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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

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

It was glorious.

The aftermath, however, was a whole other thing.

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

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

“Why’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We wanted alfalfa,” said Burl Jr.

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

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

“When we get ourselves a new barn.”

“When’ll that be?” Burl Jr. said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’ll change too.”

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

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

I started chuckling.

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

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

By not celebrating at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #52 – “Amber Mode”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

I’m in Amber mode today.

As in Youngest Daughter Amber, the dangerously beautiful young woman who more than any of our other kids reminds me of—well, of me.

We think alike. We aspire alike. We rant and rave alike. Most of the time the similarities make for a lot of fun. But they can be frightening as well
.
The reason Amber’s on my mind today is that she’s transferring colleges. Leaving the Art Institute of San Francisco, where she’s been majoring in creating video games, and entering the San Francisco Art Institute, where she’ll be part of the world of what academicians call “fine art.”

Gwen the Beautiful, Amber, and I talked about it over the phone last week. “The two schools only sound the same,” Amber said. The old one’s all about making a living. But I’ve got to be creative. I’ve got to be free!”

This was upsetting because I was very proud of Amber when she started on her video game road. It seemed made for her not only because she’s brilliant and talented (if I do say so myself), with the potential to raise this new playing field to new heights, but also because the school flat-out guarantees every graduate a job.

Not that it was the first time we’d ever disagreed. We had a similar situation when we moved to Paradise.

We arrived here during the summer. Amber was only seventeen and had been raised in Southern California for most of her life. Still, she tried her best to fit in here. She loved the property. The animals. The sky. She found a place that was hers down at our pond and spent hours there talking to the cedars.

Amber made friends. Went to parties. Appreciated that they were just like parties back in L.A., celebrations of music and bravado and, yes, teenage pain.

She saw the truth: Teenagers are the same everywhere.

And the greater truth: All people are the same.

A few things put her off. First was when a group of girls told her she shouldn’t dress the way she did. “You’re wearing bright colors. We never do that. It’s so tacky, the way the boys are looking at you.”

The second troublesome thing was the chawing. The teenage boy who was Paradise’s hot catch at the time came by thinking he’d impress her with how far he could spit. Funny thing. Eight feet of brown tobacco slime didn’t push the right buttons. Amber got him back into his truck—fast.

The third strike came when she was talking to another boy getting ready to leave for college.

“What’s your major?” Amber said.

“Metal work,” he told her.

“Like sculpture? What a great thing to do!”

The boy looked puzzled. “Metal sculpture? Why would I do that? I’ve got the talent to do something important. I can build fences strong enough to hold the biggest bull—“

And that was it. Paradise’s fate was sealed.

“Can you believe that? He blew off art!” Amber told us.

“He’s got other things to worry about,” I said. “Survival…”

“Human beings need art in order to survive,” Amber said. Art takes us away from the bad parts of reality. It lets us heal and helps us grow.”

“I know, baby. What I’m saying is—“

“What I’m saying is I’m so out of here!”

Off Amber went, back to L.A. to live with relatives and finish out her senior year. We missed her like crazy. You wouldn’t believe the phone bills.

Now she’s in San Francisco, making another move that causes me concern.

On the one hand Amber’s twenty-one and on her own, learning exactly what she wants to learn, the way she wants to learn it.

On the other hand she’s taking a big risk, gambling on her future in a way that doesn’t pay off for most people.

“Meh!” she said over the phone when I pointed that out. “It paid off for you.”

I love my dangerously beautiful daughter and am even prouder of her now than I was before. Through Amber I’ve come to understand that one person’s paradise can be another’s middle of nowhere. And vice versa, of course.

And that to live a good life what you’ve got to be best at is being yourself.

Especially when—even when we think we’re on opposite sides—she’s still being just like me.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #51 – “New Life”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

Today is the most glorious day of 2006. It’s been raining since about midnight. Rumbling thunder. Gusting winds. Lightning in the distance.

Three consecutive days of deluge have changed everything here on the Mountain. Gwen the Beautiful’s irises are in bloom. So are the dogwoods. Even the grass that burned out in last summer’s drought is starting to return. The very atmosphere seems green.

And the sound! The main house and the Annex both have metal roofs, and I can’t think of a single existing musical group that can match the rhythm I hear and feel as I write.

I can honestly say I feel more alive than I have in many long months. I’m not the only one either. Gwen’s got a spring in her step that’d been missing for awhile. The animals are filled with energy.

And the Annex has started talking.

Yes, I know how strange that sounds. But on a property the original owners fled from because they saw and heard so many ghosts, it would be stranger still if things seemed normal.

The Annex has been empty for a couple of weeks, with Burl Jr., the New Cloud Creek Caretaker, scheduled to move in this weekend. Over that time Gwen’s been outfitting and decorating to make the place perfect for its use as both an art studio and the home of our new hand. So yesterday I walked over there to make sure there were no leaks to spoil things.

Now I’ll flat-out admit I’ve been uncomfortable with this trailer since we first moved it up here. It’s been nothing but an inanimate hunk of metal, blocking my view of the forest. But yesterday, in the cold, pouring rain, the place felt warmer than it ever had before.

Especially when it said, “Good morning.”

I jumped about two feet into the air. “You’re alive?” I said.

“Born last night,” the Annex said. “Daughter of the rain. And Gwen’s love.”

“That’s what it takes?

“I guess. I don’t really know. I’m just a kid.”

As we talked I started to smell something. Freshly made popcorn. I looked around the kitchen. The stove and the oven were clean as a whistle. I sniffed at the windows, the heating duct, even the portable air-conditioner. The popcorn smell wasn’t coming from any of those places.

It was coming from everywhere.

“What’s going on?” I said to the trailer.

“Don’t you like it?” the trailer said. “How’s this?”

The popcorn smell vanished. In its place was the aroma of fresh-baked cherry pie.

“Better?” said the trailer.

“I dunno,” I said.

“I want you to love me,” said the Annex. “I’ll love you back. I promise.

“Is that what this is about? You’re looking for something that’ll make me love you?”

“You and Gwen and everybody!” the Annex said. “People love food, don’t they? I don’t know how I know that, but I do.”

The smell of cherry pie grew stronger. It was like a dozen cherry pies baking together. Way too sweet. Overpowering. I staggered back, fled from the trailer.

As I stood on the deck, gasping for air in the rain, the Annex spoke again. “Too much?” it said.

“Too much,” I agreed. “You’re just a kid. You don’t understand how things can be both better and worse at the same time. But you’ve created one of those things.”

“I’ll keep trying.”

And it has. This morning the cherry pie smell was gone. Replaced by angel food cake with just the slightest strawberry tang.

The truth is that I’d love the Annex even if it didn’t try so hard. In fact, even if it didn’t try at all. Just the way I’d love any newborn.

But I’m not telling that trailer. No sir. Because the plain fact is that if there’s one dessert I go crazy for even more than chocolate fudge brownies it’s strawberry shortcake. And strawberry shortcake is what’s filling the air just inside that door.

I’ve reached a point here in Paradise where I don’t question the Annex’s new life. I am, however, wondering about something else. I don’t know which is more bewildering and wonderful to me. The fact that the scent exists…or the fact that in such a short time this child of the rain and Gwen’s love has found the right one.

Told you it was a glorious day!

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #50 – “I Used to be Cool”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

I used to be a cool guy.

I wore sunglasses twenty-four hours a day, and was the second-in-command to one of the most famous Monster Producers in TV. He already had Yes Men. My job was to say No. And then hang around and party.

I even went to Las Vegas now and then, on the boss’s private jet. I didn’t gamble, but was always ready for dinner, a show and some backstage conversation. Witty conversation, we called it.

But until last weekend it’d been twelve years since I’d been in Vegas. I work for myself now, and never wear shades because I can’t abide the thought of anything clouding my view. As for witty conversation—these days I talk mostly about the weather, and my listeners are likely to be my dogs, horses, or trees.

Still, I was looking forward to a few days with old friends now living in America’s Playground even if this time around Gwen the Beautiful and I had to fly east from Little Rock to Memphis in order to get the best price going west. I expected a big contrast with life in Paradise, and I got it, all right.

The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane was all the plastic surgery on the folks in the airport. Men as well as women with facelifts and not a down-turned nose in sight.

The women were perfectly made-up, and both they and the men wore the hippest of fashions. We don’t see designer bags and flashing jewelry much in Paradise, but we sure saw it now. And after we got out on the street was saw another big difference. Ferraris, BMWs, and Lincoln SUVs like the one in which our friends picked us up.

Then there was their home. 3500 square feet under a red tile roof in a gated community with a vaguely Spanish name. A backyard the size of a dog run. “Low maintenance,” Mr. Vegas Friend grinned.

“No chiggers or ticks,” Mrs. Vegas Friend added. “Don’t you love cement?”

That night they took us to a French restaurant at the Wynn Hotel. I can still taste my entrée—a steak so rare it could only be described as singed, with a sauce that made my lips tingle. I like fried chicken as much as the next man, but this was beyond compare. And the mind-blowing light show that went with it wasn’t bad either.

The next day our foursome caught up on all that’s been happening in our lives in a marathon conversation with more laughs than words. And that night we saw Celine Dion’s show. The lady works hard for the money. Last time I saw that much sweat on a person was last August, when I walked from our front porch to the chicken coop.

Soon, though, we were back at the Little Rock airport, where our friend Celia, Sweet Jane The Realtor’s sister, picked us up. Celia wore faded jeans and had a smudge of grease on her cheek, and drove her old Chevy pickup, apologizing because her teenage son had added headers and ‘glas packs loud enough to out-call a mating bull elephant.

As Celia drove us home she brought us up to date on local events. The deputies were still looking for a robbery suspect they couldn’t seem to catch, “mostly because he’s six foot six and a former Marine and they don’t want to know how hard he’ll fight back.”

And, she said, her neighbor, Rita, “has been making a fool of herself, bringing home men at night who she’d never look at twice if it was day.”

Another neighbor, Tommy from Chicago, has been calling and asking Celia to “come over—please—and kick out the space aliens camped on my porch!”

Tommy even sent her a bottle of Paris Hilton perfume to sweeten the pot, but it didn’t work. “My word! Like I’d ever have a place to wear something as fancy as that!”

And…and…

And I sat there in the back seat while, beside her, Gwen smiled and said, “Thanks, Celia, for such a wonderful welcome home,” and I thought: Gwen’s right. It really is a wonderful welcome.

Because the way I see it is this.

I used to be a cool guy. Yep, I was.

But now—my word! Who cares?

I’m grateful to both Las Vegas and Paradise. Just for being two of the many places I can go.