An Auction for Altruism: PILA 2017

Gregory Ranzini ‘18
News Editor

The Board of PILA enjoys the fruits of their labors. Photo courtesy of Jason Boyle 

The Board of PILA enjoys the fruits of their labors. Photo courtesy of Jason Boyle 

This year marks my third (and final) opportunity to review the PILA Auction, and, to be completely honest, I’m tired of it—tired of writing about it, of course, but also tired of the auction itself.  All indications were that those in attendance this Saturday shared my ennui.  It was the usual crowd.  Gangly 1Ls wobbled about on the dancefloor and made small-talk with their sections.  Jaded 2Ls hovered near the bid sheets, optimizing their strategy.  At the appointed time, flush 3Ls took a break from cycling repeatedly through the bar line (“Do you know where the ATM is? I need more cash for the bar—go to the one on that end; she makes them strong as fuck…”) to tender outrageous sums for the usual live-auction junkets.  The usual polo-shirted rent-a-cops wandered listlessly through the crowd, and the usual modicum of two professors served as auctioneers.

This year’s faculty representatives, Professors Jaffe and Geis, decked out in top hats and glowing bow-ties, did their level best to drum up enthusiasm for last year’s auction items, with mixed success: dessert with outgoing President Sullivan and Professor Laycock seems to have lost much of its shine, but Pokémon Go with Professors Schwartzman and Kendrick has held its value far better than the fad cellphone game itself.  For all that the evening went according to plan, however, there was an edge of desperation in Professor Geis’s voice as he hawked a weeklong beach-house rental with “An! Out! Door! Shower!” and came to realize just how few people were listening, even among those who could hear over the din.

There were a few differences from last year, of course.  The Omni replaced its square flatbread pizzas with triangular flatbread pizzas.  (The recipe, unfortunately, was unchanged, as was the management’s puzzling belief that garage-door floodlights adequately substitute for heat lamps.  Also: who puts out chicken satay without satay sauce?  Barbarians, that’s who.) Notwithstanding worries in the weeks leading up to this year’s auction that there would not be sufficient items to hold a full silent auction, the tables were packed. But it was absolutely the case that there were more duplicate items in the silent auction this year, and less variety generally— although there was a tremendous variety of Robert F. Kennedy-themed tchotchkes, for whatever reason.  Faced with a bank of one-topping pizza vouchers and a heavily-marked down Derriere de Soie fitting party, priced to move because it didn’t sell last year, a (male) 3L commented to me, “I don’t need another incentive to eat pizza, but I’d buy that lingerie shit, fuck.”  Two very tiny garden gnomes seemed almost to accuse the indifferent masses who passed by their bid sheets without a second look. 

To be clear—there was nothing particularly wrong with this year’s event.  But there wasn’t anything particularly memorable about it, either.  I was probably not the only who entertained a vague fantasy throughout that perhaps it was still November 12, 2016—that I had forgotten something in the coat-check and returned to the venue to find the bid-sheets erased, the chafing dishes refilled, and the dried-up ballpoint pens replaced with other, equally dried-up ballpoint pens.  I expect that next year will probably see a return to the same venue with a few incremental changes—a new, equally imperceptible theme, at the very least, and perhaps the return of drinking tickets.  It will probably not see the return of 2015’s sullen, Kraftwerk-cosplaying DJ, beer-slicked and perilously canted floor, or mildly inebriated Uber drivers—and that’s probably an improvement. See Gregory Ranzini, Sold: PILA Auction a Success, Raises Money for a Good Cause, Virginia Law Weekly, Nov. 4, 2015, at 2 (“Conscientious to a T, she had us confirm that our chosen drop-off point, the bus stop at the foot of the law school law, was ‘a safe spot to walk from,’ because ‘you don’t look like fighters.’”).  But there’s still probably some room to innovate, at least so long as we don’t return to the Jefferson Theater.  Wherever the auction is, however, the Law Weekly will be there with the story next year.