I once attended an auction while my husband, Greg, was out of town. I’d never been to an auction and had no idea what to expect. I knew they were the playgrounds of the upwardly mobile and that if I wanted to fit in, I had better look the part. By the time the event rolled around, I was in a full-on body sweat induced by the utter void of pastels and mother-of-pearl accessories in my closet. The closest thing I had to a WASP-y ensemble was a bottle of Lithium and that was all but emptied upon checking my bank account before rushing out the door.
I felt calmer once I was camouflaged against a line of people appraising the items on display for bidding. I drew comfort in chortling and saying things like, “Don’t you find chicken satay a pedestrian choice?” After an hour of mingling with the other guests and jotting down an offer underneath an item with a determined casual air, I was ready to go home, feeling confident I had handled my first auction with poise.
Then it was announced that the auction was beginning.
I spent the next two hours tearing parsley into pieces while contemplating an escape route that involved setting fire to a section of the building. I called Greg once I was home to report my winnings from the silent part of the auction. A sailboat cruise for $40. He questioned how I could have procured a two-hour boat ride for only 40 dollars. He wasn’t impressed when I told him that my winning strategy involved placing an hors d’oeuvres plate on top of the entry paper.
It was decided I should no longer be the envoy of our family at fundraisers.
I was granted a stay of execution when a local 5K was announced. Greg, never one for running, suggested that I go. After all, I had been carbo-loading for 33 years.
As I pulled my car into the parking spot, I saw two men jogging toward me.
“Did I miss the race?” I called to them.
“No. We just ran the course to warm up for it,” one of the runners called back.
Screw you, I muttered, which must have sounded like ‘whoo, you’ because they gestured with one of those waves that are meant to be uplifting between exercisers. It was becoming abundantly clear I wasn’t going to be winning any sportsmanship trophies – or first-place ones, for that matter – this day.
I sidled up to the registration table where a refined older gentleman was posted to gather race fees. I noticed the other registrants entering into their preparatory modes, hopping and stretching hamstrings. I did a few cursory swivels of my trunk, straining to look limber and imposing as if I had just climbed Annapurna with no oxygen. I was transferring into my visualization phase, in which I imagined myself crossing the finish line and leaping into a vat of cream cheese with a bagel as my inner tube, when the man at registration curtly informed me I was $5 short in paying my race fee.
I began to explain that I had only brought $20 because that’s what I had been told to bring. I was attracting an audience curious to see who was defrauding a charity. A gracious onlooker, moved by pity, paid my balance and escorted me to the starting line. I took my place toward the back of the crowd, acknowledging myself to be more of a slow gazelle, capable of exerting real energy only once a lion has ripped away part of its haunch.
The whistle blew and the racers lurched forward as if there were piles of money and injured babies to be found along the trails. I stopped participating exactly 90 seconds later, opting instead to walk with a friend who had her toddlers with her. As we passed the halfway mark, the two men who had warmed up for the 5K by already running a 5K were on their return leg, each one’s chest heaving as he strained to overtake the other. I caught the eye of one and shrugged my shoulders and gestured to the kids at my heels as if to say, “Kids! They just won’t let me win this race!”
As we descended the steep grade that would usher us toward the finish line, far behind the others who had dashed up an unforgiving hill, I realized that I was going to have a very unimpressive race story to relay to my family. When my foot hovered over the ending line, where the last volunteer had been abandoned to stand in the cold to wait out my safe return, he said dryly, “Anyone behind you?” I turned and looked up the road by which I had just come. It mocked me with its barrenness.
Armed with a bounty that all registrants were given, it occurred to me that I could weave a believable yarn about finishing in the top of the heap. My family didn’t need to know that I had come by my loot by mere participation. Yes, I could tell them that I had won it, honorably and nobly, nobody the wiser. It’s their fault for decreeing me the representative of cardiovascular activity when I possess a dexterity only at eating off other people’s plates.
I entered the house, forcing a slight limp and making my breathing ragged to enhance the authenticity of the fraudulent tale about to escape my lips. Greg came to meet me in the hallway.
“They posted the times online already. You really came in last?”
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures on http://imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.