In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash

In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash

by Jean Shepherd


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The beloved, bestselling classic that became the movie, A CHRISTMAS STORY — humorous and nostalgic Americana, reissued in a strikingly designed paperback edition.

Before Garrison Keillor and Spalding Gray there was Jean Shepherd: a master monologist and writer who spun the materials of his all-American childhood into immensely resonant—and utterly hilarious—works of comic art. In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash represents one of the peaks of his achievement, a compound of irony, affection, and perfect detail that speaks across generations.

In God We Trust, Shepherd's wildly witty reunion with his Indiana hometown, disproves the adage "You can never go back." Bending the ear of Flick, his childhood-buddy-turned-bartender, Shepherd recalls passionately his genuine Red Ryder BB gun, confesses adolescent failure in the arms of Junie Jo Prewitt, and relives a story of man against fish that not even Hemingway could rival. From pop art to the World's Fair, Shepherd's subjects speak with a universal irony and are deeply and unabashedly grounded in American Midwestern life, together rendering a wonderfully nostalgic impression of a more innocent era when life was good, fun was clean, and station wagons roamed the earth.

A comic genius who bridged the gap between James Thurber and David Sedaris, Shepherd may have accomplished for Holden, Indiana, what Mark Twain did for Hannibal, Missouri.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385021746
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 04/28/1991
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 59,289
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 8.22(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

For many years a cult radio and cabaret personality in New York City, Jean Shepherd was the creator of the popular film A Christmas Story, which is based in part on this book and has become a holiday tradition on the Turner Network. He died in October 1999 near his home on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Read an Excerpt

We Meet Flick, the Friendly Bartender

I felt like a spy. It was the first time I had ever ridden a cab in my own hometown. When I had left it I was definitely not a cab rider. Now taking cabs was as natural as breathing or putting on shoes. I could see the cab driver giving me the eye in his rear-view mirror. He was wearing the standard Midwestern work uniform of lumberjacket, corduroy cap, and a red face.

"You from out of town?"

He caught me off guard. I had forgotten that out of New York people quite often spoke to other people.

"Uh . . . what?"

"You from out of town?"

"Ah . . . yeah, I guess so." Making one of my famous instantaneous decisions, I opted for being from out of town.

"Yeah, well, I could tell. Where ya from?"

"New York. Now, that is."

He mopped his windshield with a greasy rag. The cab's heater was making the windows cloud up. Outside I could dimly see the grimy streets lined with dirty, hard ice and crusted drifts covered with that old familiar layer of blast-furnace dust; ahead of us a long line of dirt-encrusted cars carrying loads of steelworkers, refinery slaves, and railroad men to wherever they spent most of their lives. He went on:

"Yep. New York. Me and my wife went there once. For two weeks. We saw the Fair. I sure don't see how anyone can stand to live there."

We continued to rattle through the smoky gray Winter air. I watched a giant gas works drift by our port side. On the starboard a vast, undulating sea of junkyards rolled to the horizon.

"It's okay to visit."

I guess he threw that in so as not to hurt my feelings.

"Oh, you get used to it."

He blew his nose loudly into a red bandanna and laughed juicily.

"Yeah, I guess a guy can get used to anything. If he's gotta." A crossing gate banged down in front of us, its flashers angrily blinking off and on. A warning bell clanged deafeningly as a giant Diesel locomotive swept across our bow, towing a short string of smelly tankers. Four brakemen clung to their sides, yelling to one another as they roared past.

"What was that?" I shouted.


The gate went up. We were off again. I fished into my briefcase, at last finding the onionskin on which I had written, for my own use, a thumbnail description of the town I was now riding through, my own despised hometown. As we roared and squeaked on, I read over what I had written:

Hohman, Indiana, is located in the extreme Northwestern corner of the state, where the state line ends abruptly in the icy, detergent-filled waters of that queen of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. It clings precariously to the underbody of Chicago like a barnacle clings to the rotting hulk of a tramp steamer.

From time to time echoes of the Outside World arrive in Hohman, but they are muted and bear little relevance to the daily life of its inhabitants. Theirs is a world of belching furnaces, roaring Bessemer Converters, fragrant Petroleum distillation plants, and freight yards. Mostly, their Social life is found in Bowling halls or Union halls or beer halls, not to mention dance halls and pool parlors.

Theirs is a sandy, rolling country, cooled, nay, frozen to rigidity in the Winter by howling gales that got their start near the Arctic Circle, picked up force over the frozen wastes of Lake Michigan, and petered out in downtown Hohman, after freezing ears, cracking blocks, and stunting the Summer hopes in many a breast.

In Summer the process is reversed, and the land lies still and sear under the blazing Midwestern sun. This is where the first faint beginnings of the Great Plains can be found. A gnarled cactus plant, rolling tumbleweeds; an occasional Snowy Owl. The residents of Hohman are hardly aware of this, although their truculent pride in being Hoosiers is seen everywhere.

Under the soil of most backyards, covered with a thin, drifting coat of blast-furnace dust and refinery waste, made fragrant by the soaked-in aroma of numerous soap factories, lie in buried darkness the arrowheads, stone axes, and broken pots of the departed Indian. Where the tribes danced in Indian summer now grow Used Car lots and vast, swampy junkyards.

Not far from downtown Hohman lie the onion sets and cantaloupe vines of the Dutch immigrant farmers, and then the endless, mile-after-mile monotony of the Indiana cornfields. To the West the sand dunes ring Lake Michigan almost to the border of Michigan itself. To the North—the Lake. And to the West and North—Chicago.

It is a place people never really come to, but mostly want to leave. And leave they do, to go to the fabled East or to the unbelievable California coast. They rarely talk about where they have come from. There isn't much to say. At night in Hohman the rabbits still hop through the backyard gardens. The trains thunder through the dark on their way to somewhere else. The sky is always lit by the eternal flames of the Open Hearths and blast furnaces.

Nothing much has changed, probably least of all those who were born and. formed by the Northern Indiana mill-town existence.
Oh yeah? I answered myself. I have never been a fan of my particular style of Official Writer-ese, but, after all, it's a living. It's a hell of a lot better than working in the Tin Mill, which we were now passing.

We were getting into painfully familiar country: ragged vacant lots, clumps of signboards advertising paint, American Legion halls, bowling alleys, all woven together with a compact web of high tension wires, telephone poles, and gas stations.

Home is where the heart is. In fact, not more than two blocks from where we now waited for a light I had spent the festering years of my childhood.

I got out of the cab at the intersection and headed directly for Flick's Tavern, the tavern whose floors I had helped to clean as a tot, and where I had learned a few of Life's seamier lessons. Flick himself had been an old boyhood sidekick who had taken over the tavern from his father, long since passed away. I hadn't seen him since my Army days.

It was a cold, early December day and a few plastic wreaths were in evidence. The sign hanging out over the sidewalk read:


Flick's sense of humor obviously was still operating.

Inside I instantly saw the place had changed little. The bar was longer, the jukebox bigger; there was a color TV hanging from the wall, but the air was as gamy and rich as ever, if not more so, a thick oleo of dried beer suds, fermenting bar rags, sweaty overalls, and urinal deodorants. I breathed in a deep gulp to clear my brain, kicked some snow off my Italian shoes, and sat down at one of the stools near the window.

Down at the far end of the bar I saw a white-shirted back banging away at what appeared to be some sort of ice cabinet. He glanced up in the gloom and called out:

"What'll you have?"

"A beer."

"I'll be right with you."

He went on working. Through the window I could see a Used-Car lot where once, I recalled in the dim past, a stand of willows had grown. It was midaftemoon, between shifts, so the tavern was empty. I looked back down the bar just in time to see the white-shirted figure draw a stein of draught, topping it off neatly with a good head. He sat it down in front of me.

"How the hell are you, Flick?" I went right at him in a frontal attack.

"Uh . . . okay. How're you?"

"Don't you remember me?"

He looked at me in that long, wary Bartender stare, suspecting, at first, a touch.

"Fer Chrissake!"

"Yep, it's me. Your old buddy."

"Fer cryin' out loud! What the hell're you doing back here in Hohman, Ralph?"

I will now lightly pass over the ensuing sickening scene of boyhood companions meeting after years of elapsed time. Back-slappings, hollerings, and other classical maneuvers were performed. I told him why I had come back, about the piece I was supposed to do for an Official magazine on The Return Of The Native To The Indiana Mill Town. He snorted. They don't think of Hohman as a mill town. It's just Hohman.

He had drawn a beer for himself and another for me, broken out a bag of pretzels, and we began to do some really good, solid Whatever-happened-to . . .?, Did-she-ever-marry . . .?, When-did-they-put-in-the-bowling-alley-down-at. . .?, and all the rest of it. I could see that Flick was wearing a bowling shirt, white, with his team name stitched over the pocket. Bowling is the staff of life, the honey of existence, the raison d'être for most men in Hohman. Flick was no exception.

"Did you ever learn to control that hook, Flick?" I remembered him as a wild fastball bowler who lofted a lot and who had a wicked, uncontrollable hook.

"I'm getting my wood."

We sat for a long moment, sipping our beer and looking out into the gray, gloomy day. A big red Christmas wreath hung over the cash register.

"Are you gonna be around for Christmas, Ralph?" he asked.

"I hope so."

He had reminded me of something that had crossed my mind a few days before. The Christmas season does things like that to you.

"Flick, do you remember that BB gun you used to have? That 200-shot Daisy pump gun?"

"That what?"

"Your BB gun."

"Hell, I still got it. It comes in handy sometimes."

"You won't believe it, Flick, but the other day, in New York, I'm sitting in the H & H . . ."

"The H & H?"

"The Horn & Hardart. The Automat."

"Oh yeah. I heard about those. You get pie right out of the wall."

"That's right, that's the H & H. Anyway...."

"You know, I've never been to New York. I'd like to go there some day. I hear it's a rough place to live, but . . ."

"Anyway, Flick, I'm in the H & H and this lady comes in and sits down, and she's got a button that says 'Disarm the Toy Industry' on it."

"Disarm the Toy Industry?"

"I guess she meant BB guns."

"Fer Chrissake, it's getting nuttier and nuttier." Flick's native Indiana humor struck to the core.

"Anyway, Flick, I'm sitting there talking to her, and I suddenly remember that BB gun I got for Christmas. Do you remember?"

"No kidding, Disarm the Toy Industry? Oh boy . . . ."

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In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
Chapters are based on episodes from Jean Shepherd's life. Written with a dry sense of humor. Remember that the movie A Christmas Story was based on bits and pieces of this book and not the other way around. Some chapters seemed to drag a bit which is the reason for 4 rather than 5 stars. Overall, enjoyable although I don't think this is a book I'll read more than once.
Kalel13 More than 1 year ago
All of the hilarious moments that make the movie a tradition are here along with other anecdotes. Actually the tale of Ralphie's plot to get the Red Ryder carbine action BB gun only takes one chapter; but there are a lot more misadventures spread throughout. If A Christmas Story is part of your holiday viewing year after year, this will enhance your enjoyment of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reminds me of the old stories my grandmother told me as a child from her like in the fourties. I think the imagery gives it character and i would recommend it to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jean's wit and his phrasology are in a class by themselves. Anyone should be able to identify with his rememberances even if their childhood was at a later time than the late thirties--early forties. I enjoy reading parts of this book as I do enjoying a glass of fine wine. The song, 'Try to Remember' would aptly describe the many poignant memories included in this very witty book. Read all Shepherd's material. I guarantee you'll identify with most of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a masterwork of fiction that is like a time machine that takes you to depression era Indiana. If you have ever watched 'A Christmas Story' you must read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you liked the movie' A Christmas Story' you will love this book. It is a wonderful trip into a man's memories of his childhood.
sixwoolsocks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was a tad disappointed in the book, probably because I love the movie. I expected more "never had the words flew from my penny pencil with such feverish fluidity", ie Jean Shepherd's childhood. The parts of the book detailing his childhood are ridiculously well written. However, the transitions from his teenage years, adulthood, & the present day are very forced & awkward. It's pretty obvious dialogue isn't Shepherd's strong point either. While the book as a whole isn't terrible, I'll stick with the movie.
MarysGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've loved Jean Shepherd ever since I saw the now classic movie "A Christmas Story" in the theater. PBS fueled this with several pieces based on his stories. However, I hadn't read anything by him until a few years ago when I picked up a collection of his stories. I still hear his voice narrating while I read. "In God We Trust" does not disappoint. This collection contains the stories that were the basis for the movie including the seminal "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid," as well as the stories about the "special award" his father won, the bully, and the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring; and many more stories besides. I highly recommend this one.
tgraettinger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great writing and great storytelling. Shepherd's writing is so vivid and clear and engrossing. This book includes a good many of the stories embedded in "A Christmas Story" (the film), but includes a few lesser-known gems as well - including the drum major story. Read it slow, you'll enjoy it even more.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rather boring I am sorry to say. My favorite chapter was the one about penny candy. Some of the nostalgia is interesting, but I just couldn't get into the book. Shepherd portrays Hohman, Indiana and the more innocent times in clear, vivid pictures. Just couldn't get into the writing style and it seemed rambling at times. I must admit, I skipped many a page to keep it moving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a great representation of Americana.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ralph Parker returns to his hometown in Indiana where he walks into a bar and starts reminiscing with the bartender, a boyhood friend of his. The chapters alternate between the modern day bar setting and a childhood reminiscence. Several of the chapters were published previously as short stories in Playboy magazine over a period of several years. The popular movie The Christmas Story is based on one of the stories in this book. Most of the stories take place during the Depression when Ralph was a child. Some feature his childhood exploits and others focus more on his parents or simply the "good ol' days". These are wonderful, nostalgic and oftentimes very funny stories. For the 21st century reader, even the 1960s modern day chapters are nostalgic. Some chapters are better than others and I would have preferred the reminiscences without the segue chapters which felt like an unnecessary afterthought. Light and fun reading.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I selected In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash because I love the movie, The Christmas Story, which is based on this book by Jean Shepherd. Like many books and their movie adaptations, there are many differences between film and text. What is unusual, I think, in this case is that my over-familiarity with the movie forced the book to live up to its comedic standards (I would argue that it's usually the other way around). In many ways, I was not disappointed. Ralph Parker returns to his hometown in Indiana and finds his friend, Flick, at his bar. Together, they drink and reminisce about their childhoods during the Great Depression. Here, we find the wonderful stories that make up the movie: the Red Ryder BB gun, the infamous Leg Lamp and the fight with the yellow-eyed bully. But there's a lot more. We learn more about the characters and get a first-hand account on what it was like to live during the Great Depression. We also learn about Ralph's life as an adult, living in New York City. Shepherd's use of language in this book left me in tears. His grasp of irony and wit parallels Mark Twain and James Thurber. He made the ordinary into magnificent pieces of humor. Modern writers like Christopher Moore and Carl Hiassen surely must owe their craft to humorists like Jean Shepherd. A delightful treat, just like the movie, I am glad to have read In God We Trust and would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading Coming of Age Tales or humorous stories - or just loves the best Christmas movie ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The wiring in this book kept me coming back for more every day since I got it. It has many compelling stories and lots of laughs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to enjoy this book....I love the movie A Christmas Story.  I had to force myself to read the whole thing.  I kept hoping it would get better, but it just dragged on and on!  There was a funny passage now and then, but not enough.  Reading this book was sort of like trying to run in chest high water----you really work at it, but in then end you don't get any where and you are just tired of trying!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book and the stories told. Takes you back in time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jean Shepherd was a great storyteller and this book captures his style. Many episodes from this book were later adapted into the popular movie, A Christmas Story.
Rachel_Luray More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the narrative and story weaving that Jean pulled together in this book. A slice of Americana family history in a well written tale. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only one chapter of it :( watch the movie though it is awsome :) - Happystar
tinydancersmom More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book! One of the stories in it was the movie "A Christmas Story" which is also my favorite Christmas movies. Jean Shepherd has a really funny dry wit! This is a book I read over and over!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished. Laughed the whole time. Dispointed no mention of the tongue on pole incident. Guess some things are better left for the movies.
BLUEBELLE4 More than 1 year ago
i used to stay awake half the night to listen to Gene on, i think it was, WOR N.Y. Then I read his books. reread his books and laughed myself silly. Last time I read In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, I laughed again as the book was in the religion section of the local library. It will be a joy to read this book again.
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Sara Hampton More than 1 year ago
This collectiom of storiesis whimsical and intelligent. It is interesting to see how the pieces were pulled together to form the classic holiday movie, 'A Christmas Story.'