Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #59 – “Blind Eye Circus”

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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

About two years ago, at the age of 48, my wife Gwen the Beautiful was blinded by a stroke. She sees something, but only to the left in each eye. The right half of what should be her field of vision is inky blackness.

Or, on days of beauty and wonder, a sight that’s not there. Images of gardens. People. Animals. Plugged directly into (and by) her brain.

I’ve written about all the medical rounds we’ve made, trying to learn what caused the stroke so we can take the right steps to make sure it doesn’t happen, and what we can do to help her see completely once more.

Until yesterday no doctor anywhere, no matter how highly regarded, ever had said anything about the cause but, “We’ll probably never know,” and, about the possibility of a return of Gwen’s vision, “Very unlikely. The brain cells that interpret the right side of your vision are dead.” Both statements followed by, “Take these blood thinners and try to adjust.”

A couple of months ago Gwen left Paradise and went to Robert Superko, a San Francisco area doctor who’s an expert in “cardiac risk.” She spent half a day giving blood for a series of tests, including DNA tests no one else had given her.

Yesterday we got the results. They’re complicated, and neither of us understands them well enough to go into detail, but the gist is that Gwen’s DNA has an extra molecule on its strand that has caused the level of a cholesterol lipid called “El Pea Little A” and spelled “Lp(a)” to be three times what’s considered normal.

What does this do? Why, it throws a whole mess of stuff out of whack—and causes blood clots. Like the one that smacked Gwen on the back of the head one December evening and dropped her to her knees with half her lights out.

Wait, the news gets better. Not only do we now know what we also know how to prevent another stroke. Dr. Superko’s able nurse practitioner, Pam McDonald has a designed a program for Gwen to follow right here in Paradise. And which can be supervised by Dr. Ted, her Paradise M.D.

Three elements are involved. Regular cardiovascular and strength-building exercise. A balanced diet. And laboratory quality niacin, a thousand mgs. a day.

That’s right. No drugs. No stents. No shunts. None of the usual medical marvels. Instead, a big-time cardiovascular doc has recommended—

Homeopathy.

A dash of common sense. A sprinkle of knowledge. Stirred by experience and wisdom. Based on a recipe that’s totally high tech.

Who says the new and the old can’t co-exist?

That times can’t change in a way that lets today and yesterday embrace?

At first it seemed too easy to Gwen.

“Are you sure I can do the exercise?” she said. “It’s not going to hurt me? And that kind of food…it’s all right for my body?”

Pam told Gwen to take a good look at the page after page of test results she’d already sent. “You’ve had the most complete physical exam anybody can have anywhere. See those numbers? What they add up to is that you’re as healthy as they come. One genetic defect, that’s all you’ve got. And after six months of taking care of yourself you’ll have kicked that defect’s butt.”

“You mean I’m a healthy woman?” Gwen said.

“You’re a healthy woman,” Pam said.

Over the next several hours Gwen said it again herself.

And again. And again.

And as she checked the tomatoes in our garden yesterday afternoon something wonderful happened. She stopped questioning and instead asserted, as strongly as anyone can:

“I’m a healthy woman!”

And, after more than two years, she felt healthy at last.

This isn’t the story of a miracle. Gwen’s sight hasn’t returned. But she’s already started her new regimen, and is looking at life a new way.

Today when we woke up and kissed good morning she greeted me with a smile. “Wow,” I said. “Haven’t seen one of those this early in a long time.”

“There’s no reason for me not to smile,” Gwen said. “After all, I’m a healthy woman.”

“Yes. Yes, you are.”

“And,” she said, “do you know why?”

“Why?” I said.

“Because I’ve got hope.”

We kissed again. It was everything any couple could hope for.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #58 – “Billionaires in Paradise?!”

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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

There are billionaires among us.

I first found out about some of my more better off neighbors shortly after I moved to Paradise. My old acquaintance Phil the Film Financier called me excitedly.

“Whoa!” he said. “Did you ever score!”

“I know,” I said. “It’s beautiful here.”

“I’m not talking about beauty,” Phil said. “I’m talking about money. Did you know that five of the ten richest people in the world live within forty minutes of you? You’ve got it made.”

Since then, no matter how much I say I’m not interested, Phil has called regularly with updates on the fortunes of those he calls “The Paradise Five.”

Last week he was pushier than ever. “This Old Billionaire who practically lives around the corner from you just made a deal that puts him in striking distance of Bill Gates. Call him right now and make something happen.”

After Phil hung up I looked at the name and number he’d given me, and the local area code kicked my indifference in the pants.

I called and talked to the Old Billionaire, a soft-spoken man with a slight drawl, and could hardly believe it when he said, “When do you want to get together?”

I came up with a time and place. The Old Billionaire countered with another. Finally we agreed. “I’m happy with this if you are,” the Old Billionaire said. “One thing I’ve learned about life is that both sides always have to be satisfied with the deal.”

Yesterday the two of us sat down together in the Mexican Restaurant across from the Paradise County courthouse.

With his short gray hair, rumpled jeans, and “Go Razorbacks!” T-Shirt, the Old Billionaire looked like just about every man over fifty out here. But I spotted him immediately—because he was the one person in the place I’d never seen before.

As we sat down together he looked me over.

“You look okay to me,” he said. “I was a little worried about you being a friend of Phil’s. But when I heard that you live here I knew you couldn’t be all bad.”

He smiled and picked up the menu. “What’s good?”

Lyndie the Waitress came over and suggested the lunch special. “Twenty-five cents less than if you order everything separate,” she said. “Plus rice and beans.”

The Old Billionaire nodded his approval. After Lyndie left the table, he turned back to me. “What can I do for you? I’m happy to help however I can, but tell me now so we can get it out of the way and go on to other things.”

“There’s nothing you can do for me,” I said.

“Nothing?”

“Well, you can enjoy the lunch. And maybe we can swap a story or two.”

“I don’t have much to say,” he said. “I was born in the next county. Started my first little business there. Watched it get lucky. Put some money into another business. Saw that get lucky too.”

“You sure it’s that easy? There’s nothing else that you did?”

He started to shake his head, then stopped. “Well, maybe one thing. Not only have I been lucky, I’ve been able to recognize my luck. I can tell when the good things are happening. And go wherever they lead.”

An hour and a half—and about a hundred stories—later, the Old Billionaire and I shook hands again out on the street.

“I want you and your wife to come over to our place sometime soon,” he said as he got into his mud-spattered panel truck. “We’ll take my plane to Tunica and let the ladies pull the levers on some slots. My wife’s lost so much money there I bought a casino just to stay in the game.”

The Old Billionaire pulled out onto the highway. Behind me I heard a familiar voice. “Man! I didn’t know you had such rich friends!”

I turned and saw Brannigan the Contractor walking toward me from the barbershop. “How do you know he’s rich?” I said.

“I was up at the Chevy dealer last week. Saw that old boy’s truck get towed in. Sucker needed a whole new suspension! Five hundred bucks! When they told him he just nodded and said, ‘If that’s how it is, reckon you’d better go ahead.’”

Brannigan put an arm around my shoulder. “Between you and me, bud, if anybody around here can afford to repair his vehicle when he needs it – that’s rich!”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #57 – “Proving You’re the Best”

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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

After every music awards show I surf around on the web for samples of work by any winners I don’t know. Sometimes I “discover” someone who really moves me, and whose work becomes part of my life from then on.

Yet many of the best performers I’ve ever heard are unknown. Very unknown. As in, “Ain’t nobody heard of them but their mamas.”

There’s a ton of talent in and around Paradise. Like the Rock Star Telephone Repairman. I met him when he came out fix a problem with the line. As he checked out the wiring inside the house he saw my old drum kit.

“You play drums?” he said.

“Used to,” I told him. “A long time ago.”

“I play guitar,” the RSTR said. “My wife says I’m good.”

“You play someplace where I can hear you?” I said.

“No,” he said. “I don’t play in any bands. But I can bring you a tape.”

A couple of days later he did just that. Gwen the Beautiful popped it into our stereo system—and out came riffs and licks that rocked like you wouldn’t believe. The shy old boy who’d fixed the phone was a genuine rock music phenom.

The RSTR hadn’t stayed to listen. I ran outside and caught up with him as he started his truck.

“You make me want to get back on the drums,” I said. “Want to come over some evening and jam?”

His face looked kind of green. “I can’t,” he said. “Just thinking about playing in front of anybody makes me feel real sick.” And he pulled away.

Then there’s the Young Folk Singer, the only person who came to an audition we held for my old local television show. We wanted someone to “sing the news like it’s the blues” and Folkie gave those of us who heard him a meaty lesson in writing meaningful lyrics.

“That’s it! You’re our guy!” I said when he finished. “We’ll have you on every week.”

“Oh, I won’t be here much longer,” Folkie said. “I’m a rambler, just hitchin’ around the country and payin’ my way with the songs I make up as I go.”

“How about if you come back here tomorrow and we videotape you singing all the songs you can come up with?”

“I’d like that. But you can’t pay me. That’d ruin my cred. I’d like a CD of everything I sing, though, to kinda remember myself by.”

“We’ll give you a dozen CDs,” I said.

Folkie grinned. “Great. See ya tomorrow.”

But we didn’t see him tomorrow. We never saw him again. A few weeks later I ran into the old boy who’d given Folkie a ride to the station. “He hit the road right after he played for you,” the old boy said. “Said he was headed for Jonesborough.”

The most talented of all is Paula the Plumber. She came over to our ranch to fix one of the sinks. When she saw my drums she laughed. “Man, those’re almost as old as me!” Then she went right to the heart of the matter. “I’m the greatest girl singer in the world. Toured for twenty years. Got a voice that’d make Trisha Yearwood quit the business!”

I didn’t believe her. How could I? She also said she was the greatest plumber in the world, but when she left the sink still leaked.

A week later, though, I was at Paula’s place about forty miles south of Paradise. I had to go by on my way to Little Rock and figured I’d stop in and settle the bill.

From her storefront I heard a country band playing, fronted by the best gal singer this side of—well, Trisha Yearwood for sure. And when I went inside there she was, Paula the Plumber, rehearsing with some friends.

“Need somebody to sing at a wedding?” she said with a wink. “I’m your gal.”

Except that whenever I recommend her band to anyone who needs a great gal singer they always report to me that she won’t return their calls. And when I call to tell her about a gig she says, “Sorry, lost the signal,” and hangs up.

So what’s the real difference between the award-winners and those no one knows? I think it boils down to this:

It’s great to be the best at what you do. But first you’ve got to show up for the gig.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #56 – “Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang”

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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

Living in Paradise offers a variety of sobering experiences. It’s like the farmers say. “The land is beautiful, and the land is hard.” Beauty and suffering come hand in hand. I make new discoveries everywhere I turn. Whether I want to or not.

Last week I made a discovery I wish I never had. The good news is that I know something I didn’t know before. The bad news is that what I know ain’t good.

It’s got to do with Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang. She’s a rescue we snatched away from a dog good company by outbidding them at the auction block after she was caught in a round-up.

The reason Elaine was caught is that she’s crippled. Her front legs are bowed and knock-kneed and very weak. It looks like rickets, although I’ve never met a horse person who would say, “Yep, horses get rickets.”

Whatever the cause, the effect is that Elaine’s movements are slow and stumbling. She becomes less awkward when an expert trims her hooves just right. Luckily, here in Paradise we’ve got such an expert, Dan the Farrier, a third generation blacksmith who gets along better with horses than Barry Bonds does with a baseball bat.

Dan last trimmed Elaine’s hooves about a month ago. But this time it didn’t help. She continued stumbling. Since then, she’s gotten slower and slower. One morning I awoke to find Burl Jr. the New Caretaker shooing away the dogs because Elaine was lying on the ground, trapped in the fence, and couldn’t get up.

All the activity got the mare so riled that a burst of adrenalin set her free, but now she’s so frightened she never goes more than two steps away from her man, Huck the Spotless Appaloosa. Huck’s usually a pretty impatient cuss, but he waits for her uncomplainingly.

As though he knows that without him Elaine won’t survive.

Over the last few days Elaine’s gotten much worse. Her left leg is rigid and can’t support any weight. The only way she can walk is to extend it slowly, then pull her right leg up even with it, and then hop forward so her rear catches up. It takes about thirty seconds per step. Thirty exhausting seconds.

When I first arrived in Paradise vets specializing in horses and cows and other “big animals” were the rule. Now they’re exceptions. Our dog vet, Sarah Bailey, has recommended someone new, recently arrived from Texas. He’s due over this afternoon.

Meanwhile, I’ve been buying horse pain meds at the feed store and getting advice from Dan the farrier and my neighbors who raise horses. Neighbors who look at Elaine and shake their heads, mumble a few platitudes about what a good life Gwen the Beautiful and I have given her up to now…and then try to sell me a filly they’ve bred.

Me, I’m no doctor of animals or men, although I‘ve got a few tricks I picked up back around Santa Fe. And Burl Jr.’s been following his farmer father’s instructions faithfully as we fight for Elaine’s life. We’re doing our best, and hoping our best as well.

For years I’ve tried to be the kind of person Elaine would want to be around. One of the ways I judge myself is by her response to me. It’s a good day and I’m a good man—better than I once was—when Elaine lets me touch her.

At least that’s how it was. Now Elaine acts like she’s tame. She flinches but doesn’t shy away from my hand. She responds warmly to soft voices and kind words, and especially to carrots and apples.

But that’s not really her choice. It’s just that she no longer is able to pull off her escapes.

This morning when I went outside to feed the horses I watched Elaine inch painfully to the hay, and I patted her neck and untangled her mane.

She stood quietly as I did it, and all I could think of at a moment I once would’ve considered a triumph was, “Please, sweetheart! Run! Run away!”

Postscript: The New Vet From Texas just left. Elaine had an abscess in her hoof caused by a stone lodged there. He scraped it out, applied heavy duty disinfectant and a stronger painkiller, and she’s already putting her weight on that leg.

Ah, Burl Jr. just hollered, “She’s running into the trees!

All’s right with the world.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #55 – “Return of the Ghost Dog”

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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

Ever since I mentioned the Ghost Dog, readers have been asking to know more about it. So here’s the latest update.

It begins, as does so much here on the Mountain, with the Big Red Chow Dude. He paid us a visit last Tuesday afternoon and looks in good shape. No new wounds or scars, and his coat is thick and lustrous.

Emmy the Pit Mom’s M.O. when her True Love comes calling has been to race to the front door so I’ll open it, and then, when the Dude pops up onto the front porch ignore him the way a wasp ignores Gwen the Beautiful’s flailing arms.

We’re talking cutting the poor guy dead. He stays with us for however long it takes for Emmy to at last welcome his presence with some fancy bowing and wrestling. Then, as soon as he feels certain she still loves him off he goes.

Usually in the dead of night.

This time, though, Emmy made no pretense of not loving him. She barked so I’d do my doorman act, and then, lo and behold, she went right into the jumping and dancing.

Pure joy is what I saw, with no ego protection. A beautiful sight.

The kids weren’t as happy to see their old man as Mom was. Which didn’t bother Dude in the least. He doesn’t demand love, just respect.

As usual, Decker gave his daddy a wide birth, even though he’s bigger than the Dude and quite a fearsome country warrior himself. As for Belle the Skittish, she put up with the Dude’s sniffing and sighed with relief when he turned away.

Now’s where the Ghost Dog comes in. Our experience with the Ghost Dog began several months ago when Chet the No Longer Unhandyman told me how some nights when he looked out from the Annex he’d see another dog the general size and shape of Emmy’s pups lying asleep in the clearing.

The other dogs never barked at that one, and no one ever saw it but Chet, although I tried to stay up and take pictures one night. But the night after the Dude arrived, it made its presence known.

Gwen was upstairs in bed, and I was downstairs at the computer. Decker and Belle were locked in the dog yard for the night, and Emmy and the Dude lay together on the front porch.

Suddenly Decker and Belle began barking, and Emmy and the Dude joined in. Emmy ran full-out into the woods, hind legs flapping out from her body like Dumbo’s ears. The Dude, being—after all—a “dude,” and very, very cool, loped after her.

None of this was any big deal. Happens all the time. But then, from inside the house, right in front of the kitchen table, came more barking, deep and gruff, and the sound of dog claws scrabbling on our cedar floor. Like another dog eager to join the chase.

Except there was no other dog.

The barking and scrabbling hurried past me, to the front door.

And nothing, absolutely nothing, was there to cause it.

I went to the door. Opened it. Out went whatever presence had honored us, joining the rest of the chorus, and the chase.

“I didn’t know Emmy was in the house,” Gwen called down.

“She wasn’t,” I said.

Gwen came to the railing.

Peered down.

“Oh,” she said quietly. Just “Oh…”

A couple of hours later Emmy returned alone. The next morning as I fed the horses I saw the tail of a large, reddish-tan dog wagging in the air out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look at it, the tail was gone.

That evening, when I prepared the dogs’ dinner, I saw the same tail wagging at another place in the clearing. And again it vanished when I tried a direct look.

The Ghost Dog?

What else? No one’s ever gonna convince me otherwise.

Only problem is, although this sounds like an answer it’s really another question. Because I’m still clueless about what—or who—the Ghost Dog is.

There’s one thing I do know, though. Whatever was here barks like a dog. Scrambles and gives chase like a dog. Wags its tail like one too.

Reacts like a dog in all ways.

I’m thinking it must love like a dog too.

So how I can do anything other than love our Ghost Dog in return?