Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #80 – “Everyday Magic”

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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 California friend was certain a friendship with the Old Billionaire would bring me money.

Ha! As if.

Instead it’s brought me something better.

Magic.

It started over at the Chicago Hot Dog Stand when the Old Billionaire invited me along while he ran a quick errand.

“The router’s gone bad on my home network,” he said. “I’m going over to that new computer store on the town square, see if they can handle the situation.”

I love computer stores. I love walking through them and looking at all the hardware and software I can’t afford. Being in the middle of all that razzle-dazzle makes me go, “Wow.”

It’s the same feeling I used to get in the local bookstore back when there were local bookstores, so even though I’d never noticed the place before the first words out of my mouth were, “Let’s go.”

We drove over in the Old Billionaire’s old panel truck. Parked in front of the courthouse.

The Old Billionaire was all excited. “This is how I test new places,” he said. “I give ‘em a little personal order. If they do the job and treat me kindly they get a shot at something more.”

And when you’re an Old Billionaire “something more” is quite a bit more. If whoever ran the computer store handled things right this could be his very lucky day.

As we crossed the street to the store, the Old Billionaire frowned. The place was a mess, its display window bare, paint scraped off one outside wall. Rumpled green fabric was piled up alongside it, straddled by a paint-spattered ladder.

“Looked a lot better than this when I drove by a couple of weeks ago,” the Old Billionaire said. “Be a shame if they’re going out of business already.”

Over a door that looked like it should’ve been locked was a little “Computers” sign. I was surprised when it opened, and more surprised after we walked inside.

The store was bare except for a counter in the back, where a barefoot man in shorts who looked like a tall leprechaun sat cross-legged, fiddling with the innards of an open computer case.

Beyond him, I could see a woman talking on the phone in a back room crammed with unopened shipping boxes. A bell attached to the floor chimed.

The Leprechaun looked up. Smiled. “Hi. What can I do for you fine gentlemen?”

“My laptop’s not connecting right,” the Old Billionaire said. “Dial-up’s fine, but the wireless do-hickey says there’s no network for it to hook up with.”

“Probably your router. You have a big power outage recently? That can take a router right out. I can get you one for not much money and show you how to install it. Or I can come over to your place and do the job for you.”

Then the Leprechaun’s face clouded. “Not today, though. We just opened. We’re not really set up yet.”

“Just opened?” I said.

“Yesterday,” said the Leprechaun. “I know I should’ve waited till all our stock was in, but I was too excited.”

“Young man,” said the Old Billionaire, “you sound like you know your stuff. I’ll give you a week. But when I come back I want to see that green awning up and your window filled with flashing doodads.”

“How’d you know we’re going to put up a green awning?” the Leprechaun said.

The Old Billionaire shrugged. “I’ve been around,” was all he said.

We left the store. I looked at the Old Billionaire as directly as I could. “You saw that store before it was there,” I said. “Two weeks ago you saw how it’ll look next week.”

“Could have,” he said. “Or there could be some other explanation.”

I waited for him to give me one. The Old Billionaire just smiled.

“These things happen,” he went on. “I think they happen to everybody. It’s just that some of us pay more attention. Pay enough attention, and—who knows?—someday a person could get rich.”

I motioned up the way, at the little candy store I’d seen a million times and always meant to try.

“C’mon. As long as we’re here, let’s test drive one of their caramel apples.”

“That a new store?” said the Old Billionaire. He recognized the look I was giving him. “No, no, I mean it. Never saw it before.”

“Reckon we’ll find out,” I said.

“Ah,” he said, “now you’re paying attention.”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #79 – “Living in the Moment”

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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

One of the first couples Gwen the Beautiful and I got to know here in Paradise was Ronnie and Bonnie Foucault. Only they don’t pronounce it in a Frenchified way. They’re from Texarkana, Texas, where the name is “Fewkel” and that’s that.

Ronnie and Bonnie live a couple of miles down the road. Bonnie drives a school bus. Ronnie gets up at dawn to do the farming chores and comes home at dusk to have at ‘em again. Between those times he works for the power company, watching over its computer network.

At least that’s how it was.

All Ronnie wanted from life was his own 250 acres. Room for 500 head of beef cattle. A self-sustaining farm. One day about two years ago, as he and Bonnie were on their way to the bank to sign off on fifty acres they were buying in the holler behind their place, a semi driver took a shortcut onto our road—and hit Ronnie’s pickup head on.

Bonnie slid under the seat. Got out of the accident with just a few scratches.

Ronnie broke every bone in his left arm. And took a big dent in the skull.

He’s been convalescing and rehabbing and in the middle of countless lawsuits ever since. His arm’s fine now. But his brain—

“Doctor told me to stop driving,” he said to me the other day. “I still fire up the tractor, but Bonnie’s the Fewkel chauffeur now.”

We were in the Fewkel drivway, and Ronnie was getting into the truck so I could drive him over to Wal-Mart.

“I appreciate this,” he said. “Can’t exactly have the little lady be taking me to buy her own birthday present now, can I?”

“You don’t have to appreciate anything. Just be sure to invite Gwen and me to the party,” I said.

“Absolutely,” Ronnie said. “If I remember.”

Twenty-five minutes later we were at the turn for the new Wal-Mart. As I pulled into the left lane Ronnie got all concerned.

“Where you going?” he said. “Wal-Mart’s at the other end of town!”

“That was the old Wal-Mart,” I said. “The new one’s right here.”

We pulled into the parking lot. Ronnie looked out at the big building. “Super Center, huh? When did that go up?”

“About a year and a half ago. The other one’s a farm supply store now. You must’ve been there.”

“Probably,” Ronnie said. “Not that I’d remember. My memory’s why I can’t drive.”

Then he told me the rest. How a little chunk of his brain is missing. The chunk that keeps short term memories in place. Ronnie’s as sharp as ever—but the longest he remembers anything new is about forty minutes.

“Then it’s like it never happened,” he said. “Know how I know this? Because it’s written down.”

He showed me a little card Bonnie makes sure is leaning on the alarm clock every morning for him to read when he gets up—still—at dawn.

“You’ll get through this,” I said. “You’ll see.”

“Probably not,” he said. “But I’m okay. The way I figure it, I’m a lucky man. I get to see everything as new. Whatever I do, it’s the first time. Makes me love everything the world throws at me, whatever it is. Even makes me feel kind of grateful.”

“But your body—“

“Does its best. I’m okay with it. Now let’s go on in and get that whatever-it-was.”

In we went. Ronnie navigated through the maze of aisles for the first time and grinned with surprise at the new food section and its organic veggies and the Levi’s now being sold in a store that as far as he could remember never had sold them before.

I watched him closely, turning away every now and then so he wouldn’t see the look in my eyes.

Keeping an important memory of my own to myself:

This wasn’t the first time Ronnie and I had made this trip to the store. Or had our conversation.

Later, after I’d rescued him from where he was lost in the small appliances section, between the toasters and the microwaves, I thought about how I’d react if I were in Ronnie’s place.

Would I have the courage to say, “I love you” and, “thank you” to a new world everyday? To the body that forced me to experience it that way?

To my spirit cut so adrift from moments just past?

Would you?

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #78 – “Blind Driving”

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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

Gwen the Beautiful passed her driver’s license test yesterday.

Let me rephrase that:

Gwen passed her driver’s license eye test yesterday.

Another rephrasing:

Gwen passed her driver’s license peripheral vision test.

Now I realize that doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Until you consider that my wife’s been literally half-blind for two and a half years, since a stroke zapped the vision center in her brain. As I’ve written before, the result was what doctors call “hemianopia to the right.”

As in there being nothing in the right half of the field of vision in each eye but blackness.

Not an easy thing to live with.

Gwen’s birthday is next week, and about a month ago the state sent her a reminder that her license was about to expire. We talked about whether she wanted to try and renew it or opt for a “Disabled” sticker instead.

Gwen didn’t want the sticker. “That means I’d be seeing myself as disabled. I’d be admitting defeat,” she said. And since she’s been practicing her driving, mostly on our gravel road, she figured she’d give renewal a shot.

“After all, having a license could be a big plus in an Emergency.”

When I mentioned the situation to Dwayne the Earth Mover he chuckled. “If you play this nice and proper it won’t matter if Gwen can see to the right or not,” he said.

“The peripheral vision test’s the one you’ve got to watch out for, and they always start it with a quick flash to the right. Then they ask, ‘Did you see a light?’ And then they ask, ‘Which side was it on?’ So chances are good that if they say, ‘Did you see a light?’ right after they start the test and Gwen didn’t see it, all she’s got to do is tell them the light was on the right. Then they’ll flash the other side, but she’ll see that one clear as day.”

I passed this bit of intell on to Gwen, and in we went to the Revenue Office. Evie the Friendly Clerk gave Gwen the forms to fill out, after which Gwen looked into the viewer and read the eye chart.

Piece of cake.

Then came the Big Moment.

“Now we’ll test your peripheral vision. Did you see a light?”

Gwen hesitated. I counted one beat. Another. Then:

“I saw a light,” Gwen said.

“Which side was it on?”

Another beat, and, “The right.”

“Good! ” Evie said.

They did the left side next, just as Dwayne had said. Then it was time for Gwen’s photo op, and seven minutes later we walked back out to the street with Gwen’s new license in her wallet.

“I felt you hesitate,” I said. “I know you hate to lie.”

Gwen smiled. “I didn’t lie,” she said. ” hesitated because I was so shocked. I saw the light blink -” she held her finger up to her far right – “over here!”

“You really saw it? You saw the light?!”

“I sure did, sweetie. It’s been so gradual, and I’ve gotten so used to how my eyesight has been that I didn’t even notice it changing. But I can see! ”

We wrapped our arms around each other. I may even have whooped excitedly, although I’m not sure. I was too excited for Gwen to keep track of myself.

So here’s how things stand. Gwen’s still got a pretty good-sized blind spot in each eye, but the days when the whole right side of the world was invisible are over. Her vision is coming back.

Filling in. Her brain is healing, just as every doctor we saw said it would never do.

Next week, for her birthday, we’ll probably do the same thing we did for mine. Head for the deluxe Jacuzzi room at the Mountain Home Ramada Inn and spend the night.

Gwen wants to drive. I was a little nervous about that when she brought it up at breakfast, but this afternoon I ran into Dwayne at the hardware store and he pointed out something I’d let myself forget.

“You’ve got to let her drive,” he said. ” I’ve seen you behind the wheel. Even a blind Gwen had to have more control of a vehicle than you do.”

Forty minutes on a familiar highway to the Jacuzzi room. That’s a trip I can make with my eyes closed.

Especially this time, when I’ll be in the passenger seat.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #77 – “Huck Hearts Elaine”

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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 oldest daughter, Jenny the Wall Street Journal Reporter, called the other day to say that my grandchildren have been getting impatient for more e-mail from their grandfather.

“They especially want to hear more about the horses,” Jenny said.

So I’ve been thinking about Huck the Spotless Appaloosa and Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang. Specifically about all the ways they interact.

Almost 18 hands tall, Huck is a gelding but doesn’t know it. He’s proud, smart, stubborn, possessive, playful…and loving. He’s my brother, with whom I have long talks. Everything’s a joke to Huck except his woman. To him, Elaine is serious business.

A little slip of a thing barely more than pony size, Elaine takes herself very seriously too. She’s a wild creature and as wary as they come. The only activity Elaine seems to enjoy is hiding herself in the trees. Look away from her for a second and she vanishes like a chameleon, perfectly camouflaged.

Huck and Elaine have a solid relationship. They swat flies off each other and share their hay. When one or the other needs space, he or she gets it without argument. When one or the other feels selfish and has the urge to take more than give, the other shrugs and stands back and gives.

It wasn’t always that way. When Elaine came into Huck’s life he was a spoiled four year old brat. The only horse on our property in Southern California. He was a showboat, prancing and demanding and calling out so us for, “More alfalfa! More water! And gimme some lovin’ too!”

I knew that even though he wasn’t admitting it Huck was lonely for the company of other horses. So when Gwen the Beautiful and I found Elaine headed for the horsemeat auction we plunked down the cash it took to save her and brought the crippled 13-year-old home.

Elaine limped into Huck’s life eagerly, squealing her mare squeal. He snorted his almost-a-stallion snort and did what came naturally.

Nipped her on the back of her neck.

And got kicked in the head.

They fought for weeks. Over food. Water. Attention.

“This isn’t going to work out,” Gwen said one day. “Maybe they need a break from each other. Some distance to put things into perspective.”

I wasn’t sure what she was getting at but certainly was willing to give it a try. I put a halter on Huck’s head. Snapped a lead rope to it. “C’mon, big guy.”

Huck shot a look over at Elaine. “See? He’s taking me.”

I led him from the barren corral to a green pasture on the other side of the house. Behind us, Gwen started to close the gate so I could let Huck graze freely. But just as she touched it the longest, most desperate cry I’ve ever heard came from the corral—

“Elaine!” To others Huck might have sounded like he was screaming, but I knew he was calling his mare’s name.

He reared up, yanking the rope from my hand. Ears flattened, nostrils flared, Huck whirled and galloped like a thoroughbred past the house. All I could think of was that lead rope. Of him getting tangled in it. Crashing to the ground—

Gwen and I raced after him. Found him standing at the corral fence. On the other side stood Elaine, the two of them nuzzling. They were so close it looked as though their heads were intertwined.

The two of us stared. Automatically, we reached out and held each other’s hand. Watching as Huck and Elaine showed each other their true feelings.

After a few minutes Huck turned toward Gwen and me. “I think she likes me,” he said. “I didn’t even know.”

Elaine nickered at him softly. “Talk to me,” she said.

“You’re interrupting!” Huck said to her. And nipped her.

Elaine nipped back. And off they went.

Recently I saw an article by the writer Nora Ephron that included the following truism: “You can never know the truth of anyone’s marriage, including your own.”

I appreciate Ms. Ephron’s practical wisdom, but I wonder if she realizes how universal her words are. I won’t be sharing this with my toddler grandchildren but look forward to the day when I can help them understand the truth about love and relationships Gwen and I were lucky enough to have learned from our brother Huck and our sister Elaine.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #76 – “Starmaker”

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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

One of my closest friends—and biggest enemies—died last weekend. He had a heart attack, brought on by an overdose of cocaine.

Whenever I think of him I don’t think of his name but of the title he gave himself. So it seems fitting to me to call him that here.

Starmaker.

That’s right. We’re talking about a Hollywood type. The subject of uncountable stories and at least two fictionalized films. Starmaker’s career was based on “discovering” unknown actors and actresses and molding them into stars.

“I pick the least talented people I can find,” Starmaker said to me once as we sat on the deck of his Malibu Beach home. “That way when they make it everybody knows it’s because of my talent, not theirs.”

As you can see, modesty wasn’t one of Starmaker’s virtues. Neither was honesty. In fact, his success was based on the fact that he was the best liar any of us will ever meet.

Know how most people lie by taking a little kernel of truth and then exaggerating it? As unethical as that kind of thing is, those of us hearing the lies often can form a judgment about their basis in reality just by knowing a little something about the subject at hand.

With Starmaker, though, that didn’t work. He created his lies out of whole cloth.

For example, “He’s the most gifted actor since Al Pacino” not only didn’t mean, “He’s the most gifted actor since Al Pacino,” it didn’t even mean, “Hey, he went to acting school.” It meant, “I don’t know a thing about this guy and I don’t care. I just want you to believe he’s a genius.”

So if you automatically adjusted for exaggeration and thought to yourself, “He went to acting school,” you still were buying into a lie.

In showbiz, this gave Starmaker a very big edge.

Working for Starmaker was like working for a grizzly bear with mange. His life itched him uncontrollably, and his way of scratching was to lash out at every employee. The year I went to work for him on a television series I was the sixth producer in four months. He’d fired three of them. The other two had walked off the job after threatening his life.

When I didn’t do what he wanted exactly the way he wanted he fired me too. But first he called the head of the network and told him, “I’m firing this guy because he’s having an affair with your wife.” Who, for the record, I didn’t know. Had never even met. (And I didn’t really know the head of the network either.)

Starmaker made the call in front me, as I sat stunned. When he was finished he smiled. “You’re a talented man. I know that all you want is your piece of the pie. But any piece you get is one less for me. So I just made sure you’ll never work on this network again.”

That’s exactly what happened too.

Now that I’ve explained the “biggest enemy” part you may be wondering about the “closest friend” side of the coin. I’ve wondered about it too.

I wondered why, for years after this, Starmaker would invite my family and me to parties and premieres. Why he messengered over the biggest wreath in history when my father died. Why he would call in the middle of the night and tell me his deepest, darkest fears.

I wondered too why I always listened. And gave sincerely meant advice. Why in the world was I helping him?

Yesterday, while Brannigan the Contractor and I were walking through the Paradise town square, I told him about Starmaker. And how surprised I was that a man who destroyed people’s lives as handily as he created their careers was dead and I wasn’t celebrating.

“That’s ‘cause he loved you!” Brannigan roared. “It’s as clear as that tick crawling up your arm. Of all the people who’ve taken a swing at me, the ones who hit hardest were my ex-wives. On account of they loved me and were so disappointed at how badly I loved them back. How can you be happy when somebody who loves you dies?”

I’m not sure about the love, but could be Brannigan’s on the right track.

Starmaker was rich. Famous. And also the loneliest man I’ve ever known. He always was disappointed. About everything.

How can I feel anything but sorrow for a man who wasted his life demanding so much more than anyone could ever give?