Laughter and money seemed to go hand in hand at last night's Possible Dreams auction in Edgartown. The better the one-liners, the higher the bids.
Fortunately, there were some pretty glib celebrities willing to stoke the fire, and in the end, the 24th annual auction of 53 dreams had pulled in more than $376,000. That figure fell short of last year's take of just over $400,000.
Organizers, aware of dips in the stock market, had braced themselves for what could be a slow year at the auction block, but were pleased with the results.
"That's amazing in this kind of economy," said auction co-chairman Kerry Scott.
If the final take was a little less, it wasn't for lack of trying.
A trio of auctioneers - Rick Lee, Susan Klein and Art Buchwald - all took turns, cajoling the audience and trying to squeeze as much cash out of them as possible.
"It's impossible to buy these dreams anywhere but here," said Mr. Lee.
"Don't forget who we're doing all this for," said Mr. Buchwald. "It's for the people on the Island who stay behind after we all leave. If it weren't for them, none of us could have a good time."
Mr. Buchwald, who had been sidelined two years ago after suffering a stroke, made a special point of taking over the gavel when it was one of his pals offering the dream.
The syndicated newspaper columnist made no secret of his alliances with other media kingpins and writers such as Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite and William Styron. Mr. Buchwald likes to poke fun at his gang of cronies, but the great thing about last night was that some of his friends returned the favor.
In a rare public moment, Mr. Styron stood up and grabbed a microphone to explain that his dream offering - a literary luncheon for four at his home on the Vineyard Haven harbor - should honor his book-loving friend, Art Buchwald.
There was a story behind his quip.
"I recently gave a talk at the Smithsonian, and afterwards a man asked me to sign a copy of Confessions of Nat Turner that he'd bought at a flea market for a dollar and a half," Mr. Styron said. "When I looked in it, I saw it had been inscribed: ‘To my beloved friend Art Buchwald.'"
The crowd erupted in laughter. Mr. Styron then announced he would toss in a first edition copy of Sophie's Choice.
The first bid was a strong $5,000, jumping in rapid-fire bids to $8,000 and then $10,000.
"It's three Styrons for the price of one," Mr. Buchwald hollered, pointing out that the luncheon would include not only the Pulitzer-winning author but also his wife Rose Styron, a poet, and his daughter Alexandra Styron, who just published her first novel.
"It's really true that I did give this book away to some flea market," Mr. Buchwald then added, trying to sound contrite. "I don't know how it happened."
The final bid climbed one last notch to $11,000. This was clearly the beginning of a crescendo that unleashed the night's highest bidding.
The next dream to come on the block was dubbed "Chefs Ahoy," offering the services of four Island chefs to cook a multi-course dinner for ten people.
The bidding didn't even start in the lower rungs. Right out of the gate, the initial offer was $10,000 and swiftly rose to $15,000.
"This is one expensive shrimp cocktail, I'll tell you," said Susan Klein, keeping the bidding frenzy alive. By the time last bid came rolling in, it stood at $25,000.
Maybe the feverish pace of bidding on that dream had left the high-rollers a little weary, because when the next item came up, there wasn't anywhere near the same intensity.
The dream? A round of golf at the Vineyard Golf Club with Larry David, one of the creators of the hit sit-com Seinfeld.
"The only thing I can promise you is the most miserable afternoon of your life," Mr. David said, trying out his wry humor on the crowd.
Sure, they laughed, but maybe they weren't so sure it was a joke. When Mr. Lee opened the bidding, there was no immediate response.
Mr. David then leapt from his seat and shouted, "I am never doing this again. This is so humiliating. How dare you? I'm getting off this Island. You just paid five thousand dollars for a lobster, and I get this?"
Now, the crowd was getting into Mr. David's schtick. A bid came in at $4,000. Mr. David toned it down a little, offering to sweeten his afternoon of golf with "salacious gossip" about Jerry Seinfeld and the rest of the Seinfeld cast.
Bidding picked up. The winner was Bob Vila, the host of the PBS series, This Old House, who put up $7,000.
A grateful Mr. David announced, "I'm leaving my wife for Bob Vila."
Apparently, people were in the mood for comedy. Peter Farrelly, the director of hit movies Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary, was offering a walk-on role in his upcoming Three Stooges.
"We're going to make the movie in Hawaii between January and April," Mr. Farrelly told them. "We've already made an offer to Ben Stiller to play Mo."
Instantly, there came a $4,000 offer. Then $9,000. And $10,000. There was an uproar. The dream gaveled out at $13,000. Ten minutes later, organizers announced that Mr. Farrelly had agreed to sell the same dream twice, netting another $13,000 for the cause.
Donors were going the extra mile last night. Marc Brown, the author-illustrator of the wildly successful Arthur books for children, said he would kick in an extra $5,000 if someone bid $10,000 for his offer of a tour of studio and a personal drawing session.
Within seconds, the bid was there, adding a quick $15,000 to the tally of money raised.
Mr. Cronkite also stepped up to the plate last night, not only encouraging bids for his own item but also for others as well. When NBC-News president Dick Ebersol offered tickets and hotel accommodations for the Ryder Cup golf tournament, it was Mr. Cronkite who set aside old network rivalry to press for higher bids.
"I happen to know that NBC outbid CBS on the Ryder tournament," he said. "But anyone who likes golf, likes Scotland or even likes Ebersol will like this trip."
Bingo. Another $11,000 in the chest for Community Services.