Auction Fiends Find a League of their Own

They bid on hotel stays, spa weekends and oxygen cleanses. They bid on handbags, fashion runway shows and Broadway performances. They bid on sports memorabilia, tennis tickets and rounds of golf on celebrated greens. They bid on pet-themed tableware.

They bid on jewelry. “A diamond ring from Van Cleef & Arpels.” Value: $5,000.

They bid on a chance to network at Credit Suisse. “Enjoy a day of networking at Credit Suisse Investment Banking.” Value: $2,500.

They bid on items once touched by teen idols. “Own a Justin Bieber autographed CD collage.” Value: $650.

At the annual Junior League Winter Ball, at the Plaza, members and their husbands pinballed Scotch in hand from the cream-walled parlor room to the marble atrium where on the ceiling golden signatures sutured the painted frescos, then off to the auction tables once sufficiently lubricated to place a bid.

Which of these items of varying frivolity sell themselves well enough to get Junior Leaguers and their partners to pony up the dough?

“Whatever my wife tells me,” said Joe Reiss. He was examining the diamond bracelets—$6,000. “I’m reasonably certain they will be many and expensive. That’s all I’m sure of.”

He thrust his glass toward The Observer.

“Are you married?”

The Observer shook his head.

“You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you’re married. I’m bidding on whatever she tells me.”

“I’m trying to swallow my first drink,” said a stubbled man in a tuxedo who identified himself as Bob.

“This is interesting,” said Bill Beards, who was crouching over a listing for a modest morning meal at a college. Value: $500. “We live out in New Jersey so this Princeton breakfast would be nice.”

Deployed within the room were waiters frocked in mandarin collars presenting plates of canapés. They were winter-themed and uninspired. Frozen mini pastry shells encasing butternut squash goop. Ugly chunks of lobster nested on something of a toast disc, chalky and bland. Cheese fried and topped with a desperate dab of wasabi mayo, a fumbled handoff, a failure. The guests were eating everything up.

“We’ve bought a couple things and seriously half the time we don’t even use it!” Sonny Arcilla, a banking executive, told The Observer.

He had his eye on a certain CD collage.

“I’m one of those tragically unhip guys who likes Justin Bieber,” Mr. Arcilla said.

The guest of honor, though, could not make it into the auction room. Mary J. Blige had a broken toe, and there were stairs involved. Her brace was black and strappy, unglamorous and made more so by the comparative flash of the 7-inch Louboutin that propped up her able foot.

“My dream has come true,” Ms. Blige told The Observer. “I’m getting a chance to help women, which is what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child. I’m proud of it.”

She hobbled over to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who complimented the singer, “You’re gorgeous.”

The Observer asked the congresswoman if she’s a fan of Ms. Blige’s work, and Ms. Maloney let out a squeal. “Yeaaaahhh! She’s won so many Grammys and is an inspiration in her personal story. Hopefully she’ll sing tonight.”

The Observer accused the congresswoman of rumor mongering.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure they’ll play some of her music.”

Later, they did. (Ms. Blige had to leave early to catch a private jet to Paris.)

The gift bags, by Henri Bendel, had been hailed as legendary by a rival reporter on the Junior League beat. So before leaving, The Observer unfixed the tony swag from a vacated seat. The contents made for a soft letdown: The only item of import to a young man was a miniature bottle of red wine. So we cherry-picked a few more beverages from unattended bags, absconded with the booty and hailed a cab to the Lower East Side. Two bottles, The Observer confirmed, are plenty for a 60-block trip. No bidding required.

nfreeman [at] | @nfreeman1234

Auction Fiends Find a League of their Own