“I say, James,” I said, by way of addressing James, who was busy chauffeuring like nobody’s business at the moment.
“Yes, sir?” came his response from the front seat in the cool, calm, unflappable manner which has no doubt made him a legend among chauffeuring circles.
“What say we swing by The Gryphon’s Nest for a snifter?”
He glanced at me briefly in the rear view mirror and then returned his gaze to the road, a move that separates the professionals from the rookies.
“Do you think that is wise, Sir?”
“Wise?” I asked, philosophically. “I don’t know about wise, but I think it is damned necessary. I will leave the question regarding its wisdom to the philosophers.”
“Would Plato have thought it wise? Aristotle? Spinoza? No doubt they would have had their doubts. As for me, of doubts I have none. Swing by the ol’ watering hole, if you would be so kind, James.”
“Yes, Sir,” he said. And then after a moment’s hesitation, said, “I was only thinking …”
“Thinking of what, James?” I asked, my mind a little distracted about what Spinoza would have thought of The Gryphon’s Nest. No doubt he would have enjoyed their hot wings and their 100-inch ultra-high definition television.
“I was only thinking that Mrs. Callington was expecting you to meet her at the auction.”
“Which is precisely why I need the snifter, James. One can’t just simply go to an auction without being fortified.”
“Yes, sir,” came the professional, if somewhat pointed response.
“One needs bracing. A little gusset for the spine.”
“Yes, sir,” he said again, which was his way of saying, “It’s your funeral.” And perhaps he was right. What are auctions if not the funerals of the detritus we no longer want or need? James must be in a particularly philosophical frame of mind today.
Still, when I arrived at the auction an hour later after a brief stop at The Gryphon’s Nest, I believe that my course was the best and I was gusseted and well-oiled to be able to endure the auction. A snifter or two of Kentucky’s primary export had braced me to a considerable degree for the ordeal that was no doubt to follow.
“Where have you been?” hissed Alexis as I sauntered into the auction venue. This was her normal greeting for me.
“I’m fine, thank you, Dear,” I said warmly, for I was full of bonhomie. I kissed her cheek.
She eyed me for a moment with wild surmise. “Have you been at the Crow’s Nest?”
“Gryphon’s Nest,” I corrected. “The Crow’s Nest is a bar.”
“Well, what do you think the Gryphon’s Nest is?” she asked.
“It is a pub.”
“It’s the same thing,” she said.
I was about to correct her and explain that a pub is far more sophisticated and effete, but there was the sound of a gavel and a deep booming voice saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you please. The auction is about to start, so if you could take your seats, please. Thank you.”
“Never mind,” she said. “Let’s go take our seats.”
She turned and walked towards the array of chairs that were nicely padded, but were still the sort of chairs one finds in a hotel banquet room. Except that we weren’t in a hotel banquet room. We were in the ballroom of Drimble Manor, which had been converted for the occasion. The occasion, of course, was the dissolution of the Drimble estate, prompted by the untimely (though not entirely unexpected) passing of the senior Mr. Drimble, the founder and chief executive scoundrel of Drimble’s Kibble, the high-end dog food for snooty dog owners.
I sat next to the lovely Mrs. Callington and smiled at her. She was looking quite lovely this evening in her prim pencil skirt and white silk blouse, black stiletto heels, and patent leather belt. Her jet-black hair was pulled back particularly tight this evening, reflecting the lights of Drimble Manor like moonlight on an inky sea.
“You look … lovelry … lovel …ry …. level .. ree ..tonight,” I whispered, then added as an afterthought, “My dear.” I thought it was a good save.
She suddenly rolled her eyes as if someone had stepped on her toe.
“Good god,” she whispered. “How many bourbons did you have?”
“Just … just … the two. Or three.”
“Well for god’s sake, don’t stand near any open flames.”
I looked around but didn’t see any flames of any sort. “Yes, dear,” I whispered.
“And don’t bid on anything.”
On this topic, I was quite prepared to speak. I leaned back over to her and whispered. “Not … not … not to worry, my Delicate Cherry Blossom. I pursued … perused … the catalog, my beer … deer … dear. There was not a shingle … single .. splinter of furniture, not a single slosh of paint on canvas, not the first shark … sherpa … shard of glassware, that caught my eye.” I pointed to my eye pointedly, so that she could get my point.
She put her hand on my pointing finger and lowered it back down onto my lap. “Well just make sure you don’t bid on anything.”
I put my finger to my lips as if I were shushing myself. “Not a single bid will I make. Other than for your affections.” She rolled her eyes.
At that moment, the auctioneer gestured towards a painting. “Our first item up for bid this afternoon is a lovely painting by Amaud Desrosiers. It is an abstract entitled, “Jolies filles à la plage”1. The opening bid is two thousand dollars. Do I hear a bid?”
I scrutinized the painting. There were straight lines and garish colors, like geometric shapes run amuck. There was no balance among either the elements nor the colors. And, my French may be a little rusty, but I did not see either filles nor plage. A better name for this monstrosity might have been “Boîtes mal dessinées”2. I was incensed. What was monsieur Desrosiers trying to pull here? Did he think we were plebeians?
“Où sont les filles?3” I whispered to Alexis, my dudgeon quite high.
“Shhh!” she shushed sharply.
“Où sont les filles?!”, I repeated a little louder, for perhaps she hadn’t heard me.
“Oh my god,” she hissed at me, “You’re not even French! How are you speaking French all of a sudden?”
“We have a bid for $2000,” said the auctioneer. “Do I hear $3000?”
I let out a derisive little breath. I whispered to my lovely Alexis of the beautiful scowl. “Can you believe someone bid on this poubelle4?”
She glowered at me. “You! You bid on it,” she said in a sharp whisper.
“I?” I gasped, metagrabolised5. “That’s impossible. I would not bid on such … such … “ I gestured towards the piece of offending art looking for the correct word. “Such rubbish.”
“We have a bid for $3000,” boomed the auctioneer.
“For god’s sake,” said my petite little Alexis of the smoldering glower. “Stop flapping your arms. You’ll bankrupt us.
* * *
Later, on the ride home, I confided in James. “She was quite right to be so upset, James.”
I saw his eyes in the rear-view mirror glance back at me for about an eighth of a second, which is the correct amount of time for someone of his professional demeanor to look at an employer who had bid on poubelle against the better judgement of his better half. A glance that had lasted any longer would have been untoward.
I looked around me on the rear seat of the limousine. In addition to the execrable “Jolies filles à la plage”, there was a Schovajsa glass vase that weighed about 20 pounds and probably would not hold a thimbleful of water, a Louis XV chair that looked as if it were upholstered in curtains salvaged from a defunct brothel, and an art deco figurine of a woman that was so exquisitely rendered that it would most likely take some additional explaining to the lovely Mrs. Callington over and above the seventeen hundred dollars I’d accidentally bid for it.
James looked back towards the road, but his eyes had said everything in that eighth of a second that the irascible Mrs. Callington had said quite verbosely over the course of the ten minutes we sat at the bursar’s desk settling up our account.
I was beginning to understand how the now-defunct Mr. Drimble had ended up with so much flotsam over the course of his 98 years. An accidental gesture here, and intemperate wave of the hand there, and suddenly one’s ballroom is full of dubious artwork.
Perhaps we should have an auction of our own soon.
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