T’was the day before Christmas. The sky was gray, sleety. I’d been out shopping, had all the family-and-friend gifts now smug in their beds.
Time for a reward.
I walked in the drizzle to a new barbeque joint up North Highland Avenue, a place warm and cozy and convivial. A football bowl game flickered on a big TV; a fire sent up hallelujah sparks as its hickory logs settled. I ordered a glass of brew and a half slab, and sat at the bar, pretty girls smiling at the far end.
I was filled with good will for all mankind.
The door opened, and the December wind blew in a fellow about my own age, mid-fifties, unshaven, a little careworn. He slumped onto the stool next to mine. He offered an icy hand.
I know you. We met a while back, he said. You’re a writer, aren’t you?
Yes. That’s me. A writer.
I’ll call him John. We got to talking, John and me. We had a wonderfully talented friend in common, an artist named Cornel Rubino with paintings in collections all over the country. We lived for a while in the same neighborhood. We both read books, lots of books, loved the same bookstores. We both had tough financial years.
His was a little tougher.
I declared bankruptcy this year, he confessed. I still don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep my house. It’s been a tough one.
Sympathy welled in me. I’m not so far from that financial precipice myself, staring down the double barrel of two mortgages, what seems to be a hundred-dollar hemorrhage every time I walk out the front door, paychecks thin as prosciutto.
You know what has kept me sane through all this money trouble? John asked. It was P.G. Wodehouse.
I stared. For a second, I thought John was confiding the name of a therapist. It just seemed so unlikely that a soul in deep financial trouble would be talking about salvation through novels.
You know, P.G. Wodehouse, the writer, John repeated. With Jeeves the brilliant butler and all the silly English upper-crust stuff. Those are wonderful stories.
His eyes were shining with happiness.
There are dozens of Wodehouse books, John said. You can never read all of them. It’s so good to know there’s something like that to take my mind off my troubles.
I raised a glass of Guinness.
Here’s to Wodehouse, I offered. Thank goodness for books … and here’s one for the Wode.