I guess I just don’t understand auctions. I’ve managed to stay alive on this useless-*ss mudball for forty years without truly recognizing what this most capitalist of activities truly entails. And I’ve been to a lot of auctions. I’m from South Alabama, an admission that I realize is like coming out as Cletus Spuckler, and rest assured I’m about as proud of my heritage as Roy Moore is of his browser history, but it is the truth. Everyone with crippling depression and chihuahua-tier anxiety has to have an origin story, so there you are.
But I have attended auctions. I have listened to JD Swearingen sell third-hand tractors, and I’ve seen old men pull on their earlobes when some cow or other piques their interest. I even got a participation trophy from a dating auction once.
And I have read my Horkheimer. There is money to be made—lots of money—from the various insecurities of both the very rich and very poor. It is simple. If one wishes to acquire a rich man’s money, convince him that other rich people have better stuff, and then put him into a situation in which he can make eye contact with his enemies and defeat them by spending one more dollar than they do on some ridiculous play-pretty. If one wishes to acquire a poor man’s money, convince him that spending enough of it will eventually make him rich. Auctions destroy hope by providing metric *ssloads of it. My own ancestors are perhaps most famous for the most capitalistic and insidious of all auctions, taking piles of Grandaddy’s money from semi-literate fops in exchange for the production potential of subjugated human beings. Entire city blocks in my homeland were once dedicated to the proposition that the most enviable position in society was reserved for the guy who could buy the whitest-looking concubine.
Gee that’s fun to think about. Maybe instead of ruminating on the deep evil of this useless-*ss mudball I should instead wax eloquent about a cartoon monkey. If only I could separate the two.
But I can’t, because in this latest episode Curious George learns all about auctions. The local elementary school library was holding an auction of things the librarian had apparently found in an attic so that more books could be purchased. Curious George’s little Mexican friend Marco wouldn’t shut up about what a good cause this was. Imagine how many books they will buy, he said over and over. Just imagine.
On a table full of potential MacGuffins, George finds a pair of red mittens with elephants on them.
George wants the mittens. Has to have them. Were the happenings in Curious George’s universe in any way logical or consistent, the Man in the Yellow Hat (MYH) would have bought them then and there. MYH could have bought the whole damn auction, like the time Rory’s father ruined the Star’s Hollow knitting bee. MYH has more than one house. He once bought George a robot that was aware of its own existence. MYH has no doubt paid for literally millions of dollars in damage caused by his Mayan Apocalypse of a pet. But not this time; this time he wants to teach George about auctions and the value of a dollar because why the hell not.
In they go, and MYH gets one of those little yellow paddles with numbers on them. As proof of concept, he spends ten dollars on what they SAID was a bright yellow traffic cone, and MYH SAID it would make a great mute for his tuba.
Okay, first off, I ain’t never seen an all-yellow traffic cone in my whole life, nor would a guy who owns his own tuba—even a sh*tty one costs more than my car—buy some piece of plastic bullcrap for a mute. It kind of looked like his hat, though, so maybe that was it.
So then MYH leaves to go pay for the damn traffic cone, leaving George and Marco in possession of an auction paddle and sitting in the same row as Mr. Glass, stereotypical plutocrat. I’ve seen this guy before—one time George destroyed one of his skyscrapers and he was happy about it. He looks like a Dick Tracy villain hate-f*cked Rich Uncle Pennybags and somehow produced a child with fewer redeeming qualities than either of them. Which means he might be the best, most likable character in the show.
Mr. Glass wants the mittens. Curious George wants the mittens. Curious George has a dollar he earned by washing a giant pig twice. Mr. Glass was born on third base.
In the real world we know how this story ends. Mr. Glass buys the mittens for $1.01 and then lets George watch him light one of his cigars with the burning mittens. Then he forces Marco into making ten pairs of similar mittens a day by threatening to deport his parents. George, in a blind rage, attacks Mr. Glass and eats part of his face before being killed by the police. The resulting lawsuit makes MYH utterly destitute, and his subsequent methamphetamine addiction ensures that he lives just long enough to see his beloved yellow apartment building blasted into dust by the Glass Construction Company with the Doorman and Hundley still trapped inside.
But this is not the real world; this is the world in which a cartoon monkey gets whatever the f*ck he wants and never suffers any repercussions. Mr. Glass says he has “auction elbow,” no doubt exacerbated by decades of buying tenements to gentrify, and thus he cannot match the frantic paddle-waving of Curious George. And so it comes to pass that Curious George wins the mittens with a bid price of one hundred dollars. Mr. Glass doesn’t even care—he just f*cks off to Pisghetti’s to eat dinner.
There is a lesson in here somewhere. Sometimes buying can cause more misery than not buying. The poor need to learn their place. Marco knows what’s up—he says “That’s a lot of money, George” with the wisdom and certainty of a boy whose parents probably floated over here on a beer cooler. No problem, thinks George, we’ll just go see MYH. Surely this is the smallest amount of money George has made MYH pay in the history of their relationship.
But not this time. This time, MYH is exasperated and says one hundred dollars is a lot of money. He even demonstrates this fact by counting out one hundred pieces of popcorn in a perfect square on a table. Amazingly, George understands. He imagines having to wash one hundred pigs in order to pay for some busted-*ss mittens. Marco is optimistic, infuriatingly so. I want to snap his little pollyannaish neck. “You could just explain that you made a mistake,” he says, “Ms. Nguyen is nice; she will understand.” Then he gets that dreamy look on his face like the Elevator-Epsilon in Brave New World.
“But…what about the books?” says Marco suddenly, “how can we buy books?”
“Oh, I know!” says the Mexican kid with an unsnapped neck,”Let’s auction the mittens again, and Mr. Glass can buy them for $101!”
I want to kill MYH too, because he could have ended this whole stupid charade at the beginning just by opening his checkbook. Money solves every problem George has ever had. But WHY spend the MONEY when you can get onstage and embarrass yourself for a half-hour trying to beg people at an elementary school auction to spend $101 on some elephant mittens?
I could see the faces in the audience. They saw right through MYH’s bullshit. Here was a guy trying to pawn off some stupid mittens ON THEM when everybody KNEW the guy could have bought them himself at any point and still have enough money left over to buy two used space shuttles. So they just stare at him and wait for 5:00, at which point the auction would end and MYH would be stuck with the mittens. To make the whole situation even more cringy, MYH brings Marco’s grandmother onstage and declares her the creator of the mittens.
Of course she is. The analogy runs deep.
Marco’s grandmother tells everyone she made them out of yarn like Feynman telling gradeschoolers what protons are.
So where is Mr. Glass? I done said he was at Pisghetti’s. Marco gets on his bike and goes to fetch him. Gotta get him before 5:00 or George will have to wash a bunch of pigs.
Mr. Glass is eating pisghetti at Pisghetti’s. Marco runs up yelling and scares the hell out of him. Mr. Glass’s yelp of shock when he sees how close a brown kid has gotten to his pisghetti has echoed down through the ages. Patricians of Rome made such noises when commoners dared to brush against their togas. Francisco Franco made such a noise when he was told Barcelona was being resupplied by sea. Czar Nicholas II made such a noise when the first Bolshevik soldier through the palace doors did not have the cup of tea he had specifically requested. But when Marco explains the situation, Mr. Glass agrees to go back. But the clock says 4:59. How could Mr.Glass get from Pisghetti’s back to the elementary school in time to prove the day-saving power of disposable income?
If you answered “by magically producing a bicycle helmet and riding tandem on Marco’s bicycle at the kind of breakneck speed Lance Armstrong could not have produced even after injecting ten years’ worth of saved-up red blood cells” you win the prize. Pick your favorite useless crap from the auction table.
Mr. Glass wins in the end. $101 buys a pair of hecho a mano mittens con elefantes. Inexplicably, George is butthurt about this, but Marco’s grandmother says not to worry, because she’ll make George a new pair of mittens with giraffes on them.
Good Lord. There is no point to anything.
-Professor Zac Showers