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.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #61 – “Vacation Cows…?”

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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

Although Gwen the Beautiful and I live in Paradise, it’s not much of a vacation spot. Our slice of heaven is home to hard-working men and women trying to make ends meet. When they want to relax and have fun they head out of town.

Last weekend Gwen and I decided to dive into the tourist season and hang awhile at the home of our friend Sharon, who lives on the outskirts of the nearby holiday haven called Eureka Springs.

A hilly, Nineteenth-Century Victorian town that looks the way San Francisco would if San Francisco hadn’t grown up, Eureka Springs is all about festivals and art.

There are music festivals. Film festivals. Classic car rallies. Motorcycle shows. Even canoe extravaganzas. If you can celebrate it, Eureka Springs will schedule a weekend for you to celebrate it in.

The art comes in a million different varieties too. Folk art. Southwestern art. Modern art. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, ceramics—you name it and it’s showing in a gallery in the historic part of town.

Sharon’s gallery sells South American weavings. As it turned out, she wasn’t going to be home because she had to go to Ecuador on a buying trip. She told us where the key was hidden, though, and we still didn’t lack for company because another friend decided to come along.

Our dog Emmy, who bulled her way into the truck as we were packing it up, and refused to be left behind with the other Cloud Creek animals in Burl Jr. the New Caretaker’s excellent care.

“If she wants to come with us that badly let’s take her,” Gwen the Beautiful said.

“If she comes with us we won’t be able to do nearly as much nothing as we intend to,” I pointed out.

“And if I’m feeling bad about how bad she’s feeling back home do you think it’ll be any better?”

And that was that. Gwen, Emmy, and I rolled onto Sharon’s property early in the afternoon and settled into the cozy cottage. Gwen and I had dinner at Sparky’s, a great local hang-out. Then it was back to our vacation retreat, where we slept soundly—

Until about five in the morning. When Emmy jumped off the bed and began barking. She raced downstairs, going from window to window. Growing more and more frantic.

I grumbled.

Then I groaned.

Finally, I got up to see what the noise was all about. I looked outside.

And saw a heifer.

Another heifer.

Half a dozen more. Moseying through Sharon’s flowerbed. Grazing on her previously immaculate front lawn.

“Uh, Gwen? I think we’ve got a problem here.”

Now it was Gwen doing the groaning. I realized she was muttering some words: “The neighbor’s phone number’s on the kitchen wall. Sharon said if there was a problem to call there.”

Call I did, and a wide-awake woman’s voice answered. I told her where I was, why I was there, and why I was calling.

“Hold on,” she said. And, after a moment: “You’re right. We’re missing about half a dozen head. They’re pets, you know. Haven’t got the heart to raise anything for sale. I’ll come fetch them right away.”

I hung up. Went to the front door, opening it to get a better look.

And Emmy pushed past me like a flash. She stopped on the porch for a second, grinning like the happiest kid at a party, then barked and gave chase. The cattle practically flew into the woods, Emmy in gleeful pursuit.

I called the neighbor again to say her pets were heading back her way. Then I went outside and called Emmy.

No answer.

I called her again.

Nothing.

The city boy in me started worrying. We were on strange turf. Would Emmy be able to find her way back? What if she got lost? I remembered other losses, and felt my chest knot.

Then I glanced over at the flowerbed. There lay the dog, merrily rolling in what the cattle had left behind.

Unexpected lessons arise constantly in life, and one came to me that morning. I wrote recently about Gwen’s loss of eyesight. I learned something new about human beings and our eyes that morning in Eureka Springs.

It’s something I could swear I heard Emmy say as she gave me a wink. “Gotta keep your eyes open, bud. Seeing doesn’t help if you forget to look.”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #60 – “How Strange is Your Life?”

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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 reasons I write this column is that I live a life where I’m constantly amazed and I figure that by reporting this amazement I’ll find out if it’s just me…or if the world seems wacky to everyone.

This week, Gwen the Beautiful and I had not one, not two, but three small but mighty This Can’t Be Happening! It’s Impossible! moments, all in one lunch and some shopping at Walmart.

It started in the Mexican Restaurant right here in Paradise. We eat there at least once a week out of sheer gratitude for having found a place that gives us the exotic flavors we used to love back in L.A. without making us have to go back there and put up with everything else that we didn’t love at all.

What happened was that I finished my coffee and decided not to bother Lyndie the Waitress, who already had her hands full keeping up with the packed room. Instead I picked up my cup and walked to the coffee urn, where I poured myself half a cup and started back to the table.

I took what I think of as a “Great Circle Route” and didn’t go back the way I came. But about halfway back I saw two women frowning at me.

“You spilled,” said one. She pointed to the floor near where they sat.

Sure enough, there it was, a splotch of coffee. With another beyond it, and another, all the way back to the pot.

All I could do was shrug. “And here I was trying to make life easier on a wonderful gal,” I said, and continued to Gwen.

As I sat down, I realized something. I looked back behind me. The spilled coffee spots weren’t on my trail from the urn. They were on the one to it.

The path I’d walked with an empty cup. My return path was spotless. I hadn’t spilled a thing.

Because I’d had nothing to spill.

Gwen’s not all blind, only half. She saw the look on my face, asked what was wrong. I told her, and she turned her attention to the spills.

“Something’s wrong,” she said. “Your cup was empty when you walked over there.”

“Ah,” I said. “Good. Then I’m not crazy after all.”

A little later when I went over to the counter to pay I fished around in my pants pocket for some change. When I didn’t find any I left a ten dollar bill, and Gwen and I continued on out.

It bugged me, though. I clearly remembered dropping way too many quarters into that pocket when I’d put on my jeans that morning. So when we got to Walmart I checked again as we walked through the parking lot. Sure enough, the quarters were there, along with a few almost useless nickels and dimes.

Where were they just fifteen minutes ago?

When we got home and I took the bags from the truck bed I discovered I’d hit the trifecta.

Gwen’s fifty pound bag of wild bird seed was nowhere to be found.

Wondering how I could’ve left it behind, I carried some cleaning supplies over to the storage shed, but when I opened the door the first thing I saw was the bag of seed, fat and sealed and ready for its mission of mercy.

Yes, I know. Each of these experiences has a possible explanation:

The coffee was spilled where it shouldn’t have been? “Probably my cup wasn’t as empty as I thought and it slopped over.”

I had no change in my pocket—and then I did have change? “Probably the coins were blocked by a fold in the fabric the first time I looked.”

The bag of bird seed was put away before I took it out of the truck? “Probably I brought it in earlier but got distracted and forgot.”

All those explanations are reasonable. But to come up with them I had to ignore the evidence of my senses. I had to assume that what I saw, felt, and remembered was wrong.

That seems to me to be going to a lot of trouble just to hew to a rational view of the universe that’s not necessarily any truer than—well, than what? I haven’t got a clue.

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

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #59 – “Blind Eye Circus”

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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

About two years ago, at the age of 48, my wife Gwen the Beautiful was blinded by a stroke. She sees something, but only to the left in each eye. The right half of what should be her field of vision is inky blackness.

Or, on days of beauty and wonder, a sight that’s not there. Images of gardens. People. Animals. Plugged directly into (and by) her brain.

I’ve written about all the medical rounds we’ve made, trying to learn what caused the stroke so we can take the right steps to make sure it doesn’t happen, and what we can do to help her see completely once more.

Until yesterday no doctor anywhere, no matter how highly regarded, ever had said anything about the cause but, “We’ll probably never know,” and, about the possibility of a return of Gwen’s vision, “Very unlikely. The brain cells that interpret the right side of your vision are dead.” Both statements followed by, “Take these blood thinners and try to adjust.”

A couple of months ago Gwen left Paradise and went to Robert Superko, a San Francisco area doctor who’s an expert in “cardiac risk.” She spent half a day giving blood for a series of tests, including DNA tests no one else had given her.

Yesterday we got the results. They’re complicated, and neither of us understands them well enough to go into detail, but the gist is that Gwen’s DNA has an extra molecule on its strand that has caused the level of a cholesterol lipid called “El Pea Little A” and spelled “Lp(a)” to be three times what’s considered normal.

What does this do? Why, it throws a whole mess of stuff out of whack—and causes blood clots. Like the one that smacked Gwen on the back of the head one December evening and dropped her to her knees with half her lights out.

Wait, the news gets better. Not only do we now know what we also know how to prevent another stroke. Dr. Superko’s able nurse practitioner, Pam McDonald has a designed a program for Gwen to follow right here in Paradise. And which can be supervised by Dr. Ted, her Paradise M.D.

Three elements are involved. Regular cardiovascular and strength-building exercise. A balanced diet. And laboratory quality niacin, a thousand mgs. a day.

That’s right. No drugs. No stents. No shunts. None of the usual medical marvels. Instead, a big-time cardiovascular doc has recommended—

Homeopathy.

A dash of common sense. A sprinkle of knowledge. Stirred by experience and wisdom. Based on a recipe that’s totally high tech.

Who says the new and the old can’t co-exist?

That times can’t change in a way that lets today and yesterday embrace?

At first it seemed too easy to Gwen.

“Are you sure I can do the exercise?” she said. “It’s not going to hurt me? And that kind of food…it’s all right for my body?”

Pam told Gwen to take a good look at the page after page of test results she’d already sent. “You’ve had the most complete physical exam anybody can have anywhere. See those numbers? What they add up to is that you’re as healthy as they come. One genetic defect, that’s all you’ve got. And after six months of taking care of yourself you’ll have kicked that defect’s butt.”

“You mean I’m a healthy woman?” Gwen said.

“You’re a healthy woman,” Pam said.

Over the next several hours Gwen said it again herself.

And again. And again.

And as she checked the tomatoes in our garden yesterday afternoon something wonderful happened. She stopped questioning and instead asserted, as strongly as anyone can:

“I’m a healthy woman!”

And, after more than two years, she felt healthy at last.

This isn’t the story of a miracle. Gwen’s sight hasn’t returned. But she’s already started her new regimen, and is looking at life a new way.

Today when we woke up and kissed good morning she greeted me with a smile. “Wow,” I said. “Haven’t seen one of those this early in a long time.”

“There’s no reason for me not to smile,” Gwen said. “After all, I’m a healthy woman.”

“Yes. Yes, you are.”

“And,” she said, “do you know why?”

“Why?” I said.

“Because I’ve got hope.”

We kissed again. It was everything any couple could hope for.