Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #90 “Dyeing”

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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

A couple of weeks ago I did something embarrassing.

I mean really embarrassing.

I dyed my hair.

And it’s all the fault of…well, I’d like to come up with some universal symbol of evil, but even though I’m as out of touch with myself as the next guy I know the sad truth: My own vanity’s to blame.

Thanks to the recent holidays, plus my birthday and requests for pictures from readers of this space, I’ve been forced to see myself through the lens of a variety of cameras. And my reaction every time has been the same:

“Who the !@#*! is that?”

Because—guess what?—that old boy with the dingy, washed out gray hair is not who I see in my mirror in the morning when I brush my teeth. Or reflected in the window of Sweet Jane’s antique shop whenever I peer into it to wave as I go by.

He couldn’t be.

What I see there is a man I know well. Myself. Thin face, slight smile, dark lines. A touch of my father in the mouth and jaw. A bit of my mother around the eyes.

Oh…and light brown hair.

So what’s this gray business in pictures? Is it a trick of the light—no matter where I am? A product of the flash going off—even when no flash is used? Do wicked little invisible Anxiety Spirits gather ‘round every time someone gets me in their rangefinder and do a quick tint just to drive me nuts?

It’s not that I mind aging. On the contrary, I’m proud of myself for having survived as long as I have considering the obstacles just plain old everyday life thrusts into our paths.

I’ve got no objection to the new spots on my face or the softening of my belly or the creasing of my skin. I’m aware of these and so many other symptoms of the fatal condition that is life. And I don’t think I’d mind the hair thing so much if it was, say, white or silver. Definitive. Strong.

Right out there.

Anything but this insidious, invisible-to-me-except-when-snapped gray.

Learning that other people have seen my hair in this flawed coloration for quite a while hasn’t exactly made me feel better either.

“Gray? Well, I guess I’d describe you as having gray hair,” said Sweet Jane said when I asked her. “But it’s not something I’d dwell on.”

Beside her, Brannigan the Contractor snickered. “Gray? Gray? Absolutely right your hair is gray! What do you mean you can’t see it? It’s right there all around your face!”

Then there was Gwen the Beautiful. “Yes, your hair is gray,” she said. And then, quickly, seeing the look on my face: “A beautiful shade of gray that I get to look at everyday.”

“How have I missed it?” I said. “Am I that blind to myself?”

“As a mother,” Gwen said, “I’ve learned that the best answer to that question is in an old poem. Something about ‘What a rare gift it is to see ourselves as others see us.’”

“The poet who wrote that didn’t mean it literally,” I protested. “He meant that we should know ourselves better. Our hearts. Our souls.”

“Well, then let me tell you what I’ve learned as a woman,” said Gwen. “If you don’t like what you see when you look at yourself, change it. And that’s pretty easy to do when all you’re talking about is the color of your hair.”

Which is how it came to pass that two weeks ago we went to Wal-Mart and laid out six bucks for a box of #60 Light Brown Acorn hair color. After which we came home and Gwen did the deed.

When she was finished I looked at myself in the mirror.

I looked the same.

Out came the digital Nikon. Snap. Snap. Snap.

Download—

And presto! There I was. Larry B with the light brown hair.

“I look the same,” I said.

But I don’t feel the same. And instead of feeling more like myself I feel less.

Because now, everywhere I go, without saying a word, I’m lying about how I look. About who I really am.

And you know the problem with telling a lie. Once you’ve started you’ve got to keep going, just to keep from being found out.

Wonder how much a brow lift will cost?

Hmm, I think I’ve just gotten past the shame….

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #89 “Runnin’ with the Wind”

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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

Live! From Paradise!
Column #89
By Larry Brody

My life took an unexpected turn last weekend. I’m still sorting it out.

Gwen the Beautiful and I had planned to visit Wanda the Arkansas Angel. But a phone call changed that.

“Hey, it’s Zeph. I’m in the neighborhood. Got time for me to drop in?”

I hadn’t heard that voice in almost a decade, since a rookie cop named Zeph was assigned to take me around Cowboy City while I shot a movie there. He was bright, helpful, a good guy, but although I was happy to hear from him this wasn’t the best time.

Zeph caught my hesitation. “I’m in trouble,” he said. “I need your help.”

That’s not something you say no to. I gave him the directions to our little corner of Paradise.

“I’ll be there tomorrow morning,” Zeph said.

The Zeph I remembered was a man of his word. That hadn’t changed. The next morning a battered old Dodge pulled into our clearing. Out popped an older, troubled version of the eager young man I remembered, his sandy hair now tinged with gray.

We did the welcoming embrace thing, and I asked if he wanted coffee.

“No thanks,” he said. There was an edge in his voice.

Nervousness?

“No time,” he went on.

No. Not nervousness.

Desperation.

“C’mon,” I said. “Let’s talk.”

Decker the Giant-Hearted accompanied us down the trail to the Original Settlers’ Cabins. These days, the cookhouse is just a three-sided shell, and the main cabin looks like it’ll follow suit any day.

“Some wreck, huh?” I said.

“Reminds me of my life,” said Zeph. And then, in a torrent:

“I’m on the run, bud. Ten years a cop and now I’m on the other side. They put me undercover a couple years ago. I was always Mr. Clean so nobody wrong knew me. Made me the perfect nark.

“I met users and dealers and smiled and became their friend. Played ‘em off each other. Set ‘em up. Put ‘em in the slammer! I was awesome at my job.

“Then I met Ruby. She was a crystal meth addict but hadn’t lost her looks yet. We fell in love, and I straightened her out. She flew through rehab! To celebrate, I left my wife and daughter. Ruby and I became one.

“The PD put me into a big sting operation. Our little Podunk City squad and some Feds. My ticket to a promotion. After it was over I’d be a lieutenant, and off the street.

“I was worried about how Ruby would take it when she found out I wasn’t the bum she thought. Decided to force the issue and told her straight out. She freaked. And then she made a very bad move.

“The Feds had given me a bag with $10,000 for the big buy that would break a very bad guy. The day before we were set to roll, Ruby and the bag disappeared.

“I found Ruby five days later,” Zeph continued. “She was zonked out of her head ‘cause she’d spent every penny in that bag on crystal. The Feds figured out what’d happened. They wanted her. And the PD wanted me.

“There’s a right way to do things and a wrong one. I was crazy in love, and I made a choice. Threw Ruby into my undercover car and took off with her. Anything to keep her out of jail.”

“Where is she now?”

“She bailed in Tulsa. Turned herself in and said I’d put her up to it. Now everybody’s after just me. I loved her, Larry! I feel all broken inside. Like somebody crushed my spirit. And I think that somebody was me.”

Decker jumped up on Zeph. Put his paws on Zeph’s shoulders and licked his face. A face that already was wet with tears.

Zeph patted him. Turned to me. “Thanks for the talk. Feels a little better now, getting it out.”

Without another word, Zeph headed back up the trail. As I started after him a gust of wind blowing from the southeast stopped me. I turned to face it.

“What’s going to happen?” I said. “What’s he going to do?”

“What he has to,” the wind said. “Just like everyone else.”

And then:

“You did good.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I told the wind. “I wanted to make everything better. But I just let the man talk.”

Another gust plucked my hat from my head. Sent it sailing. “I was talking to Decker!” said the wind.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #88 – “Cloudcreek’s New Gym”

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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

No sooner had word gotten out that part of Gwen the Beautiful’s regimen for regaining her health was exercise than we got a call from Wanda, the Angel of Arkansas.

“I’ve got just what you need,” she said. “A professional multi-gym. C’mon down here and get it.”

“What’re you doing with a professional home gym?” I said.

Wanda sighed. “Know how I work with parolees? Well, there was this boy who needed a job before they’d let him out of prison. He’d been a prize fighter before, so I helped him set up a boxing camp here at my place, for kids.”

“You’re amazing,” I said. “What happened?”

“How about we just say the gym set’s in my garage and the prize fighter’s on the lam and let it go? I plain don’t want to see the thing anymore.”

Wanda measured the gym. I measured the bed of my truck. Almost a perfect fit. I hunted around for some help and, finally, Brannigan the Contractor and Doug the Dog Breeder “volunteered.”

We three Good Ole Boys highwayed it to Wanda’s last week, and after three hours of lifting and cussing and sweating and cussing and trading tales about what mighty muscleheads we used to be and cussing the gym was on the truck and we were back on the road.

“Now that’s what I call a fine day’s work,” Doug the Dog Breeder said.

“Got my blood pumping!” roared Brannigan. “I’m ready for anything!”

“Good,” I said. “Because we’ve still got to wrestle this thing into the storage shed and set it up.”

“And I’d love to help you!” Brannigan said. “But I think I hear Sweet Jane’s siren call.”

Doug turned to him. “Well then, we’ll see you at Larry B’s first thing tomorrow morning, right?”

Brannigan hesitated. Doug’s eyes drilled into him.

“Right,” said Brannigan. “First thing.”

“First thing” turned out to be about noon. I woke up with both shoulders aching and could hardly lift my arms. Doug reported that, “My back’s so frozen up I’m using my hair to sweep the floor.”

As for Brannigan:

“Knee replacement surgery! That’s my future!” he announced as he eased himself out of his pickup and limped to the shed.

It took until sundown to set up the gym.

The first casualty of the day was my tailgate, which went flying off when a strut got lodged in just the wrong place.

The second casualty was one of the crossbars supporting the shed’s roof, which went flying when another strut bashed it in a wronger place.

The third casualty was the gym itself. Only one of its weight stations worked the way it should.

Three Not Quite As Good As We Used To Be Ole Boys stood in the doorway, shaking our heads.

“You hear what I hear?” said Brannigan. “I believe it’s time for dinner, and Sweet Jane.”

“Isn’t that my name she’s calling too?” Doug said. “Call us if you need us, LB.”

“Some time in April’d be good,” Brannigan added. “I should be almost recovered by then.”

So there I was, alone and left to do what I do worst. Take machinery apart to try and make it work, and then put it together again.

Sometimes, though, you get lucky. By four the next morning everything was functioning the way it was supposed to—except the pull-down bar, which plain refused to budge.

Exhausted though I was, I made myself oil everything up. Gazed at the gleaming metal maze. “It’s all right,” I said. “I love you anyway.”

The multi-gym seemed to awaken from a long sleep. “That prize fighter put me together wrong,” it said. “He mixed up a couple of pulleys. If you switch them around I’ll work. I promise I will.”

As it spoke, I knew exactly which pulleys it meant. I switched them, just like the gym said. Re-connected the bar.

Pulled…

And up the weight stack slid!

I thought Wanda was doing us a big favor by giving us the gym. She thought I was doing her one by removing it from her garage.

But the truth is it’s the “professional multi-gym” that scored. Together, everyone involved in this little project gave it back its purpose. Its life. And it knows it too.

After the first time Gwen worked out, she came back into the house and gave me a big kiss.

“The gym says to tell you, ‘I love you,’” she said. “And it also says, ‘Thanks.’”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #87 – “Burl Jr.’s New Gal”

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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

Burl Jr. the New Caretaker is the son of the most successful farmer in Paradise. Burl Sr. has been the local Farmer of the Year for so long the Farm Bureau’s talking about retiring the contest until he retires himself.

Burl Jr., on the other hand, has no interest in a life of the land. His thing is music, and listening to him play the guitar is like hearing an angel sing. He wants to take his show on the road, playing in small towns and working up to the Big Time.

That’s why he’s living in the trailer Gwen the Beautiful and I call the “Annex.” It’s closer to where he works at Paradise Music than his daddy’s farm, and he pays his rent by helping out here on the ranch so he can save as much money as possible to finance his Big Trip.

When Burl Jr. told me he was in love again I got to worrying about what effect that would have on his dream. Creative types need all the support they can get, and I could foresee problems galore if Burl Jr.s’ new lady didn’t understand him.

Last week I met Tera and learned there was no reason to worry. To my normally cynical eyes she was everything a Future Rocker Star of Tomorrow needs.

My first sight of her told the tale. Burl Jr. was sitting on a stool in the Annex, picking out a tune that, as Jimmy Blue might say, “like to make me weep,” and Tera, long, lean, and ash blonde, was seating cross-legged at his feet, gazing up at Burl Jr. raptly, her misty eyes filled with love.

We talked a bit, and I learned that Tera’s in her last year of college. Her major is education, but when I asked her if she was going to teach after she graduated she shook her head.

“It depends on Burl,” Tera said. “I’m here for him. A man as creative as he is needs all the support he can get.”

“Tera’s got a great plan,” Burl Jr. said. “Tell him, Tara.”

“I’m going on the road with him as soon as I get my degree. If he wants to settle down someplace, I’ll try and teach there. Otherwise, I’ll help however I can.”

“She’ll be a beautiful roadie, don’t you think?” Burl Jr. said. He gave Tera a kiss on the cheek. Her eyes closed, and she smiled.

I knew that reaction. Had just seen it a few moments earlier when I’d given a casual kiss to Gwen.

“I think you’re on to something,” I said.

But I remained concerned. The odds against Burl Jr. succeeding, no matter how good he is, are incredibly high. And there was the matter of his father.

Shortly after Burl Jr. moved to The Mountain, Sweet Jane ran into Burl Sr. in town.

“He’s not exactly pleased about the direction his son’s life is taking,” she told me. “I got the feeling he wished you hadn’t been so encouraging. I mean, it rang out loud and clear.”

Yesterday, at the Feed Store, who should call out to me on the loading dock but Burl Sr. himself?

“Hey! Brody! I want to talk to you!”

I wasn’t sure what to expect. But Burl Sr. thrust out his hand and shook mine vigorously.

“I got to thank you,” he said. “For the way you’re helping my boy.”

“You’re all right with his plan?”

“If he never reaches out and tries for the Big Harvest he’ll always wonder what he could’ve done, won’t he? He’ll be restless for all his days.”

“He can get hurt doing this, you know,” I said. “The kind of gut pain that comes when you lose something or someone you love.”

“You’re worried about that?” Burl Sr. said. “You care that much?” He slapped me on the shoulder. “Buck up, man! The boy’s gonna do fine. How can he not? After all, he’s my son!”

“Level with me, Burl. Did you always feel this way?”

The most successful farmer in Paradise looked embarrassed. “Not at first, no. Wished you’d never come to these parts. But I got to talking to Tera the other day, and she made a lot of sense. A creative genius like my son deserves all the support he can get. We’re all in this together, giving him what he needs.”

Here’s to Tera. More than a “beautiful roadie.”

So much more.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #86 – “New Beginnings for the Win”

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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

Back when I was a little kid trying to make sense of the world—as opposed to the big kid I am now still trying to do the same thing—I couldn’t understand why the new year started in the middle of winter. I mean, c’mon!

January 1st as New Year’s Day didn’t make sense to me. The world outside was bleak and dead-looking. Barren branches. Overcast skies. No birds. No insects. No sense of “Here comes Life!”

So why not start the year in summer, when sun and greenery and living creatures of all kinds were all around?

Or in spring, a time of beginnings for just about everything anyway?

Or in fall, to coincide with the beginning of school. My friends and relatives (and not just children; anyone with children too) scheduled their lives around the school year anyway, so why not make it official?

As an adult I learned the historical reason the Western world starts its year in the month of January. Turned out the culprit was none other than Julius Caesar, who created his own calendar and started it with the month of Janus, the god of gates and doorways…and therefore the god of beginnings and endings. According to Wikipedia.Com, Janus symbolized “the progression of past to future,” and that’s certainly what the new year is all about.

But although I understood this, it still felt wrong.

Until this week.

It was a glorious week in Paradise. The sky was blue. The air was crisp and so clean it washed all sadness, dismay, or fear right out of my skin. The cold was bracing and energizing, and even without their leaves the trees seemed to me to stand especially tall, sentinels stripped for action.

And talk about beginnings!

Karen the Post Lady brought Gwen the Beautiful and me half a dozen silkie hens to strengthen what had been a dwindling flock. And they started laying from Day One.

The Big Red Chow Dude came out of the forest to visit us for the first time in six months. And he’s healthy as can be. (Who’s been feeding the Dude? Inquiring minds want to know…and say, “Thanks.”)

Burl Jr. the New Groundskeeper announced that he’s in love again. And this time it’s with a young woman who can’t wait to go out on the road with him.

And I had these dreams.

Three of them, actually.

In the first dream I was about to get on an endless freeway that always had been my way home, but a young guy wearing a big cowboy hat convinced me to take a winding back road around a big lake and through several rivers.

“It’s only going to take me to the same old place,” I said, “and slow me down. What’s the point?”

“That’s the point,” the young cowboy said. “Do something new. Take the scenic route. Whenever and wherever you can.”

In the second dream Gwen and I lived in a high-ceilinged museum. We were having a party, and guests we didn’t know where everywhere, touching all the artwork and taking out all the ancient manuscripts to read.”

“I’ve got to get these folks out of here,” I said to myself. “Got to straighten out this place and put everything away.”

“No, you don’t,” said the closest manuscript. “You’re the custodian, not the jailer. Your job is to make sure everyone sees everything. Your purpose is to share.”

In the third dream, a weightlifting champion I’d considered my enemy for almost half my life challenged me to go one on one with him.

“No way,” I said. “You’ll cream me.”

“You never can win unless you try,” he snorted.

The champ started bench pressing enormous weight. Nervously, I did the same—and not only did I win but I grew (literally because this was a dream) two feet taller and found a power in myself I’d never known I had.

The power to fly. Over the scenic route to the museum, calling out to everyone below as I flew, “Come see! Come see!”

So here we are at the New Year. With change and Janus-blessed progress everywhere. The weather, recent events, and my dreams have filled me with the sense of being a new person entering a new world. I hope that all who read this have reason to feel the same.

And that we can fly on into life together shouting, “Come see! Come see!”