Here’s to the losers, bless them all
I envy people who win. Doesn’t matter if it’s due to hard work or no effort at all. Winning is winning.
Losing is more my speed. Always has been. I’ve been losing really important people and things since way back. I don’t say that in a poor-me-ain’t-I-just-too-pitiful-for-words kind of way. It’s just a fact.
I lost something just a few days ago. Not one of those life-altering losses like your dad or best friend or even your most devoted dog, but a damn tough loss nonetheless.
See, I let Sinatra’s fedora get away from me. For a lousy couple grand.
Yeah, I know. This hasn’t got a thing to do with food. (Though the auction house in which Frank’s hat was offered did provide a spread of cheeses and meats and even boiled shrimp to those attending the afternoon’s “Celebrity Memorabilia” event.) I’ve got some serious demons to exorcise here, okay. Come back next week and I promise to cook you up something real nice.
Two friends accompanied me to the event in Biddeford, Maine. Marc acted as wingman; he took the drive and sat next to me as I waited for Lot # 12 to go on the block. X.Ray was back in New Jersey doing who knows what, but he remained in constant phone contact throughout.
I knew before stepping foot in the auction house that Frank’s hat would be a pretty close fit. I’d earlier reached out to the Sinatra family and Frank’s daughter Nancy put her father’s hat size within a mere 1/8th inch of my own. Others might store away or display such an item but my plan was to wear it. Proudly.
Marc and I were shocked to discover Frank’s fedora not behind a glass case or on a shelf shielding its felt from the public’s reach. Rather, there it was on a plain folding table in the center of the room next to similarly desirable artifacts: Brando’s bad-ass-black leather motorcycle jacket, Jack Benny’s stage-used violin, a couple dozen items in all.
Marc tells me that he can’t quite describe my expression as I approached the brown fedora, a Stetson as it happens.
“You’ve got it bad, dude,” I heard him say, or at least I think he did.
The Stetson was perched atop a white foam mannequin head. Underneath was a red folder containing the item’s provenance, in this case originating from the collection of one Joe Franklin, a now-deceased talk-show host in New York with whom I am well familiar having grown up there. I wanted to inspect the hat to see its size but dared not touch it. Marc and I discussed asking one of the auction house workers to investigate. But then a voice was heard loudly and clearly.
“You can try it on if you like.”
It was a woman standing behind a glass display case that carried, among other things, Babe Ruth’s glove and Roy Campanella’s face mask.
“Seriously?” I asked. “I only wanted to see what size it is.”
“Like I said,” the woman offered in a very pleasant manner, “you’re more than welcome to try it on.”
At this point, Marc would tell me later that afternoon over fried chicken and drinks, my expression went positively six year’s old on Christmas morning.
I know. It looked a lot better on him. But what was I gonna do, not show this to you?
I knew that X.Ray, as big a fan of the man as I, would be just as insanely thrilled by this new development, and so I texted the picture to him right away.
“You need that hat brother,” he responded seconds later. “You must be weak in the knees.”
I responded with a one-word profanity, the likes of which need not be repeated here.
“If Mr. Sinatra is watching from above,” X.Ray typed, “I think it is fair to say that he would be proud to have a man like you own his hat.”
It’s true what they say, you know: Choose your friends wisely.
Moments later Marc and I took our seats. The auction was about to begin. Frank’s hat would be the twelfth item on the block. I hadn’t expected to be a player, as earlier I’d been told by the auctioneer that prices were estimated to be much higher than I’d imagined. But then the first few items went for a song, just a couple hundred dollars for a hat belonging to Ray Charles, about as much for those owned by Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Red Skelton and Judy Garland. These prices were way below the auctioneer’s estimates.
“How much cash you got on you?” I asked Marc reaching into my own pocket to do a count.
“I don’t know, a couple hundred,” he said. “Are you serious? I thought we were just spectators.”
I always carry a lot of cash, way more than that. Between Marc’s and mine, all of a sudden I was in the game.
When Mr. Sinatra’s Stetson came up for its turn, the auctioneer sought an opening bid of $20,000. This didn’t rattle me very much because he had sought similar openings earlier and without success. The room remained silent. The man tried $15,000 and still nothing, then $10,000. Finally Frank Sinatra’s fedora opened at $3,000. Still not so good as I’d reconciled myself to go no higher than $3,500. In an instant the bid went to $4,000, then $4,500 and then to $5,000, the winning bid and not my own.
Marc and I took our leave. It was raining and we were hungry—and thirsty.
I texted X.Ray to let him know how things went down.
“My condolences brother,” he typed. “You gave it a shot and you actually got to wear the man’s hat. I bet that alone will make the rest of your day.”
He was right, of course, but that was days ago now.
As Casey Stengel said, "Without losers, where would the winners be?"