Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.
The sales pitch weighs 12 pounds, arriving in a field bag made of beautiful distressed leather that looks well broken-in. Open the bag and there are maps that appear wrinkled and old, a pretend Montana newspaper clipping that looks historic, and four overdesigned books that also have the feel of rich heritage.
It's all intended to persuade you to buy into the Silver Bow Club, a gated ranch community proposed for the banks of Montana's Big Hole River. The price of a club membership, which includes a share in the club's lodges and a homesite, runs $1.75 million or more. So the sales pitch, delivered to prospective buyers around the country, strives to be impressive.
Open the kit and you practically smell the old money. Except it's not old - you're not buying a homesite so much as an instant pedigree and an instant history that supposedly traces back to rugged, aristocratic forebears. You, the mark, are probably a self-made millionaire careerist who does not come from such a background but wishes you had.
The Silver Bow Club History book, titled with faded gilt-embossed lettering, has fake water stains on its pages. It beckons you to "return to the sense of authenticity" that can still be found in rural Montana.
A hinged, iron-oxide-clad ledger-style book creaks when you open it. Illustrated with sepia-toned watercolors, it describes how the club weaves hunting and fishing into the lifestyle. "Between shots, you flop down in your favorite overstuffed chair, the one that faces the old oil painting on the mantle, and nestle in with a glass of port from your cellar locker ... "
And a leather-bound journal offers the day-to-day experiences of an average member - an elaborately constructed male fantasy. The hypothetical Silver Bow Guy recounts his happy days bagging big game and trout, making deals and watching his children grow up during meaningful vacations on the property. He's both folksy and sophisticated, manly yet sensitive. He writes in loopy script: "I flew three guys from the Stevens account out for opening day of ducks ... one of the guys brought some single malt, which was gone way too quick ... it certainly won't hurt my business any."
The fictional life gets most emotional for the dying days of Buster the Hunting Dog: "I wanted to get Buster out one more time. The arthritis is looking pretty bad. ... This ranch has been his whole life too. It's where he grew up. I didn't want to upset him, so I never let him see my tears."
For the cost of a membership, you, too, may have a mistily remembered dead dog and the lifestyle of well-aged scotch with a view. You can imagine you are a genuine Montanan, as genuine as your handsomely polished designer leather boots.