Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #71 – “An Act of Great Daring”

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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

I committed an act of great daring yesterday.

I got a haircut.

Not just any haircut—oh no. As I write this my hair is shorter than it’s been in more years than I can face remembering.

It’s so short it makes the head of a USMC boot camp recruit look shaggy.

What happened was I woke up with an overwhelming need to change something about myself.

I do that from time to time, mostly when things are going too well and I feel a need to start something new. To find a reason to struggle. The last time I went through that I quit my job, got divorced, and ran off to live with “Wild Indians.”
Literally.
In comparison with that bit of work deciding I no longer wanted to present myself in a way that made people nod and say, “Oh, aging hippie, I get it,” shouldn’t have been a very big deal. My goal was to look more like the real me…formerly an aging hippie but now—

Now what?

I didn’t know, but I was hoping my neighbors would help me find out.

My plan was to drive over to the Paradise Barber Shop, tell Hank the Barber I wanted a change, and see what he’d do. I’ve been in that shop before, and I can tell you this: Clippers rule. I’ve never seen a customer leave there needing to use a comb.

But when I got into town I discovered I’d miscalculated. The barber shop was closed. So I walked across the street to the shop where a friendly divorcee named Melissa cuts Gwen the Beautiful’s hair and told her I wanted the $10 “Men’s Special.”

“Are you sure?” she said. “I set the clippers all the way down to ‘Two’ for the Special.”

“’Two’s’ pretty far down there, huh?”

“Well, not as far as ‘One.’”

“How’s this?” I said. “Set it for whatever you want. Give me any haircut you want. I’ve got total faith in your judgment.”

“You mean that? Really?” And before I could answer she fired up that clipper and cut the first swath.

Fifteen minutes later my hair formed a gray and silver and various shades of brown-colored pile of fluff on the floor. With a flourish, Melissa swiveled me around to face the mirror. “What do you think?”

I stared at my new reflection. “What do you think?” I said.

“I love it,” she said. “Honest.” Melissa nodded, more to herself than to me. “You look good. Like a man. Not an old man, and not a kid. Like an adult. Like I wish the man I’m dating over in Morning Star looked.”

Melissa reached out like she was going to hug me. Stopped herself. “Now tell me what you think,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I looked different, that’s for sure. Felt different too.

I felt the way I’d wanted to feel when I set out from the ranch.

I felt new.

I was walking a new road. At the beginning of a new adventure with a new me. The real me as seen by someone who had no ax to grind, no statement to make, nothing to gain or lose by not revealing the truth.

I thought, “Ah! Beginnings!” and felt my whole body stir.

I thought “Beginnings keep me alive!”

“I like it,” I said. “I like it fine.”

Melissa sighed with relief, and gave me that unfinished hug.

Half an hour later I was pulling up in front of our house. Gwen came rushing onto the front porch. Stared. It wasn’t her half-blind thing. It was something more.

“Who’s this?” she said. “Who’s this man standing over by that truck? When you left here I knew you. Now I’m not so sure.”

“Neither am I,” I said.

Gwen laughed. “That is so cool!”

I came up onto the porch so she could see me better. “I’m not sure I like this,” she said. “But I’m not saying I don’t.”

“That’s all right. We’re on the same page.”

“I’ll tell you one thing though,” Gwen said. “Whoever you are, you’re an adult. Wonder what it’ll be like after all these years, being married to an adult.”

“That’s the great thing about this,” I said. “We get to find out.”

We walked into the house, two familiar travelers taking a new road together.

An act of great daring indeed.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #70 – “Missing My Mother-in-Law”

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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 mother-in-law, Jesse Laverne Manns, known as Laverne by her friends and colleagues, died last week in Fontana, California, after a heart attack and many years of diabetes. Laverne was 72 years old and beautiful in every way.

She was born in a small town in Oklahoma and became a high school basketball star in a state that took – and still takes – its “girls” high school basketball very seriously. Her sports skills earned her a college scholarship, but although Laverne always loved sports her life was devoted to two other great loves.

The first was her husband, Everett.

I came into Laverne’s life too late to meet the man everyone called “Coach Manns,” and who died, also of a heart attack, when he was still a vigorous, bodybuilding 59. But Laverne spoke of him with such adoration that I still treasure the time she turned to me—I don’t remember what I was doing but sure wish I did—and said, “Why, you’re just like Everett!” and gave me a smile that made the whole room shine.

The second great object of Laverne’s devotion was education.

She was an educator all her adult life. Went from elementary school teacher to principal to university administrator because, for her, it was all about teaching and learning and guiding everyone she could toward a better future.

She could be pushy, demanding, stern. As manipulative, in a feminine “You talking about little ole me?” kind of way as Donald Trump is with his slick masculine aggression. But she played her games for the sake of others. Because she wanted the best for everyone else.

Laverne had big ambitions for her children, Vicki, Gwen, Denyse, Cary, and Johnny (who came over to the house for dinner with Coach Manns one day when he was still a schoolboy and stayed on to finish growing up), and her grandchildren. And for all her friends, neighbors, and co-workers as well.

“You’ve got to do your best to get the best,” she would tell them all. It was the motto behind all of Laverne’s days.

I know Laverne best as my beloved mother-in-law. Who wouldn’t love a mother-in-law who, on Gwen the Beautiful’s birthday last month, sent her all of my favorite food? New York cheesecake! Egg bagels! Chicago pizza
!
Laverne’s life was not without its share of travail. But it was impossible for her to stay down for long. Hope and idealism were like titles—or degrees—after her name. Quite simply, she was one of the most idealistic people I’ve ever known.

The last time Laverne visited us here on the Mountain, she told me about a problem a teacher she’d recruited was having with another faculty member. This teacher was semi-retired, a former Superintendent of Schools, and a very savvy and practical man.

When I said to Laverne, “If he’s upset why doesn’t he go to the Dean?” she looked astounded.

“Oh no,” Laverne said. “He would never go over somebody’s head like that. This is a university. Nobody would think of playing politics here.”

I’ve got a few friends who are professors at various colleges, and you can believe me when I say I’ve heard a story or two to the contrary over the years. But I didn’t argue. I just smiled and nodded.

Because if that’s how Laverne saw the world—if it was her world—well, that made her one very lucky woman. How could anyone ever want to change that?

Laverne’s death has brought luck to some other people too. In her never-ending battle to make things better at all times, she signed on as an organ donor. And, of course, her life helped all of us who knew her feel lucky indeed.

I already miss my mother-in-law. For fifteen years, no matter where Laverne and Gwen and I were, Laverne was part of every moment of my life. She was always tucked away in the safest corners of both my head and my heart. Over to the right, beside her daughter. Now–

Just a minute. I’m hearing something. Wait–

It’s a voice. A familiar voice. A very familiar voice…

“I love you,” the voice is saying, from its old place beside Gwen. “And I know I can count on you to go on and do what’s best.”

I’ll try, Laverne. It’ll be a lot easier now that I know you’re still here.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #69 – “Revenuers”

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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

Department of Motor Vehicles.

Nothing fills the hearts of Big City Dwellers with more terror than those four words. Not only are they inevitably accompanied by a bill guaranteed to burn your soul, very often they mean: “Get your butt in here, buddy. Time to stand in line.”

And in the Big City they aren’t kidding about “time.” When I lived in L.A. it was common to wait at least four hours just to renew a vehicle registration. And when I had to take the written test to renew my driver’s license it literally took all day.

So it was with a fair degree of dread that I went to Paradise’s equivalent of the DMV the other day. The Revenue Office!

The state of Arkansas and I were having this little disagreement, see, about my personal property assessment for the coming year. I said I’d sent in all the right information about my truck.

The faceless folks in Little Rock, on the other hand, said, “Un-uh.”

So I was hoping that my friends in the local Revenue Office, a storefront on the town square, would be a little more helpful than that.

I was also hopeful that I’d get out of there in time for, say Easter. But I wasn’t counting on it.

As soon as I walked in, though, I saw yet another reason why this place is Paradise. It was the lunch hour, but instead of a milling throng of supplicants, only two people were waiting—for three clerks.

In other words, no waiting at all. Not one minute.

No need for the “Take-A-Number” machine.

I stepped up the counter, and Evie the Friendly Clerk, who I’d seen many times around town, smiled like the sun and told me not to worry about a thing. She took the letter the state had sent me and clacked away at her computer keyboard.

In all of twenty seconds, she’d identified the problem. “This shows that you assessed and paid last year,” she said, “but the year before that is blank. The state wants you to pay for that blank year. With penalties, of course.”

“But I did pay it,” I said.

Evie nodded. “Of course you did. If you hadn’t, we wouldn’t have let you register the truck the next year. So let me make this little change…”

She typed something in. “There. Now you’re officially paid up. All I need is a check and I’ll give you your new sticker.”

I handed her the check. She gave me the sticker. Total time elapsed from when I’d entered: Two and a half minutes.

See? Paradise.

“Is there anything else I can do?” Evie said.

I was about to say no, but then I noticed something on the wall behind her. An old-fashioned cork bulletin board. On the board was an 8″ x 12″ poster with the words, “In God We Trust,” surrounded by little American flags.

“Is that your poster over there?”

Evie nodded. But she looked a little troubled. “We’re not supposed to have the word ‘God’ in public buildings,” she said. “But I kind of like it.”

“You think it’s risky for you to put it there?”

“I think it could be,” she said. “But they say it on money, don’t they?” Her voice grew stronger. “And besides, I’m a free woman in a free country. I can believe in whatever I believe in, can’t I?”

All I could do was shrug. “Anyone complain about it?” I said.

Evie smiled again. “No,” she said. “I was expecting them to, but nobody has. So far the only people who’ve mentioned it have said how happy it makes them.”

A look of concern returned to her face. I knew she was waiting for me to tell her my reaction. And I knew what my reaction would be.

I’m not into ideology, or what rules and regulations and politics and religions are right or wrong. But to me, when Evie put up that poster she was performing an act of pure self-expression. Of individuality. Of, in its way, rebellion.

And as a thinking, feeling, pretty much open-and-out-there-go-ahead-take-your-best-punch kind of human there’s nothing I love more than self-expression and individuality and, yep, rebellion too.

I mean, what’s genuine paradise if not a strong place in your soul that plants you firmly as your own person, ready, willing and able to let everyone know who you are?

So I smiled back at Evie, and said, “I’m happy to see that poster too.”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #68 – “Ch-Ch-Changes”

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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

Doug the Dog Breeder’s recent comments about patterns of behavior have gotten me thinking about the animals at Cloud Creek Ranch.

Common wisdom says animals in general are creatures of habit. But Brody experience says, “Not the dogs, cats, and chickens here. For them, change has become the order of the day—as of this week.

Take our dogs, for example.

For over three years, since the birth of Decker the Gentle Giant and Belle the Wary, the dogs had the same morning pattern. At seven o’clock, after I fed the horses, I would let the two younger dogs out of their yard and they would run into the house with me to join their mother, Emmy the Bold, for breakfast.

Emmy always finished first. Then she and whichever of her kids ate the quickest would rush to the door so I could let them out to roam the woods for about an hour.

The remaining dog—usually Belle—would curl up on the couch until the others returned. As soon as I opened the door, Decker, run ragged by his super-energetic mom, would shove his massive way inside and Belle, like his partner in a tag team match, would take his place, going back into the woods with her mother.

This week, though, Belle has proved herself the Queen of Creative Thinking.

Instead of coming in for breakfast and trying to rush her food down in a usually futile attempt to eat faster than her brother, now she stays outside and waits for Emmy to join her. Then off they go.

“Food?” Belle says. “Who needs it? I’ve got first dibs on the action!”

Then there’s the cats. Thei change in behavior looks to have been a joint decision of Baggy, the twenty-five pound look-alike of Fantasia’s hippo ballerinas, and Roberto El Gato, the tuxedo cat who never has let anyone but Gwen the Beautiful touch him.

(Actually, no one’s ever even seen him but Gwen, Youngest Daughter Amber, and me. That’s what being born in a box alongside a busy freeway does to even the bravest of critters.)

For almost five years, the two cats were for all practical purposes the owners of the back of our house, as anyone with a working sense of smell could attest. The guest room, downstairs bathroom, hallway, and laundry room were their domain, and neither cat so much as ventured beyond an invisible boundary line.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this week they decided to broaden their horizons.

Suddenly they’re everywhere. Splashing papers off the partners desk Gwen and I share. Taking over as centerpieces on the dining table. Sprawling across Gwen’s pillow in the evening. (They still won’t touch mine, which has taught me to be grateful for small mercies.)

What made them change the pattern? I don’t have a clue. Maybe they just did it because they could. Or maybe they did it to prove they could. Or maybe they’ve been talking to Belle.

Then there’s the chickens’ new behavior. For years the same thing happened every time I entered their domain. They’d cackle and flutter and flap themselves out of my way, eating the bread I threw only if I threw it farther than my shadow.

All except the old brood hen. She would sit in the coop, atop the day’s eggs, and sing and sigh and spread her feathers so I could pick her up, pet her, and take away those yummy little omelet makers.

When the hen died last year the next hen in line replaced her but would have no part of me. The sight of me would make her shriek and puff herself up and fly from the nest, abandoning the future kids and “saving” herself.

Ah, but this week it’s a whole new ballgame. I walk into the chicken yard and the chickens come swarming to me. Not only do they not care how far I throw the bread, they clamber all over my feet to get at it.

And the new brood hen! She sees me and sings and sighs and spreads her feathers. When I reach down to her she draws herself up into my arms and vibrates as though purring. “What’s mine is yours!” I hear her say. “Take whatever you want.”

Humans are special? Isn’t that the usual thing we humans say? That we’re the only animals who can grab the bull by the horns and initiate the kind of change they hope will improve their lives?

Not here on the mountain top above Cloud Creek.

Not this week anyway.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #67 – “There’s Something Wrong with Sebastion”

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

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

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

by Larry Brody

A couple of months ago, when Gwen the Beautiful and I were over at Doug the Dog Breeder’s house, he and his wife Anita introduced us to Dora, a young woman with a month old baby.

Dora and her husband, who wasn’t there, were renting a trailer on the property next door. They were new in Paradise and, “We love it here,” Dora said.

After Dora and her baby left, Doug filled me in a little.

“Dora’s husband’s name is Sebastian,” he said. “Hails from Texas. Dora’s from Oklahoma. They moved in last week. Sebastian’s a carpenter. Not good enough to do finish work, but he’s a decent framer. He’s already got himself a home remodeling job.”

“Sounds industrious,” I said. “Like a man making a good start.”

“Yep, sounds that way.”

But I could see from the look on Doug’s face that he wasn’t all that sure. A couple of minutes later, after Anita and Gwen went outside, I found out I was right.

“There’s something wrong with Sebastian,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it’s there. He’s twice as old as Dora is. Won’t talk about his past. I don’t trust a man with no stories.”

Doug’s an ex-lawman. A former federal marshal. When he says he doesn’t trust someone, I listen. This time, though, there wasn’t anything more to listen to. Not until last week, when I stopped by to see Doug’s latest litter. Six round, fat, little golden retriever pups.

Across the yard, through the fence, I saw Anita and a middle-aged woman I didn’t know come out of the trailer with Dora and the baby. They walked over to a beat-up old Dodge with boxes piled up inside and a U-Haul trailer attached to the back.

After a last hug from Anita, Dora and the baby got into the car. The other woman took her place at the wheel, and they drove off. “That’s Dora’s mother,” Doug said. “Taking her daughter and granddaughter home.”

“I thought they were happy here,” I said.

Doug looked out at the road. “Remember what I said about the husband? Sebastian? Turns out he was a convicted felon in Texas.

“Dora met him on the internet,” Doug continued. “He came to see her in Oklahoma, and sparks flew. They got married without Sebastian ever telling his bride what he was. Mama didn’t like him and kicked him out right after the baby was born. Dora chose to stand by her man.

“Things went pretty well for awhile. Then, a couple of weeks ago, two Deputy Sheriffs came by and arrested Sebastian for violating parole, and for not registering as a sex offender, which is what he really is. Dora’s been crying ever since.

I thought about what Doug was saying. “How do you suppose the law knew to find the guy here?”

Doug shrugged. “Could have to do with the fact that somebody who knew what he was doing dug into Sebastian’s past. And that same somebody also learned that the people whose house Sebastian was working at everyday had a young son, same age as the boy who figured in his conviction.”

We left the puppies. Walked over to the run where Doug keeps Boomer, their hundred and twenty-five pound daddy.

Doug was still talking: “It could even have to do with the fact that it’s one thing for a man to try to mend himself and another for him to welcome back an old pattern guaranteed to cause misery to everybody around him–”

Doug looked like he had more on his mind, but Boomer’s happy barking as he saw his favorite human interrupted him. The dog high-tailed it over to our end of his run, barking and wagging and leaping excitedly.

Like all folks who are good with dogs, Doug had a pocketful of treats. “Hey, Boomer! Here you go, boy!” He reached over the fence and fed his big friend.

Boomer chowed down. Barked for more. “Know what I love most about dogs?” Doug said. “We can change their patterns. All it takes is a little work. And they can’t lie or hold back about it. All they can be is honest and open and true.”

He scrounged a few more liver snaps from his pocket. As Boomer gulped them down, Doug’s face squinched up into a look I couldn’t quite identify but was either ineffable sadness or radiant joy.