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
The Old Billionaire has been in a pickle, as country folks say.
He and Nettie, his wife, have been married for almost fifty years. But at a time when they should be planning a big anniversary shindig together they’re barely even speaking.
“She thinks I’ve been unfaithful,” the Old Billionaire told me. And no, he didn’t say it just the last time we talked. He’s said it the time before that and the time before that and the one before that too.
“Have you?” I said. And no, I didn’t say it just the last time we talked. I’ve said it every time the subject has come up. Not that I think I’ve got a right to know, because I don’t. But because it seems to me that a man doesn’t start talking about such a thing unless he’s looking to dig down deep and express his soul.
Of course, you don’t get to be a billionaire, young or old, by revealing yourself, do you? You become as rich as Croesus, Henry Ford, and the whole Rockefeller family by holding your cards close to the vest and playing them with intelligence and courage.
In other words, the O.B. never answers that particular question. He just gets a pained look and moves on.
The last time he mentioned his situation was when he called to invite Gwen the Beautiful and me over to his house in the neighboring county the following Sunday for “some fine home-cooked food and good company.
In other words,” he went on confidentially, “Nettie’s a much more sociable person than I am, and I’m hoping to make her happy by bringing in her favorite folks.”
How could anyone refuse such a hospitable invite?
Last weekend was the big night. Gwen and I drove to the Old Billionaire’s sprawling old place and found only two other cars there that didn’t belong to the O.B. (We knew they weren’t his because they were in the driveway and not up on blocks. The Old Billionaire loves tinkering with machinery. “My purpose in life is to fix everything till it breaks,” he once confessed.)
Nettie greeted us graciously, and together she and the O.B. introduced us to the other two couples, Nettie’s childhood friends and their spouses.
Refusing all help, Nettie went back into the big, remodeled kitchen to finish up dinner. The rest of us gathered in the den to sit before the Old Billionaire’s newest acquisition.
“Watch this,” he said, and pushed a button on a Bill Gates-style electronic panel that looked more than a little out of place on the knotty pine-paneled wall.
The double doors of a cabinet at the other end of the room opened, and a six foot television screen swung out.
“NASCAR time!” the Old Billionaire called out. “On the best HDTV money can buy. And this better be some mighty fine signal ‘cause bringin’ it in wasn’t any picnic. I had to pull long strings at the satellite company to get the installation boys to set the connection up this morning so it’d be ready for y’all tonight.
“They were grousing the whole time they were here,” he continued, “about missing church and all. I gave each boy a crisp new hundred dollar bill to say thanks, and they sniffed at ‘em like the devil’d personally printed each one.”
The O.B.’s attitude was so different from the way he usually spoke that none of us knew how to respond. In the silence, Gwen whispered a very reasonable question to me. “Has he gone insane?”
I looked at the lanky, grizzled man standing there at his tomorrow-tech box and watching our reactions with increasingly angry eyes.
I whispered back. “Just desperate, I think. His world’s slipping away. He’s looking for something to replace it.”
“So I shouldn’t tell him that the same satellite company put in our dish on Memorial Day with no finagling and no extra charge?”
“Shh. Want to break the old boy’s heart?”
“His heart’s already broken,” Gwen said.
Across the room, the Old Billionaire’s eyes narrowed to slits. He picked up a couple of remotes, pointed them in random directions, and clicked just as randomly.
We sat motionless. Not wanting to look but unable to turn away. The O.B. kept pushing.
“Damn it, I want my wife back!” the O.B. roared. “I want my life!”
And the big screen came to life. Maybe things would work out…?
Eight letters appeared: