Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #16 – ‘Chet the Unhandyman’

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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

Chet the Unhandyman has been living on our ranch for about a year and half. He came here from New Mexico, where life had gotten the best of him and given him no choice but to find a new place to live, work, and dream.

I knew Chet from when I’d taught at The College of Santa Fe in the early ‘90s. He’d been a good student and had gone on to teach at the local junior college. Chet’s in his mid-fifties. He’s smart and talented. So I thought he’d be the perfect assistant and offered him the job in exchange for a room in the trailer we call “The Annex” until he got himself settled.

I figured Chet could return calls and deal with the public for me when I was too busy writing or reading or whatever it is I do. (A writer’s life is tough to understand, even when you’re the writer.) I figured he’d be a big help while he made friends and set himself up with paying work. And then he’d move on.

What I didn’t figure was that Chet’s personality was going to sabotage him at every turn.

I can’t explain what it is about Chet that riles people so, but it’s definitely there. He’s got a gift for making even the kindest people his enemies. Within a week of Chet’s arrival, my wife Gwen the Beautiful was no longer speaking to him. Visitors to the ranch begged not to have to deal with him. Belle, the friendliest of our dogs, became a snarling, biting terror. (Not exactly a good thing when you’re half pitbull-half chow.)

There went dealing with the public.

Since he still didn’t have any income, I kept Chet on. His duties became animal feeding and clean-up and house-sitting when Gwen and I were away. Garbage hauling. Brush piling. You get the idea.

Then, one day, I walked into the trailer and saw that his one room had become every room but one. He had the kitchen, the living room, a bedroom, and the bath. The only place left for me to do any work was the tiny second bedroom, and half of that was filled with his boxes and suitcases.

I did the logical, mature, adult thing. And joined my wife in not speaking to him anymore.

Chet didn’t notice. He talked enough to cover both sides of any conversation.

I knew it was time to explain the facts of life to this old boy. To say, “Goodbye.”

But he was all alone and miserable and when you know someone can’t take care of himself how do you throw him out?

Instead, I tried to get Chet a job. I knew he was an experienced teacher, so I sent him to ASU. No room at that inn. I knew he was an experienced television engineer so I sent him to a TV repair shop that was advertising for help. (“I can’t hire a man who keeps talking about how wonderful the place he just left is,” said the owner. “Let him go back there if he likes it so much.”)

Finally I got him something at the Mountain Home radio station. It lasted one day. Another job I found at the TV station stretched out for two. A gig at a video rental store that Chet, highly motivated by the fact that our lawn tractor had broken and he had to cut several acres of pasture with a weed whacker, got for himself went all the way to three days.

My good friend, Brannigan the Contractor, came to the rescue by putting him on as a laborer. Chet’s three day limit kicked that one right in the head.

About a month ago things finally took a turn for the better. Chet got a job at Wal-Mart. Stocking shelves at midnight. The Employee No One Wants meets The Job No One Will Take. A match made in heaven!

Except that yesterday, one day shy of working one month at one of the world’s most undesired occupations, Chet was fired.

Chet stayed in the trailer all day today, watching old movies and playing video games. He’s a little forlorn, sure…but he also seems relieved. It’s like having a teenage son.

I understand now that there’s a trick to starting a new life.

You’ve got to want to.

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.