THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
There are billionaires among us.
I first found out about some of my more better off neighbors shortly after I moved to Paradise. My old acquaintance Phil the Film Financier called me excitedly.
“Whoa!” he said. “Did you ever score!”
“I know,” I said. “It’s beautiful here.”
“I’m not talking about beauty,” Phil said. “I’m talking about money. Did you know that five of the ten richest people in the world live within forty minutes of you? You’ve got it made.”
Since then, no matter how much I say I’m not interested, Phil has called regularly with updates on the fortunes of those he calls “The Paradise Five.”
Last week he was pushier than ever. “This Old Billionaire who practically lives around the corner from you just made a deal that puts him in striking distance of Bill Gates. Call him right now and make something happen.”
After Phil hung up I looked at the name and number he’d given me, and the local area code kicked my indifference in the pants.
I called and talked to the Old Billionaire, a soft-spoken man with a slight drawl, and could hardly believe it when he said, “When do you want to get together?”
I came up with a time and place. The Old Billionaire countered with another. Finally we agreed. “I’m happy with this if you are,” the Old Billionaire said. “One thing I’ve learned about life is that both sides always have to be satisfied with the deal.”
Yesterday the two of us sat down together in the Mexican Restaurant across from the Paradise County courthouse.
With his short gray hair, rumpled jeans, and “Go Razorbacks!” T-Shirt, the Old Billionaire looked like just about every man over fifty out here. But I spotted him immediately—because he was the one person in the place I’d never seen before.
As we sat down together he looked me over.
“You look okay to me,” he said. “I was a little worried about you being a friend of Phil’s. But when I heard that you live here I knew you couldn’t be all bad.”
He smiled and picked up the menu. “What’s good?”
Lyndie the Waitress came over and suggested the lunch special. “Twenty-five cents less than if you order everything separate,” she said. “Plus rice and beans.”
The Old Billionaire nodded his approval. After Lyndie left the table, he turned back to me. “What can I do for you? I’m happy to help however I can, but tell me now so we can get it out of the way and go on to other things.”
“There’s nothing you can do for me,” I said.
“Well, you can enjoy the lunch. And maybe we can swap a story or two.”
“I don’t have much to say,” he said. “I was born in the next county. Started my first little business there. Watched it get lucky. Put some money into another business. Saw that get lucky too.”
“You sure it’s that easy? There’s nothing else that you did?”
He started to shake his head, then stopped. “Well, maybe one thing. Not only have I been lucky, I’ve been able to recognize my luck. I can tell when the good things are happening. And go wherever they lead.”
An hour and a half—and about a hundred stories—later, the Old Billionaire and I shook hands again out on the street.
“I want you and your wife to come over to our place sometime soon,” he said as he got into his mud-spattered panel truck. “We’ll take my plane to Tunica and let the ladies pull the levers on some slots. My wife’s lost so much money there I bought a casino just to stay in the game.”
The Old Billionaire pulled out onto the highway. Behind me I heard a familiar voice. “Man! I didn’t know you had such rich friends!”
I turned and saw Brannigan the Contractor walking toward me from the barbershop. “How do you know he’s rich?” I said.
“I was up at the Chevy dealer last week. Saw that old boy’s truck get towed in. Sucker needed a whole new suspension! Five hundred bucks! When they told him he just nodded and said, ‘If that’s how it is, reckon you’d better go ahead.’”
Brannigan put an arm around my shoulder. “Between you and me, bud, if anybody around here can afford to repair his vehicle when he needs it – that’s rich!”