This Rural Life
Look friends, I'm just an ordinary country boy. I'm slow, and sort of quizzical, and plain as an old board fence. I prize the quiet, homely things---applejack out of a charred keg, a bundle of faded securities, the rustle of old greenbacks. I love the scent of fresh-mown clover and the giggles that escape from it on a warm summer afternoon. But what I value most is solitude. Years ago, before I renounced the topless towers of Manhattan and settled in the bush, I couldn't get my fill of revelry. When the drummer was stowing away his traps and the last couples lingered in Flirtation Row, I was still dancing the camel walk and the balconade. Today I'm a deep-dish hermit. I'd like to see anyone get me into a hot, noisy nightclub filled with people eating synthetic chow mein and leering at young persons in their frillies. Yes, sir, I want to see him try. My telephone number is Buckwheat 489-Ring 3, and I'll be wearing my tuxedo, just in case.

If rural life has done anything, it has taught me how to be self-sufficient; I pity a man who can't be alone. There is nothing like a solitary evening in an old house, cooped up with one's dogs and books, to sharpen the senses and shorten the wind. One night recently, for instance, I suddenly felt I had to think things out and packed my family off to the seashore. It was ten above zero and building to a blizzard, but when I have to think things out I have no time for sentimental considerations. Breathing a sigh of relief, I double-locked the doors, barricaded them with bureaus and chairs, and set about preparing supper. I had some difficulty getting the beans out of the can, but I shortly contrived a serviceable bandage for my wrist and snuggled down in front of a crackling fire with the diaries of Wilfred Seawen Blunt. I had read little more than three pages when I realized I was holding the diaries upside down and listening intently to a noise in the kitchen.

Loosely speaking, the sound combined a creak and a sigh suggestive of a musical saw. Now and again, it was smothered by a soft, mirthless laugh ending in a sharp click. My dogs, quick to guard their master, formed into a hollow square and withdrew under the couch. I dried my palms, which seemed to have accumulated a slight film of oil, and picked up the fire tongs. "Whose there?" I inquired in a crisp falsetto. (After all, I thought, why waste a trip to the kitchen if nobody was there.) There was no answer; whoever it was didn't even have the common decency to reply. Angered, I strode toward the kitchen, whistling to warn of my approach, and flung open the door. Everything was in apple-pie order, including the apple pie, except that the rocking chair was bobbing slowly back and forth.

"That's odd---very odd," I murmured, re-entering the living room and tripping over a chair. "Probably caused by a draft from an open window, or something."

"Or something," agreed one of the dogs from under the couch.

"Who said that?" I demanded sharply. The craven cur was frightened back into silence. I yawned casually, an effort that almost resulted in lockjaw, and consulted my watch. "Well, I guess I'll turn in," I observed to nobody in particular. Hearing no objection, I started for the stairs, the dogs clustered about my ankles. A brisk, affable voice cut me short.

"The three homicidal maniacs who fled the county home for the insane are still at large tonight," it said chattily. "If you see a burly man of fifty with an ice pick---" I cannot abide petty gossip; switching off the radio, I went up the steps, taking them four at a time. It was a trifle close under the covers, especially as the dogs persisted in huddling in with me, but it made for a warm, gemutlich feeling. About 9:30, someone in the attic started dragging a body across the floor by the hair, occasionally belting it with a strap. My blood boiled at the cruelty, and yet it occurred to me that it was really none of my affair. I had lived in the house only eleven years; the people upstairs were undoubtedly the pre-Civil War tenants, who had every right to do as they pleased. I took ten or twelve small fruit tablets and straightway fell into a refreshing doze, which would have lasted until morning had my family not returned unexpectly. They had a little trouble recognizing me with white hair, though otherwise I was the same kindly, indulgent Dads they had always worshiped. In a way, it was fun seeing them too, but one of these days I've simply got to get away by myself and think things out.

--- From "Acres and Pains"
S.J. Perelman
The Most of S.J. Perelman
©1958, Simon & Schuster
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