A Christmas Treasure

by

12/09/2007

Penn Station, the Long Island Rail Road's Lost and Found, 10017

Neighborhood: Midtown

My wife is one of an elusive American species: the serious reader. And like many serious readers, she also indulges in crap. For a long stretch she indulged in a guilty pleasure known to many but not known to me, until one Christmas season years ago: the Regency-era paperback romance.

These books aren’t the sexed-up bodice-rippers with Fabio-like models on the cover. They are mostly chaste stories in which love and loyalty are tested and where good wins out over bad, if not evil, and, in the end, good things happen to good people and more often than not someone gets married, like in the final scene of a fairy tale or Greek comedy.

I try not to be snobbish but I can be at times when it comes to books. And so I started making fun of her during this time for reading her lowly Regency romances–works she called, in mercantile terms, Jane Austen knockoffs. I read aloud the ridiculous prose in a ridiculous, mocking voice. I made fun of the characters’ names and the titles of the books, which were almost without exception preposterous. I made light of the silly and repetitive plots.

To her credit she stood by these books: I enjoy them, she said, I know they’re crap but I’m free to read whatever I want, good or bad, literary or not. Fair enough, I said. She continued to read them daily on her way to work in New York City, on the Long Island Rail Road–light reading, purely fun fluff for a stressful commute.

One morning, though, she called me in a panic. She thought she’d left her Book Gear on the train and feared it was lost.

Book Gear?

“What is Book Gear?” I asked, clueless.

It was a cloth case in which she kept the book she was reading, her monthly commutation ticket, and her work ID. She’d been able to get into her building without her ID that morning but she was worried about her train ticket, which cost a few hundred bucks and which she’d just purchased. In other words, the ticket was at its full and overpriced value.

“Well, you need to call LIRR Lost and Found,” I said. “Maybe someone turned it in.”

Silence.

“Can you call?” she asked.

“You want me to call?”

“Please.”

“But it’s your Book Gear, with your name in it.”

“My name’s not in it.”

“On your ID, on your ticket?”

“My ID only has my picture. No name. And my company name isn’t on it. And I didn’t have a chance to write my name on my ticket. I just bought it.”

This was back in pre-cell-phone New York. What I mean is cell phones existed but they were not as universal and pervasive as they are now and neither of us owned one yet. She said she didn’t want to call because she’d need to call from her desk. And she didn’t want her boss to hear her making a personal call.

“But you’re calling me now?”

Yes, she explained, her boss was away at the moment but she’d be right back. She could make this call quickly.

My wife sat in a small cubicle (a stall, really, the size of a very small closet) and her boss resided on the other side of her wall and was not very accommodating to Calls of a Personal Nature. At the time I had my own private office, another elusive and vanishing American species, and it would be easier for me to make the call.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” I told her. “But how am I going to describe your Book Gear?”

“It’s plaid. And it has my ID and ticket in it. And you can give the name of the book.”

“Okay, what’s the name of the book?”

“A Christmas Treasure.”

I felt my face getting hot and red from embarrassment. “I have to ask for a book called A Christmas Treasure?”

“Please.”

What we do for love.

I look up the number. I’m able to get a woman on the phone. She is very pleasant. I explain that I’ve lost “my Book Gear.” She asks me to give her a general description, which I do (“the outside is plaid”), and she puts me on hold.

Christmas music plays in between Long Island Rail Road announcements.

She comes back on the line. “Okay, I think I found it. There’s a book inside and a train ticket. There’s no name on the ticket. What’s the name of your book?”

My book? My book?

“The name of my book?” I dimly asked.

“Yes, the name of your book. So I can be sure it’s yours.”

Though alone, I still whisper: “A Christmas Treasure.”

“That’s correct,” she announces, as if we’re on a radio call-in quiz show. She informs me of where I can come to pick it up.

“Actually,” I say, “my wife is going to pick it up. It’s hers. The book is hers. I’m calling for her. I’m not even in the city. The book’s not mine. I don’t read that stuff. My wife does.”

“Okay, okay,” she says. “That’s fine. Have a Merry Christmas.”

See for yourself: A Christmas Treasure

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