Art Buchwald leaned on the podium and squinted out at the faces filling the garden of the Harborside Inn and spilling over into an area behind the swimming pool.
"Okay," he began, "I want to see the hand of all of those who voted for Ronald Reagan."
There was a moment of hesitation -- a sea of tanned bodies and summer colors punctuated by hot pink and kelly green -- and then a dozen tentative hands moved up. Puzzlement showed on some of the faces.
What kind of way was this to start an auction?
"You people have to bid twice as much today," he said, aggressively poking the air with his index finger, "because of all of the community services cuts. And you people have to make it up."
Buchwald's admonition set off a ripple of laughter, but his point was a serious one for the seven agencies of Martha's Vineyard Community Services that would benefit from the most unusual auction of the Vineyard summer season, the third "Possible Dreams Auction." Organizers said the auction Thursday raised about $22,000.
This auction wasn't for anyone in quest of cranberry rakes, kerosene lamps or sandwich glass.
But if you love adventure and not-always-cheap thrills, it was the place, for there were things on the block that money can't buy except once a summer:
A Sikkimese dinner for four at the home of Hope Cooke, the former queen of Sikkim.
A lesson from Rose Treat in "the fascinating art of seaweed collage."
A walk to the lighthouse with Henry Beetle Hough, writer, fabled editor of the Vineyard Gazette, and grand old man of the island.
A lesson in operating a frontend loader and the opportunity to practice in Ernie Pachico's pit on the Vineyard.
Lunch in the Senate Dining Room in Washington with James (Scotty) Reston of The New York Times.
Cocktails for four with Lillian Hellman.
And last, but not least, the ultimate celebrity auction opportunity: a chance to sail with Walter Cronkite on his boat.
And as Buchwald reminded the crowd, it was for charity, and tax deductible. No question but that this was the land of the long tax form.
Meanwhile, Buchwald was warming up on the less prestigious offerings.
"When we first got this one it really wasn't a big deal. But when you hear this one you'll definitely want to bid on it. Friday evening in the Martha's Vineyard Airport Control Tower. For four."
He paused for a moment for effect -- it's all in the timing -- then he leaned forward on the podium and tilted up the brim of his cowboy hat, an inexplicable anomaly in the nautical scene that made him look as if he had walked onto the wrong movie set. In the world of Topsiders and espadrilles, he was shod in Hush Puppies.
"Let me explain why this is such a good deal. There's no one in the tower except you." (The airport is still operating although the FAA has removed all the air traffic controllers due to the manpower shortage at other control towers.)
Buchwald continued. "You can bring in a plane. You can send it off. You can send it into the water. You can do anything you want . . . because no one cares."
The bit got lots of laughs.
Waitresses with trays of gin and tonics threaded their way among beach chairs, which the auction-goers had toted in themselves. In the harbor beyond, a thicket of masts rose against threatening clouds, but the rain held.
A young man approached the collection table to inquire, "Are you taking American Express?"
Tessa Dahl Kelly of Chappy (known as Chappaquiddick to mainlanders) paid $150 for the front-end loader lessons. One of the losing bidders said it would have been "such great fun."
"If you got a kid in law school, this is a heck of a way to get him into the company," Buchwald pitched, when an item came up offering a half-hour with criminal lawyer Edward Bennett Williams. "But you'll be bidding against his wife for this one. She's willing to pay to spend a half-hour with him. She hasn't seen Ed all summer because of the baseball strike." Williams is also president of the Baltimore Orioles.
"Agnes is bidding $200," Buchwald told a competing bidder. "If he's worth $200 to Agnes, he must be worth more to you."
Mrs. Williams prevailed. "Let's hear it for a lady who is willing to pay $400 to spend time with her husband."
Someone got the tour of The Washington Post and "a brief meeting" with Katharine Graham for $625.
After a bout of intense bidding, Catherine Walsh Simpson of West Tisbury took the cocktails with Lilliam Hellman. "Sold to the lady for $1,000!" Buchwald sang. "Let's give the lady a hand."
Simpson, in khaki ruffled skirt and purple T-shirt, took a final sip of her gin and tonic and began to dig around in a large straw purse for her checkbook.
"I'm sure you'll enjoy Miss Hellman very much," an earnest woman on the auction committee assured her.
"I'm not worried about it," she replied.
"Last year," Buchwald said, "Walter went for $1,200, but this year he's certainly worth more . . . Last year Walter was anchorman for CBS and he couldn't tell you the inside dope. He couldn't tell you about Dan Rather. . ." He let the tantalizing remark hang for a moment. "But now, Walter can tell you whatever he wants on your sail."
Hands shot up in several parts of the audience and the bids mounted quickly. But no one was willing to top the $1,300 bid by Mrs. Frank Davis, a gray-haired woman from Moodus, Conn., who runs the Frank Davis Resort and a chocolate eclair-making business with her husband.
She was a little overwhelmed when a newspaper reporter asked her why she was willing to pay so much for a chance to meet Cronkite. Finally, she replied. "He's one of the fairest, most admirable men. I've always admired him."
Would her husband mind that she bid so much?
"He told me to bid on anythng I want."