5 Things 'Pawn Stars' Doesn't Tell You About Auction Hunting
A variety of men, ranging from unattractive all the way up to unappealing, visit storage facilities that are holding forfeited property auctions. There, they bid on lots of goods, hoping they'll stumble upon something incredibly valuable, like antiques, or a hat made of hundred dollar bills, or the most valuable thing of all: imagination.
"This Auction Hunting stuff is huge right now Bucholz," Jack said from the door to the fire exit stairwell which I called my office. "You should probably do a column about that." "What," I began, leaning back in the nest I'd made out of an uncoiled fire hose and interesting bits of string, "is an Auction Hunting?" "You know. Those cable television shows. Auction Kings, Auction Wars, Storage Wars, Auction Hunters, Storage Things, Auction Storages, King Kings."
"They play them on the Spike network in between
Star Wars marathons," Jack continued. "They are, I guess, incredibly popular. If they weren't, that would mean television executives were idiots, and I don't want to live in a world where that's the case." "Popular?" I asked skeptically. "Aren't people tired of popular things yet?" "No, by definition." He frowned. "Are you not using that dictionary I got you?" "You mean your transparent attempt to make me learn American spelling? J'accuse Jack. J'accuse." He ignored my out-thrust finger. "What are you working on right now?" "A short story about a guy who spends all his time carving a girlfriend out of a large block of cheese. Like the kind you get at Costco, but larger. Then at the end of the story, something really, deeply upsetting happens." "You see, the problem with that is that it's completely insane. People are tired of reading utter insanity. Write something sane. Write the auction thing." "Is this one of your transparent attempts to get me to write something sane?" "Was it not transparent enough?" _________ Soon after, I retired to Cracked's multimedia center ...
... where I began reviewing our archived footage of the various storage auction shows which have been steadily eating all the cake shows. The basic template goes like this: a variety of men, ranging from unattractive all the way up to unappealing, visit storage facilities that are holding forfeited property auctions. There, they bid on lots of goods, hoping they'll stumble upon something incredibly valuable, like antiques, or a hat made of hundred dollar bills, or the most valuable thing of all:
imagination. I next turned to my sturdy ally, the Internet, and conducted some research on upcoming storage auctions in my area. A short list in hand, I returned home to put on my auction hunting uniform ...
It doesn't look as good on me, but it still looks pretty good.
... and hurled myself into the exciting and odorous world of auction hunting. Auction Lesson #1: Everyone Hates You There's a limited number of auctions that can occur in any geographic area, and for the few people who make their living picking through them, the sudden interest in their turf these shows has raised has been a disaster. This is an industry which supported maybe a couple hundred people across the country, and has now been flooded with thousands of ass-necks and brain-turders, raising auction prices and lowering margins. At these auctions, hatred for the newcomers can be seen dripping from the corrugated steel walls. "When does this thing start?" I asked someone chummily, trying to make conversation. He had a brown shirt on, but didn't look happy about it. He squinted at me. "Fuck off, newb." I squinted back. Clearly I was dealing with one of the seasoned experts.
Well seasoned. Like, literally seasoned with salt and left in the sun for some time. A hard, chewy man. I would later learn that much in the opposite way that Eskimos have a hundred words for "snow," in the auction world, "fuck off, newb," can mean any number of different things. "This looks like a promising lot" or, "the auction begins at 11" or even, "I hope your intestines catch on fire you auction-clogging poo-pile." Undeterred by this hazing -- I am from the Internet, after all -- I continued my investigation. The way these auctions work is that you're allowed to examine the lots up for auction, but not very closely -- typically only from the edge of the storage container door. I slid up to one of these containers and had a look around, my uninitiated eyes seeing boxes and not much else.
Have you ever seen anyone smiling while moving? This box is clearly full of poorly contained ether.
Beside me was a guy, seeing more than me and taking notes. I craned my neck to get a look at what he was writing, but he noticed and twisted away from me. "What do you think is in those boxes?" I asked politely. "Baseball cards? Jewels? Rare stamps?" I struggled to think of more things that could be in boxes. "Pandoras?" "Fuck off, newb." Hoping to make him laugh, I proceeded to "fuck off" by thrusting my pelvis into the air so that I left the ground and traveled forward slightly, repeating the process until I was several feet away. I looked back to see if I had earned a chuckle or even a smile. I had not.
Auction Lesson #2: What A Bunch Of Shit During my auction-show research, I observed that about four out of five storage lockers resulted in a profit for the auction hunter. It turns out this is a bit of classic Hollywood bullshit -- a high-grading, creative editing separating the cool antique pinball machines from the stacks of old Goosebumps novels.
High in nostalgia value perhaps, but in resale value, worth less than urine
Bidding started on the first container and raced out to the astronomical sum of a hundred and fifty dollars. Feeling pretty flush with the expense account I thought I had (it turns out I did not have any authorization for any expenses at all) I put forward my own bid of $200. "Sold!" The auctioneer said immediately. "Isn't anyone else going to bid?" I asked. "No." I frowned, sensing a trap, and also quite a bit of snickering. Inside the storage container I found a trunk which contained no doubloons, a hat box which contained no hats and a suitcase which contained no suits. All containers in my winnings were filled with pairs of green shorts. "Do you think there's any chance these green shorts were worn by the Boston Celtics?" I asked one of the experienced hunters, honestly trying to recall if the Celtics had ever worn pea-green plaid. The '70s were a strange time for fabrics as I recalled.
Although the '70s were a disaster for fashion, they were the good-time decade for ad copywriters, of course.
Wary silence greeted my query, so I went all in. "Would you be willing to buy these off me for five thousand dollars?" I asked. A punch in the sternum greeted me in return, which I reacted to instinctively by folding into a heap and crying. Several similar conversations later, I concluded that the shorts were worthless, and that I had paid two hundred dollars for the privilege of disposing them. Even that wasn't easily done, as the people at Goodwill refused to take them from me, and when I tried to leave them on the curb, I got a lecture from a homeless person about littering, as well as several unsolicited tips on fashion and romance.
Auction Lesson #3: Not All The Surprises Are Good Ones In an effort to fit in a bit better for my next auction, I salted myself up real good, and arrived at the storage facility where I immediately kicked a confused looking newbie in the back of the knee. Seeing a few of the pros nod with approval, I mixed with the crowd, trying to listen in on conversations. All present had one thing on their mind: "Stop fucking listening to our conversation." Clearly, I would have to be more subtle, and, judging by the chafing I could feel around my thighs, probably a bit less salty. I hung back until quite late in the action this time around, looking for my moment to strike. Eventually a locker came up which no-one had much interest in. Seeing no one else bidding on it, I tentatively stuck up my hand and offered a dollar. I won. "Or did I?" I said to myself as the crowd cleared off, giving me a chance to inspect my winnings. I wondered if it was a trick, some hazing ritual. Like this was the locker they sometimes used to poop in when the main toilet was clogged.
Had I just purchased an auxiliary toilet? But there was no shit, not withstanding the metaphorical shit, which was in fact everywhere. It looked like the belongings of an old hippie; hippie furniture, hippie record players, hippie lamps, all of it carpeted.
The carpet did a wondrous job of preserving the wondrous odors of sweat and recreational plants and low standards.
Not wanting to at all, I began opening hippie containers and airing out other dreadful hippie things. In the very back was a hippie wardrobe, tipped over, leaning against a dreadful hippie couch at a 45 degree angle. I righted my new, awful-smelling wardrobe, and opened the doors, revealing one dead hippie, who tumbled out, landing face-first in my lap. "AHHHHHHHH!" I announced coolly, somersaulting backwards out of the storage container several times. "Find a body?" someone asked. "Yes!" "Fuckin' newb." He walked off. This was evidently a commonplace event, as the managers of the facility already had a procedure in place. The procedure, implemented immediately, consisted of a container of wet-wipes, thrown at my chest, and a curt announcement that the police were coming. After wiping my hands and face and eyes, but not my soul, no wet-wipe moist enough for that, I warily looked back into the container. Food. Jugs of water. A chemical toilet in the back. The poor bastard had been living in there, until he stopped. Somehow the pros had known, using their dark, auction-hunting magic.
I had to find out how. And to take many, many showers.
Auction Lesson #4: Sex Dungeons The third auction I attended was a smaller one I found on Craigslist, and consequently sparsely attended. Only myself and one other hunter arrived, Ed, who'd I seen hate me at other auctions. I gave him a friendly nod. He ignored me a little less hatefully than before. So: some progress. We stood standing on the threshold of the only storage unit up for bids. "What's that in the back?" I asked, standing up on tip toes. Ed, who had been looking around warily the whole time, craned his neck to look. "Dunno," he said, biting his lip. "Oh shit!" he added, as we both heard footsteps behind us. Before I could see who was coming, I was shoved to the floor of the locker, Ed stumbling to the ground beside me. The shutter doors slammed down, sending us in to darkness. "Ahh dammit." Ed's voice somewhere beside me in the blackness. His face lit up as he illuminated it with his cell phone. "No reception." "What? What's happening?" I asked, my voice a little more cartoonish than I would have liked. "Fucking Craigslist," Ed said. He bit his lip. "It's another damned sex trap." "A what?" "A sex dungeon." "You say that like it's a thing. It cannot be a thing. Please tell me this isn't a thing." "Relax newb. You're an auction hunter now. Gotta roll with the big boys." "This has happened to you before?" "I'd say about one time in ten these auctions turn out to be sex dungeons, yeah." Ed shrugged. "Lotta lonely dudes operate these storage facilities." "And how long have you been doing this?" "About 20 years." "And you hit what, one-two of these auctions each week?" "About that." I did the math. "You've chosen a career where you're getting raped 5-10 times a year in corrugated steel buildings?" "I guess when you put it that way it sounds like a lot." "I could put it a lot of ways and it would sound like a lot." I stood up and tried to move towards the door, stumbling over something. "Calm down. I'd suggest you just try and enjoy it. You need to roll with life's little ups and downs a little, newb." "You mean you just let them sex dungeon you? This is one hell of a down to roll with." I found the door and began searching it, looking for a release or something. Behind me I could hear Ed banging around, the dim light from his cell phone casting eerie shadows. "Found em," he said. "You found what?" I asked, turning around. Something black and strappy came flying through the air and hit me in the face. I caught it before it could reach the floor. "What is this?" "Ball gag. Put it on." "Ed, do you think you might be giving in to this a little too easily?" "Mmmmmeghghmph."
The problem is not that I don't know where it's been. The problem is that I do know where it's been.
On the other side of the door, I could hear footsteps. "I hope you guys er ready!" A click, and the door rumbled upwards, a spreading sea of light silhouetting our sex-captor. "Bam! Mouth-Punch!" I said, doing just that as I ran past the villain. He fell to the ground, and I stopped a few yards away. It felt a bit too easy. Although I've often told people that I have "the eyes of a Van Damme" I can't say the same for my arms or chest or any other parts of me. How did I escape from this sex dungeon so easily? "Ow! That really hurt!" my prospective rapist said from the ground, rubbing his jaw. He was the owner of the storage complex, a sweaty man, with the name Daryl stenciled across the breast of his shirt. "Then I did it right." "I don't understand," Daryl said, looking hurt. "I tried to explain things to him," Ed said, emerging from the locker, his ball gag hanging around his neck. He shook his head. "Fucking newbs." "Get the hell out of here you fucking newb," Daryl said, standing up. "It's all money, money, money with you, isn't it, never sex, no, its never dirty clutching sex. We got no need for your ivory-tower sorts 'round these here storage facilities." "How about the police? You got need for the police round here?" Daryl looked worried. "You wouldn't." He was right, I wouldn't. I went through a bit of a crying wolf spell a few years earlier, claiming outlandish crimes were occurring and seeing what happened. Regicide, that kind of thing. Now I need my parents permission to call the police. Wordlessly, I left the strange storage folk, letting them stew in fear for awhile, before they got around to stewing in other, worse things.
Auction Lesson #5: Even When You Win, You Lose The next day I was visiting a pawn shop, trying to offload a crate of the green shorts by claiming they were part of the Munchkin costumes from the Wizard of Oz. The owner looked at me disdainfully over the rim of his glasses, before slowly sweeping the entire mess off his counter and on to the floor. "I take it that's a no?" "Fucking newb." I turned to go, reaching the door when I heard him say, "Wait, what's this?" I watched him extract the ball gag from the heap of shorts, where I had evidently dropped it after my narrow escape. "It's not mine." "Are you sure? Because it was with your stuff." He winked at me, and picked it up to examine it closer. He let out a low whistle. "What is it?" "Well newb, based on this stamp here on the underside, I can see that this is a 1918-model Oral Humiliation Restraint, from the Edison workshop." "As in Thomas Edison?" "He freaked with the best of them it is said." The pawn shop owner shook his head. "Very few of these have survived to this day." "Wow. Is it worth anything?" "Oh my yes. I imagine a collector would be willing to spend $5,000 for something like this." My eyes barfed tears. Collecting my breath, I gasped, "You've got yourself a deal." "I'm sorry?" "A deal. I'll sell it to you for $5,000." "I'm afraid you misunderstand me. I don't collect these. I don't want anything to do with the people who collect these." And that turned out to be the biggest catch of all. At the end of those auction shows, when the value of the goods is tallied up on screen, that's all just estimates. No-one's given them any money for that stuff yet. This isn't a video game, where every store is willing to buy all your shit off you at a fair price.
"Yes of course I keep $50,000 on hand in case someone comes in here looking to offload two tons of herbs and forty Druish staves."
The auction hunters on these shows all own their own pawn shops, and can sit on the mundane goods for months until they sell. As for the exotics, the people willing to pay a fortune for them are often as rare as the object itself. With my vintage Edison ball-gag, I was stuck with something possibly very valuable, but with no way to capitalize on it. I tried putting it on eBay, hoping that word would spread amongst the freaks that it was out there. But the bidding stopped at $18, and the emails I got concerning the auction were the worst things I've ever seen on the Internet. Trawling around sex shops and the back end of Craigslist looking for parties interested in vintage ball gags felt like a good way to actually meet parties interested in a vintage ball gag, which no sane man should ever want to do. I don't want to throw it away, but don't want it anywhere near me, because if seen, it will cause problems in my community. So I'm going to put it in storage until I can figure out what to do with it, along with several cases of green shorts which can't go anywhere but up in value. This will mean going back in to storage land, so if no-one sees me in a couple days, please, please come looking for me, with your most sympathetic, least judgmental eyes. _____________________________________________