George Pelecanos

He Bet His Savings And Lost the Gamble

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Crime writer George Pelecanos is nearly 50 years old but only recently bought his first new car, paying cash for a Mustang GT. Why would a successful author (he's published 14 novels, all set in the Washington area) and television writer and producer (he's been nominated for an Emmy for his work on the HBO hit series "The Wire," set in Baltimore) wait so long to buy what he easily could have afforded years ago?

"It goes back to my father and grandfather," says the 49-year-old Silver Spring resident. "They never bought anything unless they had the cash in their pocket. I'm pretty conservative with my money."

But it was more than family heritage that helped instill in him a sense Pelecanos describes as "not being cheap, but knowing the value of money."

He recalls a hot August night some 25 years ago, when he had $600 in savings after working hard as a bottle washer and bartender in Ocean City during his first summer out of college.

"By 10 a.m. the next morning, I'd lost everything," he says, recounting how he first gambled much of it away on horses at Ocean Downs and then the rest during an all-night poker game. "It may not seem like a lot of money, but at the time, it was huge."

And it changed him forever -- or rather, brought to the surface a familial hatred of wasteful spending. "I continued to do stupid things, but I never played the horses or cards for money again," he says.

-- K.D.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company