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Chris Erskine: Now batting, one mediocre banquet host

If you have a cash bar, he is ready to serve as banquet host, the Chardonnay moms willing. He might even hit an occasional home run. Or at least go down swinging.

April 02, 2011|Chris Erskine

I fancy myself the Mickey Mantle of mid-level fundraising banquets, but I am really more the Rip Repulski. You'll remember Repulski from his stint with the Dodgers, no doubt, from 1959-60.

With a career .269 batting average, few players ever embodied athletic mediocrity the way Eldon John "Rip" Repulski did. And few people can lull a banquet crowd to sleep quite like I can. I am the Rip Repulski of hosting charity events, and I'm proud to carry that mantle, even if it has nothing to do with the Mick.

I was at another one of these blowsy banquets the other night, in an overheated silent auction, gravitating toward the cash bar, as men are prone to do.

You know what a silent auction is, right? I don't know where they get that "silent" description, because most of the ones I've been to have been raucous affairs peppered with the feline squeals of women on their third Chardonnay. They're called "Chardonnay moms." You may know the type.

Chardonnay moms are the sainted women who stage these fundraisers. Spring is their hunting season, and if you own any kind of business — a restaurant, a boutique, a theme park — you've probably been approached by one of these do-gooders seeking auction prizes.

They are persistent and they are lovely and they are persistent, I might've mentioned that, so when they approach me to host one of their fundraising banquets, I pretend not to speak the language.

"No comprende, s'il vous plait," is what I say.

With some people this works, but not with the pretty and persistent Chardonnay moms, most of whom speak several languages.

"We will teach you English!" they say, nodding vigorously to one another. "We can teach him, can't we, ladies?"

"Of course, of course, of course, of course...."

"Soup du jour!" I say, and we all hug.

Fourteen weeks later, I am standing in front of a Marriott microphone that smells like salad dressing. At those moments, more than any others, all is right with the world.

Do you ever have those times when you wouldn't want to be anywhere else on the entire planet, even if you had a choice? That's the way I feel in front of a room loaded with loaded people.

It's not easy work, but neither is it hard, especially if you have some sort of script or timeline to work from, which I never do. Instead, what the Chardonnay moms like to do is write a few important notes on my wrist, surrounded with skulls. Because, just before the banquet is about to begin, the Chardonnay moms turn sort of bossy.

Generally, I like that, for I have made a habit of surrounding myself with bossy women. It's one of the reasons I had two daughters, because at one point in my life there weren't enough bossy women around, so I bred some myself. And I dare say, I did a pretty amazing job.

But back to last Saturday's gala, "Twirl Till You Drop" (a benefit for pregnant baton twirlers).

At one point in the silent auction, I find myself checked, as in a hockey game, into a table full of gifts. I am wedged in there pretty well. Just to make sure I get the message, one of the women throws me an elbow.

I get the message, all right — that this silent auction is serious business. I find myself in close proximity to a gift basket full of muffins. I have been in several long relationships, my current marriage being one of them, that did not involve this level of intimacy. So, naturally, I am in no hurry to escape.

Two hours later, I manage to squeeze away because by then I need to use the loo, which when I enter is in the early stages of a near-biblical flood, urinal No. 1 gushing like the Kern River.

I need to do something immediately, so I alert the prettiest woman I can find, who is just standing around the door to the banquet hall, hoping some joker will ask her what to do about a gusher in the men's loo.

When I last saw her, she was headed into a scrum of Chardonnay moms. Honestly, if they couldn't fix a gushing urinal, no one could.

For dinner, I have the salmon — or the carp, only the kitchen knows for sure — but it is good, seared around the edges just the way I like my carp.

And the live auction, which I host, goes very well. For a weekend at the Indy 500, we start the bidding at $1,000, and I get them all the way down to $50. I later learn that I was actually supposed to drive the bidding up, not down.

"You're not buying a car, you idiot," I heard one person mutter.

Oops. I take full blame, though the organizers might've shown the good courtesy to remind me.

You know, emcees are like sex: You get what you pay for. And sometimes not even that.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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