Nothing dulls the luster of my club's reading room quite like a spot of bad news. So it was no surprise that, upon spying the recent Times article about “The $1 million PTA,” and seeing my youngling’s venerable institution mentioned prominently, I spat out the afternoon’s gin & tonic and summoned my manservant.
“Jeeves!” I bellowed, and in an instant that reliable fellow was at my elbow. “Remind me how one obtains a retraction from New York newspaper czars. Do I post a letter, or is it mandatory to storm the editorial offices, smoke oozing from my nostrils? Have you read this inflammatory bit of yellow journalism?”
“Indeed I have, sir,” Jeeves replied. “The piece was rather informative regarding the large sums some parents raise for their children's schools. I am sorry to learn it distressed you.”
“ ‘Distressed’ hardly covers it,” I said, a bit piqued by his apparent lack of sympathy. “The parents of my daughter’s fine old school do their utmost to raise a C-note or two in the institution’s behalf, and now we find ourselves portrayed in the press as privileged lords maneuvering to widen the gap between rich and poor. I dare say, it is at times like this I wonder why I didn’t enroll my child in private school.”
“As I recall, sir, you forgot to attend the admissions interview,” Jeeves replied. “School deans frown upon such lapses, I am informed. In any event, sir, you have to date been quite pleased with the public school your daughter attends. And your participation in the Parents Association has been most commendable.”
“Indeed it has!” I chirruped. “And that participation goes well beyond writing checks to the classroom fund. Did I not slave over a hot grill for three blistering hours during last year’s street fair? Need I remind you that I played a zombie in the school’s haunted house? And did my spirited rendition of ‘Gunga Din’ not cast a rapt spell over my child’s class during Parent Reading Hour?”
“Your volunteer service has been admirable, sir,” Jeeves said.
“Precisely,” I said. “In fact, parents such as myself merely do what educators across the land suggest all parents to do: Give generously of your time, and now and then reach into the wallet to find a spare fiver. Our service and money are making up for inadequate school budgets! We are mending the torn fabric of Society and Civilization! And do I demand a medal for such service? Indeed not. In fact, anonymity is the byword, the core of our parental code. Our rewards come in the smiling faces of well-educated sons and daughters.”
“Your child is indeed fortunate, sir,” Jeeves said.
“But this!” I said, shaking the newspaper. “This article seems to suggest such fund-raising success be penalized, that a sort of noblesse oblige be forced upon PTAs such as ours, and the wealth, as it were, be shared.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said. “In fact, the other morning I was listening as precisely such a scenario was discussed on the Brian Lehrer radio talk show on WNYC.”
“Lehrer?” I squeaked. “Heard him once, in a taxi. His politics seem slightly to the left of Ho Chi Minh. I think Lehrer will not be sated until all New Yorkers live in identical council flats with walls painted a uniform shade of gray. But it shall not be!”
Softening my tone, I continued. “Jeeves, I am not blind to the inequalities of New York society,” I said, and noticed a slight arch in my trusted valet’s eyebrow. “But generosity in deed and wallet must not be discouraged. Incentives to donate must be increased, not decreased. What sane man would play a zombie, as I did, knowing the Department of Education would tithe the fruits of his volunteer efforts? We need to make the populace see the light in this regard. Perhaps I shall take a soapbox to Union Square and unleash my power of oratory upon the proletariat."
Jeeves coughed slightly. "If I may be so bold as to advise, sir, such a plan presents a number of obstacles to success."
"Does it?" I said. "Perhaps you have an idea, then? You have been eating a good deal of fish lately, I trust? This task promises to test your superior mental powers. Strain the brain, my good man.”
“As a matter of fact, sir, I do have suggestion,” Jeeves said. “If I may be so bold …”
I won’t explore the finer details of Jeeves’ solution, which dealt a great deal with letting a hot blaze cool to embers and allowing logic to prevail. In the end, as so often happens in my tales, success was achieved. The lamb lay down beside the lion, and the metropolis once again basked in glorious sunshine.
Back at the club, I sank contentedly into the soft red leather of my favorite wingback, a copy of a P.G. Wodehouse novel at the ready, and enjoyed the glow that comes when life’s problems shift from the chapter index to the footnotes. “Jeeves, I don’t know how you do it,” I said.
“I endeavor to give satisfaction, sir,” he replied.