Appraise and Fall

It has stood through years of kiss concerts, third-rate minor league hockey
matches, and the debacles of Yale basketball-but for the first time ever,
one day this fall, the main attraction at the New Haven Coliseum was the
ill-fated Coliseum itself. The concrete and steel monstrosity was transformed
into a hammed-up flea market, and everything, bolted down or not, was on

To visualize the scope of the Coliseum’s liquidation, imagine a behemoth
grocery store. Replace the cereal boxes and soda cans with the turnstiles
and popcorn machines of a professional sports arena. Instead of Wonderbread,
row upon row of industrial-sized nacho cheese makers and two ten-foot tall
Zambonis line the double-wide aisles thronged with crazed bargain hunters.
Only one man, a fast talker in a suit coat, could make sense of it all:
Welcome to a glorious junkyard auction.

"Hey and twenty-now-twenty-now-twenty-now-thirty-do I have thirty-now-thirty-now-thirty-hey!
This is a fine piece of equipment folks. … If I owned a restaurant
I’d buy it myself!" His motorized chariot glided down the aisles, pausing
beside each token of the Coliseum’s bygone grandeur in its turn. He and
his assistant coaxed offers from the crowd with a steady stream of coddling
and cajoling: A Volkswagen-sized Hobart eight-slicer-"Come on! Everybody
needs one!"

Hands shot up and down so quickly that I could hardly tell who was bidding,
much less against whom or at what stakes. Shouts of: "hip! Hip! hip!"
acknowledged the bids. Some of the hipped were local business owners, others
had come from as far away as Minnesota to outfit their ice rinks, and still
others were just hoping to pick up a cheap television or computer and turn
a quick profit on eBay. It was capitalism, unsheathed and unadorned.

Local business owner Robert Neubig saw not only hockey goals, deep fryers,
cash registers, forklifts, and Choc-O-Jet hot chocolate makers, but fabulous
opportunity as well. Two hours into the auction, he had already bought a
nacho cheese dispenser for his 13-year old son-"He loves nachos!"-and
a massive metal hot dog warmer to take to church picnics. "This is
the ultimate wholesale," he said emphatically. "Write that down:
the ultimate wholesale." Of course, he conceded merrily, it is a bit
risky. The skill lies in learning to navigate the choppy waters between
Treasure Island and the Bermuda Triangle. "Some people go to the casino.
This is how I get my fix; this is my gambling." Even his wife was forewarned
that with her husband would come his auction addiction-sometimes indulged
several times a month-and an old dairy barn’s worth of prize finds.

As an infidel among auction-believers, though, I had to mention my amused
skepticism. Robert would have none of it. "Do you have a hot dog maker?"
he demanded. I quickly double-checked my backpack before admitting I did
not. "Do you know anyone who has a hot dog maker? Well, now I have
one. So I have the opportunity to help out."

Auctions, Robert reflected, are a way of life. But not everyone checking
out the siding on industrial strength cookware was so philosophical. Jim
and Laurie Burwell of West Haven stopped by to see how they could better
outfit their Little League concession business. Pumping cheese onto nachos
by hand and keeping coffee water hot in a crock pot can get to you after
a while. "This will definitely be easier." Easier, said the owners
of the Connecticut Sports Complex in North Branford, if any of your new
equipment actually functions once you get it home. "People don’t realize
a lot of this stuff is useless. It’s really taken a beating."

The silver-tongued auctioneer taking bids on whole sections of stadium
seats could overlook such minor details, however. The company charged with
extracting a final profit from the Coliseum would slap a tag on anything
in the building that was worth hauling out, and much that wasn’t.

It was a strange scene, to say the least-which might explain why, as a
first-time security guard named Max observed in annoyance, "Everyone’s
got to touch everything." The day after the auction, one man was indignant
upon discovering that the dolleys he had bought were being used by other
buyers to gather up their own new treasures. Another proud purchaser gave
a dry snort of amusement when reminded that he had purchased only the paper
advertising the Sports Haven athletic goods store. Someone else had dibs
on the frame and glass. Both the Zambonis had sold without incident, one
for $6000. All four scoreboards went, as well as the floodlights on the
ceiling and the illuminated Coliseum advertisement visible from the freeway.

Who made off with that thing, and for what purpose? The Thomas Auction
Company does not name names, but one official offered this reassurance:
"For the guy who bought it, it was a good price."
So it went at the auction, where nacho cheese makers fetched $85 and the
city, like its landmarks, was deconstructed but not destroyed, its refuse
given a new lease on life.

The inevitable nostalgia did not last long. Even a 13-year veteran Coliseum
employee refused to lament the building’s passing. "I try in life to
cry as little as possible," he said, directing newcomers to the back
offices and equipment rooms where their new possessions awaited them. "Everything’s
got to end sometime." And the cycle, as always, begins anew: The man
who paid $6000 for the Zamboni has already offered its old driver a job
at his rink.

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