home with it."
Then, bam! "Five grand!" a man in the back yelled out.
"We've got $12,000," came another voice. Next it was "17 grand," then $20,000 and $22,000. At $30,000, Ms. Simon started in with the real work, singing two lines at a time from her long list of hits. "You're so vain," she crooned, and the people erupted in applause.
The next bid was $40,000, and Ms. Simon was jumping up and down at the podium. She had already offered up the Cronkites as back-up singers, and now she was pushing hard to raise the bar.
"Forty-two? With the Cronkites singing?" she asked, before belting out a few more lines: "Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest."
Then one of the bidders started to flex some muscle. "Sing Jesse, and they'll pay $55,000," came the word from one of the volunteers helping to communicate bids. More applause came, and Ms. Simon obliged.
Mr. Buchwald leaned over to Ms. Simon and asked plaintively, "Do you want to sing some more?" She responded with New Jerusalem. The final bid of $55,000 was gaveled out, and Mr. Buchwald called for a standing ovation for the singer, who set last night's record for highest bid.
Next up was Walter Cronkite, offering his traditional luncheon sail for four. The bidding zoomed to $9,000 and then $12,000. Mr. Cronkite started chattering on the mike like a professional auctioneer. That just about undid Mr. Buchwald, who grabbed his forehead and pushed back his hat, smiling.
"Make it 16, we'll take life preservers," said Mr. Buchwald. "He's a knowledgeable guy. He knows why Dan Rather wouldn't talk about the case." The final offer? $20,000.
Another newsman also quickly garnered the same figure. This time it was Mike Wallace, offering a tour of the 60 Minutes studio in New York. "He's not supposed to do this," Mr. Buchwald said, making the dream sound forbidden and all the more alluring. "He gets in trouble with his boss every time he does it."
Like bluefish in a frenzy, the bids came fast and furious, in five-thousand dollar chunks, then ending as quickly as it all began. That was the way for most of the sports dreams, too, trips to the World Series, Super Bowl and basketball all-star game.
There were goofy moments as well. Olga Hirshhorn, nearly dwarfed by the podium, played the scrappy auctioneer, sweetening her dream at every chance to augment the bids. The winner would get a personal tour with Mrs. Hirshhorn of the the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., but that wasn't all. How about two nights' accommodations, free meals and drinks?
"Listen, I'm pretty old," she said. "I won't be doing this much longer. I'm 81." Final bid came to $6,500.
Larry David, creator of the TV series Seinfeld, tried a similar approach, heaping extra favors on his dream donation: a walk-on part in his HBO comedy called Curb your Enthusiasm. But it took him a minute to warm up. You could hear him say at the outset, "This is the most embarrassing moment in my life."
But with bids climbing into the teens, Mr. David said he'd see about getting a friend to offer a guest house to the winner. "And I'll pay for bus fare to L.A.," he said. The bidding topped out at $16,500.
Marc Brown worked up his babysitting wages to $9,000, and a golf game with Vernon Jordan brought in $4,500 thanks to Mr. Buchwald's prodding. "Vernon Jordan probably knows more about everything than anyone can know," he said. "Whether he'll tell you anything, I don't know."
Laughter came easily last night, and while there were lulls in the action, the bidders, the donors and the volunteers did their jobs, making dreams go to work for Community Services.