LB: Remembering Richard Thompson & ‘Cul de Sac’

by Larry Brody

Richard Thompson was one of the finest cartoonists to ever put ink onto a newspaper cartoon strip. The 2016 death from complications of Parkinson’s Disease of the creator of the syndicated strip Cul de Sac shocked and saddened fans and friends, including several of us at TVWriter™.

Last week, to honor the third anniversary of his way too early death, I stared re-reading the entire Cul de Sac oeuvre. I was feeling down and knew that if anything could cheer me, this would do it.

I also was thinking that with luck I might find a few strips that would apply specifically to writers and artists and content creators in general. In other words, to most of the people who visit this site.

Turns out so many Cul de Sac episodes did that little thing that I was overwhelmed and gave up clipping them shortly after I started. But I couldn’t give up reading the entire run of the strip and encourage everyone out there to feast on what Thompson has left us.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out these samples and the insight they demonstrate. There ain’t nearly enough of this kinda stuff goin’ round, you know?

And these are from just the first few weeks of the strip!

The entire fun of Cul de Sac is HERE

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #56 – “Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Living in Paradise offers a variety of sobering experiences. It’s like the farmers say. “The land is beautiful, and the land is hard.” Beauty and suffering come hand in hand. I make new discoveries everywhere I turn. Whether I want to or not.

Last week I made a discovery I wish I never had. The good news is that I know something I didn’t know before. The bad news is that what I know ain’t good.

It’s got to do with Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang. She’s a rescue we snatched away from a dog good company by outbidding them at the auction block after she was caught in a round-up.

The reason Elaine was caught is that she’s crippled. Her front legs are bowed and knock-kneed and very weak. It looks like rickets, although I’ve never met a horse person who would say, “Yep, horses get rickets.”

Whatever the cause, the effect is that Elaine’s movements are slow and stumbling. She becomes less awkward when an expert trims her hooves just right. Luckily, here in Paradise we’ve got such an expert, Dan the Farrier, a third generation blacksmith who gets along better with horses than Barry Bonds does with a baseball bat.

Dan last trimmed Elaine’s hooves about a month ago. But this time it didn’t help. She continued stumbling. Since then, she’s gotten slower and slower. One morning I awoke to find Burl Jr. the New Caretaker shooing away the dogs because Elaine was lying on the ground, trapped in the fence, and couldn’t get up.

All the activity got the mare so riled that a burst of adrenalin set her free, but now she’s so frightened she never goes more than two steps away from her man, Huck the Spotless Appaloosa. Huck’s usually a pretty impatient cuss, but he waits for her uncomplainingly.

As though he knows that without him Elaine won’t survive.

Over the last few days Elaine’s gotten much worse. Her left leg is rigid and can’t support any weight. The only way she can walk is to extend it slowly, then pull her right leg up even with it, and then hop forward so her rear catches up. It takes about thirty seconds per step. Thirty exhausting seconds.

When I first arrived in Paradise vets specializing in horses and cows and other “big animals” were the rule. Now they’re exceptions. Our dog vet, Sarah Bailey, has recommended someone new, recently arrived from Texas. He’s due over this afternoon.

Meanwhile, I’ve been buying horse pain meds at the feed store and getting advice from Dan the farrier and my neighbors who raise horses. Neighbors who look at Elaine and shake their heads, mumble a few platitudes about what a good life Gwen the Beautiful and I have given her up to now…and then try to sell me a filly they’ve bred.

Me, I’m no doctor of animals or men, although I‘ve got a few tricks I picked up back around Santa Fe. And Burl Jr.’s been following his farmer father’s instructions faithfully as we fight for Elaine’s life. We’re doing our best, and hoping our best as well.

For years I’ve tried to be the kind of person Elaine would want to be around. One of the ways I judge myself is by her response to me. It’s a good day and I’m a good man—better than I once was—when Elaine lets me touch her.

At least that’s how it was. Now Elaine acts like she’s tame. She flinches but doesn’t shy away from my hand. She responds warmly to soft voices and kind words, and especially to carrots and apples.

But that’s not really her choice. It’s just that she no longer is able to pull off her escapes.

This morning when I went outside to feed the horses I watched Elaine inch painfully to the hay, and I patted her neck and untangled her mane.

She stood quietly as I did it, and all I could think of at a moment I once would’ve considered a triumph was, “Please, sweetheart! Run! Run away!”

Postscript: The New Vet From Texas just left. Elaine had an abscess in her hoof caused by a stone lodged there. He scraped it out, applied heavy duty disinfectant and a stronger painkiller, and she’s already putting her weight on that leg.

Ah, Burl Jr. just hollered, “She’s running into the trees!

All’s right with the world.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #55 – “Return of the Ghost Dog”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Ever since I mentioned the Ghost Dog, readers have been asking to know more about it. So here’s the latest update.

It begins, as does so much here on the Mountain, with the Big Red Chow Dude. He paid us a visit last Tuesday afternoon and looks in good shape. No new wounds or scars, and his coat is thick and lustrous.

Emmy the Pit Mom’s M.O. when her True Love comes calling has been to race to the front door so I’ll open it, and then, when the Dude pops up onto the front porch ignore him the way a wasp ignores Gwen the Beautiful’s flailing arms.

We’re talking cutting the poor guy dead. He stays with us for however long it takes for Emmy to at last welcome his presence with some fancy bowing and wrestling. Then, as soon as he feels certain she still loves him off he goes.

Usually in the dead of night.

This time, though, Emmy made no pretense of not loving him. She barked so I’d do my doorman act, and then, lo and behold, she went right into the jumping and dancing.

Pure joy is what I saw, with no ego protection. A beautiful sight.

The kids weren’t as happy to see their old man as Mom was. Which didn’t bother Dude in the least. He doesn’t demand love, just respect.

As usual, Decker gave his daddy a wide birth, even though he’s bigger than the Dude and quite a fearsome country warrior himself. As for Belle the Skittish, she put up with the Dude’s sniffing and sighed with relief when he turned away.

Now’s where the Ghost Dog comes in. Our experience with the Ghost Dog began several months ago when Chet the No Longer Unhandyman told me how some nights when he looked out from the Annex he’d see another dog the general size and shape of Emmy’s pups lying asleep in the clearing.

The other dogs never barked at that one, and no one ever saw it but Chet, although I tried to stay up and take pictures one night. But the night after the Dude arrived, it made its presence known.

Gwen was upstairs in bed, and I was downstairs at the computer. Decker and Belle were locked in the dog yard for the night, and Emmy and the Dude lay together on the front porch.

Suddenly Decker and Belle began barking, and Emmy and the Dude joined in. Emmy ran full-out into the woods, hind legs flapping out from her body like Dumbo’s ears. The Dude, being—after all—a “dude,” and very, very cool, loped after her.

None of this was any big deal. Happens all the time. But then, from inside the house, right in front of the kitchen table, came more barking, deep and gruff, and the sound of dog claws scrabbling on our cedar floor. Like another dog eager to join the chase.

Except there was no other dog.

The barking and scrabbling hurried past me, to the front door.

And nothing, absolutely nothing, was there to cause it.

I went to the door. Opened it. Out went whatever presence had honored us, joining the rest of the chorus, and the chase.

“I didn’t know Emmy was in the house,” Gwen called down.

“She wasn’t,” I said.

Gwen came to the railing.

Peered down.

“Oh,” she said quietly. Just “Oh…”

A couple of hours later Emmy returned alone. The next morning as I fed the horses I saw the tail of a large, reddish-tan dog wagging in the air out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look at it, the tail was gone.

That evening, when I prepared the dogs’ dinner, I saw the same tail wagging at another place in the clearing. And again it vanished when I tried a direct look.

The Ghost Dog?

What else? No one’s ever gonna convince me otherwise.

Only problem is, although this sounds like an answer it’s really another question. Because I’m still clueless about what—or who—the Ghost Dog is.

There’s one thing I do know, though. Whatever was here barks like a dog. Scrambles and gives chase like a dog. Wags its tail like one too.

Reacts like a dog in all ways.

I’m thinking it must love like a dog too.

So how I can do anything other than love our Ghost Dog in return?

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #54 – “Things Change”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Last night brought Paradise its wildest thunderstorm of the season. Thunder roared, lightning crashed, wind and rain assaulted the earth.

It was glorious.

The aftermath, however, was a whole other thing.

This morning Burl Jr. the New Caretaker and I left the Mountain at eight o’clock on a quick run to Paradise Feed. The electricity was out, but the sun never lies. (Neither do the battery powered atomic clocks conveniently located in both the main house and the Annex.)

On our way we passed toppled trees, downed fences, and an aggravated power company crew. “Too bad we don’t have any traffic signals in Paradise,” Burl Jr. said.

“Why’s that?”

“Because it’d be so much fun to see how people react when they go out.”

“I’m missing something,” I said. “But it’s not the traffic signals.”

At the feed store we were greeted by the biggest damage yet. Everyone who worked there was standing by the big forty-foot hay barn, staring in disbelief.

Burl Jr. and I stared too. Last night’s wind had picked up the whole structure, carried it about twenty feet, and then dropped it back onto the ground, shattering every support. It squatted where it hit, caved-in like a barrel with crushed staves.

Burl Jr. whistled. I shook my head. We were in the presence of the true power of the storm.
Phyllis, who pretty much runs the place, came over to the truck.

“You came for hay, didn’t you?” she said.

“I’m not going to get any, am I?” I said.

“We can’t go in there,” Phyllis said. “Only thing keeping the roof up is the twenty foot pile of Bermuda at the back.”

“We wanted alfalfa,” said Burl Jr.

Phyllis looked relieved. “Oh, then you would’ve been out of luck anyway.”

“When will you have any hay?” I said. “Alfalfa or otherwise?”

“When we get ourselves a new barn.”

“When’ll that be?” Burl Jr. said.

“Oh, I imagine sometime after the insurance company finishes roasting us over a hot fire.”

Phyllis went back to the barn. Burl Jr. and I went back on the road. Our destination—the next town, about ten miles away, and its County Farm and Feed.

A long, tall drink of water wearing a nametag that identified him as Albert the Manager greeted us with a grin.

“Why, we’ve got plenty of alfalfa!” he said. “No problem. Only eight dollars a bale.”

“Eight dollars!” Burl Jr. looked like he was about to choke. “That’s two dollars more than
Paradise Feed.”

“That’s not how I see it,” said Albert the Manager. “How I see it is that Paradise Feed doesn’t have any alfalfa for sale. That makes what we’re asking the going rate. That’s business.”

“That’s robbery!” Burl Jr. said. “You’re buying it from the same farmers Paradise Feed bought it from and paying the same price. Can’t be more than three dollars a bale.”

Albert looked thoughtful. “I guess you could wait for Paradise’s new barn,” he said. “Or you could lease yourself a big rig and drive 500 miles to Iowa City, Iowa where the farmers with the alfalfa are. You licensed for that?”

“We’ll take eight bales of alfalfa right here,” I said.

Albert was already writing up the sale. “Thank you kindly. Just bring this ticket to the big trailer outside.”

He gave me a familiar “Hey-We’re-All-Hard-Working-Men-Trying-To-Make-Our-Way-Through-This-World” kind of gaze. Turned back to Burl Jr. “Things change, son,” he said. “That’s how life is.”

Burl Jr. didn’t say anything. Not until he and I were out in the parking lot. “What was that old boy doing,” he demanded, “telling me ‘things change?’”

“Believe it or not, Burl,” I said, “he was trying to keep everything cool. And maybe teach you something about life.”

“I’m not a kid. I know how life is! That’s why I’m so mad.”

“That’ll change too.”

“I don’t want it to. I want to be me, fighting and kicking to the end!”

Burl Jr. wore a look I’ve seen in my mirror many times. I thought about all the changes I’ve gone through in my life. Who I was. Who I am. Who I’ll be.

I started chuckling.

Burl Jr. stared. “Why are you laughing?”

“Oh, I guess because it’s so much fun to see how people react when the traffic signals go out.”

By the time Burl Jr.’s seat hit the seat of the truck, he was laughing too.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #53 – “The Almighty Women of the Universe”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Gwen the Beautiful celebrated her fiftieth birthday last summer. She did it in the traditional way.

By not celebrating at all.

Oh, we had a nice dinner out, but that’s not much of a celebration for half a century of life. Which was fine with Gwen.

In the months since, however, it’s been bugging her that she didn’t look her age squarely in the eye, and a few weeks ago she formulated a plan.

“I’m calling the Almighty Women of the Universe together,” she said. “We’re going to get together and do more than just accept our years. We’re going to take pride in who we are.”

The Almighty Women of the Universe is the name of a group of five women who’ve been pals since their twenties. There’s Gwen, and Margie, her best friend, a driven career woman in L.A. And Abby, a happily married schoolteacher from Oklahoma City; Geri, an artist who lives about an hour down our road; and Katya, the earth mother of the group, from Austin, Texas way.

Katya’s the oldest of this particular posse, at fifty-five. Gwen’s fifty years make her the baby. But she’s always been the one the others turn to for support.

The women jumped at this chance to get together, and last weekend they gathered here for three days during which everything ceased to exist for them but each other.

The weather was unseasonably warm, and they camped out in the Cloud Creek clearing, with a couple of side jaunts over to a nearby commercial cavern and another place where a friend of Geri’s has an elephant farm.

This was the women’s show. They invited me to hang around, but I knew I didn’t belong. I stayed as far from them as I could except for one cook-out dinner of stir fry. As a result, I don’t know all that went down, but I can say safely that they strolled through the woods and went down to the creek. And ate a lot of chocolate.

They kept a big bonfire going the whole time, and danced and sang. Geri played the autoharp. Katya and Abby drummed on some of the drums I’ve picked up over the years from places like Taos Pueblo, Mexico, South Africa, and the South Side of Chicago as well.

The last morning they were together, Gwen and Margie made breakfast in the house and brought it back outside. This time, when they invited me to join them it seemed right. The women were in such good spirits that even Belle, our oversensitive, snakebit dog, was calm and friendly with them.

And Emmy and Decker kept trying to get on their laps.

As I sat with these sisters-daughters-mothers I felt warm and proud. I felt their wisdom and tenderness and love. They were comfortable with themselves, and their newfound peace enveloped me, so that I was filled with the sense of being safe and at home. That morning, as I gulped down my eggs and sausages I knew I was sitting with the most beautiful women in the world.

After the other Almighty Women drove off, Gwen and I spent the rest of the day in each other’s arms. In the days since, a new sense of openness and acceptance has pervaded our ranch.

Belle still is being calm, if not downright affable, with strangers. And even the Annex—I swear!—has gotten into the act. The inexplicable aroma of strawberry shortcake I’ve mentioned before has vanished from the premises, and it smells more strongly of stir fry each day.

Yesterday at the Paradise Supermarket I noticed a pretty young woman smiling the smile and walking the walk of the flirt. She did her best to make sure everyone looked. I smiled back at her, but couldn’t bring myself to take part in the rest of the game.

Sure, she’s got a fine figure and a seductive air, but all I could think was, “What? Do you really believe I’d be interested in you? You’re like a little girl, and I’ve got a real woman waiting for me at home. A woman who’s beautiful not only outside but inside as well. A woman who’s deep and knowing and wise.”

And then I thought something else. And came this close to telling her:

“You know, if you play your cards right and learn from all the living you’ll do, you can become something special too…in another twenty-five years.”