Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #84 – “Tick Tick Love…”

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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

Awhile back I wrote about ticks and how they’ve developed super-itchy bites. For reasons too terrifying to contemplate, I’ve gotten more response on this subject than just about anything else I’ve written about here.

One reader wrote, “There is one natural and beautiful thing to use against all those…bloodsuckers: ethereal oils. Especially Lavender!…Try it. They won’t come near you.”

Another suggested, “You could try guinea fowl for the ticks.”

A third got right to the point: “Move to the city!”

A reader from Indiana came up with a reason why bug bites today bug us more than they did years ago:

“My belief is that this is connected to chem trails and their substances…Insects…pass these into a bite, as a mosquito does malaria.”

According to this reader all the environmental poisoning human beings have done over the years is coming back to haunt us as poisoned creepy crawlers inject the bad stuff right into our bloodstreams while they’re latching on.

All things considered, that sounds like as credible an explanation as any to me. The preventatives sound good too, but none of them have worked so far.

Splashing lavender all over my body didn’t work for me because guess what? Turns out I’m allergic to it. Which means thate ven a more conservative dabbing of it on my wrists and behind my ears didn’t fit me any better.

On the guinea fowl front, my farmer neighbors tell me that guinea hens are wanderers, just as likely to roam over to someone else’s property and eat his ticks as mine, and that giving the chickens we’ve already got here at The Mountain free range would work better.

That may well be, but our dogs, Emmy the Bold, Decker the Giant-Hearted, and Belle the Wary, have another use for free range chickens, and in spite of our best efforts at mediation (and more aggressive forms of peace-keeping) letting the Cloud Creek flock out for only a couple of hours a day didn’t do much but whittle it down from a dozen to—gulp—three.

As for moving to the city—I’ll take our country menaces over the city ones any time.

Most readers were too sensible and polite to comment on another part of the column, my discovery that vultures are nature’s ultimate get-along-guys, and my decision to ask the next one that flew by for advice. A wiser man would’ve taken the hint. But I went out and waved the long vulture feather I’d found at the pond at the biggest carrion-eater I’ve ever seen—

And got a reply, which as per the non-sensible promise I made, I’m now passing on:

“I see you, My Brother,” the vulture said, “waving a lost piece of myself at me. I see you and recognize kin.

“This secret of vulture life I pass on to you. It’s about searching, and finding the strongest current, and using that current to take you where you need to go. It’s about adapting and changing and making friend out of foe. The outside world is our challenge, not our enemy. The enemy is within.”

The vulture made a big circle over the sparsely populated chicken yard and flew on, leaving me to figure out what it meant.

I think it boils down to this:

The itching is what bothers me, and my body’s auto-immune system is responsible for that, not the ticks. The trick is to get my body to cool it.

A psychologist friend of mine believes that the way we control our emotions (and therefore our bodies) is to say them out loud. Native People all over the world believe similarly and make that the basis for their ceremonies. And all the great religions and philosophies of the world advocate, “Love your enemy!” in one form or another.

So what I’ve been doing whenever I get something new to scratch is talk to my body instead. To thank it for fighting off the intruder. To love the fact that I’m so uncomfortable because I know that someday I won’t have a body and be able to feel anything, good or bad.

And guess what? It’s been just like talking to my kids when they were young. I tell my body to do something—“Keep itching!”—and it responds with, “Aw, this is no fun anymore” and within a few minutes the itching stops.

Go on. Love your enemy. Love yourself.

Works for me.

Let me know what it does for you.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #83 – “The Brodys Go Batty”

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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

In all the time Gwen the Beautiful and I have lived in Paradise neither one of us has ever had a mosquito bite.

For awhile we thought it was because of the bats who live in the caves in the ridge above the Original Settlers’ Cabins, but last summer we discovered we were only half right.

Yes, bats consider a mouthful of mosquitoes to be haute cuisine, but no, the bats who’ve been dining on the skeeters on our Mountain aren’t just living in the caves. They’re also right here in the house. In the space between the gable venting and the inside wall.

It was the chittering and fluttering that gave them away.

The noise started in late summer. One afternoon Gwen went upstairs and stopped dead in her tracks.

“Rats!” she shouted. “I hear rats. Or squirrels. Rustling and scraping in the wall.” She stopped, listening. “Uh-oh. Now I hear fluttering. Like wings.”

“Must be birds,” I said.

“Do birds chitter?” Gwen said. “I hear chittering too.”

Bats chitter, and they flutter too. I went on the alert and, sure enough, I spotted ‘em a couple of weeks later, flying out of the venting before dusk. In principle, neither Gwen nor I minded sharing the place with bats, but their activities grew louder day by day.

There was only one explanation for it. The bats were multiplying at an unusual pace. We had no choice but to take action. This was a job for Brannigan the Contractor.

“Get those things out of there and seal it up so they can’t get back in,” I told him over the phone, and after a week had passed Brannigan and his Bat Removal Ladder arrived.

He backed his pickup as close to the house as he could get. Set the ladder up on the bed. Offered Burl Jr. the New Groundskeeper a handful of cash to climb up and nail some wire mesh to the open slats in the vent.

“I’m paying my own guy to go up there while you watch?” I said.

“Absolutely not!” roared Brannigan. “You’re paying your guy to go up there while I supervise. And you’re paying me too—“

He broke off as Burl Jr. cried out and hand-over-handed himself down the ladder. “There’s a ton of bats up there!” he said. “Big, mean, brown ones. They growled at me!”

“They won’t hurt you!” Brannigan said.

“That’s for sure. Because I’m not going up there again. I’m late for my day job.”

Off Burl Jr. went. Brannigan looked disgusted. “Kids!”

But he climbed up the ladder, and an hour and a half later pronounced all the bats gone and the venting sealed.

“Problem solved.”

Or so we thought.

Until the chittering and flapping resumed.

“Brannigan didn’t get all the bats,” Gwen said. “Who knows how many are in there, starving to death because we sealed them up?”

“Not ‘we,’” I said. “Brannigan did the sealing.”

“Because we told him to. You’ve got to get him back here to let the poor things out.”

“You mean take down the screening he just put up?”

Gwen’s nostrils flared. “We can’t let them die!”

It took another week for Brannigan to get the time to come back. This time he didn’t bring the ladder.

“Those bats really do growl,” he said. “Go up there again? Not me.”

He took a long pole with a macheté duct-taped to it from the back of his truck, started jumping and poking and swiping…until, with a CRACK!, not just the mesh but the whole venting hit the ground.

The wall was wide open. A couple of fuzzy, brown, bat-faced peeked out.

“There you go, bud!” Brannigan said. “They’re free now.”

“What about the hole in my wall?”

“Nothing to worry about. Since we’re friends, you can have that for free! I’ll have to charge you to fix it though. We’re talking time, labor….”

If you’re a homeowner you know where I’m headed. Operation Bat Removal is over. New venting is in place, uncovered and awaiting the bats’ return from their annual migration. Everything’s just as it was when Gwen first heard the chittering and fluttering.

Well, not quite everything. Three hundred dollars flew from my pocket into Brannigan’s, and all I’ve gotten in return is this fair ole country tale.

There better not be one single, solitary, uneaten mosquito on this property come spring.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #82 – “Gwen’s Resurrection”

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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

Everything about life fascinates me, but one of the most intriguing aspects is the way its little ironies work.

Good somehow produces Bad. Bad miraculously creates Good.

And we mortals experience both.

Case in point:

Since we discovered the cause of Gwen the Beautiful’s stroke and how to overcome it her health has been getting better and better. She’s well. She’s whole. She’s happy.

But just a few days ago out of all that improvement came a crisis of the first magnitude.

Last Monday night I was awakened from sleep by a loud crash. Followed by a series of thumps as though someone was falling down the stairs. But the sound wasn’t’ coming from the stairway. It came from the bathroom. Groggily, I reached out for Gwen.

She wasn’t there.

My grogginess vanished.

“Gwen? Gwen? What’s going on?”

Even as I said it I was getting out of bed. From the bathroom, Gwen called out weakly. “I think I need you,” she said.

I flicked on the lamp on my nightstand. Hurried across the room to the bathroom doorway.

And found Gwen lying on the floor, surrounded by cosmetics that had fallen from a big, old, wooden rack we use for storage in there. Gwen lay on her back beside the rack, arms straight at her sides, legs extended perfectly straight as well.

Gwen’s head was twisted against the wall. Her tongue was out. Her eyes wide open.

She wasn’t moving.

Not a twitch.

Not an eye flutter.

Not a breath.

I knelt down and put my hand on her neck. No pulse.

The only positive thing about what I was looking at was that there was no blood.

I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of person who performs best under pressure. “Crises ‘R Us.’” In an emergency the world around me slows to a crawl, time seeming to stop while I become aware of what’s happening, figure out what to do…and then do it.

Not Monday night.

Monday night I stared at the face of the person I love most in the world, and it was the face of death. Gwen and I both have taken CPR, but did I tilt back her head, clean Gwen’s airway, and start compressions?

I did not.

Training went right out the window.

Did I do the practical thing and run to the phone to call 911?

Nope. Practicality was wiped from my mind.

What about the spiritual route? Did I pray? Or try to contact the Universe in any other way?

Not by a long shot. I was way too overwhelmed.

Instead, I wrapped my arms around her head and cradled her and howled, as loudly as I could, “Gwen! Gwen! I love you!”

Gwen’s eyelids fluttered. I said it again. “Gwen! Gwen!”

She took a shallow, ragged breath. Another. Her eyes moved. Focused.

On me.

“What’re you doing?” she said. “Is something wrong?”

“I said, “Do you know where you are?”

She looked around, puzzled. “What am I doing on the floor…?”

“I don’t know. Let’s put you in bed.”

I raised her to her feet, half-carried her to the bed. The next morning she was fine, as though nothing had happened. But something had. And we needed to get to the bottom of it.

We went to Paradise’s favorite doctor, Dr. Max. Dr. Max is old school, more Marcus Welby than Gregory House, with maybe a little touch of Hawkeye or Trapper John. He took one look at Gwen’s blood pressure and knew what’d happened.

“Your blood pressure’s too low,” he said. “You probably stood up too quickly in the night and fainted. It’s not uncommon.”

“But my blood pressure’s always been high. I’ve been taking medication for it for years.”

“Time to stop,” Dr. Mack said. “All that work you’ve been doing to make sure you don’t have another stroke has solved your blood pressure problem for you.” He rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. “You might say it made you so well it almost killed you.”

So that’s where we are. Did I mistake my wife’s unconsciousness for something worse? Or did she die a couple of nights ago and then return?

I’ll never know. I don’t think it matters. What I do know, and what does matter, is Gwen survived and is better than ever.

But, Universe—whatever you are—although I appreciate the lesson, next time you want to demonstrate one of the ironies of creation—

Can’t you please do it a little more gently, and make it just a little bit less life or death?

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #81 – “Birth of a Real Superhero?”

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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

Not only is Cloud Creek Ranch the home Gwen the Beautiful and I share with various furry and feathery friends, it’s also a school where people come from all over the world to study media writing and production. I always find the students fascinating and love being around their talent and zeal.

Last week we had our most impressive student yet. A Chicago high school freshman I call Conan.

At fourteen years old, Conan’s a 6’5”, 325 pound defensive tackle who plays football not because he loves it (he doesn’t), but because he’s a certified genius with an IQ literally off the charts, and he wants to leverage his size as much as possible so he isn’t mocked by other kids.

In return for a crash course in video editing, Conan’s been helping Burl Jr. the New Caretaker and me with the chores this week.

He’s been feeding the animals, clearing brush, mending fences. Feeling what it’s like to be part of the land. It’s been eye-opening to experience life from the perspective of a Barely-A-Teenager who proved himself not only to be brilliant but also wide open to whatever comes his way.

At first, Conan was all kid. “My mom says you created the Silver Surfer,” he said to me as he brushed out Huck the Spotless Appaloosa’s snarled tail.

“Kind of,” I said. “I helped start up the TV version.”

“I remember that,” Conan said. “I was about five. The Surfer was awesome.” Then: “Um…what were his powers again?”

“The Power Cosmic.”

“The Power Cosmic! Wow!”

The next day a FedEx truck pulled up with a package. A baseball cap and T-shirt for a new film. Conan, who couldn’t fit into either of them in two million years, gazed at these holy artifacts in awe.

“How’d you get those?” he said.

“I’m a friend of the director,” I said.

“The director! Wow!”

By the third day Conan was demonstrating a lot more.

“You were right about this video editing program being tricky,” he said as his hands flashed across the computer keyboard. “So I remapped the keys to make it more intuitive. And I’ve already cut together the first half of my video.”

“In one day? It would take me a week to do that.”

“Here, take a look.”

Conan leapt up. Carried our old oak bench across the room to the monitor as though it weighed nothing instead of a hundred pounds.

Gwen and I sat down together. She looked at the bench. At Conan. At the first half of Conan’s video.

“There’s a word for this,” she said. “It’s ‘Wow!’”

On the fourth day, Conan revealed yet another side.

He, Burl Jr., and I were outside at dawn, as Cloud Creek did one of its magic things. We were over by the hay shed when Conan noticed that Huck and Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang seemed to be missing from the corral.

“Where are the horses?” he said worriedly. “Do they go deep into the woods at night?”

“Not too deep,” I said. “The corral doesn’t go beyond that first stand of trees.”

Then why can’t I see them—?”

Conan broke off as Huck and Elaine appeared through the mist fifty yards from the fence. He stared.

“They’re not coming from the trees,” he said. “They’re taking shape in front of them. But how? Where’d they go?”

Huck ambled over to the fence. Whickered a greeting. Conan reached out to rub Huck’s neck, and saw something he didn’t expect.

“His mane is braided!” Conan looked over at Elaine. “So’s Elaine’s! But they weren’t braided last night!”

“The Good Ole Boys call those “witches’ knots,” Burl Jr. said.

“To get witches’ knots they’d have to be where there were witches,” Conan said.

He smiled broadly. “They go someplace very special at night, don’t they? Someplace that’s not exactly here in this world. Am I right?

“You sound like you’re pretty okay with that idea,” I said.

“More than okay,” said Conan. “I love it. I mean—“
The three of us said it together:

“Wow!”

Teaching isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. But students like Conan make up for just about anything. I feel like I’ve been in the presence of a superhero in training.

Cloud Creek Ranch has turned into Professor X’s Academy. Be hopeful all ye who read this. A new generation of Champions is growing.

The best is yet to be.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #80 – “Everyday Magic”

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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

My California friend was certain a friendship with the Old Billionaire would bring me money.

Ha! As if.

Instead it’s brought me something better.

Magic.

It started over at the Chicago Hot Dog Stand when the Old Billionaire invited me along while he ran a quick errand.

“The router’s gone bad on my home network,” he said. “I’m going over to that new computer store on the town square, see if they can handle the situation.”

I love computer stores. I love walking through them and looking at all the hardware and software I can’t afford. Being in the middle of all that razzle-dazzle makes me go, “Wow.”

It’s the same feeling I used to get in the local bookstore back when there were local bookstores, so even though I’d never noticed the place before the first words out of my mouth were, “Let’s go.”

We drove over in the Old Billionaire’s old panel truck. Parked in front of the courthouse.

The Old Billionaire was all excited. “This is how I test new places,” he said. “I give ‘em a little personal order. If they do the job and treat me kindly they get a shot at something more.”

And when you’re an Old Billionaire “something more” is quite a bit more. If whoever ran the computer store handled things right this could be his very lucky day.

As we crossed the street to the store, the Old Billionaire frowned. The place was a mess, its display window bare, paint scraped off one outside wall. Rumpled green fabric was piled up alongside it, straddled by a paint-spattered ladder.

“Looked a lot better than this when I drove by a couple of weeks ago,” the Old Billionaire said. “Be a shame if they’re going out of business already.”

Over a door that looked like it should’ve been locked was a little “Computers” sign. I was surprised when it opened, and more surprised after we walked inside.

The store was bare except for a counter in the back, where a barefoot man in shorts who looked like a tall leprechaun sat cross-legged, fiddling with the innards of an open computer case.

Beyond him, I could see a woman talking on the phone in a back room crammed with unopened shipping boxes. A bell attached to the floor chimed.

The Leprechaun looked up. Smiled. “Hi. What can I do for you fine gentlemen?”

“My laptop’s not connecting right,” the Old Billionaire said. “Dial-up’s fine, but the wireless do-hickey says there’s no network for it to hook up with.”

“Probably your router. You have a big power outage recently? That can take a router right out. I can get you one for not much money and show you how to install it. Or I can come over to your place and do the job for you.”

Then the Leprechaun’s face clouded. “Not today, though. We just opened. We’re not really set up yet.”

“Just opened?” I said.

“Yesterday,” said the Leprechaun. “I know I should’ve waited till all our stock was in, but I was too excited.”

“Young man,” said the Old Billionaire, “you sound like you know your stuff. I’ll give you a week. But when I come back I want to see that green awning up and your window filled with flashing doodads.”

“How’d you know we’re going to put up a green awning?” the Leprechaun said.

The Old Billionaire shrugged. “I’ve been around,” was all he said.

We left the store. I looked at the Old Billionaire as directly as I could. “You saw that store before it was there,” I said. “Two weeks ago you saw how it’ll look next week.”

“Could have,” he said. “Or there could be some other explanation.”

I waited for him to give me one. The Old Billionaire just smiled.

“These things happen,” he went on. “I think they happen to everybody. It’s just that some of us pay more attention. Pay enough attention, and—who knows?—someday a person could get rich.”

I motioned up the way, at the little candy store I’d seen a million times and always meant to try.

“C’mon. As long as we’re here, let’s test drive one of their caramel apples.”

“That a new store?” said the Old Billionaire. He recognized the look I was giving him. “No, no, I mean it. Never saw it before.”

“Reckon we’ll find out,” I said.

“Ah,” he said, “now you’re paying attention.”