Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #43 – “The Road to Hell”

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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

Paradise didn’t seem much like Paradise last week.

It was a lot more like Hell.

I’m talking about the hell created by an 18 year old whose assault on the value of human life began in a Massachusetts gay bar, and ended just outside Mountain Home.

It’s a story I didn’t want to follow. But I couldn’t help myself. Everything that happened, happened so close. A fugitive. A traffic stop. A death. A shootout between the perp and the police.

It was very big city. Very Hawaii Five-0.

Urban crime. Hollywood action. The unreal made all too real. And so achingly reminiscent of a way of life I’d thought I’d left behind.

And just as my churning feelings were subsiding, Dwayne the Earth Mover brought them back. The Earth Movers and the Brodys had dinner together at our place the other night, and afterward Dwayne and I stepped out onto the front porch while he had a smoke.

It was twenty-eight degrees and snowing just a little, and we stood hugging ourselves, watching the big flakes drift down from the murky sky.

“Terrible thing, what happened in Gassville,” Dwayne said. He flicked an ash onto the snow. “Don’t you have a bud on the Gassville Police Department? The officer writing the ticket—that wasn’t your friend, was it?”

I don’t have a bud who’s a police officer in Gassville, but I’ve gotten e-mail from one about this column. The kind of e-mail that makes you hope someday the sender will become a friend. Because of that, Dwayne the Earth Mover’s question struck a chord.

In fact, when I’d heard about the traffic stop, and the shooting, my first thought was, “Oh no! Was that J.D.?” And I’d clicked around the web like a lunatic until I found out it wasn’t.

“No,” I told Dwayne. “It wasn’t him.”

Dwayne dropped his cigarette. Ground it out with his work-booted heel. “Glad to hear it,” he said. “Bet you were relieved.”

I started to reply, but I couldn’t. I was shivering and shuddering and shaking, and not from the chill. What was getting to me wasn’t the weather. It was what I’d almost said. A thought I still can’t get out of my mind.

Last February 5th, a man died. Unexpectedly. Brutally. Bloodily. A police officer in the line of duty, doing something he must’ve done, oh, thousands of times without any problem.

A man I didn’t know.

And because I didn’t know him, because I’d never gotten an e-mail from him – or been stopped by him for speeding or helped by him when my tire went flat on Highway 62—when someone asked me how I felt I came oh-so-close—this close—to echoing “relieved.”

As though the victim and his life, his history and his hopes and his dreams, his family and his friends, his very humanity, didn’t count as much as they would have if he’d been my friend, or my co-worker, or my relative. Or me.

I know Dwayne meant well. But how could I—how could anyone—feel “relieved” just because a tragedy wasn’t as horribly immediate as it might have been?

Every day we walk this planet we make choices and judgments. It’s what we have to do in order to survive. So we can act in our best interests, and in the best interests of those with whom we share our lives. I understand that all too well.

But as I grow older I see that much of what we do and think and feel is automatic, the continuation of a past pattern instead of a new response to what’s here.

In this case, my pattern probably would’ve made it easier to face the fact that I had no control over a heinous crime.

In this case, “easier” doesn’t cut it. (And between you and me, I can’t think of a case where it would.)

So here are the hard words, the true words, about a tragedy that’s got me shuddering again as I write.

On February 5th, in Gassville, Arkansas, police officer Jim Sell was senselessly murdered. He was 56 years old. He was a human being who walked a path of duty and courage. He deserved better than he got.

I didn’t know Jim Sell, but I offer my sympathies to all those who did, and who must deal with his loss. I honor Jim Sell in print and in my heart.

I mourn.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.