By Alan Prendergast
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Until then, Miller's only auctioneering will be volunteer work for charities--and there's plenty. "Well, you know, the Alzheimer's Association, we do that," Miller offers. "And Opera Colorado, and Habitat for Humanity. Local ones here, and the big ones in Denver. But why don't you ask John about that? He claims to be the national representative of our charity operation, and has been since he started with me. He's got the gift of gab, and besides, he's full of shit, so I figured I had better just as well hire him."
"I had known Chucky all my life, though he's quite a bit younger than me," Clatworthy picks up the story. "And now, you bet, I am the international representative of his charity operation, or do I mean interscholastic? Or maybe intergalactic? Chucky is incredibly hardworking, a perfectionist, busy, very busy. He asked, 'How many auctions you wanna work?' I said sixty a year, whatever, I don't care. And that's what I did. I was just terrible, but not as terrible as everyone thought I'd be."
With Miller coaching, Clatworthy began work as an auction ringman--a floorwalker who reports bidding action back to the head auctioneer. It is because of unscrupulous ringmen, Clatworthy says, that auction-goers grew to fear for their checkbooks if they so much as scratched an ear or cleared a throat during spirited bidding.
"The reality is we ringmen know the difference," he says. "Walking around the audience, you can look in their eyes, for God's sake, and see them ready to go, ready to bid. You get to know it. When you hear it, you say, 'Yip!'"
Which is really a cross between Yip and Yup, but if you haven't been to auctioneering school, you shouldn't even try to make the noise. "Yep," Clatworthy agrees. "A good auctioneer like Chucky knows all our different yips and yups. It must flow continuously. Momentum carries an auction. You'll go eight, ten hours straight, no eating, no potty break, nothing but adrenaline to keep you going. And you never sell stuff, junk or things. Everything has a name. This Rolodex is not a thing filled with phone numbers. That piece of china is not some damn cup, it's a fancy Spode something or other. Everything has a name."
At charity events, an auctioneer can afford to be more...interpretive. "We do lots and lots," Clatworthy says proudly. "Cystic Fibrosis, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever...They like us. We can't make too many mistakes. You leave here, rent a tuxedo, go down to Denver and be loud and aggressive. You can feel the enthusiasm going through the room, and you can feel when it doesn't, too. Without getting too metaphysical about it, with the Alzheimer's group, for instance, you'll have a lot of brothers, sisters, patients in the audience. People who are survivors one way or the other. You have to be mindful of that."
While he is being mindful, Clatworthy will sometimes sit down on a female's lap, getting up only after she bids. He will haul people up on stage--"people always say no, they don't want to get up on stage, which just means yes, they do," he says--or pick on the relatively famous faces in the crowd. "Chucky and I told Bill Hanzlik he should come and work with us," Clatworthy recalls. "After all, he seemed to need work."
All this does very well in the carnival atmosphere of a charity auction, but it doesn't work back home in Fort Morgan. Here, where every family farm that goes out of business belongs to a family everyone knows, Chuck Miller treats the proceedings very respectfully. There's show business and there's real business, he told Clatworthy when he signed on the new auction-school graduate. This is serious.
"I knew it," Clatworthy says. "My family had hired Chucky to liquidate our farm implement business in 1990. And this was not something we did for fun--we had real money problems. When you are liquidating years of livelihood, you're beyond just money. You're selling futures, hopes, dreams, people's lives. There are times when you get a lump in your throat because, woof, there is a person's life, gone, in the space of a few hours."
Woof. Clatworthy's old life was gone, but his new one was about to begin.
"To be honest, the auctioneering exposure has been very good for me," he says. "I'm in the automobile business, after all. After all, as I like to say, God made neon for a reason: People want their names up in it.