Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #38 – “The Power”

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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

Anyone who thinks words don’t have power doesn’t understand human beings.

This morning I drove into Paradise to the Appliance Shop. The glass on our oven door had cracked, and Billy from Abilene had ordered another. When I arrived to pick it up the door was locked. I knocked, and Billy let me in.

“Sorry,” he said. “We’re kinda unorganized today.”

“You’re unorganized,” Burl Jr. said, coming out of the back room carrying a big suitcase. “I’m just fine.”

I like Burl Jr. He’s 21 years old and has been Billy’s assistant forever. He’s quiet with most people, a terrific guitarist, and as smart as they come. His father’s a small farmer, but Burl Jr. knows so much about electronics that he was offered a top paying job before his college graduation ceremony was over

“He turned down the job,” Billy said. “He’s leaving town!”

“I thought you just got back from a trip,” I said to Burl Jr.

“He went to Virginia with Ashley, his girlfriend,” Billy from Abilene said. “They were announcing their engagement. Ha!”

Burl Jr. looked embarrassed. “He doesn’t get it. Nobody gets it.”

“Gets what?” I said.

Burl Jr. took a deep breath. “Ashley and I drove to Bristol, where her grandmother lives. Everything went fine till we stopped at a restaurant. The Golden Corral.

“There was this waitress. Her name tag said she was Brittany, and she’s the most gorgeous girl I ever saw. A tiny little thing with long, dark hair and this shy smile…”

Burl Jr.’s eyes glazed over. “I was a total doofus. Could hardly give my order. All I could do was stare.

“Ashley asked how Brittany liked her job. Brittany said she liked talking to people from all over the country. Especially when they told her about where they lived because she’d never been anywhere. Never left Bristol. Not even for a day.

“By the time we finished lunch we pretty much knew her life story. She’s nineteen. She dropped out of high school because she was pregnant. She never married the father. And she and her daughter live with Brittany’s parents. She doesn’t like it there.

“The whole time Brittany was talking,” said Burl Jr., “she was looking at me. I was scared to death of meeting her eyes, but couldn’t turn away. Ever had that happen with a woman?”

“Yes,” I said. “When I first saw Gwen. I called it love.”

Burl Jr. nodded. “I left a $20 tip, and while Ashley and I were getting into the car Brittany came running out to the parking lot with my $20 bill saying, ‘Sir! You made a mistake! You left me too much!’

“I said that’s what I wanted her to have. So she could leave Bristol someday.

She looked like she was gonna cry, and she leaned toward me like—well, like she was going to kiss me. But instead she ran back inside.

“Ashley didn’t talk to me the whole rest of the day. We’ve been home two days, and she’s barely talking to me now. Me, I’m still thinking about Brittany. Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t let that be all there is of her in my life.

“Soon as my car’s packed up I’m bee-lining it back to Bristol. I’m going straight to the Golden Corral. And the way my life’s going to be is, either I’m going to stay in that town with her and her little girl forever, or I’m going to bring them here to be with me till I die.”

Burl Jr. carried his suitcase from the shop to his car. I stayed with him. All I could say was, “Are you sure—absolutely certain—this is the right thing?”

Burl Jr. put his suitcase into the trunk. “I know it’s right,” he said. “Because the man I respect more than anyone else in the world told me this is what I’ve got to do.”

“Your dad told you that?”

“No, sir,” said Burl Jr. “The man who one day about a year ago wrote this down and stuck it to my chest while I was talking about what I wanted in my future.”

Burl Jr. dug a crumpled purple stick-it from his pants pocket. Placed it in my hand. “I’ve been walking around with this ever since.”

I looked down at the note.

“Don’t you dare not go for your dream,” it said. And it was signed:

“Larry B.”

Words. Choose them carefully. They’ve got real power.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #37 – “Christmas Spirits”

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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

Christmas was lonely for me this year. Here I was, in Paradise, on the ranch with the dogs and the cats and the horses and the chickens. And there Gwen the Beautiful was, in San Francisco, with Youngest Daughter Amber. Last year Amber came here to be with us. This year she had too much to do at school. And I had so much to do that I couldn’t leave.

So off went Gwen without me, and we both learned a very important lesson. “Merry Christmas” just doesn’t cut it over the phone.

Some men I know can’t wait for their wives to go off on a trip. That’s when these boys come alive. But when I’m alone I shut down. It’s as though I’m on “pause,” waiting for the “on” button to be pushed. I mean, why knock myself out being me when the person I most want to impress with myself isn’t around?

Luckily, the love of my life made it safely back home before New Year’s, and I was able to come back to life for 2006. I picked her up at the airport last Thursday, and by mid-afternoon we were in the door, where we found a holiday gift waiting.

A magical one, of course. Would Paradise give us any other kind?

What happened was that when Gwen and I entered the house we found ourselves greeted by the most perfect of Christmas tree smells. A green, crackly scent, sharp and tangy.

Gwen smiled. Went to the Christmas tree alongside the stairs. Sniffed at it. Smiled again. She touched the tree and shook her head. Turned to me.

“How’d you do it?” she said.

“Do what?”

“This is the same tree we put up before I left, isn’t it?” said Gwen. “The artificial one we decided to use because there wasn’t any point in going through the hassle of a real tree when I wasn’t going to be here?”

“Sure,” I said. “That’s the Wal-Mart special. Why?”

Another Gwen smile. “That’s my question. Why the scent? What I don’t like about artificial trees is that no matter how real they look you know they’re fake because you don’t get the smell of pine. Except we’re getting that smell right now, right here. I love it, and I’m thrilled. So c’mon, sweetie, tell me – how’d you do this?”

I thought about it. Realized that the pine aroma hadn’t been there while Gwen was gone. Hadn’t been there when I’d left to pick her up in the morning. Had no reason to be there then. Or now. I sure hadn’t done anything to bring it about. No room freshener. No scented spray.

“Seems to me like the house missed you as much as I did,” I said. “Everything around here missed you. You’re being given a gift. It’s time to give thanks and enjoy.”

Gwen laughed. She turned her head up toward the ceiling, where we always hear the various ghosts I’ve written about before.

“Thanks,” she said, meaning it. “I’m definitely enjoying.”

We waited until New Year’s Eve to exchange Christmas gifts, turning back the clock a full week.

I did all my shopping online this year, and everything arrived wrapped and ready. One of the gifts, however, turned out to be as unexpected as the scent of the tree.

When Gwen opened a small box that was supposed to contain a silver necklace I saw immediately that it was the wrong one. Instead of a pendant, attached to the chain was a small, graceful, sweetly tinkling silver bell.

About five years ago Gwen and I had talked about getting her something very much like this, but we’d never found the right one. Now it was here, unbidden. But not unwanted, nor unloved.

“You got me the bell!” Gwen said.

“Um…well, something did,” was all I could say.

“Bells help the universe keep track of our spirits,” said Gwen. “They announce our souls.” She wrapped her arms around me, and we kissed…to the tinkling of the little bell.

As I write this I can still smell the pine and hear the silver bell. And all I can think is:

Gwen the Beautiful is home. All’s right with the universe. I know because it’s telling me.

Happy New Year, y’all! May this one be the absolute best. (And the next ones be better still.)

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #36 – “Small Pleasures”

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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

We live in an age of extravagance, but small pleasures do it for me.

As far as I’m concerned, the Donald Trumps, Paris Hiltons, and Martha Stewarts can have their opulent lifestyles of international travel, bad hair (Trump), ridiculous clothes (Hilton), and world class tantrums (Stewart).

Just give me a day in Paradise and I’m happy as a pig wallerin’ in a new pond.

Yesterday’s an example. One of our dogs, Tiger, who we always thought was “the dim one,” has turned into a dog run escape artist, so Chet the Unhandyman and I went into town to get the makings of a gate she couldn’t bend back and crawl under.

In Paradise, just about any outing is a ceremony. A visit to the hardware store is no exception.

Phase one is Jawing. That’s where you greet everybody and find out how things’re going. Yesterday I learned that Frank the Manager had just returned from visiting his grown son in Dayton, Ohio. And that Joey the Counterman had quit to go to work for the local gravel company. Being groomed to take over the business, he is, or so they say.

After twenty minutes of Jawing Frank moved me into phase two: Business. “What do you need today?” he said. I told him I wanted a genuine, suburban chain link gate. Frank took out his price book and added up the parts. “Gate like that with posts and cement’ll run you about $125.”

“$125! That’s more than the whole fence! What’ve you got that’s a little less suburban?”

Frank took me out to the yard. “Steel stock panel. It’s a lot stiffer than what you’ve got. Yours for $11.99.”

“Sold.”

“Anything else?”

Which is, of course, phase three. Anything Else is where you walk all around the store, looking at everything on every shelf trying to find something you really need. The ache of wanting’s not enough.

An hour and a half later I was at the counter for phase four, Paying. For the stock panel, a two-way spigot divider, and a straw cowboy hat. This could’ve taken about two minutes. All I needed to say was, “Put ‘er on my tab.” But I wanted to hear the old cash register ding! So I ate up some time paying cash.

On our way home we stopped at the Paradise Mini-Mart & Gas Station for a couple of slices of pizza.

Chet the Unhandyman and I sat down in the eating area where Tommy from St. Louis holds court. Tommy’s in his forties, pony-tailed, and so fast-talking you’d swear he was breaking the sound barrier every time he says, “Hey.” Another city boy who’s learned to love the country.

Yesterday he was talking to a couple of old boys I hadn’t seen before, debating lawn tractors versus bush hogs on our local terrain. (It was no contest. Everyone agreed that bush hogs were the only way to go…perfect not only for cutting grass but also for harvesting the rocks that, when you get right down to it, are Paradise’s main local crop.)

As I finished my pizza and went to throw away the box I bumped into one of Tommy’s friends who was doing the same.

“Sorry,” I said. “Maybe I should get myself a Seeing Eye Dog. Or at least a cane.”

The old boy grinned. “Don’t bother,” he said. “If you got a dog it’d probably bite you. And if you got a cane you’d probably just whack yourself in the shin.” He took my garbage from my hand and tossed it into the bin.

Chet and I went out to my truck. Suddenly Chet frowned. Turned to me. “Did you hear what that old boy said? He insulted you!”

I thought about it. “Yep. He sure did. But did you hear how he did it? It was absolutely painless.”

And beautiful too, in a way, the words rolling off the old boy’s lips like country poetry. A turn or two of phrase I never could’ve come up with. A rhythm I couldn’t match.

“How can a man get mad at that?” I said.

Small pleasures. They beat anything Trump or Hilton or Stewart will ever find wherever they may roam.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #35 – “The True Meaning of ‘Paradise'”

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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

City folks don’t get it.

I had an enjoyable lunch at the Chicago Hot Dog Stand yesterday. The place that used to be the Greyhound Bus station until Greyhound called it a day.

While I was savoring my Chicago dog another lover of fine dining recognized me from the picture that sometimes accompanies this column.

He had a question, he said. “What’s with the name?” he asked. “Why do you call this place Paradise?”

A fair question. That immediately brought up another. Why did Greyhound close its station?

Because the people who live here stay here, that’s why.

Because in many ways it is Paradise.

The first time I remember the “P” word coming up was in an e-mail from my friend Lucy in L.A.

She’d been complaining about how much she had to pay her attorney, and I’d written—truthfully—“What? You pay your lawyer money? I trade stories for services with almost everyone here. When T.R. the Lawyer wrote a letter for me, I paid by telling him how Arnold Schwarzenegger and I first met.”

“How wonderful!” Lucy wrote back. “You must be living in Paradise!”

My Daughter Who Lives in London said the same thing as I described the beauty and relative warmth of autumn to her over the phone. “It sounds like Paradise!”

Then there was the time last summer when I went to the feed store on a 100 plus degree day, with humidity so high I felt like I was drowning just walking to my truck.

The air conditioner in the store was broken, and, dripping with sweat, Sam the Feed Man was smacking it with every tool he could find. When he heard the door open he turned and smiled.

“Just another day in Paradise,” he said.

And even though he was uncomfortable and upset, he meant it. I could see that in Sam’s eyes.

A wonderful thing about the so-called hinterlands is that just about everyone who’s here is here because he or she wants to be.

It’s not for the jobs. Not when good jobs are so scarce in these parts. It’s not because only one member of a couple—the other member—wants to live here. Not when most husbands and wives have known each other since kindergarten and share every interest, belief, and value.

And it’s not because they can’t afford to leave. Not when heading out is as simple as throwing a few possessions into the back of a pickup and taking off.

Other big pluses for this particular slice of Paradise are mild weather in the eight months a year that aren’t summer. Beautiful scenery. A cost of living that is—literally—one-tenth of the cost of, say, L.A.

Folks here are as “You don’t say nothing about how I’m living and I won’t say nothing about how you are” as they can possibly be.

Their big concern is survival, which means they’re not wasting energy competing with neighbors to see who has the better car or bigger house but instead are busy squaring off against the environmental and economic factors that make earning a living so rough.

There’s no time to show off when having a good year means, “I didn’t lose the farm.”

Years ago, when I was writing and producing television shows like The Fall Guy and Mike Hammer and Walker Texas Ranger I was late for a meeting at MGM. My next job, and in my mind my whole future, depended on making a good impression, but I couldn’t find the office I was looking for.

Finally, I rushed up to a guard who looked like blues singer John Lee Hooker. “You know where Dean Hargrove is at?”

“I know where he be,” the guard answered. “But only he knows where he’s at.”

So, yes, I told the old boy at the hot dog stand that this column is called Live! From Paradise! because that’s the truth, plain and simple. My life here in the Ozarks often feels like I’m in Paradise.

But as I look back I recognize that I’ve always appreciated wherever I was. Nashville. Chicago. Los Angeles. Santa Fe.

And that’s the bigger truth. If we open our eyes wide we can see that happiness, satisfaction, success—they’re not about where we live. They’re about what’s inside us.

Without meaning to, the guard at MGM taught me the most valuable of lessons:

The most important thing in life isn’t where we be.

It’s where we’re at.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #34 – “Chickens are People Too”

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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

City folks don’t get it.
None of my old friends blink when I tell them I’ve learned valuable life lessons from my horses and my dogs, but eyes widen and heads shake like bobble-toys when I say I’ve gotten valuable perspective from my chickens. Here’s my thinking:

Everyone knows chickens have a pecking order, but how many people know how it’s established?

My observations (Hey, who needs a life anyway? I came here to commune with nature) show that roosters arrange themselves pretty much the way we expect—by aggressiveness. Just like most guys I know.

But the hen pecking order is based on age. Just like most women in most families I know.

Within the flock, each chicken has a job. The Alpha rooster is the leader. He struts in the front and looks out for danger as he takes the others around the yard. If there’s a Beta rooster, that old boy walks in the middle of the flock and keeps his eyes on the hens so they don’t stray. And if there’s a third rooster, Mr. Omega brings up the rear, watching everyone else’s back.

All that crowing going on? That’s Alpha calling out to make sure the others are okay, and Beta and Omega replying. Think about Omega for a second. He may be the wuss, but by being in the back he’s the safest. Doesn’t this seem human to you?

The job of most of the hens is finding those delicious bugs and seeds and scarfing them down. But there’s also the motherhood thing. Hens whose job is to gather together all the eggs they can find and sit on ‘em till they hatch. And other hens who spell them so they can eat.

And if a brood hen does a lousy job she gets replaced.

Last month I noticed that our sweet old brooder was setting in her usual nest, but the eggs laid by the other hens were at the other end of the shelf instead of under her. Stone cold. The other hens noticed too and a few days later I found one of our young Leghorn Girls in the old brooder’s place. Beneath her were everyone’s eggs, just as they were supposed to be.

Like people, chickens love.

When our dog, Emmy the Bold, decided to use McNugget the Banty, who’s the flock’s omega rooster, as a toy, I managed to snatch him away while he was barely breathing. He was bloody, featherless, mangled.

I brought him into the hen house, and the original brood hen raced over and wrapped her wings around him like arms. She held him tightly, and crooned and sang like a diva of mercy, her voice every bit as beautiful as that of Beverly Sills in her prime.

That hen held McNugget for 24 hours, never letting up, not even to eat. She surrounded him with love, and not only did he survive, he thrived. He’s the fattest, fittest banty you’ll ever see, and the current ruler of the flock.

From Omega to Alpha, thanks to the love of a good woman.

Chickens forget things they should remember. If this isn’t the most human trait of all, what is? Let a chicken out of the run and it immediately forgets how to get back in. Watch a chicken that’s being chased by, well, Emmy. Invariably, it forgets that all it’s got to do to escape is fly into the nearest tree.

There’s another, more meaningful aspect to this flying thing. When we got our five Leghorn Girls, Lila, Lola, Layla, Lulu, and Trixie, the first thing they did was fly out of the run. So the next thing I did was borrow a net from Brannigan the Contractor, scoop the leghorns up one at a time, and clip their wings.

The Girls flapped around, but the best they could do was jump up a couple of feet. They stopped trying, and now, a year later, even though their feathers have grown back there’s no need to clip them again. They’ve forgotten they can fly.

Flying is one of the abilities that makes the LGs what they are, but because they haven’t used it they no longer remember it exists. Many wonderful qualities are part of human nature as well. Our hopes and dreams can take us soaring beyond so many so-called limits.

As long as we remember that our souls can fly.