Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #25 – ‘Larry B Takes a Peek into the Afterlife’

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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

My Cousin Barry from Springfield called me yesterday to see if I’d heard about the recent death of a mutual friend. Cousin Barry had just returned from the funeral and was pretty broken up. He wondered why I was taking it so calmly.

“After all,” he said, “it’s over for the poor guy. You know there isn’t really any afterlife.”
“Do I?” I said.

Cousin Barry was silent for a minute. Then: “Wait a minute. Are you telling me you—‘believe?’”

My mind went back over twenty-five years, to when I had what was called “an early heart attack.” I was 32 years old and so much in my prime that I was at the gym bench pressing, when suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath. Because an elephant’s foot was on my chest.

I thought it was nothing. That it would go away. But twenty minutes later I was being rushed to the emergency room, trying to figure out what was happening—and then I wasn’t figuring anything because I was dead.

That’s right. I was lying dead in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. Except that lying dead didn’t mean being “dead” the way I—every bit as unbelieving as Cousin Barry—had imagined.

Instead, it meant that ridiculous, hokey, so-often-quoted experience of flowing, flowing, flowing through a long tunnel toward a distant light.

It meant feeling no physical pain. Total relaxation. Total peace. Total love.

I felt like an infant in my mother’s arms. Warm. Happy. And I was curious, knowing soon I would be in the light that grew ever larger, ever nearer –

Except that instead of reaching the light I found myself short of breath and in agony again in the ER, with an anxious resident and nurse peering down at me…and then smiling widely because they’d brought me back to life.

“He’s back!” the young doctor said. “How you feeling, Mr. Brody?” I couldn’t answer. I was in too much pain. The nurse give me morphine, and a sense of well-being took me over.

But not the same kind of well-being I’d felt when I was dead. No, sir. Nowhere near it in quality or degree. And not the same kind of absence of pain either. Nowhere near it.

An hour before what turned out to be a major coronary infarction (the cause of which was never found) I’d been a confirmed atheist. Now I was a confirmed believer.

Not necessarily in God or heaven as we usually think of them, but definitely in something. A kind of wonderful continuity I’ve wanted to know more about ever since.

So do I cry at funerals? No, not for the deceased, although I do get a little misty about those who will miss them, including myself.

Do I fear death? Not in my brain, or my soul, although my body still gets the shakes at the thought. As though it’s programmed to physically resist the temptation to jump right to the end of this volume of existence and hurry into the next.

I told Cousin Barry the truth. Yes, I believe in an afterlife, but not as a matter of faith.

I believe because I’ve experienced it. I know that death is a natural part of things because I’ve been there and in those few moments learned more about life than in all the years of living that had come before.

That knowledge adds value to every living moment because I know I’ve got nothing to fear in the end. That even if I never leave the tunnel and reach the light the beauty and perfection of the journey that is the last moment will make everything else worthwhile.

Some people praise creation for its mysteries. Others damn it.

All I can do is marvel, and be thrilled by the very fact that I’m so amazed. Know what I do have faith in? I have faith in the idea that the true purpose of life is to take note of everything that happens to us.

And in the concept that the greatest thing about human existence is that every single one of us who searches for answers, who wonders about God and the universe and what happens—or doesn’t happen—after death, and every single one of us who thinks he or she already knows, is guaranteed that one perfect, beautiful moment when we each will learn the truth.

People Ask Why LB Lives in Port Townsend, WA

Port Townsend’s historic Ann Starrett Mansion, which we keep trying to buy to no avail because – yes, it’s true – yours truly LB is about as cheap as people come.

by Larry Brody

Yes, it’s true. A lot of people ask me why I live where I do.

Not why I left L.A., oh no, most people seem to get that, but why this particular place on the northeastern tip of the geographical area known as the Pacific Northwest.

There are a lot of reasons, of course. It was a very complex decision and wasn’t made in a vacuum. Gwen the Beautiful and I shared in the process and its result, just as we’ve shared everything during our 25+ year marriage.

One of these days I’ll get around to posting more details about how our lives in Port Townsend and environs came to be, but for now, here’s a pretty good intro to the area and its attitudes, direct from one of our local newspapers. Enjoy:

New postmaster tells of letters, packages and the uniqueness of Port Townsend Post Office
by Jeannie McMacken

The Port Townsend Post Office on Washington Street is jumping this time of year as thousands of packages, cards and special deliveries are handled every day.

Mary Jane Duff, who has been acting postmaster and supervisor since February, was promoted to postmaster last week. Larry Dekker, who was Port Townsend’s postmaster, was transferred to the Port Hadlock station.

Duff and her 36 employees are up to their elbows in packages and letters these days, with volumes about three times as heavy as at any other time of year.

Duff, who has been with the postal service for 24 years, is no stranger to the North Olympic Peninsula. She has worked in Port Angeles as a letter carrier and clerk, and in Sequim as a clerk.

“I started out as a postmaster relief in a little mountain town, Angeles Oaks near Big Bear in California,” she said.

“I worked 10 hours a week. Then I was hired on as a data conversion operator and keyed address information that machines couldn’t read. Those wonderful bar codes you see on your letters is what I did for four years.”

She also was a city carrier job in Banning, Calif., for 14 years.

In 2010, she sought a transfer to the Port Townsend area to be closer to her parents.

Her recent duties included being postmaster in the Quilcene Post Office with four employees. With her new position in Port Townsend, she’s relinquished that responsibility and the postal service is seeking a replacement.

Duff said Port Townsend has handled 18,000 presorted letters just for city carriers this week….

Read it all at Peninsula Daily News

 

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #24 – ‘Chiggers!’

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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

And now, as summer nears the finish line, a word about something close to all our hearts—and ankles and the backs of our knees, and, of course, our waists:

Chiggers!

Or to put it another way:

Aargh!”

For most of my life, spring was a glorious time. New hope, rebirth, the beautiful transition into summer. You know the drill. Then I moved to the Ozarks, and on one fateful May day I made a mistake that changed my whole outlook.

I went outside wearing shoes but no socks. Walked maybe twenty feet to pick up some trash, then another twenty feet back to the house. Three days later I was in agony.

Aargh!” indeed.

I’d lived in California so long I’d forgotten about the chiggers and the way they get your immune system churning.

I’d forgotten that in the South, wherever you’ve got grass you’ve got these greedy, skin-burrowing, one-twentieth of an inch long freakazoids just waiting to do their version of the Count Dracula thing.

I’d forgotten that anything could itch so much.

When I was kid I thought it would be cool to become a vampire. Look at the powers it gives you. Super strength. Mind control. The ability to become a wolf or a bat. To fly.

And, maybe best of all when you’re an awkward adolescent with a face full of what my mother used to call “blossoms,” as a vampire you never have to see your reflection.

But if being chomped on by Dracula makes you feel only one-tenth as bad as being feasted upon by a chigger—forget it, Count. Not worth it. No way.

If my first chigger experience had been the only one that still would’ve been one too many for me. For three weeks I was up all night, clawing at my ankles. What started out as tiny reddish bumps turned into bloody sores, then into scabs that lasted another couple of months, finally becoming scars I still bear.

Scars joined later by others to forever remind me of the fact that we humans are far from being the absolute rulers of this part of the earth.

Dominant species? Ha! We’re just another environment for the bugs. The only difference between trees and people is that trees have to wait to be infested but we can pick up microscopic hitchhikers as we mosey along.

My chigger-phobia is so strong it’s ruined many a movie for me. The only emotion a scene with a romantic couple picnicking on the grass instills in me is terror.

It’s all I can do to keep from screaming at the screen. “No! Don’t sit there! Run away!”

Over the years I’ve done just about everything to keep the remorseless mites away. I’ve learned to suit up when I go outside, wearing high boots, thick socks, long pants tucked into the boots, long sleeves, and, if I’m going to touch anything, gloves.

I’ve learned to spray myself with Deet. To keep the grass in our clearing short and give brush a wide berth. And to keep especially clear of wild blackberry bushes, which seem to be a favorite hideaway for Count Chiggula and his gang.

I’ve picked up on some remedies too. When I lived in the city I took a shower every morning, part of my ritual for greeting the new day. Now, in summer I shower right before dinner instead, lathering up so I can drown anything that’s burrowed in while I was out.

And I follow the shower by wiping myself down with bleach, which, according to Wanda Fincher, the Angel of Arkansas, (and former Army nurse), “gets in your pores and kills the little suckers on contact.” Who could ask for anything more?

What I’m getting at is this. Once upon a time spring was my favorite season because it made me look forward so much to what was coming next. Now, though, after another itchy, scratchy summer I’m heavily into a love affair with fall.

Last night it was a little nippy here on the mountain. The wind has shifted. The leaves are starting to turn. Fall is in the air, and I find myself grinning in anticipation of chigger hibernation.

Eagerly, I await the time—only a couple of weeks away—when I can pick up trash without worrying about socks and boots. When I can walk barefoot from our front door to our truck. When I can feel fearless again!

No more “Aargh!”

Until next year.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #23 – ‘The Big Red Chow Dude’

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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 Big Red Chow Dude came by the other day to set a spell, catch up on the latest news, and let us know what’s up with him.

In the usual course of things, the Dude is a magnificent animal. Depending on the lighting, he can look as much like a red bear or wolf as he does a dog and is a legend in these parts for his ability to shape-change as well as his command of the forest.

The Dude’s been wild as long as we’ve known him, the expert’s expert in all the in and outs of country dog life. He stays away from vehicles and livestock. Doesn’t chase chickens or ducks.

Emmy our Pit Bull fell head over heels when she first saw him strutting up our back trail three years ago, and he did the same.

Nothing could get that boy off the property. Not yelling. Not squirting. Not rocks. He wanted Emmy as badly as she wanted him, and finally, when our backs were turned, they consummated their love.

The Dude stayed with Emmy and their puppies for a year and a half. For six months no human could get near him, but eventually we all won each other over.

The Dude wouldn’t play with the pups, but he was there to protect them, to stay between his kids and the trees. It wasn’t until he’d taught them everything he knew that he went back into the woods.

Over the past year the Dude has gotten onto a schedule where he visits every couple of weeks. Our wandering son-in-law. This latest time around, the Dude’s coat was matted and he was listless and dull.

Instead of taking his usual place at the highest point in our clearing he slunk up to the front porch and hid behind the swing. He wouldn’t eat or let anybody open his mouth, and his breath smelled worse than a compost heap.

The Dude needed serious medical attention. It was time to take him to the vet. He was fine when I put the leash on him, but instead of hopping into the truck he dug his claws into the ground.

“No!” he growled. “Not the truck! That’s how they I got here. They drove me to the woods. They pushed me out onto the road and squealed away!”

I looked into his dark eyes. “You weren’t always wild?”

“I had a boy once,” the Dude said. “Tall. Kinda gangly. I loved him. I thought he loved me.”

“I won’t abandon you, Dude. Leave these woods in this truck and you’ll come back in it too. Everything’ll be the same.”

The Dude let me pick him up and put him on the seat. We drove to the vet in Flippin, where Dr. Sara Bailey found the problem.

“See?” she said, pointing to the roof of his mouth. “He’s got a stick caught in there.”

And so he did. About an inch thick and four inches long, jammed deep into the Dude’s gums just behind his canine teeth. Blood caked around it.

After a struggle that ended only after Dr. Bailey had sedated him, the stick that eventually would’ve killed the Dude was gone. That’s when the Good Doctor saw another problem.

“He’s not fixed,” she said. “We can take care of that while he’s out.”

I looked at the sleeping Dude. And I knew that this was one of those times when you just can’t do what you should.

“We don’t own this dog,” I said. “He’s not just some pet. Neutering him may be the best idea in the world, but we don’t have the right to do it like this. That would be violating his trust.”

I took the Dude home, and in an hour he was eating like there was no tomorrow and acting like himself again. Prancing to his place at the high spot in the clearing.

He stayed the night, and the next morning I told him what Dr. Bailey wanted to do. The Dude sniffed the air. “Only one way a man can answer that,” he said.

He nuzzled my hand, and bounded to his feet. “Tell everybody I’ll see ‘em soon,” the Dude said. “Thanks for being such a good buddy and watching my—“ he paused and I swear I heard an “Ahem”—“back.”

And, laughing, the King of the Forest strutted back into his domain.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #22 – ‘Rock Me Like a Hurricane’

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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

I’m a computer game nut. It started in 1991, when I got hooked by a game called SIM CITY that I’d bought for my son. I played it for hours on end. Building my cities from scratch and watching their populations increase was more fulfilling than just about anything I’d done in years.

I bring this up now, while so many of us are still reeling from Hurricane Katrina and her effects, natural, political, and human, because one of the things that has kept me so riveted to events in New Orleans is guilt. Guilt directly related to SIM CITY.

Because, you see, in addition to building a simulated city I also could destroy it. There was a menu of disasters to choose from, including fire, flood, alien invasion, and even a Godzilla-like monster.

All I had to do was point and click and WHAM! Houses, cars, streets, you-name-it were crushed, went up in smoke, or vanished in a watery inundation. And, when the disaster finally ended and I checked on my population I could watch the numbers dwindle as victims fled, or died.

In the back of my mind I felt a little sorrow. Because I knew that by causing my Sim disasters I was betraying Sim people I’d enticed to settle in my Sim City. But the cities weren’t real. The disasters weren’t real. And the people weren’t real either.

It’s been at least a decade since I even thought about this game, but think about it I did, as I watched, over the web and on TV, what Hurricane Katrina was doing to Mississippi and New Orleans.
“Just like SIM CITY,” I said to myself.

And then I saw a little shrine built around a dead body, and it hit me that what I was seeing was as far from a game as it could get. It was horribly, tragically real. My stomach knotted. My chest tightened. I felt enraged.

At myself.

And I felt ashamed of myself as well.

For having played at tragedy in 1991 and for coming this close to confusing playing with reality in 2005. How could I make up for it? What could I do?

Gwen the Beautiful took the first step. She put our ranch on every list she could find about people wanting to take in Katrina refugees. Then she called around to find out what Paradise and the surrounding towns were doing, and learned that almost every one of them, whether it had a population of a few hundred or several thousand, was on top of the situation and setting up shelters.

It wasn’t all roses and good thoughts, but even the most negative person we encountered over the next few days came around. Gwen and I listened as a young man expounded his views. “Those people stuck in that mess had plenty of warning,” he said. They could’ve left with the others—“

Suddenly he stopped. Not because we said anything but because he saw the look on our faces. “Oh,” he said. “That’s right. ‘Stuck’ means ‘stuck.’ The folks who’ve been stuck in New Orleans couldn’t leave. Yeah…”

He thrust out his hand to me and said, “Thanks for pointing that out.”

But I hadn’t pointed it out.

The turnaround was his own. He gets whatever thanks the universe chooses to give, and he’s far from alone. He became part of a multitude of volunteers who arranged for food, clothing, shelter, even entertainment for the children of evacuees. He’s proud of himself, and for what it’s worth, I’m proud of him too.

In fact, also for what it’s worth, I’m proud of everyone in this area for the way they’ve come through. What could be more wonderful than so many people pulling together for the sake of others?

What could be more beautiful than so many men, women, and children working like mules to help sodden strangers whose very appearance might, just a short time ago, have scared some of them into storm cellars of their own?

What could be more like Paradise than human beings doing the right thing because they feel it in their souls? Because they’re human enough to care?

Our offer of shelter is still open, by the way. Everything works, and the décor isn’t half bad. Gwen the Beautiful has been hoping to make life more comfortable for a hurricane-evacuated family, especially with kids. Just give me a holler if that’s you.