Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #66 – “Fun With House Guests?”

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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

Summer isn’t exactly the best time to visit Paradise. With the temperature in the hundreds and humidity to match, my favorite summer activity is camping in living room, up against the air-conditioning vent.

Still, for reasons boiling down to our friends explaining, “This is when I’ve got time off!” Gwen the Beautiful and I have had more than our usual share of house guests over the past few weeks. We looked forward to all of them. But what we hope and what really happens aren’t necessarily the same.

Our first guest was Jim the Banker. Shortly after Jim arrived, he and I visited the feed store to get some chicken scratch. When we walked in Jim stopped short. Took a deep breath. “Smells like pigs!” he called out.

Everyone in the place turned, staring at him. “Why are they looking at me like that?” Jim whispered. He raised his voice. “Pigs!” he said. “Pigs!”

The stares turned to glowers. I steered Jim out the door. “C’mon,” I said. “We’d better get back home.”

Jim looked forlorn. “But I don’t want to leave. I was born on a farm. The smell of grain always reminds me of pigs. And I really miss our pigs.”

Our second house guest was Lex from Upstate New York. He was driving across country with his two Doberman Pinschers.

“This is going to be a great visit,” Lex said as he let the Dobies out of his car. “You and Gwen and me and Bruno and Helga—“

That’s when we heard the deep, rumbling growl from one of his dogs. And turned to see her standing nose to nose with Emmy the Pit Mom.

“Oh,” said Lex, “I forgot to tell you. Helga hates other dogs.”

Decker the Giant-Hearted came running to his mother’s defense, followed closely by Belle the Wary. Joining Helga was Bruno, the other Dobie. Helga snapped at Emmy. Emmy lunged. Yours truly dived between them, and

“Yikes!—”

Time now to mercifully move along to guest number three. Our old pal Kevin the San Francisco Realtor. He, Gwen, and I were doing great until we took him into Paradise for some Saturday night Music-On-The-Square.

“They call this blues?” Kevin said. “The music scene in San Francisco, that’s where you’ll find down home blues.”

Then there was his reaction when we joined a group from Big Paul’s Wilderness Outfitters for a morning of floating on the Buffalo National River.

“You call this a river?” Kevin said to everyone who could hear. “Northern California, that’s where you’ll get hardcore whitewater.”

Our fourth house guest was my Old Elementary School Buddy. He roared up on his new BMW motorcycle. Showed me not one, not two, but five handguns hidden on his body.

“Let’s stake out this bike near town tonight and see who tries to steal it,” he said. “Then, when they do…”

He did a quick draw from his boot. Made the same shooting sound he used to back when we were kids playing.

Guests five and six arrived together. Gwen’s Old Boyfriend Gary and his wife, Norma the Nerve Jangler.

We met them at the airport in Little Rock. “Hi, Gwenny!” Gary said. And gave Gwen a big hug.

“Glad to see you, Gary,” I said.

“You sure look wonderful, Gwenny,” said Gary. He hugged Gwen tighter.

“Eee–!” Norma screamed. She pointed at some good ole boys across the baggage claim. “I know their kind,” Norma said. “They’re going to steal our luggage. They do it all the time back home in Chicago.”

Gary was still talking to Gwen. “Remember that summer when we went to Taos…?”

And these are the highlights of each visit.

Because of all this, yesterday morning Gwen and I made a vow. “No more houseguests,” I said.

“Pinky promise,” said Gwen. We did the silly handshake we’ve done so many times with our kids.

I went outside to feed the horses. Huck the Spotless Appaloosa squealed as a dozen mares and their foals crested our driveway and moseyed over to the corral. Buck the Ex-Navy Seal’s little herd had gotten out of their pasture and were calling on their closest friends.

The happy horses pranced and snorted and nuzzled over the fence, and although I knew I was going to have to bring the ladies home eventually, I also knew Gwen and I had been wrong to make our vow.

There are guests…and there are guests.

And these are the kind I’ll welcome any time.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #65 – “A Few Words from the Not So Rich and Strange”

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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 still getting e-mail regarding what I wrote about the day I spilled coffee when there was no coffee to spill, watched change in my pocket vanish and reappear, and found birdseed I’d bought put away in our storage shed before I ever took it out of the truck.

Thanks to this publication and the wonderment of the internets, I’ve been inundated with responses from all over the planet to the questions I posed at the end of the column:

“How about it, readers? Any strange experiences like this you’d care to share? Better yet, any explanations of what’s really going on?”

I’ve gotten both positive responses and negative ones. The negatives mostly go like this:

“You weren’t serious about that stuff, were you? My wife thinks you’ve lost it.”

“What meds are you on? Those can really effect your memory.”

And the one that still hurts: “Who cares about your Twilight Zone coffee? Sorry, but I want the three minutes of my life back that it took me to read this.”

The positive responses of course are more fun:

“Things like that happen to me all the time. I used to think of them as ‘Old Guy Moments’ even though I’ve had them since I was 17. Your piece made me realize that I’m not alone. I’m not crazy after all.”
“Throughout my life I’ve relived various events over and over, especially ones where I meet people. It’s like an eternal state of deja vous.”

“My studies show that matter isn’t nearly as stable as we’re taught. What we think is the universe is a false belief and the universe doesn’t always play along.”

“These slip-ups happen constantly. Mostly we miss them. Your eyes were wide open this time.”

And my favorite. “I’ve been doing probability experiments. You would be amazed. I can’t stress enough the importance of what I have found!”

When I wrote my musings I had no idea I’d be opening such a large can of worms. The fact that so many people live with so many strange things happening to them made me want to grab Gwen the Beautiful and jump into the truck for a cross country jaunt to visit as many of them as we could. To learn who they are and how they live and what truths they have to share.

Since the journey was on my mind, I had to share it as well. With those who’re most important in my life.

First I talked to Huck the Spotless Appaloosa. I told him I was thinking about taking a long trip. His response was to shake his head so hard that his forelock and mane swept from side to side.

“You want to leave us?” Huck said. “Who’ll brush me? Who’ll tell me stories? Who’ll listen to what I’ve got to say?!”

Decker the Giant-Hearted, son of the Big Red Chow Dude, was so upset that he leapt off the porch swing we shared. “Who’ll wrestle with me?” he said. “Who’ll let me out every day? Who’ll listen to what I’ve got to say?!”

Gwen’s response was both tender and knowing. “Sweetie,” she said, “do you really think you can bring yourself to leave Paradise for as long as this kind of trip would take?”

She stroked my cheek. “You’ve got a bond here. If we take off, who’s going to listen to everything the Wind’s got to say?”

Thinking about my wife’s words, I went down to the pond. As I sat down on one of the benches there, a little wind chime in the nearest cedar sang more than it should have on such a still day.

“I don’t understand,” it said. “You want to find magic by leaving here?

“By journeying from a place where the animals and the trees and the rocks and the very house you live in talk to you all night and day?

“Where everything you see and hear and touch says ‘I love you,’ and all you’ve had to do to earn that love is live?

“Where all you’ve had to do to experience it is…listen. Listen to all your friends?”

Looks like Gwen’s right. Paradise and I are one. I hate leaving for even a day.

But y’all are invited over here any time. And you’re welcome even if your lives don’t feel all that strange.

All you’ve got to do when you get here is tell me about yourselves.

I’ll be glad to listen.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #64 – “Farm Bliss”

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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

Whew! What a wonderful week I’ve had! One of building and fixing and tending and going and going and going till I drop, and loving it all.

Who could ask for anything more?

Back when I went to an office and was yelled at by just about everyone everyday I found solace in the writing part of the job. I felt as close to a universal presence as I could get while I worked on my words.

Now that I’m in Paradise my truest feeling of belonging to something greater than myself comes while I work on the things that are part and parcel of country life. When I get so immersed in each moment of each task that all my shields are down and I forget just about everything other than the matter at hand.

For the past several days I’ve been concentrating on getting Cloud Creek in shape. My routine has been to awaken at sunrise, arch my way out of bed to stand and stretch beside it like a great tree, with my raised arms feeling like they’re holding up the sky and my feet forming roots to the center of the earth.

After I force myself to stop stretching I pull on my work clothes. A T-shirt. An old long-sleeved cowboy shirt. Thick canvas work jeans. I tuck the jeans into my beloved harness boots (the ones that look so much like the engineer boots my mother never would let me have as a kid), have a quick cup of coffee and put on my work gloves.

Then it’s outside to stretch once more. This time I stand on the area we call The Mound, where the Ghost Dog was first spotted, and I listen to everything around me—the house, the Annex, the sheds, pens, grass, trees, sky, and all the animals—say, “I love you!” so loudly my ears ring.

I say it back, luxuriating in the wind for a few minutes, and then I’m at work, tossing a bale of hay to the horses, feeding several cans of food to the dogs, and bread to the chickens, refilling the wild bird feeders—

And doing my chores. I morph into Brody the Horsepucky Raker, protecting Huck and Elaine from disease! Brody the Fence Repairer, splicing wire and straightening posts!

Brody the Chicken Coop Conqueror, using my trusty staple gun and chicken wire to keep out the wrens and even crows who’ve been coming in through a tear in the window and frightening the hens out of laying!

Brody the Wonder Putterer, sweeping the floor and rearranging everything in the storage shed, nailing the old dog houses back together, scrubbing the bed of the pickup truck!

I circle the house, tightening the outside plumbing and electrical connections, feeling a power just like electricity surge through my body so that I’m absolutely certain lightning bolts are crashing from my fists!

I aim the bolts down the backside of the mountain and take flight with my eagle wings, soaring above the clearing and over the trees and laughing. Oh, how I laugh. It’s a mighty roar, that laugh, scattering the buzzards and crows and summoning my brothers, the hawks!

I know what you’re thinking. Sometimes I’ll look over to the window and see Gwen thinking it too. Her expression says it all. “The boy’s gone crazy.” But invariably she joins in my joy.

By mid-afternoon, when it’s too hot to work, I’m exhausted anyway. In I come, a separate being again, aware of my hunger and the ache in my legs, back, and arms. That’s when I eat. Check my e-mail. Make phone calls. Write things like this.

And think. Now with my fingers on the keys, as I try to figure out what this wonderful week means, I find myself thinking about farmers—real farmers—everywhere. The farmers who’re up and at ‘em at dawn, doing what they need to do because they just plain need to do it. Because it’s what their lives are all about.

Why do my neighbors work so hard, and fight so hard, to keep their back-breaking family farms? Why do they do everything possible to not only hang onto their land but to expand it so they can toil even harder?

Can it be that they’re lucky enough to feel the way I’ve felt this week every day of their lives? Are they this happy? This blissed out?

I sure hope so.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #63 – “The Luminous Ordinary”

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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

When it comes to real life, I’m late to the party.

I lived the first part of my life—my childhood—with books. Well, mostly in them. And in television and films, losing myself in the fantasies and paying little to no attention to what went on around me.

I lived the second part of my life—most of my adult years—with books and television and film too, but by this point I no longer was the audience. I was a creator.

This was a stranger existence than it may seem. Because as a union card-carrying member of show business, I lived in what was, for all practical purposes, a bubble. I was in the in-crowd, and, as the old song says, “We got our own way of walkin’, yeah, yeah. Our own way of talkin’, yeah, yeah.”

In fact, show business is its own world, with its own leaders to please, peers to hang with, and subordinates to scream at. It’s own values and beliefs.

(Such as: “It’s okay for me to ignore my family and make them miserable. There’re only four of them, and I’m bringing happiness to millions!”)

Even the dark side of showbiz is unique. Men and women in the showbiz world aren’t punished by being slapped upside the head but by being harangued.

It’s all about hurt feelings, not flesh. And instead of ambushing enemies and killing them, the bad guys get together and fire ‘em. “You’ll never get a phone call in this town again!”

You know, like being thrown out of cult. It seems like death, but that’s only because you’ve never experienced the real thing.

In the early 1990s, after many years of showbiz-bubble-cult life, I knew I had to get out. That if I didn’t I’d forever be part of a community where a plastic surgeon who could give a tight tummy tuck was more highly respected than a researcher closing in on the cure for the big C.

Off I went, driving to I wasn’t sure where, with my dog (I called her the Navajo Dog because I’d found her on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona) and my drums and my comic book collection.

Forty-five years old and bringing Captain America and Spider-Man with me wherever I went. And never thinking about it twice. I didn’t have to worry about letting out my “inner child.” My problem was finding a way to put him back in his place.

Amazingly, I’d never before been alone. As in responsible for myself with no support troops nearby. No agent. No assistant. No wife. No one to lean on or consult with. Or hide behind.

Oh, and no job. No investments.

No income.

As I barreled down the I-40 I saw a hawk soar through the sky after another, smaller bird. The hawk dove directly at its prey…and missed. I couldn’t hear anything but the radio playing inside the car, but I knew the hawk was screeching its frustration.

And its message as well: To live free means risk. You’re free to celebrate…or to starve.

Sure, you already know that. Everyone knows that. It’s part of life.

But all I knew was fantasy. Pretend. The moment that hawk missed its meal—that was the true moment of my birth.

My initiation into the truth of real life.

Its uncertainty. Its risk.

I loved it! Couldn’t imagine why I’d spent so long hiding.

Still can’t.

I love being out here in the real world, where the fight for survival never ends. Where moments of triumph and joy go hand in hand, where being kicked in the teeth is its own reason to pick yourself up off the ground and get back in the game.

I bring all this up because recently I received an e-mail from a reader whose work and life I respect. And who seems to understand what I’m doing writing this column better than I do. She wrote:

“By focusing on the Luminous Ordinary, you are able to craft Extraordinary tales of wisdom and grace.”

I’m grateful for the praise, but it embarrasses me.

Yes, I do believe the “ordinary” is luminous, as in filled with meaning and light. But I’ll go to my death clueless about any wisdom or grace attached to the stories I tell.

All I know about them is they come straight from my heart.

And are aimed—sometimes with more certainty or skill and sometimes with less—straight at yours.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #62 – “Memories of the Rich and Strange”

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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 more I think I’ve got people figured out, the more wrong I learn I’ve been.

The latest example of my ability to misjudge just about anyone is the Old Billionaire. When we got together he seemed to be a smart, sane, practical old boy. I liked him, and as things turned out he liked me.

Which each had different reasons for our reactions. I was impressed with the fact that although the Old Billionaire was polite and unassuming, he also was fast and agile as all get out when it came sizing up situations, seeing patterns, and knowing how to deal with what he sized up and saw.

And all with a country boy quip and a smile.

As for why he liked me, near the end of the lunch we’d had he let me know.

“You’re a smart man,” the Old Billionaire said, “because you’ve learned not to want anything from anybody.

“The problem with wanting something from somebody,” he went on, “is that it makes you change from who you are to whoever you think you’ve got to be in order to get it. And the minute you do that you’ve self-destructed. You’re like nothing but a ghost…even if the people you wanted something from don’t ever come through.”

All I’d done before the old boy said this was tell him how I felt. See what I mean about his ability to analyze things?

Last night, though, I discovered another side of the Old Billionaire. He called the house as I was helping Gwen the Beautiful wash the dinner dishes.

“Hey,” the Old Billionaire said. “I’ve been reading your column.”

“And?” I said, fishing for a compliment or three.

“And we’ve got to talk.”

“You sound serious.”

“I am serious,” the Old Billionaire said. “What you wrote a few weeks ago about strange experiences? I’ve got some.”

“Really? That’s great. Tell me what they are.”

“They don’t feel great. They scare the heels right off of my boots.”

He stopped for a moment. I turned off the water and took the phone out on the front porch. I do as much of my telephone talking there as I can because it feels so good to be outside sitting on the big swing.

The Old Billionaire was talking again. “Know what you wrote about knowing you’ve got money in your pocket but not finding it there? Well, I keep meeting people I know’re dead. Except they’re alive.”

Now I was the quiet one. “Told you it was scary,” the Old Billionaire said. “I was just in Louisiana discussing a rebuilding project, and know who they introduced me to? Fats Domino! I almost fell off my chair ‘cause I know I read his death notice about a year ago. I can see the newspaper page right in front of me now.

“Then there’s this actress. Old lady. I forget her name, but she was on that show Golden Girls. Played the mother. I turned on TV last week and there she was, reminiscing. I remembered seeing her on a show like that a few months ago. They were talking about her life because she’d just died.

“There’re more. Lots more. Like Justice Rehnquist. When I saw he’d died I was really surprised. ‘Cause I remembered being at his funeral three years ago!”

I realized the Old Billionaire was waiting for me. That although it went against the grain, he wanted something from somebody. He wanted a response.

“You think there’s something wrong with your memory? Is that what scares you?” I said.

“No,” he said. “Not at all. My memory’s fine. I think there’s something wrong with the world. I think it’s one big computer—that’s not keeping track of everything anymore. Bad memory chips. A virus. Something’s got it down.

“What scares me,” said the Old Billionaire, “isn’t that I’ll forget the planet, it’s that the planet will forget me.”

I’ve been thinking all day about what the Old Billionaire said. Wondering how he’d size up the opposite situation—a certain old boy up on a mountain who keeps finding out that folks he thought were very much alive, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and my old neighbor George C. Scott, are long gone.

I still think the Old Billionaire is smart, sane, and practical…and very much alive. And I like him even more now because I know he’s also something else.

He’s a lot like me.