My new haircut, the one that buzzed me within an eighth of an inch of my scalp, has brought me a whole new world of acceptance here in Paradise.
Folks who never noticed me before nod as I walk by. Other folks wave from their trucks as we pass on the highway.
The stocker at the market even comes out of the back to say howdy.
At last I’m one of the boys.
The clincher came yesterday when Brannigan the Contractor and I went over to the courthouse to check on the title to some property near Cloud Creek Ranch.
After we’d finished our business, we walked over to the square, where a couple of Good Old Boys were shooting the breeze.
Brannigan wrapped both men in his usual energetic bear hug, and then introduced us to each other.
Uncle Ernie, 6-plus feet of hard wire in a weathered face, shook my hand and smiled.
Jimmy Blue, a little shorter and a lot rounder, did the same. “So you’re the new boy on the old Ross place,” Uncle Ernie said.
“That’s a great property,” said Jimmy Blue. “Remember the fun we used to have in that pond back when we were kids?”
“That’s what â€” a hundred and sixty acres?” said Uncle Ernie. “All the way down to the creek?”
“Is it that big?” Jimmy Blue said. “I don’t remember. When I think about the place, all I see is woods.”
“Woods and critters,” Uncle Ernie said. “Used to go trapping out there. The Fish and Game Department had a bounty for everything. Fifty cents a squirrel. Same for rabbits and civets.”
“There were civets on my place?” I said.
“Sure were,” said Uncle Ernie. “Ornery little things. Spotted polecats is what they are, only they smell worse.”
Jimmy Blue leaned forward. “‘Worse’ is putting it kindly. Civets smell so bad that if you ever meet up with one, you’ll spend the rest of the day looking for a dead skunk to roll on.”
“Used to trap a lot of coyotes at the Rosses’ too,” Uncle Ernie said. “And red wolves.” He looked at me curiously. “Ever see any red wolves these days?”
“Not a one,” I said. “But we don’t see much in the way of wild things. My dogs think it’s their job to keep the property clear.”
“And it is,” said Jimmy Blue. “Unless trapping’s your thing.”
“Larry’s thing is ‘appreciating,’” Brannigan said. “You’re looking at a man who’s so happy he left the city he could bust.”
“So you like it here, do you?” Uncle Ernie said. “That’s good. Very good. …” He looked me up and down. Nodded as though making a decision. “We need men who love this place to help take care of it. Could be we’ll stand you for office someday.”
“With all due respect,” Jimmy Blue said, “there’s more to public service than loving the land.” He turned to me. “What about fiscal responsibility? Where do you stand when it comes to saving money?”
“Are you kidding? He’s all for it,” Brannigan said quickly. “A regular saving fool!” He gave me a look that said, Go along with me here.
“Oh,” I said. “Right. Absolutely. In fact, back in L.A., I saved so much money one day not buying a Ferrari that I was able to go down the block and buy a Porsche with the difference so it didn’t cost me anything at all.”
It was an old line Bob Hope had used on a TV show I’d produced. I knew I wouldn’t get the laugh he did, but I waited for the smile.
And waited some more.
Uncle Ernie and Jimmy Blue exchanged gazes.
Uncle Ernie shifted on his bench.
Jimmy Blue cleared his throat.
“Reckon it’s time to get on home.” That was both of them, talking at once. In about 10 seconds they were gone.
Brannigan kicked at the dirt. “That was Uncle Ernie!” he roared. “If Uncle Ernie says he’s going to stand you for office in this town you’re as good as elected! You had it all right there â€” till you started in about Ferraris and Porsches!”
“But I’m not interested in running for anything.”
“Of course you are. Why else would you stand here like the perfect candidate? As your ex-campaign manager, I’m telling you. Next time stick to Chevy and Dodge Ram!”
And so it goes, when you’re one of the boys.
Larry Brody is an author, veteran television writer and producer and creative director of Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts. He, his wife and their dogs, cats, horses and chickens live in Marion County. The other residents of the mythical town of Paradise reside in his imagination, however, and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Originally published September 27, 2006