Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #21 – ‘A Walk in the Woods’

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

The extremes of human thought and behavior have always fascinated me. On the one hand we have Mozart and Johnny Cash. On the other, Blackbeard the Pirate and Billy the Kid.

The way we can dream the loftiest dreams yet go out and kick butt is something I’ve always wanted to get a handle on, and last week as I sat in the Paradise town square it all came closer to home.

Gwen the Beautiful was getting her hair done, and I had nothing to do but wait. I picked myself a bench outside the courthouse and sat down with some Old-Timers.

In a larger town these retired gents would be mall-walkers. Here there’s nothing much to do after a life of back-breakingly hard work but set a spell.

Unlike their sons, the current generation of Good Old Boys, who tend to grow up big and beefy and love to talk about hunting, these Old-Timers are lean and wiry and have reached the point where they can philosophize about life.

As they talked, the phrase “a walk in the woods” came up often. It seemed as though everyone here had someone they wanted to take for a foresty stroll.

One Old-Timer was looking forward to walking with his son-in-law, who’s not treating his daughter with the respect she deserves. Another hoped to amble with a noisy neighbor whose drunken shouting wakes him up every night. Another couldn’t wait to get out there with a neighbor who’s owed him money for forty years.

Every time someone spoke up about their situation the others joined in a chorus of, “Yeah…we’re with you if you need us.” And the more they talked the more dire a walk in the woods sounded. Like these Old-Timers were planning a certain deed most foul right there in the square.

Were they really discussing the ultimate revenge with me on my bench not three feet away?

It’s not as though these were the local black sheep. They’re respected former business leaders and farmers. So I sat and I listened and finally I got it.

What they were talking about was the traditional method men have used to deal with other men since we lived in tribes. Direct, one-on-one justice. A man with a problem dealing with that problem by taking another man aside and, one way or another, thrashing it out.

There are nuances. Degrees.

A walk in the woods is a private meeting between parties who’ve got a beef. It occurs in the woods because that’s what insures the privacy. Those involved talk over the situation. Or punch and rassle and kick and roll. Or—at least once upon a time—take out their weapons as a last resort.

One Old-Timer put it to me this way. “Folks around here don’t hold with courts or mediations. Those involve outsiders, and we’re pretty much ‘keep it close and personal’ kind of people. If I say ‘I think it’s time we had a walk in the woods,’ whoever I’m saying it to knows the jig’s up and he’s got to change his attitude. Most of the time that’s enough, and we don’t really have to take the walk at all.”

Another Old-Timer nodded. “Must be somebody you’d like to have a thing or two out with,” he said to me.

I thought it over. “Well, there’s this Old Boy who just bought the place down the mountain from me. I heard he’s thinking about sub-dividing, and that could change the whole way of life on our road…”

The Old-Timers may not have known who I was talking about, but they understood what sub-dividing could mean only too well. The first one leaned in close and said, “Just tell him that if you see any surveyors putting up those orange flags you and he are going to have to take a walk in the woods. He’ll understand that you’re upset. Probably he’ll change his mind.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

A third Old-Timer looked at me grimly. “Tell me and I’ll walk with him for you.”

“I’ll go too,” another said. And, to me: “Some folks think change is good, but around here we’ve never seen a one that didn’t make things worse than before. Got to put this kind of talk to a quick end.”

A quick end? I wondered. With talk? Fists?

Guns?

Unless I got out there, how could I know?

The old-timers were watching me closely. I shook my head at the mystery of it all.

As a man, they sat back and sighed.

Relieved? Or disappointed?

I’m still not sure I want to  know.

And that may be the real power at work whenever one good old boy turns to another and says, with total sincerity, “You and me better take a little walk in the woods…”

The mystery of how it’s meant to end.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #20 – ‘Rebel Rebel’

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

Every small town has its rebel woman. Ours is Brenda the Blonde.

Brenda’s in her mid-fifties and divorced, a little overweight and a lot bold. In L.A. she would be the wife of any one of a number of popular character actors. In L.A. she would have permanent lip and eye liner, breast augmentation, and hair extensions. Here she stands out by wearing make-up and high heels.

If working hard at being attractive was all there was to it, Brenda wouldn’t be the subject of much head-wagging. Stuff happens, you know. Especially when the closest movie theater is 40 miles away – and so is the closest bar. No, what gets folks lathered up about Brenda is this thing she’s got about speaking her mind. The woman wants what she wants and doesn’t care who knows it—although she can’t always get it out just right.

Gwen the Beautiful and I first met Brenda a couple of years ago. She was so excited about talking to “a real writer!” that I could barely understand a word she said. And when she drove up to our mountain she greeted us with hugs, kisses, and Bibles, twirled her hair like a mischievous eight-year-old, and said, “If you’re making anything you want the stores around here to sell just give it to me. I know all the old boys real well.”

I’d never seen anyone really go wink-wink-nudge-nudge before, but I saw it then.

Not being a manufacturer, I had nothing for Brenda to sell, but that didn’t stop a connection from being made. Not just by her but by everyone. The next time I went to the library Lily the Librarian squinted at me. “How’s Brenda working out?” she said in that tone women use when they think they’ve got you nailed. And, before I could reply: “Be careful,” Lily said and hurried away.

Phyllis at the Feed Store also had something to say. “Shame, what’s happened to Brenda. When we were in school she was such a nice girl. So cheerful.”

“Still seems pretty cheerful to me,” I said.

“You and every other man.” Phyllis looked at the door, then back to me. “Next time you two’re talking ask her what she does when she goes to Little Rock every weekend. Go on, ask.”

Over the next few weeks I got the same kind of thing at the supermarket, the hardware store, even the restaurant on the outskirts of town. There wasn’t a woman around who could wait to tell me “Brenda’s son threw her out of his house. Didn’t want his own mother around his kids. I hear she’s living in a tent off the 14.”

And woe betide the man who said, “I like Brenda. Always did.” As one old boy’s wife put it, “You get within so much as a mile of her and I’ll make you regret it to your dying day.”

After awhile Brenda stopped coming to the ranch, and the talk about her died down. She would call once in awhile, but even that dwindled.

A couple of months ago, though, Gwen the Beautiful and I saw Brenda in the square, dressed like a Beverly Hills bombshell. We mentioned we were planning to visit some friends in Oklahoma City, and Brenda’s eyes got so wide her mascara vanished into them.

“You’re going to Oklahoma City? Take me with you! Oh, please! I’ve never been anywhere!”

“You’ve been to Little Rock, haven’t you?” I said.

“I wish,” Brenda said. “Truth is, I’ve never even gotten south of Big Flat.”

She looked as though she was about to burst into tears, put her hand over her heart. “I know I’m just a small town girl on the outside. But I’m Madonna in here.”

Since then Brenda’s called us at least once a week. First it was to give us her new cell phone number. Then to remind us that “this phone’s service is great. You can call me any time.”

Yesterday, she left the most intriguing message of all on our machine.

“Hi, Brodys,” she said. “It’s Brenda. I just want you to know that you can still reach me on my cell. Or at the hotel where I’m staying. It’s a hotel in Palm Springs. Palm Springs, California. That’s where I am! You can call me at my Palm Springs hotel room right now!”

Time to celebrate. We don’t know how she did it, but Madonna has arrived!

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #19 – ‘Big Fish’

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

One of the first things you notice about Paradise is that people are always polite. Please. Thank you. Sir. Ma’am. It didn’t take long before I fell into the habit as well. Before I knew it I was “sir”-ing with the best of ’em, and so proud of my new humility that I could burst.

Just because folks are being courteous doesn’t mean they’re being friendly though. Let’s face it. Strangers equal discomfort when you’ve known almost everyone in town all your life.

For the first six months Gwen the Beautiful and I lived here our neighbors smiled when they saw us, but that was about it. I’d catch them out of the corner of my eye, watching me with expressions that said, “Who is this old boy?”

We spent our first Ozarks Thanksgiving with only each other. I told Gwen how wonderful the turkey tasted in six different voices so she’d feel like a hostess.

For Christmas we went to her mother’s in Silverlakes, California so we could be part of a family instead of having to press our noses against the glass.

All this changed when The Baxter Bulletin published an article about the media colony we were establishing at Cloud Creek Ranch. Suddenly I was a celebrity.

I first discovered this at the feed store. I went in to get some hay and the young woman behind the counter smiled and said, “You’re famous.” She picked up her toddler son, who was always behind the counter with her, and aimed him toward me.

“This is Larry Brody,” she said. “He’s famous.”

Her son reached out and pinched my face. Another woman who worked there ran over. “Careful with Mr. Brody,” she said.

Neither of these women had ever done anything more than say, “Can I help you, sir?” before. Now they were saying, “Saw your picture in the paper,” and suggesting I might want to wait a few days and get the special alfalfa-bermuda blend when it came in.

I went up the highway to the hardware store. The manager greeted me with a big, “Howdy, Mr. Brody,” and everyone else in the place, which is even more crowded with good old boys than the barber shop, nodded and said hello.

When I said I was looking for weed killer two customers took me to the right aisle. One asked how I liked the weather and explained how important the change of the wind was to him as a farmer. The other had a funny story about the time he’d used the wrong kind of poison and taken out his whole front lawn. And when I say the story was hilarious, I mean it.

My next stop was the bank, which is so small that it’s quicker to go inside than to use the drive-up window because the teller at the window has to run inside and then back out to the window again anyway.

I handed her the deposit, and she told me all about how her son wanted to learn about TV. “We can’t pay much, but I read that you take trades. We might be able to part with some chickens…”

So it went wherever I walked in. I had a place now. An identity. I wasn’t a stranger anymore, and I loved it. I basked in the attention. Why, I was so famous that the Rotary Club asked me to speak!

The following Monday at noon there I was, standing at a podium in the back room of the pizza place across from City Hall, telling the Mayor and assorted Rotary members why being creative was as good as being rich and watching them hang on my every word.

Until, that is, a new arrival entered. A casually dressed young man who apologized for being late and immediately was the center of well-intentioned jokes about “Just what were you doing with your time?”

I was finished. The Young Guy owned the room.

The Rotary President saw the look on my face. Motioned me over and pointed to the new arrival.

“That’s Kenny,” he said. “Manages the Wal-Mart.”

He leaned in closer. Spoke directly in my ear. “We’ve got an old saying here. ‘If the pond’s small enough, the big fish doesn’t have to be all that big.'”

My Big Fish Moment was over. But the good old boys at the hardware store still tell me their stories and listen while I tell them mine.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #18 – ‘Marking My Turf’

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

My latest Outdoor Lifestyles of the Not So Rich or Famous activity ended today with resounding results.

As in Bam! crashing to the ground.

I haven’t had such a great time in years.

My summer project has been the clearing of all the saplings between the Original Settlers’ Cabins and the Ridge of Caves on the backside of our mountain.

It began with me showing Chet the Unhandyman exactly what I wanted cleared. It continued with me showing him how to clear it. And it ended with me finishing the clearing with a combination of machete, clippers, weed whacker and some weed killer guaranteed to take out wild blackberry bushes and poison oak. Topped off with the building of a tree house down near the seasonal stream we call Cloud Creek.

What a rush!

In the three years Gwen the Beautiful and I have lived here I’d come down to this area more times than I could count, and I’d always been disappointed. Not just because the cabins turned out to be of recent instead of historic origin, but because no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t feel very much while walking around here. This part of the forest was like all the rest. Green, thick, and beautiful during the summer. Dark, spare, and skeletal during the colder months.

I wanted this place, with its rocky “stairs” and lizard, bat, and snake coddling caves to be…well, “special.” To make sense as a destination for a morning’s hike. I wanted it to be a locale where I—and anyone else willing to slip and slide down the mountain and huff and puff back up—could feel like I was communing with something important, even sacred. I wanted it to be worth all the effort it took just to come and go.

Before I started, there didn’t seem to be much point to my hacking. But as I—and Chet too—sliced and diced, things literally took shape. I felt like a sculptor chiseling away at a chunk of marble and revealing the essence within. As we cut the trees and dragged them away magical glades revealed themselves. As we pulled out the tangles of vines—living barbed wire!—rocky grottos lay themselves open for us to enter.

The rocks are what make everything so spectacular to me. Flat, moss-covered slabs angling up the mountain like the stairway of a forest god. Huge, rounded boulders eroded into carved pumpkins with cedars growing out of their goblin heads. Deep shelves layered over each other like ancient bookcases…except that their contents are alive.

This part of the forest has become what I’d hoped it would be. Special.

I didn’t create any of these formations, but when I walk amid them, I feel that I’m somehow moving inside myself. The ridge and the land below it are like a part of me because they reflect my compulsive meddling with nature. That they can be appreciated by human beings is a direct result of the weeks I spent exhausting myself in the heat and humidity that are the Ozarks at this time of year.

Yesterday I carried three metal benches down and positioned them where they had to be. One on the trail, below our youngest daughter’s “Here There Be Dragons” sign. One on the stone stairs, in a bower I slashed amid some dogwoods. One atop the Ridge of Caves, looking down at the cabins and the wildflowers blooming between them.

And today was the Grand Finale, the tree house on a big, bent old oak just a few feet from the creek. Three wooden rungs, some nails, an old wood palette I always knew I’d use for something and there it was. I climbed up and sat amid the leaves, grateful for all this fun. Then I tried to swing back over to the rungs I’d just nailed. And couldn’t quite make it. One of our dogs, Decker the Giant-Hearted, trotted down, saw me. Laughed.

“Jump!” his bark said.

So I did. Hit the ground hard but stayed on my feet, like a gymnast after a vault.

I’ll tramp through my handiwork again whenever I can. After all, I’ve marked my turf. If ever there was proof that men are like dogs, this is it. Except that dogs are smarter. How much different is all my work from Decker just lifting his leg?

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #17 – ‘When Good Ole Boys Go Bad’

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

A couple of good old boys paid me a little visit Sunday evening.

Gwen the Beautiful and I were surprised to hear the dogs barking and someone pulling up into our clearing. I went outside in time to see Brannigan the Contractor and his buddy Dwayne the Heavy Equipment Dude get out of Dwayne’s truck. Belle, the Good Old Dog Gone Bad, did what she does whenever she sees Brannigan the Contractor. She bit him.

“I knew you loved me,” Brannigan said to her. And to me: “I want this dog!”

“You want a dog that bites you?” Dwayne said.

“Sure. She’s a proven protector!”

“Not of you.”

“Of property, man! Property!” Brannigan started up the front porch. Tripped. Caught himself. Dwayne laughed. “Oh, man,” he said, “we’re so drunk. What’ve you got to keep us going?”

It didn’t take long to find something. We sat at the kitchen table, Kentucky bourbon going down easy. Gwen knew better than to want any part of this. Who says blind people can’t see? She went upstairs. Brannigan nodded appreciatively. “Fine woman,” he said.

“I don’t know about your judgment,” I said. “You think Belle’s a fine dog.”

“Out here a dog that’ll keep your property safe is worth two Winchester twelve gauges,” Dwayne said.

This kind of small talk means something’s up and it’s going to take awhile to get to it. But Brannigan and Dwayne were so drunk that if they took much longer they’d never be able to get to it. “You didn’t come here to talk about dogs,” I said.

“No,” said Dwayne. “We came to solve your problem.”

Brannigan sucked down a shot. “Your Chet problem.”

He was talking about Chet the Unhandyman, who came to Cloud Creek to start a new life and is still waiting for it to begin.

Dwayne leaned forward confidentially. “Brannigan and I know that this guy is driving you crazy. That he drives everybody crazy. He’s into you for electricity and the telephone and the food he takes from your fridge and the laundry he does on your washing machine when you’re gone.”

Brannigan picked it up. “We also know that you’re too soft-hearted to throw him out. You’re worried about the old boy.’” He raised his voice to a roar: “But we’re not!”

“Brannigan and I think it’s time for Chet to take a little walk in the woods with some friends of ours,” Dwayne said. “All you’ve got to do is nod and they’ll be here tomorrow morning. And tomorrow afternoon he’ll be gone.”

“Gone?”

“Like he was never here,” Dwayne said. “Don’t ask nothing more.”

Another shot of bourbon found its way down Brannigan’s throat. “Told you we weren’t worried about him!”

“I can’t do that,” I said.

“Sure you can,” Dwayne said. “It’s one of the Old Ways. It’s how things are done in these parts. Man’s got no kin, no friends. No reason to hang around giving himself and everybody else the miseries.”

I didn’t reply. Dwayne leaned in even closer to me. Put his arms around my neck like a brother. “It’s okay,” he said. “Happens all the time.”

“No,” I said. “Not this time.”

“Well you just think about it. My offers don’t expire. It’s there whenever you say.”

We finished off the bottle. I went to call Brannigan the Contractor’s wife so she could drive over and take them home. Dwayne the Earth Mover shook his head. “I can handle it,” he said. “I can drive.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Don’t be so negative, Larry. C’mon—you ever seen me sober?” I shook my head. Dwayne beamed. “See?”

Nothing I said could stop them. Brannigan the Contractor and Dwayne the Earth Mover inched Dwayne’s truck down the mountain and left me to think about their offer. And about how cheap life can be. How little a man’s got to do to become someone who vanishes into the woods. About the danger of crossing the wrong folks.

And, yes, about the feeling of power that surges through your body and darkens your soul when you realize you too can make use of the “Old Ways.”

Today Chet the Unhandyman spilled five gallons of gasoline because he thought the air hole on the can was the spout. In my mind, the title of this little episode is “When Good Old Boys Go Bad.” And the reason I’m putting it all down is to make sure I stay “Good.”