Crazed With March Madness at Kennedy’s Bar
Ordinarily I don’t hang out at Kennedy’s. But the Civic Association served up a free dinner. Ordinarily I don’t bet money on anything. Even when I play poker I refuse to bet anything more than a pile of beans, especially after the time I lost my shirt. But it was for a worthy cause, a fund-raiser for the Civic Association which does good things for Harlem.
I reasoned that I had done quite well at the City Shop morning coffee group’s football pool—a three time winner. So how challenging could a Calcutta Auction be? For me, basketball is much more fun than football. The coffee guys were all excited about it, so hey, I thought I’d go check it out. I called my cousin Shirley. “Have you ever gone to that basketball thing at Kennedy’s? Uh huh. No. Me neither. Wanna go?”
So that is how Shirley and I ended up at the NCAA Tournament Calcutta Auction at Kennedy’s on a Monday night. The guys said the way it works is you buy a team. I knew that some guys had bid as high as three and four hundred dollars. I kind of envisioned a small group of die-hard, gun-slinging Doc Holiday types, spit in their eyes, hunched over wads of dollar bills. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect when I walked in the door.
Supper was scheduled at 6 PM, so Shirley and I sauntered in (I was trying to get in character) about 6:05. The place was packed. All the movers and shakers from Harlem sat around wolfing down stew and all the fussins. Every white-haired lady in town was there. Along with several young couples, tomorrow’s leaders. I even spotted a local pastor in the crowd.
I no more than stepped foot over Kennedy’s threshold than I was tripped up by Gerald “Bear Shirt” Stiffarm, station manager for KGVA FM, which that evening broadcast pre-auction entertainment. I knew Gerald from the olden days, from school. I’m older but Gerald is smarter. He asked if he could interview me on the broadcast. So I said a word or two about how the City Council and the Civic Association worked together with common goals to make our little town the best it can be or something like that.
Shirley had worked her way to the back of the room and rounded up two empty chairs at the very last table. We filled our plates. As people finished eating they milled about the room greeting friends, placing side bets. Somehow, it didn’t feel like we were in a bar, certainly not a Gunsmoke-type bar. It felt more like a family reunion.
After we sang in celebration of Chuck’s birthday, his third twenty-second birthday (think about it), Joe Brown, another Harlem fixture, took over the mike and tossed the ball up to start the auction. Joe knew everyone in the room and where the bodies are buried. In his repartee nobody went unscathed, in a good-natured way, of course.
“What a kick!” I said to Shirley. It quickly became apparent that this year the action had heated up beyond that of former years. The higher ranked teams were nailed down for seven, eight hundred dollars and more. The highest bid came in around eleven hundred dollars. But there were sixty-eight teams, so some went low, even as affordable as twenty dollars.
Rich or poor, everybody could get in on the fun. Whole tables full of fans pooled their resources. At the table next to Shirley and me, five or six of our friends put their heads together and, with finesse, bought more than one team. Called “The Ladies”, they were well-known veterans at the game. Boss bid against employee. Neighbor bid against neighbor. Harlem bid against Chinook.
At one time auctioneer Joe Brown didn’t see a man’s arm raised to bid. Another man across the room raised his arm to point out his friend’s missed bid. “Sold,” yelled the auctioneer. The flustered friend bought a team, whether he wanted it or not.
Shirley and I watched closely. We talked it over. We decided we could afford to chip in twenty dollars apiece to buy one of the lower ranked teams. Who knows, in college basketball, anything can happen. We could even come out flush. But every time we were ready to jump into the fray, the bid went up to forty-five, fifty, sixty. Or a thousand! Finally, toward the end of the evening, we bought Pacific University for thirty dollars.
“Where’s Pacific,” I asked.
“Stockton, California,” somebody answered.
Miami, the team slated to play Pacific, was bid in at a thousand-seventy-five dollars. We got whomped, 78 to 49.
HDN: Looking out my back door
March 28, 2013