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Phantom to the rescue ... by Rick Hodgson Phantom had been out of town - otherwise he would have seen the advertisement by Barwicks in the local paper listing an inventory straight out of a spy novel - or Central Casting. Barwicks had also put many of the items on limited display a week ahead of time to drum up interest. So the word was out and the Phantom had to act fast. As soon as he put the phone down, he jumped in his sports car and burned back up the coast, negotiating the narrow, winding roads with a professional driver's consummate skill. And what a time to need those skills, too! The Cat! Treasure! Step on it! At the auction hall half the crowd was eagerly awaiting the opportunity  to own a piece of arguably the most fabled surfer ever. The other half of the crowd was slack jawed and bug eyed. No auction lot like this had ever been seen before at Barwicks. It was often no more than tired furniture, household utensils, tools and belongings to be liquidated due to former owners passing on. But this - THIS! This was surreal. The auction stage looked like a set from a Rudolph Valentino epic. There was an electric buzz around the hall: "Who WAS this man? WHAT is his story? Where did all this come from and how did he get it? Well, for the Phantom, one item said it all. "I walked in, and it immediately caught my eye: the street sign from Hollywood and Vine!" A fitting sign post to announce the liquidation of the acquired booty of a seemingly sophisticated man-of-the-world. His creditors had finally found his treasures, and it was time to pay his debts. Imagine the thoughts of those who were there who hadn't seen the advert in the local paper or the goods on display in the showroom during the week. Imagine not knowing Mickey Dora's front; Mickey Mouse. You think it is just another Friday night auction, and you walk in expecting used Tupperware - only to see piles of rare books, a silk sleeping bag, tuxedos, expensive dress shirts from J. Carroll - Beverly Hills in unopened boxes, cashmere everything, dinner jackets never worn, ritualistic carvings, and a brass-bound treasure chest full of even more rare, exotic, and decadent "chattels." "It filled a space about 15 square meters, about chest high," said auctioneer Brian Eddy. In addition to the list in the advert, other items on display included a Mayan sisal hammock, several long leather coats, a pith helmet, rare books on sports cars and gems, an antique Bible, and jewelry attesting to expensive tastes and an interest in the unknown. One item, though, showed a surprising lack of discretion. A big black book was opened up by the auctioneer, and all the pages were cut out of it! Just before the auction started, two supervisors saw the Phantom and motioned him up to the stage. He was given several boxes of items deemed too personal to be appropriate for auction. Since Phantom was an American from Malibu, it was assumed that he would be able to return the items to their owner. The auctioneer presented me with two large boxes and said, "Can you, through your contacts and their contacts, see that these are returned?" It was the least that could be done under the circumstances, so I agreed. The next day I packed up the family albums and sent them to Dora's family. "The sale started and auctioneer Eddy was in marvelous form, rising to the occasion as master of a special ceremony"; said Phantom, "to be there, with my knowledge of the style and quality of the man in his prime in the 60's was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was like being on another planet. When three reels of 16 mm film came up, I bid every cent I had on me, which was $36. People knew that I was going to return them to Dora, and nobody bid against me. I watched all the rest of the stuff go that night unable to buy another item, and yet feeling that I had been given the most valuable items on that stage because I was giving them back to their owner." The crowd acted as single unit - they cooperated. A big Maori named Mickey (believe it or not) got the clothes because they fit him, and nobody bid against him or each other when it became obvious that someone really wanted a particular item. People restrained their bidding time and again. There was this wonderful camaraderie in the air. The energy in the room was of some curse being lifted. This bounty, this pirate's treasure, was now revealed to the light of day in order to pay a debt by giving good working people a once-in-a-lifetime chance to own something from another world. And everyone appreciated this. There was spirited bidding to be sure, but everybody was being courteous and considerate. To see Dora's possessions handled in a fashion exactly opposite to his infamous public persona was a rare example of perfect justice. This was what made the auction something special. It was as if a tight greedy karma of a man's grab for material wealth was being released. As a surfer, Mickey Dora was a charmed genius. But waves come and go and all the waves he ever rode have all disappeared. However, when it came to surfing through life (some would call it scamming) there was a lot to show for his 'adventures' because as we know from the Wilken episode, he seemed perfectly willing to try to get everything he could out of society, one way or another. Maybe he was trying to get even with the Malibu crowds that, according to him, were always stealing his waves. As to who is or isn't a thief, well, at this point that's debatable. Personally speaking, I don't know if he ever paid the ocean back for everything he was given, but this auction was his moment to square up with society. How ironic that he ended up paying his debt through a process of cooperation and sharing, the exact opposite of the Cat's m.o. that put all these items in his hands in the first place. The auction was almost theater in the style of the Greek tragedies because most of the objects were hood ornaments, so to speak. They were the symbols, totems and amulets of an alchemist who had created a life of illusions that on this night had reached a denouement. It was time to clean out the magician's closet, and it was significant that on the stage there were no tools, no household items, nothing domestic or down-to-earth. Phantom: "The auctioneer noticed this and asked me, 'Who was this guy?'" I told him he was an actor because everything here was, in a sense, a prop. (For those who remember Dora in his prime, the image of the tuxedo on the block says a lot, since Dora's signature night life outfit was to wear the tuxedo - with tennis shoes.) And indeed, when one looks at the list of items in the advert, one can't help but notice that Mickey Dora's inventory has nothing to do with earning a living. It is a list that sets a stage for one man only, a man full of his role, and yet, a man alone. It's not about a nine-to-five existence and then home to wife and kids. Such is the ideology of an auction: if all your stuff was on the block, what would people think of you? There was romance in the image, to be sure, but the reality beneath it was something of an Olympian tragedy. Dora always searched for empathy. To hear him tell it, he has been cruelly done by. Things had always been taken away from him. The purity of surfing empty waves was when he stood alone as the world's best small wave surfer, the respect everybody had for each other in the early days - just gone! That must have been in a real profound way, because Mickey Dora runs deep. But if we are sympathetic, in light of the dispersion of his precious possessions, to the fact that he was very sensitive and always aspired to an extremely high standard, then let's not forget that the auction had a most important saving grace: good working people benefited from the judgement rendered Dora on the stage that evening. As did Dora himself. Phantom: "There was so much joy associated with that auction. All this karma was released. All these objects, hoarded, possibly ill-gotten, speaking of personal darkness and mystery, all these precious possessions were practically given away, pennies on the dollar. They were, for all intents and purposes, turned into gifts. Everyone was smiling and happy as they walked out of the place dressed in clothes from Hollywood's most glamorous era, wearing African ceremonial bracelets, carrying artefacts from their wildest dreams. To top it off, there was a bottle of cognac bought by a scruffy surfer, who opened it up and passed it all around to toast the moment and the benefactor, Mickey Dora. And in the giving aspect of it all, that's the joy I'm talking about." And as such, in a way it sort of freed Mickey - it freed his soul from all these things. It was cutting him loose. It gave him a moment of forgiveness that could allow him to finally know somewhere in his heart: 'I'm free of that past now. Its been forgiven. It all got laid out in the sand, the tide came and took it away, and now its gone'. "The auction was pure electricity - it was the most entertaining night of my life. People had a good feeling about the whole night because in a funny way, you felt good for him. You didn't feet a sense of remorse, like 'What a pity - all this guys stuff has been sold'." You felt like now he can carry on, he doesn't have to carry this weight any more. This stuff is gone - he's free now. It was a release that maybe gives him some closure." "Through Mr. Redstone in Gisborne I received a  thank you card from Dora. He seemed truly touched by my returning his films and family albums. He even called a mutual friend at a prearranged time to thank me for returning his most personal possessions that he thought he would never see again. He left the impression, though, that he felt hard done by. Maybe he forgot that his losses were nothing more than a simple consequence of not playing by the rules for decades. If he would have just relaxed a little, he could have made it in almost any endeavor. But he didn't want to be a part of the human race. He wanted to be above and just outside of it." Above the crowd and outside the mainstream - this was the separate, arrogant reality upon which Mickey Dora built the legend of the Cat. From State Beach to Beverly Hills, from Malibu to Hollywood and Vine, from the North Shore Hawaii to endless perfection of Africa, from the sophistication of France to the remoteness of New Zealand, his surfing and his self-styled persona were, by design, unforgettable. But those whom the gods would humble, first they exalt. If ever a surfer had a thrice-blessed career, it was Mickey Dora. But at the end of his era, the legendary Cat was just another guy who had to pay his bills. In closing, the reader may be tempted to wonder about the adventures of Mickey Dora between 1970 and 1984. I wouldn't bother. The trail from Hollywood and Vine to the far coasts of New Zealand is his alone to trace. For me, the California exit and the auction in Gisborne are but bookends with nothing between them. The missing volume may be as fascinating as the stories of Scheherazade and Dora the raconteur could certainly do justice to his 1001 tales. But don't hold your breath. Once, when asked in a magazine interview about his experiences on the North Shore, he replied, "These are my personal memories and I don't want to share them." End of interview. Fair enough, but when it comes to settling up at closing time, one can't pick and choose what one is or isn't willing to part with. What was sold may have meant a lot to him, but he didn't lose everything because in the end he was given back the most priceless items from his collected treasures: the memories of his family and surfing career. At Barwicks Auctions on a Friday night fifteen years ago, restitution was made, fair dinkum. I don't think there is anything more to be asked of this artist, this actor, this man who once called himself "da Cat," one of the most talented, and certainly the most flamboyant, surfers in history. He now owes nothing to anyone. He is now a free man. Long live his freedom. Not auctioned at Barwicks was a collection of munitions, including a number of hand grenades, semi- automatic rifles, and expensive hand guns. These items - and the live ammunition were confiscated by Interpol.
Photographer: Unknown
Photographer: Unknown
Photographer: Unknown
Photographer: Unknown
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