• Richard Murff

Finding Staggers

Finding the retreat to write your next book...

And like that, the book was finished – which was a surreal sort of relief. It’s hard to just stop thinking about something that has consumed your life for the better than a year, and has been nagging you for ten. It’s a hell of a mental trick to down shift from the grand to the trivial – which is probably why writers have opinions about the drink. At any rate, I went from grand to grand and found myself asking Mrs. M that age-old question: Beach house or farm?

I’ve got the predictable Ian Fleming hang-up of a man who has written the odd thriller under one name or another. You know the thing, some charmingly spartan house with a private little beach on a bizarro Jamaica that hasn’t gone completely to hell. As Mrs. M pointed out, my love for the masses is, let’s call it qualified, so the ‘private’ part is the kicker. Land, she sensibly pointed out, is cheaper and quieter in the hinterlands.

Why not? Farm life is both wholesome and charming; as well as being salt-of-the-earth bedrock of Americana and quasi-aristocratic at the same time. Which is no mean feat because by any sane definition, those two are mutually exclusive. Which, of course, makes it the pinnacle of social ambition in the South.

The British upper classes made an art form of going out to the country from Thursday to Monday. Which somewhat explains the fall of the empire. Have no fear; the very term aristocrat has nothing to do with money, but lot of land. In these strapped financial times you might ask, “Who can afford a country estate?” The real question is: who can afford not to have one?

Provided it’s the right sort of farm. You don’t really want your friends to see you slinging slop; you don’t want to sling slop period. You just want your friends to have the vague idea that you may have slung slop at some point. If you can pull it off try to get them to think that you told someone else to sling your slop for you.

It doesn’t matter if you actually grow anything but pretension because no one will ever ask. Regardless of how modest your farm may be, never refer to it as “that hovel in the stix.” If you are insecure about the move, christen the estate something like Rose Farm or Grassy Blob. When a coworker asks you about your weekend plans just say, “Well, the wife and I are going down to Staggers for the weekend. You know, for the air.”

In fact, by proving that you don’t need to be physically in the office during the week, the late plague has given you the perfect excuse to scrap it all and go full-tilt Country Squire. In buying a farm, financially speaking, one of two things will happen: 1) you will buy a lot more house than you had in the city, or 2) you get about the same space and use the rest of the cash to pay off your tremendous credit card bills. Either way you’ll move forward and still be broke at the end of the transaction.

And here, gentle reader, is where the real utility of a country estate kicks in.

You don’t have to tell anyone why you did what you did, just blithely comment on how country life has snared you and you can’t stand the cramped, noisy city. As long as you attach a philosophical reason to the move, no one will press you on details because no one wants to get in a philosophical discussion with you.

Think of all the money you’ll save by being “unavailable” for all those socially ambitious fundraisers. No more getting gassed and wandering too close to the silent auction table for you. In our socially distant world, you can get even moreso by blaming your lack of online bidding on rural internet connection. With all the restaurants either boarded up or forcing you to dress like the extra in some dystopian thriller, there aren’t any “latest restaurants” to miss. Be warned though, if you think that you’re going to transplant your current level of food snobbery to the Itta Beena A&P you are sadly mistaken. Develop a taste of Vienna Sausages and Pop Tarts.

The atomic solution to the foodie problem is to, quietly at first but with increasing exuberance, claim to be one of those people who only eat locally sourced food. It’s one of the great economic mysteries as to why localivore chefs charge so much for chow that, theoretically, comes from the other side of the fence and not from, say, Uruguay. The other mystery is why localivores from Georgia, who claim to eat nothing out of the zip code, claim to be such experts on Italian and Napa Valley wines.

Like reheating chicken, you don’t want to come out too strong or too fast with this foolishness - people will think you’re mouthing a fad. The point is to make them think you are gripped by an unassailable and vaguely Taoist philosophy from living close the dark and bloody earth. If you play your cards, right they’ll never speak to you again.

You might even get a reputation for being environmentally conscious, but don’t take this too far. Avoid those solar powered, underground houses that have no carbon footprint. I stumbled over one during a quail hunt and it was full of squirrels and white supremacists. That is not the crowd you are looking for.

Being green does serve several purposes, none of which has anything to do with saving the planet. You’ll find yourself on the cutting edge of fashion, and hopefully getting away with all the terrible behavior the beautiful people are so fond of. Tending to your own little patch of bio-diversity will prove beyond a doubt that you’ve reached some Meghan Markle plane of consciousness that cramped, urban peons can only dream about.

The bon mot of course is that you finally get to use that gleaming SUV you bought when you could afford to drive for its designed purpose: driven off road just enough to get drying mud trailing the panels behind the wheel wells.

And if you are really clever, that dog smell. Since this is a money saving exercise, you might want to stop at one dog. No, keep going. Get a pack. The naming of dogs is important, even if you can’t tell them apart. A friend of mine once found himself ward to a litter of double wide lab/rotweiller puppies. Apparently, the bitch lab found the neighbors dark, muscular charms irresistible. Having neither the time nor the inclination to name the resulting brood individually, he called them collectively “The Ferguson Brothers.”

ME: Hey, Joe, what are you doing?

JOE: Nothing, I’m just watching TV with the Ferguson Brothers…

That may seem a bit impersonal, but guys generally refer to each other by their last names. It’s really kind of chummy.

With children around, this wide-net approach will not work. No matter how much you love your little sires, no man should be forced to hunt with a dog named “Tinkerbell.” The precedent set by a personalized collar is pretty much unbreakable.

Whatever names you chose, train your pack to swarm the front door in a yelping mass at the sound of the front doorbell. This provides a) security and b) a dramatic introduction if you haven’t got a butler. Besides, it’s nice to give guests a token gift to remind them of their visit down to Staggers and a muddy paw print on their pants leg is as good as any.

Pets of the more edible kind can even save you money. Although it does seem bad form to fire and eat someone to whom you’ve been properly introduced.

The fist in the glove here is that the wife will suddenly see that your city furniture will not do. Ideally, she won’t ask your opinion about the decorating, but you know how these modern marriages are… all open and equalish. Besides, your only though will be that this is you only, and last, change to get your hunting trophies back on the wall as a married man. Even this small victory will ring hollow – but it isn’t your wife’s fault. It just is. Dead Animals on the wall of a bachelor proclaim: “I killed thus fearsome creature, consumed it and pooped it onward into the great circle of life. I am nature yet I am above it – therefore I am a god!” (Or something to that affect.) On the wall of a married couple they simple say, “I compliment the window treatments.”

Still, these days, you take all the victories you can.