Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #47 – “Sheriff Andy vs. the Tax Man?”

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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

It’s tax time for Cloud Creek Institute For The Arts, the non-profit corporation that eats all the money paid me by this fine newspaper – and then some – and that can mean only one thing:
Frankie Fitzgerald.

Frankie is Paradise’s sole CPA. He may even be the only one in the County. The difference between the way Frankie looks in, say, August, and the way he looks during tax season in March and April is the difference between day and night, beauty and the beast, or Al Pacino in THE GODFATHER and Al in INSOMNIA. I mean, this man works until he drops.

I’m not the world’s greatest judge of accountants, but it seems to me that Frankie knows his stuff. More important than his expertise, though, is his personality. From the minute I met him I loved him. I felt good being around him. Warm. Comforted. In good hands. Some people’s body language says, “Stay away!” His says, “We’re not touching, but I’m hugging you!”

In the ‘60s we would’ve said he had “good energy, man.” And we really could have said that because he and I are about the same age. We could’ve met at Woodstock, say, if both of us had been there. Or at least in Fayetteville, at a Razorbacks game. And we would’ve become friends, just like that.

I don’t go to Frankie’s office very often, but I look forward to each visit, no matter how deep the tax man’s bite. Frankie and I sit and discuss the weather and the latest gossip about his high school exchange student from France and what precautions we can take to keep from having to open a vein for the Feds again next time, and then I write some checks, and we shake hands and I go home.

I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but that’s the point. It’s not exciting in the least. It’s comfortable. No fuss, no muss, no sweat or strain. Pressure eases in Frankie Fitzgerald’s office. Burdens lift from my shoulders. Lines and years flow from my face.

Our meeting a couple of days ago was the perfect example. Yes, Cloud Creek’s taxes are going to be a little higher than we thought. Yes, several of those deductions we kept careful track of aren’t going to be allowed. And, yes again, I still don’t know how to make it come out better next time.

But Frankie’s smile made all of that seem about as important as whether our hens gave us five eggs or six on a day when we already have three dozen in the fridge, and nowhere near as significant as turning over our compost before the next rain.

As I got into my truck for the trek back to our mountain I thought about how good I felt. I realized Frankie reminded me of someone else who’d made me feel very good. My first thought was that it must be my grandmother, Pearl, who had the knack for making every one of her zillion grandkids feel the most special and most loved.

And then it hit me. Frankie Fitzgerald reminded me of someone I didn’t even know. The actor, Andy Griffith. Well, not really Andy Griffith but his most famous character, Andy Taylor. The Sheriff of Mayberry. Wise, strapping nephew of still wiser Aunt Bea. Understanding boss of Deputy Barney Fife. Confidant of Floyd the Barber. Opie’s daddy, the warmest, most lovable man most of us never have met.

How could I not feel good around the most trustworthy imaginary friend in the history of television—or just about anywhere else?

Andy of Mayberry! In person, doing my taxes with a self-deprecating, reassuring, and endearing grin.

Critics can argue about the effect films and TV have on audiences, but the way I see it TV’s version of Frankie Fitzgerald paved the way for me to welcome the real thing into my life. It let us shortcut the acquaintanceship process and cut to the friendship.

In this case I got lucky. The real “Andy Taylor” is every bit as good a man as the one I used to watch every week. Better, because he’s real.

But what about other people who remind us of wonderful characters yet are anything but wonderful themselves? Or who resemble bad guys but are in fact terrific?

From now on I’m keeping my brain as open as my eyes.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.