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 went back to high school last week, and it was just like I remembered it.
It was Hell.
Some kind folks at Paradise High asked me to speak on Career Day. Say a little something about my life in Hollywood that would let the students know that big things are possible in this world…if you plan right and work hard.
Brimming with confidence, I walked into the auditorium for my moment. I knew exactly what I was going to say.
I was going to talk about the importance of education, of developing good study and work habits. Of setting goals and learning what it takes to reach them. About how good it feels to say, “I did it!”
Then I saw those faces before me. Maybe a hundred teenagers. Fidgeting, frowning, as miserable as could be.
A girl right in front of me was playing with her long hair. Sweeping it up off the back of her neck, twirling it overhead, then dropping it back down with a headshake from a thousand Clairol commercials.
A boy a couple of seats west of her was dozing, his head on his chest. No, wait. He wasn’t dozing. He was faking it, lowered eyes darting all around. He looked like an old man on a train ride to the cemetery for his own funeral.
Behind him a girl glared. I knew what she was thinking as clearly as if I’d heard the words. “You think you know something I care about? Show me. If you dare.”
Eastward of her a group of guys leaned in at each other. Laughing. They glanced up at me and the teachers at my side. Shook their heads. Laughed some more.
“Simmer down, everybody!” said Mrs. Evans the Guidance Counselor. “Mr. Brody has a lot to say.”
She was right. I did have a lot to say.
But not what I’d planned.
Being there in that room, seeing those teenagers, feeling their restlessness and resentment, I found myself reliving my own high school days. High School Larry B! Lean and sneering and—lost.
“This place creeps me out,” I said to the group. “Being in high school after so many years reminds me of how I felt the whole time I was there.
“Reminds me of how terrified I was.”
The group of guys stopped laughing. They looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.
“I was terrified a teacher would call on me. I was terrified a teacher would talk to me. I was terrified a teacher would look at me.
“And I was just as terrified that the other kids wouldn’t talk to me. That I’d have no one to eat lunch with. And that I’d say something really stupid and everyone—all the teachers and all the kids—would laugh.”
The glaring girl’s face softened. Was that an involuntary nod?
“I went through high school daydreaming. I pretended that everything was happening not in real life but on TV. I watched my own version of ‘High School Hi-jinks’ and tried to stay safe. Tried as hard as I could not to call attention to myself and be the guest star.”
The boy who’d been pretending to sleep pretended to wake up. He looked around the room, but his ears were cocked toward me.
“There’s one inescapable thing about life,” I said. “Everything ends. Even high school. I made it out of there—alive—in spite of a close call with the Assistant Principal right before graduation.
And I used the daydreaming skill I’d developed to get me someplace I loved. To make TV my real life as a writer and producer.
“I know it seems impossible now. I know you feel like you’re serving four years to life, but you can do it. You can survive this. You can go out into the world and succeed.”
There was more, much more. A lot of questions from the audience. (My favorite: “Do you know any stars?”) A lot of smiles. Even some “Thanks, dood”s that made my week.
And a realization I’ll have forever.
I’ve been in the middle of divorce, fire, earthquake. I’ve been sued, swindled, robbed. Swung at and shot at and stabbed.
But the one thing I could never, ever go through again is high school.
It takes real courage to walk through those doors and face P.E. class and pop quizzes and girls who just can’t stop playing with their hair.