Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #29 – It’s All About the Audience

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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

Reader feedback beats executive notes any day of the week.

In my previous life I was a television writer and producer. Over thirty plus years I wrote hundreds of episodes of television shows, including Hawaii Five-0, The Fall Guy, Walker Texas Ranger, Diagnosis Murder and Star Trek: Voyager. And for better or worse, that’s just for starters.

Although the shows differed, one element stayed the same. Network executives never were satisfied with hiring writers and actors and directors and letting them do their thing. All any of us wanted to do was put on a show for the public. But the business structure of television forced us to play to satisfy corporate needs and, as we say here in Paradise, pay the audience “no never mind.”

Because of this, it’s with great pleasure that I observe that this column, Live! From Paradise!, has been appearing for six months now, and during that time there’s been no editorial meddling. No company demands. No “notes” ordering changes.

Have I missed executive intervention?

Does a lion returned to the wild miss the zoo?

I’m on my own here. If all goes well, the success is mine. If the column ends up in a Port-A-Potty the failure is mine too. Whatever the credit, or the blame, it comes to me because I’m the one who’s earned it. And, best of all I really do get both credit and blame, praise and criticism, suggestions and questions, from the folks who really count.

You.

Instead of an executive telling me, “Our focus group says you should say this. My boss says you should stay away from that…and whatever you do don’t write about Chet the Unhandyman anymore,” I hear directly from readers who e-mail me or recognize me from my picture and come over to talk while I’m out and about. And ain’t none of you shy about what you like and what you don’t.

Since communicating with you is the reason I write, getting your communication right back at me is…well, how about the P Word? “Paradise.”

Buck the Ex-Navy Seal put it into perspective on our way to the hardware store today. The purpose of our mission was to drop off my lawn tractor for fixing, and I was in a funk.

Buck said, “They should’ve told you these things are for golf courses, not mountain clearings. Next week I’ll be over at your place with my bush hog.”

Then he asked how the rest of life was treating me. Specifically, he wanted to know about this column. “The paper’s paying you, right? So they must be happy. And the readers like what you’re doing too, don’t they?”

“Not always, Buck. I get some pretty tough messages once in awhile.”

“That’s good! That’s great!”

My funk was still weighing on me. “Doesn’t always feel that great. Especially when people take what I write personally and think I’m insulting their hometown, or even them. Which isn’t the case because ‘Paradise’ isn’t a real town, it’s a composite of many towns, from all over, and each neighbor I mention is actually many different people I’ve encountered in my life. With my own imagination tossed to boot.”

“You’re not looking at it right,” Buck said. “Everything you write is real, even if it’s not exactly true. I may be a combination of this old boy and that one and the other fellow over there, but to anyone who reads this I’m Buck the Ex-Navy Seal, alive and kicking right here and now.

“And,” he went on, “anybody who takes the time to talk to you is doing it because what you’ve said means something to them. Maybe it’s made them happy. Maybe it’s got them mad. Either way, you’ve done what you set out to. You’ve put something into their lives that wasn’t there before. And it’s something they know is of value, or else they’d just blow you off.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Executives are paid to impose their perspectives, but readers have no reason to respond unless what they’ve read has meaning for them. Having an effect on people—that’s what TV and newspapers and films and everything else we call “media” should be all about.

So my thanks to all of you for saying “Hi” at WalMart, and e-mailing me your thoughts, pro or con. As long as you keep reading I’ll keep writing.

How else will I be able to get Buck to bush hog my yard?

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #28 – ‘Huck the Spotless Appaloosa’

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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

Time now for a few words about Huck the Spotless Appaloosa, one of the many animals with whom I share my life.

Huck’s nine years old, and we’ve had him since he was a green-broke, newly gelded Appie colt with only one tiny, quarter-sized spot on his chestnut rump. He was beautiful anyway. White blaze, wide-set eyes. Long, full mane and tail gleaming translucently in the sun. And, as a colt, he was also bossy and spoiled.

The proudest of “proud-cuts,” always behaving like a stud.

I’ve had horses for thirty years, but it wasn’t until Huck came into my life that I started to understand them. He was so young and so out there with his feelings that they swept right into me. What it boiled down to was this:

“I’m scared, so I’m thrashing around.”

“I’m angry so I’m thrashing around.”

“I’m happy so I’m jumping and rolling.”

“I hate you so I’m biting you.”

“I love you so I’m biting you.”

It took a couple of years for Huck to lighten up. But when he came around he did it big. I remember the first time he talked to me, when we were still in California. I was walking past the corral when he whinnied and, in my head, I heard him loud and clear:

“Thank you!” Huck said.

I turned and saw him watching me. He swished his tail in the direction of the three horses then comprising his herd. “You’re the one who brought me this family,” he called. “And I love ‘em like crazy!”

“My pleasure,” was all I could say.

Huck came over to the fence so I could scratch his ears. “And thanks for getting rid of that stuntman trainer too. He kept gouging me with spurs! And his boom box was always blaring so loud that my head rattled.” Huck nuzzled me. “Now if you just wouldn’t be so mad at me all the time…”

“I’m not mad at you. Why do you think I’m mad?”

“Your ears. They’re pressed so close to your head. Horses only do that when we’re mad.”

“But I’m made this way. People’s ears are always close to their heads.”

“So people are always mad? Figures.” Huck turned and swished his tail over my face. It felt like being flailed with a hundred little whips.

“Hey! What’d you do that for?”

“Flies,” he said. “Just trying to help—”

Across the corral, Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang squealed. “Gotta go,” Huck said. “See you later—my brother.”

Since then, Huck and I have been as close as brothers. I groom him everyday, and he loves when I pick at burrowing bugs. We have long talks and go on long walks, and the only love bites I get are little nibbles on my fingers while I rub his lips.

Here in Paradise, Huck’s calm and contented. He even plays with our dogs. When they get tired of rolling in horse pucky, or eating it, they bark and jump at the big guy and he goes along with the game, running back and forth for them to chase. He never kicks or bites—as I’ve seen him do with other critters he doesn’t like.

When Huck was younger he spent a lot of time trying to get out of his corral, pushing at the latch, working on the chain. Recently, though, he stopped all that. The other day, I asked him why.

Huck’s ears pricked forward. “Why would I want to mess with the fence?”

“Because it’s keeping you inside.”

“No,” he said. “I’m inside because I like being inside. What this fence does is keep the bad guys out.

“Remember,” he went on,” we’re brothers, you and I. Horses, even if you don’t have a tail. No matter how strong we are or how boldly we behave, in the bigger order of things we’re both just prey.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation for awhile. I’m not really a horse. I’m a human being. And humans are the ultimate predators. Hunters to the end.

But if my brother Huck the Spotless Appaloosa doesn’t see me that way, maybe he’s right.

I used to pretend to fit in with all the other predators, planning and stalking and conquering.

Now, though, I’m Huck’s brother. And life here in Paradise is the fence keeping my bad guys out.

Here’s hoping both our fences are as strong as they seem.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #27 – ‘Miracle Working’

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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’ve written about my wife, Gwen the Beautiful, and the stroke that left her half blind. What I haven’t written about is the irony of the fact that I’d been going blind for almost ten years. And we’d planned for Gwen to be my eyes.

My problem was macular degeneration, and all the ophthalmologists I saw told me I was in a bad place. “Take ocular vitamins and minerals,” they said. “Sometimes that keeps it from getting worse.”

But nothing, they said, could repair the damage that’d already been done.

After 1995, my world grew increasingly dark. It was like wearing sunglasses all the time. Driving at night became harder and harder, until finally I gave up. Finding anything in a shadowy cabinet or deep drawer was the next lost cause, followed by many more. To me, television was filled with dark, gritty shows that made Dracula look well lighted.

A common night sound in our neck of the woods was Larry Brody cursing while trying to find the bathroom doorway. I needed a flashlight just to get to the stairs. Daylight was better, but even shaving in the morning was a problem. I started carrying a flashlight around at all times, shining it in the direction of anything I needed to see.

Gwen and I were prepared for a dark future for me, but not for her. After her stroke we figured someone was having a big laugh out of how things had turned out. But not us.

Six months ago, however, things started to change. We got a late start driving home from Memphis one day and when dusk fell we were still an hour away from our Mountain. I knew I should stop, but I didn’t. Because I could see!

I saw the white line on the highway. The highway itself. I knew where our truck was and where it was aimed. I got us home without any problem. After that, driving at night stayed just as easy. I didn’t have to worry about running out of daylight anymore. I could go where I needed, when I needed. Just like anyone else.

And last week my vision did a complete turnaround. Gwen and I were watching television, and halfway through Enterprise I said, “Boy, look how bright and colorful everything is. But just a second ago it was all so dark.”

I started clicking the remote and marveled at how every show I went had gotten so bright. Including shows that had always seemed muted before. In Brody World, reruns of Dharma & Greg showed them living in a shadowy, poorly lighted apartment, but tonight the place gleamed with highlights and sharp contrasts I hadn’t seen anywhere in—well, literally in as long as I could remember.

Later, with the TV and the lights off, I was amazed by the fact that I could actually see Gwen lying beside me in the dark. I could see our light-colored cedar walls and the darker furniture against them. I could see my hand. And the bathroom doorway. In fact, the bedroom seemed so light that I got up to make sure the curtains were closed. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t have mattered. The sky was overcast. No stars. No moon…

I looked back at the room and saw the night light. Aha! I unplugged it and everything got darker, all right. Almost as dark without the light as it had been—for me—with it. Until tonight.

No doubt about it. I could see normally. Just like anyone else.

The ophthalmologists at two different Wal-Mart Eye Centers say I no longer have any signs of macular degeneration. It’s gone as though it never was. For the past few days I’ve been running around just looking at things. Putting myself into shadowy places, looking for lost pennies under the bed, and saying, “I see you.”

Last night Gwen smiled and laughed and told me how happy she was for me. Since the doctors have no explanation for what’s happened we tried to figure it out for ourselves. What It All Means in terms of some Cosmic Grand Plan.

The truth is we’re clueless. The Universe has done what it’s done, and I’m thrilled. But I can say with total conviction that I’d give up my new sight—and oh so much more—in a second if there was even the slightest chance I could give it to Gwen.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #26 – ‘Who Do You Trust?’

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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

Some people have a tough time finding acceptance. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out why. Take Chet the Unhandyman. I’ve known him for fifteen years and the only person I’ve ever met who can stand him is me. Chet is sarcastic, arrogant, and lazy as a copperhead at Christmastime. In fact, I’m hard pressed to explain why he’s still living at the ranch. I think it’s because he represents the dark side I’ve always been afraid I had.

My friend Billy from Abilene is another story. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he’s not the most popular guy in town. Billy’s got what I would’ve thought it would take to be Mr. Ozarks Cool. He’s smart and easy-going. Casual. He can talk, but he can listen as well. And he’s as respectful as all get-out.

Billy’s been here for almost twenty years, with his own successful little Electronics just around the corner from the town square. But one day when I mentioned to my neighbors that he’d offered me a terrific deal on the latest Widget they all looked doubtful.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about anything coming from Billy,” said Buck the Ex-Navy Seal.

“If that’s what Billy’s asking you can probably get it for less somewhere else,” said Tyra at the Dry Cleaners.

“I don’t trust that boy,” said Brenda the Blonde.

“Why not?” I said. Brenda’s answer was a shrug, and the others couldn’t quite come up with the reason either. “There’s something,” Tyra finally said. “It’s hard to pin down.”

But I wanted to pin it down. So I went straight to Billy from Abilene himself. I found him in the square, taking pictures for the Chamber of Commerce to use to promote the town. “A lot of people here don’t seem to trust you, Billy,” I said.

Billy lowered his camera. “So you noticed that? I dunno why folks feel that way. I follow the Three Rules.”

“Three Rules?”

“Sure. The ones the good old boys told me about when I first came from Abilene.” And quickly he rattled off the Rules, one by one:

“’It’s okay if you’re stopped with a truckload of whiskey, but don’t get caught with any drugs.’

“’Never give the big eye to another man’s wife no matter how hard he looks at yours.’

“’Before every election bring a sack with a hundred dollars in cash to the County Judge as a campaign contribution. If he loses, bring another sack to the winner and tell him it’s for next time.’

“I stick to all three,” Billy went on. “Can’t imagine what I’m doing wrong.”

Billy went back to his picture-taking. I walked over to the nearby antique shop to talk to his neighbors, my friend Sweet Jane. “What’s the story on Billy from Abilene?” I said.

“I don’t trust him,” Jane said.

“Why not?”

“Well, you know he’s not from around here.”

“Jane,” I said, “he’s been here longer than Brannigan has. And Brannigan’s your boyfriend!”

“Oh,” Jane said, “I don’t trust him either.”

This wasn’t going where I’d hoped. “Jane,” I asked her, “do you trust me?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Why? I’m not from around here either, and I’m newer in town than either Billy or Brannigan.”

“That’s true,” Jane said. “But there’s something about you that’s different…”

“What? What is there about me that you trust?” I was really pushing hard.

Jane wiped a spot off an oak table she had for sale, then turned back to me.

“Gwen,” she said.

“Gwen?”

“That’s right. I trust you because I know your wife—and she’s my kind of woman.”

“And Billy’s wife?”

Jane shook her head. “We’ve had our disputes.”

There it was. Acceptance in this neck of the woods wasn’t about personality. Nor success. Not even about how well you followed the rules. “The real way men are judged here is by our wives?!”

“You’re lucky,” Jane said. “In the old days you would’ve been judged by your cattle.”

“I don’t have any cattle.”

Jane was still talking. “…And now that we’re talking about wives, I’ll let you in on why I don’t trust that rat Brannigan,” she said. “Because no matter how many times he’s said ‘I love you’ he still won’t talk about me becoming his wife!”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #25 – ‘Larry B Takes a Peek into the Afterlife’

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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 Cousin Barry from Springfield called me yesterday to see if I’d heard about the recent death of a mutual friend. Cousin Barry had just returned from the funeral and was pretty broken up. He wondered why I was taking it so calmly.

“After all,” he said, “it’s over for the poor guy. You know there isn’t really any afterlife.”
“Do I?” I said.

Cousin Barry was silent for a minute. Then: “Wait a minute. Are you telling me you—‘believe?’”

My mind went back over twenty-five years, to when I had what was called “an early heart attack.” I was 32 years old and so much in my prime that I was at the gym bench pressing, when suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath. Because an elephant’s foot was on my chest.

I thought it was nothing. That it would go away. But twenty minutes later I was being rushed to the emergency room, trying to figure out what was happening—and then I wasn’t figuring anything because I was dead.

That’s right. I was lying dead in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. Except that lying dead didn’t mean being “dead” the way I—every bit as unbelieving as Cousin Barry—had imagined.

Instead, it meant that ridiculous, hokey, so-often-quoted experience of flowing, flowing, flowing through a long tunnel toward a distant light.

It meant feeling no physical pain. Total relaxation. Total peace. Total love.

I felt like an infant in my mother’s arms. Warm. Happy. And I was curious, knowing soon I would be in the light that grew ever larger, ever nearer –

Except that instead of reaching the light I found myself short of breath and in agony again in the ER, with an anxious resident and nurse peering down at me…and then smiling widely because they’d brought me back to life.

“He’s back!” the young doctor said. “How you feeling, Mr. Brody?” I couldn’t answer. I was in too much pain. The nurse give me morphine, and a sense of well-being took me over.

But not the same kind of well-being I’d felt when I was dead. No, sir. Nowhere near it in quality or degree. And not the same kind of absence of pain either. Nowhere near it.

An hour before what turned out to be a major coronary infarction (the cause of which was never found) I’d been a confirmed atheist. Now I was a confirmed believer.

Not necessarily in God or heaven as we usually think of them, but definitely in something. A kind of wonderful continuity I’ve wanted to know more about ever since.

So do I cry at funerals? No, not for the deceased, although I do get a little misty about those who will miss them, including myself.

Do I fear death? Not in my brain, or my soul, although my body still gets the shakes at the thought. As though it’s programmed to physically resist the temptation to jump right to the end of this volume of existence and hurry into the next.

I told Cousin Barry the truth. Yes, I believe in an afterlife, but not as a matter of faith.

I believe because I’ve experienced it. I know that death is a natural part of things because I’ve been there and in those few moments learned more about life than in all the years of living that had come before.

That knowledge adds value to every living moment because I know I’ve got nothing to fear in the end. That even if I never leave the tunnel and reach the light the beauty and perfection of the journey that is the last moment will make everything else worthwhile.

Some people praise creation for its mysteries. Others damn it.

All I can do is marvel, and be thrilled by the very fact that I’m so amazed. Know what I do have faith in? I have faith in the idea that the true purpose of life is to take note of everything that happens to us.

And in the concept that the greatest thing about human existence is that every single one of us who searches for answers, who wonders about God and the universe and what happens—or doesn’t happen—after death, and every single one of us who thinks he or she already knows, is guaranteed that one perfect, beautiful moment when we each will learn the truth.