Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #114 “Workin’ It Out”

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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 Burl Jr. the New Groundskeeper and his fiancée Tera announced their plans for a life together they came on strong. Two kids in love who had it all worked out.

Their schedule called for Tera to finish school last May and for the two of them to go on the road together, Burl Jr. playing blues guitar wherever he could find a place that would let him play and Tera giving her support through both her love and her ability to take on part-time jobs to help them through the tough times.

Burl Jr.’s goal was to be “discovered” as the guitar blues genius he is, after which Tera could relax in a life of luxury made possible by his high-paying gigs and the sale of millions of CDs.

May, however, has come and gone, and Burl Jr. has remained employed at Paradise Music and ensconced in the trailer we call the Cloud Creek Annex, with Tera there with him most of the time.

I haven’t pressed them about what’s going on because, frankly, not only do I love hearing Burl’s music floating over to the main house from the deck of the Annex every evening, I also don’t want to lose his strong back and green thumb until I absolutely have to.

So it was with some trepidation that I watched Burl Jr. walk across the clearing yesterday and heard him knock on our front door. He had that look of manly determination that goes with being in your early 20s and knowing it’s now or never if you’re going to make your move.

“What’s up?” I said as I opened the door.

“What makes you think something’s up?” he said.

“Oh, could be that this is the first time in two years you’ve knocked instead of walking right in. You want to talk, am I right?”

Burl Jr. nodded. “Can we sit down on the porch?”

“It’s that serious, huh?”

“Can we sit down?”

We sat on the swing, and Decker the Giant Hearted immediately leapt up to fill the space between us…and overflow onto both our laps. Burl Jr. started to pet him.

Stopped.

Started again.

“Tera’s pregnant,” he said tightly.

I wasn’t sure if congratulations or sympathies were in order. “What’re you going to do?” I said.

“We’re going to get married right away,” he said. “And she’s going to get a teaching job. The school needs a computer expert, so I’ll be going to work there too.”

“What about your music?”

“My child deserves more than a father who’s drifting around trying to hook onto a dream,” Burl Jr. said. “My child deserves a solid family. A secure and loving home. I’m going to see that he—or she—gets it.”

“You’re sure? You’re not worried about regretting this later?”

Burl Jr. hesitated. Then: “I’m sure.”

“Well, I’m not!”

That was Tera, coming to join us with a look every bit as determined as Burl’s Jr. Maybe a bit more.

“This boy thinks he’s so smart,” she said, that he can just mouth off and make everything right for both of us.

“But I’ve got a say here,” Tera went on, “and the last thing I want to be is married to some sad-eyed man who spends all his time staring into space and thinking about what might’ve been. A man who throws away his guitar because instead of it being his rocket to the moon it’s a symbol of what’s never going to be.”

Tera leaned forward so her face was right in Burl Jr.’s. “We’re packing up, honey boy, and going on the road.” She patted her stomach. “The three of us. We’ll be a loving family wherever we are. Because I could ever, ever live knowing you hate me because the baby and I made you give up your dream!”

Tera kissed Burl Jr. so hard that I thought her lip marks were going to be branded on his mouth forever. Decker yowled and leapt off the swing in fear.

Burl Jr. and I watched in wonder as Tera straightened, turned, and marched back to the Annex like a soldier.

Burl Jr. stared. “Whoa!”

“What’re you going to do?” I asked him again.

Before he could answer Gwen the Beautiful came to the door. “What’s going on?” she said.

“It’s that time,” Burl Jr. said. “The three of us are hittin’ the road.”

“Three?” said Gwen.

“My whole family,” Burl Jr. said with a grin. “Ain’t it great?”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #113 “Risky Business?”

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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

Recently, Susan, an old friend of Gwen the Beautiful’s called her about something I’d written in this space.

“Wow,” she said. “Larry’s really taking a chance here. He’s being so honest about himself. Doesn’t that scare him?”

When Gwen told me about this all I could do was shake my head.

“‘Taking a chance’ by writing about what I think and feel?” I said. “What kind of chance? What’s she talking about?”

Gwen smiled. “Well, it’s kind of a risk, don’t you think? Letting people know who you really are?”

“But that’s what writers do.”

“Do they?” Gwen said. “When you were writing television, did you write about yourself? Did you express your real thoughts and feelings? Didn’t you say to me—more than once—that you thought the reason places like NBC and CBS and ABC paid so much more than book and magazine publishers and stageplay producers was because they were trying to make up for making writers spend so much time making up lies?”

Well, of course Gwen was right.

I’ve harangued more than my share of listeners with complaints about how in TV and film writers are nothing but glorified stenographers, writing what the executives tell them to, instead of creating their own unique visions of the world.

And, yes, when I started writing books and columns and blogs the first thing I celebrated was the freedom to not only express myself the way I wanted, but to reveal my inner being as well.

Because I figure it’s the job of every writer—every artist actually—to present the world as he or she sees it so that the audience can enjoy and understand more about life by experiencing it from someone else’s point of view. A kind of “walk a mile in my shows” kind of thing.

Let me repeat that: I celebrated it.

Never thought—not once!—to be afraid.

But Susan’s not the only one who’s pointed out to me that self-expression is inherently dangerous. I get a lot of e-mail from positive readers who comment on how amazed they are at the flak they see me taking from negative readers.

And there’s the matter of those negative types themselves. I never know when one is going to strike, with an e-mail or a blog comment or a forum post that lets me know what a sorry, stupid, crazy, imperceptive, untalented excuse for a specimen of humanity I am.

If I had any worries about my ego getting out of hand, hey, no way.

Years ago, I had a dream. In it I was having a conversation in which I was trying desperately to figure out what the other person wanted to hear so I could say it to him.

I awoke in a panic, realizing that for most of my life I’d been doing just that with most people. Because I wanted something from them. Sometimes I wanted a job, sometimes a favor. Sometimes I wanted them to stop hurting me. And sometimes I just plain wanted them to like me.

I figured that by saying what they wanted to hear—by in effect becoming who they wanted me to be—I’d achieve my goal.

And most of the time I did. But what a cost! I paid for what I got by losing…me.

So what really is the risk here when I write what comes directly from my heart? That someone won’t like what I’m saying and therefore won’t like me? That I’ll be cut out of the herd for revealing for not agreeing with the majority, or that I’m different somehow?

Will they take away everything I own? Draw and quarter me?

Probably not. And if they do, I’ll still have the most precious gift life gives us.

I’ll still have my soul.

The way I see it, real honesty starts with the way we view ourselves. Does being honest with and about ourselves really make people vulnerable? In my experience, it makes us stronger instead. Honesty leads to acceptance, and once we’ve accepted ourselves we can love ourselves.

And once we love ourselves, what can it matter what anyone else thinks, says, or does?

Unless that someone else is a reader of these words. Because here’s more honesty from Larry B:

Every time I write something it’s like opening a vein. I can’t always practice what I preach. My life’s blood and my soul are in your hands.

Be gentle, okay?

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #112 “Angels”

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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

A few years ago angels were hot.

We had TV shows devoted to angels. Films about angels. Books. Greeting cards. Everywhere you looked you encountered fact and fiction about people who’d been contacted by angels and how it changed their lives.

Lately, though, the angelic hullabaloo has died down. The web sights are still there, and I hear a couple of networks are talking about bringing out new STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN style shows. But it’s not as pervasive as it was before. Angel sightings have dropped way down, with their space being filled by Bigfoot sightings and UFO abductions.

Yesterday, however, something happened that brought angels into my mind all over again.

No, it wasn’t the e-mail I got from Wanda the Arkansas Angel, chatting about what was new down her way. (Good news. Bad news. Births. Deaths. Things getting better. Things getting worse. Business as usual, you might say.)

It was lunch.

At the Mexican Restaurant across the street from the courthouse.

Gwen and I were having an unusual lunch there. Unusual not because of anything they were serving—or we were or weren’t eating—but because Lyndie the Waitress wasn’t there. She’d had the nerve to take the day off, and I admit it. I was thrown off-balance as a result.

“The place doesn’t feel the same,” I said. “The atmosphere’s different. No one said, ‘Hi, Larry! Hi, Miz Gwen!’ when we came in. No one said, ‘Iced tea for Gwen and hot coffee for Larry, right?’”

Gwen sipped from her glass of iced tea. Pointed to my cup of hot coffee. “Somebody did say, ‘What would you like to drink?’” she pointed out. “And we’re drinking it, aren’t we?”

“Sure. But no one’s saying, ‘How’re you feeling today, Miz Gwen? Don’t forget your cell phone on the table again, Larry.’ It doesn’t feel right.”

Gwen smiled that smile wives and lovers smile when they think we’re a little nuts but also a little cute for being that way, and I decided to enjoy my lunch without thinking of Lyndie again.

But then another customer came in. A man in a Razorbacks baseball cap. The Waitress Who Wasn’t Lyndie came over to give him a menu, and I saw the smile on his face fade. “Where’s Lyndie?” he said.

“She’s not working today.”

“She always works Mondays.”

The Waitress Who Wasn’t Lyndie shrugged. The man let out a sigh. Spoke to no one. Everyone. Himself. “It’s not the same when Lyndie isn’t here. She makes me feel like someone cares about me. No matter how rough my day’s been, after I walk out of here I feel strong again.”

Gwen’s face took on a “Eureka!” look. She leaned forward to me. “I get it now. You guys are right. Lyndie always feels so eager it makes everybody else—even me—want to plunge right into things too.”

I’ve been thinking about people like Lyndie since Gwen said that. People we see all the time but don’t know all that well, or even complete strangers, who just happen to be in the right place at the right time to ease what ails us regardless of what’s going on—right or wrong–in their own lives.

I remember the guy who came up to me one day as I was gazing out of my car at the ocean sadly wondering what the point of my existence was. “You’ve got to go with it,” he said out of nowhere. “All of us do.” And because of him I did.

And the time I was that guy for an elderly woman sitting on a bench in the Paradise Town Square, looking like she was about to cry. “I’ll bet your grandchildren love you,” I said for no reason I knew of as I walked by. A week later she stopped me in the market. “I want to thank you for your kind words,” she said. “I was doing poorly, and you made me feel alive.”

Gwen’s had times like that in her life also. So have all the friends I’ve talked to about it. People rising out of their suffering because of someone else. Or helping other people do the same without even knowing that’s what’s going down.

So here, for whatever it’s worth, is what I think about angels:

I think we’re all angels, each and every one of us shuffling across this planet—just for helping another human being or two get through the day.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #111 “My Nightly Daydreams”

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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 I was a kid I sometimes had nights when I couldn’t fall asleep. Most of the time it was because the day had been too exciting and my body was too revved up to relax. Other times tomorrow just plain seemed too frightening.

Over the years, I discovered that a good way to make myself relax was for me to think about something wonderful.

Sometimes I’d make up stories and tell them to myself as I lay in bed. Other times I’d fantasize about things I wanted to have someday.

I still do this on difficult nights, but as I’ve gotten older, the stories and fantasies have changed.

Take my Dream Team of Acquisitions, for example.

As a four-year-old I wanted a puppet version of Howdy Doody, the marionette hero of my favorite TV show. With that at my side I’d be a hero as well.

As a fourteen-year-old I wanted a new bicycle. A Raleigh racer, top of the line so I could ride like the wind and go places I’d never been before, in style.

By the time I was a twenty-four-year-old I wanted a Porsche and the showbiz career that would make owning it possible. I worked hard and achieved both those desires, just as I’d managed to acquire Howdy and the racing bike years before.

At thirty-four when I lay in bed unable to sleep my mind turned toward even fancier fare: A red Ferrari, a stable of thoroughbreds, that kind of thing. I struck out, but in the bedtime fantasy game real world failure—and success—don’t count, and my appetites continued to increase.

By the time I was forty-four I was fantasizing about having a private jet and a crew of lovely flight attendants to go with it. A villa in the South of France and a household of lovely French maids. A TV production empire that would’ve rivaled present-day Viacom and a studio full of lovely assistants. (Who cared if the assistants were French? Not me.)

I didn’t get any of those things either. But in spite of (or maybe because of) the futility of my ambitions I did get a lot of sleep.

These days my desires are less exotic. I realized this the other day when I was over at Doug the Dog Breeder’s, helping him install a new wooden floor. (Assuming, of course, that the definition of “helping” is saying, “Man, this place is really looking great,” while sitting and sipping sweet tea.)

“Know what I want?” Doug said.

“This little mallet over here?” I said.

“I want a tractor,” Doug said. “A John Deere. I saw a brand new green and yellow backhoe on Highway 14 yesterday and spent all last night imagining what it’d be like if that was mine.”

“Really? All night?”

“Well, until I fell asleep filling out the paperwork for the bank loan in my mind.”

“I know what you mean,” I said more or less automatically.

And then I stopped. realizing that in fact I knew exactly what he meant. Not because I used to think about what it would be like to have my own million dollar this or billion dollar that, but because the most recent thing I’d thought about having for myself was a John Deere tractor of my own.

Not a backhoe. That was too rich for my blood. A little 990, the kind you can get for $135 a month through the John Deere web site. A web site I go to at least once a week so I can replenish the fuel for my latest dream.

I told Doug that he and I were counting the same sheep except he was thinking bigger than I was, and he burst into laughter. “Some folks might say you’re lowering your sights,” he said. “But I know better than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t help but be ambitious. You’re not wanting smaller, just different. This 990 is only the beginning. By next month you’ll be working out how to take over Tyson Farms.”

Once upon a time Doug would’ve been right. But here, now, I don’t ache in the slightest for my own big-time agribusiness or world dominance of any kind. I really just want my own John Deere.

Not the little 990 though. Or the backhoe.

I want the 9620T. The bad boy that goes loaded for $300,000 plus.

If stewing on that doesn’t get me through the night, nothing will.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #110 “My Community”

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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

A neighbor by the name of Ron Thomas stopped by Cloud Creek Ranch over the weekend to put an interesting proposition on the table. Interesting enough, I think, to share.

Ron’s in charge of the local version of an educational program called the “East Initiative,” and he wanted to know if I’d volunteer some time and energy for it.

The East Initiative is all about teaching high school and middle school students how to make the most out of their computer skills by applying them to the making of video. It gives them a solid foundation they can follow up professionally, or as hobbyists, or simply as appreciative viewers who genuinely know good work from bad.

The specific project Ron has in mind for his students is called “My Community.” It’s a contest in which they make short videos about their town. This, of course, is right up my alley. I would’ve agreed to help out even if Ron hadn’t offered me the fine Paradise payment of three miniature goats.

After Ron left, though, I got to thinking. I’ve seen some of the past winners of “My Community.” No matter how good they’ve been—and some have been very good indeed—they’ve all been pretty cut-and-dried.

“Here’s what our town looks like…”

“Here’s what it used to look like…”

“Here’s what we do in our town…”

“Here’s what we used to do…”

None of them give the flavor, the feeling of what it’s like to really be alive in that particular place, at that particular time. And to me that means both the audience and the video makers are missing out.

There’s a reason my thoughts wandered in this direction. The name of that reason is Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang.

Born wild in the inhospitable Nevada desert, Elaine is congenitally bowlegged and knock-kneed. Her front end has been breaking down for years, and now, at about 20, she’s loaded with bone spurs and chips, and the pain that accompanies them.

To relieve the pain, Elaine’s does what any sensible creature would do. She lies down. But these days it’s getting harder and harder for her to stand back up.

Painkillers have become an integral part of Elaine’s life. They taste terrible, so to get her to eat them I grind them up and sprinkle the powder into her afternoon mash. Then I watch to make sure her lover boy, Huck the Spotless Appaloosa, keeps his nose out of her bucket and in his own.

The price of failure at this assignment is an intoxicated wild man of a Huck who races around kicking and rearing like a horse from hell for an hour or two, demonstrating more power than it seems safe for any living thing to have—and a shockingly powerless Elaine who hurts too much to move.

Since the first time I found Elaine on the ground, unable to get up, I’ve helped her rise up more times than I can count. Sometimes I can cajole her to her feet. Other times it takes some yelling, or even prodding. A push here, a pull there, and then a quick dive for cover so I don’t get kicked in the head as she scrambles.

One result of all this has been that Elaine has become more relaxed around me than she was. She comes to me for petting. Likes to stand close and listen to me sing. Huck’s not happy about sharing my attention, but he seems to know Elaine’s time is limited so the only trouble he makes about it is a horselaugh or dirty look.

From time to time I’ve been known to proclaim, “Life is laughter!” but it’s clear that for Elaine life is very much a suffering thing. Until recently I hadn’t realized how difficult each moment is for her, and how much courage it takes for her to just get through the day. Now I’ve got to make that courage mean something, for her and whomever else I can.

Which is why, when I work with the students on their “My Community” project over the next few months, I’m going to encourage them to show the responsibility, the pain, the joy…the moment to moment emotional richness of their daily lives.

Will that make them winners in the competition? I can’t say. But if they can come close to carrying it off they’ll have created something wonderful and unique, and winners they will be.