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 more I think I’ve got people figured out, the more wrong I learn I’ve been.
The latest example of my ability to misjudge just about anyone is the Old Billionaire. When we got together he seemed to be a smart, sane, practical old boy. I liked him, and as things turned out he liked me.
Which each had different reasons for our reactions. I was impressed with the fact that although the Old Billionaire was polite and unassuming, he also was fast and agile as all get out when it came sizing up situations, seeing patterns, and knowing how to deal with what he sized up and saw.
And all with a country boy quip and a smile.
As for why he liked me, near the end of the lunch we’d had he let me know.
“You’re a smart man,” the Old Billionaire said, “because you’ve learned not to want anything from anybody.
“The problem with wanting something from somebody,” he went on, “is that it makes you change from who you are to whoever you think you’ve got to be in order to get it. And the minute you do that you’ve self-destructed. You’re like nothing but a ghost…even if the people you wanted something from don’t ever come through.”
All I’d done before the old boy said this was tell him how I felt. See what I mean about his ability to analyze things?
Last night, though, I discovered another side of the Old Billionaire. He called the house as I was helping Gwen the Beautiful wash the dinner dishes.
“Hey,” the Old Billionaire said. “I’ve been reading your column.”
“And?” I said, fishing for a compliment or three.
“And we’ve got to talk.”
“You sound serious.”
“I am serious,” the Old Billionaire said. “What you wrote a few weeks ago about strange experiences? I’ve got some.”
“Really? That’s great. Tell me what they are.”
“They don’t feel great. They scare the heels right off of my boots.”
He stopped for a moment. I turned off the water and took the phone out on the front porch. I do as much of my telephone talking there as I can because it feels so good to be outside sitting on the big swing.
The Old Billionaire was talking again. “Know what you wrote about knowing you’ve got money in your pocket but not finding it there? Well, I keep meeting people I know’re dead. Except they’re alive.”
Now I was the quiet one. “Told you it was scary,” the Old Billionaire said. “I was just in Louisiana discussing a rebuilding project, and know who they introduced me to? Fats Domino! I almost fell off my chair ‘cause I know I read his death notice about a year ago. I can see the newspaper page right in front of me now.
“Then there’s this actress. Old lady. I forget her name, but she was on that show Golden Girls. Played the mother. I turned on TV last week and there she was, reminiscing. I remembered seeing her on a show like that a few months ago. They were talking about her life because she’d just died.
“There’re more. Lots more. Like Justice Rehnquist. When I saw he’d died I was really surprised. ‘Cause I remembered being at his funeral three years ago!”
I realized the Old Billionaire was waiting for me. That although it went against the grain, he wanted something from somebody. He wanted a response.
“You think there’s something wrong with your memory? Is that what scares you?” I said.
“No,” he said. “Not at all. My memory’s fine. I think there’s something wrong with the world. I think it’s one big computer—that’s not keeping track of everything anymore. Bad memory chips. A virus. Something’s got it down.
“What scares me,” said the Old Billionaire, “isn’t that I’ll forget the planet, it’s that the planet will forget me.”
I’ve been thinking all day about what the Old Billionaire said. Wondering how he’d size up the opposite situation—a certain old boy up on a mountain who keeps finding out that folks he thought were very much alive, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and my old neighbor George C. Scott, are long gone.
I still think the Old Billionaire is smart, sane, and practical…and very much alive. And I like him even more now because I know he’s also something else.
He’s a lot like me.