Sometimes, things turn out unexpectedly

12/18/2008 11:57 PM

12/19/2008 12:05 AM

George Bailey looked out the window of his Manhattan penthouse at the trees lining Central Park and thought to himself, "Gosh, what a miserable, boring little life I would have had if I hadn't found a way to escape Bedford Falls."

It was almost Christmas, and George, still wearing his silk pajamas long after finishing breakfast, was counting his blessings. He thought back all the way to his childhood, to the day he rescued his brother, Harry, from the icy pond, losing the hearing in one ear in the process.

"That was a blessing in disguise," he recalled. "Kept me out of the Army so I could stay home and make money."

Of course, he had had his share of setbacks. There was the run on the old Bailey Savings and Loan that ruined his honeymoon. Mary had never forgiven him for that.

And then Uncle Billy, starting to go senile even then, lost the $8,000. How, in God's name, do you just misplace $8,000? George had been able to hold off the creditors, but he'd ended up selling the business to old Mr. Potter a few years later -- another blessing in disguise.

The profit from the sale wasn't much, but it was enough to buy Martini's Bar. George kept Nick the bartender; the regulars stayed, and more came later. It was a real moneymaker: In the hard times, people drink to forget; in the good times, they drink to celebrate; in between, they just drink.

Mary left him around then. She got bored and ran off with that knucklehead Sam Wainwright. George got the old Granville house on Sycamore in the divorce settlement -- and promptly sold it, doubling his money. Hee-haw that, Wainwright.

He missed Mary for a while, but then started seeing Violet Bick. Violet had been a little wild in high school, but she had straightened out and bought herself a florist shop that soon had the highest sales volume in the county. She was funny, good looking, and, it turned out, she had a head for business.

George continued to buy up property here and there around town. By the time that skinflint Potter caught on that there was money to be made in the old neighborhoods, George owned just about every desirable parcel available. Pottersville, schmottersville. Try Bailey Park Estates -- everywhere you looked!

After the feds routed an interstate just two miles outside of town, George was off and running. He and Violet, now his wife, built a mall, then spread out across the state, building condominiums, apartments and housing developments.

He made his mother comfortable in one of the better condos. And he brought Harry into the business. It helped to have a veteran on board, and Harry could run things if George wanted to take some time off.

He and Violet toured Europe, the honeymoon he'd never had with Mary. Violet was so taken with Florence that they bought a villa there, where they could unwind and entertain guests once or twice a year.

George was spending a lot of time in New York, checking in on his new warehouse operation in the garment district. So, he bought the penthouse for when he was in town or his daughter Zuzu and her friends needed a place to stay in the city during breaks from boarding school.

In fact, she was due any minute. George showered and dressed for lunch at the club. Just as he was putting on his red cashmere blazer (a gift from Violet; she made him wear it every Christmas), Zuzu walked through the door, her arms full of packages.

As she set them down on the couch, a tiny bell on a ribbon tinkled lightly.

"Daddy," she said, laughing, "my economics teacher says every time a bell rings, someone becomes a millionaire."

"That's right, that's right," George said, smiling back at her.

He glanced out the window toward the park again, and noticed that snowflakes had begun to fall.

"It's a wonderful life," he muttered to himself.

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