Of course we all know that alcoholism is a terrible thing and that John Cheever suffered most of its worst effects. And yet who can read his 1959 short story “The Scarlet Moving Van,” as I just did, and fail to be moved (in all kinds of directions) by a paragraph that runs:
“He was red-eyed and shaken next morning, and ducked out of his office at eleven and drank two Martinis. He had two more before lunch and another at four and two on the train, and came reeling home for supper.”
Cheever is also the author of the very wonderful 1949 short story “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor,” about the ambivalent and confusing nature of giving. Charlie, the elevator man in a New York apartment building, pretends to the tenants that he’s much poorer and more wretched than he really is, and in return receives an “avalanche” of food, drink and presents on Christmas Day.
“There were goose, turkey, chicken, pheasant, grouse, and pigeon. There were trout and salmon, creamed scallops and oysters, lobster, crabmeat, whitebait, and clams. There were plum puddings, mince pies, mousses, puddles of melted ice cream, layer cakes, Torten, éclairs, and two slices of Bavarian cream.”
And then it gets very Cheever-ish indeed:
“He had made almost no headway on the food, for all the servings were preternaturally large, as if loneliness had been counted on to generate in him a brutish appetite ... but he had drunk everything they sent down, and around him were the dregs of Martinis, Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, champagne-and-raspberry-shrub cocktails, eggnogs, Bronxes, and Side Cars.”
He’s drunk, he gets fired from his job, but decides to “pay forward” the generosity he’s received, and gives the food and presents to his landlady and her children, which they don’t need either having also being on the receiving end of other people’s charity. She decides she’ll pass on the gifts to those less fortune that herself.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” she said, for it was dark then, and she knew that we are bound, one to another, in licentious benevolence for only a single day, and that day was nearly over.’
What writer wouldn’t think they deserved a nice stiff drink after writing a like