Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #33 – “Going to Branson, the Hard Way”

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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

Branson, Missouri is my bane.

I’ve been trying for four years to get to the town that calls itself “Nashville North,” and for four years I’ve failed every time.

Until last weekend, the trip always went the same way. Gwen the Beautiful and I would get into our truck and head up Highway 65 for a couple of days of what the ads call “good old-fashioned entertainment the whole family can enjoy.”

We’d see the billboards with Andy Williams and Petula Clark and Glen Campbell and Yakov Smirnoff and Ray Stevens and get all het up about seeing these old faves—

Only suddenly, after the Arkansas-Missouri border, the billboards would vanish. In their place would be the usual highway signs about how many more miles it was to Springfield, Mo. and its amenities.

But there wouldn’t be another word about Branson.

For four years somehow we’d drive right past Branson, realize our mistake, and double back. Drive slowly and deliberately from the Missouri side. Keep our eyes on the billboards…

And still find nothing.

We took every exit and followed where it led. There’d be gas stations, inexpensive motels, large, looming buildings like unmarked high school auditoriums.

Once we ended up in “Historic Branson,” and I was so excited I drove right off the road. Eventually we ended up in a quaint little Western town like Old Tucson, Arizona or Deadwood, South Dakota. Cute street. Good atmosphere, sure. But not the “Las Vegas of the Midwest But Without the Stuff You Don’t Like About Las Vegas” that we were looking for.

Hope, however, is my middle name, and last weekend we tried again. This time Gwen proved what a genius she is by making a reservation at a high-ticket Bed and Breakfast. She figured that a place that expensive would provide the best service in town. Including—please, oh, please—detailed directions telling how to get from our driveway to its door.

And she was right!

Armed with a map and two pages of “Turn here and go straight there,” we drove up the 65 to Highway V, where we turned left and went past The University of the Ozarks, hung a quick right, and found ourselves driving through a suburb that looked just like a place where they could’ve shot any teen comedy starring Lindsay Lohan.

Except for one little difference.

The houses were built atop a cliff directly overlooking Lake Taneycomo.

And eagles rode the air currents over the front yards.

At Cameron’s Crag, our anniversary retreat, our Charming Hostess took us to our suite, complete with private entrance and solarium and hot tub and an even better view of the eagles than we’d gotten from the street.

“We’re having dinner at the Top of the Rock,” Gwen said to her. “Can you tell us how to get there?”

“Ah,” said Our Hostess, “that’s a lovely place. And there are a couple of excellent restaurants for a celebration like this in Branson too.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Isn’t the Top of the Rock in Branson?”

“Not really,” Our Hostess said. “You passed it on your way here.” She smiled. “Actually, we’re not in Branson either.”

“We’re not?”

“Heavens no. This is Hollister!”

“Uh…then…where’s Branson?” I said.

She pointed out the window, past the lake and the sheep farm beyond the lake. “See those buildings? That’s Branson.”

“But we can get there from here, right?” Gwen said.

Our Hostess nodded and took out a map. She drew a line to Highway 65, and another to Highway 76.

“Most of the Branson shows and shopping and restaurants are right along this road,” she said.

Highway 76! It sounded so familiar…but why?

“When we get there, how will we find the shows?” Gwen said.

“Oh, you can’t miss them,” said our Hostess. “They’re in the big buildings that look like high school auditoriums.”

And there we had it. Of course Highway 76 was familiar. It was where we’d always turned around, giving up in disgust because we were sure we’d missed…Branson

That night we had dinner at the Top of the Rock. The next day we slept in, used the hot tub, and had the kind of day you always dream your anniversary will be.

But next time we’ll make it into Branson. We’ll turn onto Highway 76 and go from faceless auditorium to faceless auditorium. Sooner or later we’re bound to find Andy. Or Petula. Or Yakov.

And then, I swear, we’re gonna rock out on “good old-fashioned entertainment the whole family can enjoy!”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #32 – “Ladybugs!”

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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

The temperature here at Cloud Creek Ranch was 85 yesterday, and at this time of year that kind of heat means only one thing:

Ladybugs.

Outside. Inside. All around.

The temperature at Cloud Creek today hasn’t gotten above 55, and at this time of year that also means only one thing:

Dead ladybugs.

By the thousands. Littering the window sills. The floors. The drapes. The blinds. The dog bowls. The cat bowls. Even the litterbox!

Dead ladybugs everywhere you walk. Spotted orange beetles with flimsy round wings. An acrid smell when you crush their frail bodies, by accident or design.

And that’s just inside. As for the rest of the ranch—don’t ask.

I remember the first time the ladybugs made their appearance on our Mountain. It was a Suddenly It’s Indian Summer day in the first November we lived here. Gwen the Beautiful and I woke up one morning and looked out the window, and there it was, an orange cloud billowing all around the main house.

“How beautiful!” Gwen said. We ran downstairs and opened the front door to get up close to the beauty, and try to figure out what it was. Not that it took much figuring. The ladybugs swarmed inside, flew around, and then made themselves at home on the windows. It was as though they were saying, “C’mon! Take a good look!”

The little ladies continued to charm me when I went outside to feed the horses, the magic of being within this living orange cloud overcoming the annoyance of their flights into my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The newness of it all made my heart pound. “Ladybugs!” I shouted to the horses. “A November miracle!”

Huck the Spotless Appaloosa whinnied. Good conversation means a lot to him. Elaine the Not-So-Wild Mustang ignored me. She was brushing her nose against a fencepost, trying to rub the critters off.

Later that day when I drove into town I saw the true extent of the miracle. The cloud enveloped our place alone, stopping at the border we share with Buck the Ex-Navy Seal and Delly the Interstate Trucker. The ladybugs were ours and only ours. An omen. But of what?

Why, of ladybugs, of course.

Of a house where every step went “crunch.” Where you didn’t dare leave a jar open or a glass unattended unless you were looking for ladybug garnish or thought milk and ladybugs was even better than milk and Hershey’s syrup. Where discovering how bad the little sweethearts taste wasn’t something you did by choice. You just did it…every time you opened your mouth.

Three days after the ladybugs first arrived we traded in our truck because it was so infested.

The next day I gave up using the handy-vac in the house and turned to the bug bombs.

The day after that I said a little prayer apologizing for causing millions of Harmonia Axyridis deaths and spent all morning sweeping up the carnage. And celebrated the freedom to inhale air instead of flying beetles that afternoon, tossing back Gwen’s Sensational Home Brew (the dark Euro ale she used to make before discovering Irish Red).

In the years since, my wife and I have learned that no one truly escapes the ladybugs.

As soon as the temperature gets over 70 they’re back. Not in beautiful clouds billowing through the woods and the clearing, oh no. They’re back in the house, dropping down from the cedar ceilings and filling even the tiniest gaps between the pine floorboards.

They’re a fact of life at our place. Family…as in the obnoxious little children Gwen and I thought it was too late for us to have.

If not for air-conditioning we could never survive the summers. Not just because of the heat and humidity but because keeping our place at meat-freezing temperatures is the only way to keep the latest ladybug generation asleep. (Actually, I exaggerate. Come summer even the spotted ladies would rather hibernate than face the moisture in our air.)

And what, you ask, is the moral of the story? Well, I’m afraid it may well be this discouraging fact of human life:

Live with even the most wondrous beauty long enough and eventually you reach the terrible point that goes beyond taking it for granted and straight to the heart of, “Sorry, baby, but you’ve gotta be destroyed.”

Then again, it could just mean:

“Bugs! Phauggh!

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #31 – “The Things Friends Do….”

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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

Last Thursday Gwen the Beautiful left to visit Youngest Daughter Amber, who goes to school in San Francisco. By Friday I was almost as miserable as the dogs, who missed her so much all they could do was lie around and whimper while the rabbits zipped by.

To keep my mind off my loneliness I ran some errands. One of the first places I went was to Brannigan the Contractor’s house to pick up the Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun I stashed there last year. I didn’t want to have it at the house after Chet the Unhandyman moved in.

One reason for this was that Chet was depressed and I was afraid he might try to kill himself. Another was that he was depressing me and I was afraid I might try to kill him. Chet’s been in better spirits lately, though, so I figured I’d take back my property.

When I got to Brannigan’s I found out that his girlfriend, Sweet Jane, was also away. “You’ve gotta come back for dinner!” Brannigan roared. “I’m gonna have venison. Shot it myself in my own backyard!”

“No kidding?” I said. “Nice going.”

Brannigan looked sheepish. “Well, not that nice. It was a mercy killing. A doe jumped in front of my sister’s car right in the driveway there, and she broke its leg. So this isn’t so much ‘nice going venison’ as it is ‘roadkill.’” His eyes lighted up. “Yeah! We’re gonna have us some roadkill tonight!”

A couple of hours later, Brannigan and I, along with Chet, who may be a mite shiftless but is still a human being in need of a good meal, dug into the tender, delicious doe meat. Brannigan and I washed it down with stories we wouldn’t normally tell anyone we didn’t love like a brother.

The eating only took half an hour. The storytelling went on for five hours more. Chet tried to tell some stories too, but mostly they were just the plots of old movies, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing except that they were movies Brannigan hadn’t liked at all.

Still, Brannigan kept looking at Chet and saying how sorry he felt for him. How he was going to do something, “just you wait and see.”

I didn’t think much of it, but the next morning who should drive up into our mountaintop clearing bright and early but Brannigan himself. He pounded so loudly on the door of the trailer where Chet stays that it woke me in the house fifty yards away.

“Get up!” Brannigan bellowed. “Your long, dismal face won my sympathy. I’m gonna give you another chance!”

Which meant he was going to give Chet a job, even though the last time he tried that he had to fire him after—all together now—three days.

I staggered over to the trailer just as Chet opened the door in his underwear. Brannigan grabbed him. “Got us some building to do. Let’s go”

Chet blinked. One of his greatest skills is his ability to always find an excuse for being unable to work. This time he pointed to his old SUV “I can’t drive anywhere,” he said. “My battery’s dead.”

“I’m the one doing the driving!” Brannigan shouted. “Get your clothes on and get in the truck!” He turned to me. “This is for you,” he said. “One of the ways a friend makes life better for another friend.”

Brannigan and Chet were gone all day. They returned at sunset while I was feeding the horses. Chet didn’t say anything as he got out of the truck. He just vanished into the trailer.

“What happened?” I asked Brannigan.

“It went like this,” he said. “The old boy whose house we were working on comes outside and says to me, ‘I’m paying for these boys?’

“I say, ‘Yes, you are!’

“He points to Chet. ‘Even that old guy just standing there not doing a thing?’

“What can I say back to him,” said Brannigan, “but, ‘No, you’re not!’ And that’s the end of Chet’s day.”

Brannigan gunned his truck. “You don’t suppose I could have your Mossberg again, do you? And a few minutes with Chet?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “That’s one more way a friend makes life better for another friend.”

“Then I’d say we’re even.” Brannigan said. He laughed, as, turf churning beneath his wheels, he pulled away.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #30 – The Reynolds Boys

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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, XL7-TV in Mountain Home held a day-long telethon for the Humane Society.

I was scheduled to appear and talk about what good work the Society does and plug this column a time or two, but as luck and life would have it, I wasn’t able to do my bit. Gwen the Beautiful and I had to make a run down to Little Rock instead.

Missing my shot at television stardom’s gotten me thinking, though, about my old area of expertise—Showbiz!—Paradise style.

I met the owner of XL7-TV, Dan Reynolds, at the Baxter County Fair awhile back. Just a few minutes into the conversation I understood that Dan was a Man with a Plan.

He’d already started and sold one local television station, and was a couple of years into this one.

Dan’s programming philosophy impressed me. He was concerned about two elements that many people find difficult to reconcile. Entertainment and public service.

Working with low power and an even lower budget, Dan was taking care of the public service side with syndicated news and weather reports, high school sports coverage, and specials like the telethon.

He even gave Chet the Unhandyman a job as a cameraman. (Yes, regular readers already know what happened. This is one of those jobs Chet managed to stretch out to last all of three days.)

It was Dan’s approach to the entertainment side that hooked me though. I’m a sucker for exactly what he was putting on the air. Old TV series like The Lone Ranger and Lassie and even The Cisco Kid. The shows that had inspired me to go to Hollywood years ago and write some shows of my own.

As I’ve gotten to know Dan better I’ve learned that he has no intention of stopping at this mix of current events and TV classics. His goals are far loftier.

Dan produces several nature series, does production work for various reality shows, and, the last time we talked about it, was planning a series to be hosted by his childhood hero and mine, actor Clint Walker.

And then there’s the upcoming independent TV distribution company he’s been working on and…

You get the idea. The man’s working toward the future. And he’s doing it all from right here in Paradise.

Well, not really doing it all. He’s got a couple of partners.

His sons.

Ian’s in his mid-twenties, married, with a son. Gil’s recently out of college, single and lookin’. Ian’s the tech guy. He directs and edits. Gil’s in charge of graphics and edits as well.

And all three of the Reynolds Boys do everything else that’s necessary too. They even take turns climbing to the top of the broadcast tower and messing with their antenna when it goes out of whack.

Dan hasn’t said it in so many words, but I think his hope is to be to Ian and Gil what Ted Turner’s daddy was to him: The creator of a burgeoning business empire his sons can expand. But when I watch these three I see something else building as well.

I see three men who love each other. Whose work and life are so intertwined that Ian’s even gotten himself a fine new home on the property where he grew up. Right through some trees beyond his mom and dad.

The Reynolds Boys hope together and dream together and laugh and cry and roll their eyes at each other and argue a bit and then get back to the business at hand.

No matter what situation I’ve seen them in together I’ve known I was looking at folks who enjoy every minute they spend with each other.

I admit it. This isn’t something I’ve had much experience with in my own life. When my children came around while I was working odds are that I wouldn’t even look up. I’d keep on at my lonely act of creation…after a yell for their mother to come and get them, “Now!”

I’m sorry I missed the telethon and all the Reynolds Boys’ action I know went into it. This column is my way of apologizing.

And of letting Dan Reynolds know that although I have no idea whatsoever if he’ll ever be a Bigtime Television Mogul he’s already as successful as can be.

Dan’s created something much more valuable than CNN.

He’s created a real FAMILY.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #29 – It’s All About the Audience

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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

Reader feedback beats executive notes any day of the week.

In my previous life I was a television writer and producer. Over thirty plus years I wrote hundreds of episodes of television shows, including Hawaii Five-0, The Fall Guy, Walker Texas Ranger, Diagnosis Murder and Star Trek: Voyager. And for better or worse, that’s just for starters.

Although the shows differed, one element stayed the same. Network executives never were satisfied with hiring writers and actors and directors and letting them do their thing. All any of us wanted to do was put on a show for the public. But the business structure of television forced us to play to satisfy corporate needs and, as we say here in Paradise, pay the audience “no never mind.”

Because of this, it’s with great pleasure that I observe that this column, Live! From Paradise!, has been appearing for six months now, and during that time there’s been no editorial meddling. No company demands. No “notes” ordering changes.

Have I missed executive intervention?

Does a lion returned to the wild miss the zoo?

I’m on my own here. If all goes well, the success is mine. If the column ends up in a Port-A-Potty the failure is mine too. Whatever the credit, or the blame, it comes to me because I’m the one who’s earned it. And, best of all I really do get both credit and blame, praise and criticism, suggestions and questions, from the folks who really count.

You.

Instead of an executive telling me, “Our focus group says you should say this. My boss says you should stay away from that…and whatever you do don’t write about Chet the Unhandyman anymore,” I hear directly from readers who e-mail me or recognize me from my picture and come over to talk while I’m out and about. And ain’t none of you shy about what you like and what you don’t.

Since communicating with you is the reason I write, getting your communication right back at me is…well, how about the P Word? “Paradise.”

Buck the Ex-Navy Seal put it into perspective on our way to the hardware store today. The purpose of our mission was to drop off my lawn tractor for fixing, and I was in a funk.

Buck said, “They should’ve told you these things are for golf courses, not mountain clearings. Next week I’ll be over at your place with my bush hog.”

Then he asked how the rest of life was treating me. Specifically, he wanted to know about this column. “The paper’s paying you, right? So they must be happy. And the readers like what you’re doing too, don’t they?”

“Not always, Buck. I get some pretty tough messages once in awhile.”

“That’s good! That’s great!”

My funk was still weighing on me. “Doesn’t always feel that great. Especially when people take what I write personally and think I’m insulting their hometown, or even them. Which isn’t the case because ‘Paradise’ isn’t a real town, it’s a composite of many towns, from all over, and each neighbor I mention is actually many different people I’ve encountered in my life. With my own imagination tossed to boot.”

“You’re not looking at it right,” Buck said. “Everything you write is real, even if it’s not exactly true. I may be a combination of this old boy and that one and the other fellow over there, but to anyone who reads this I’m Buck the Ex-Navy Seal, alive and kicking right here and now.

“And,” he went on, “anybody who takes the time to talk to you is doing it because what you’ve said means something to them. Maybe it’s made them happy. Maybe it’s got them mad. Either way, you’ve done what you set out to. You’ve put something into their lives that wasn’t there before. And it’s something they know is of value, or else they’d just blow you off.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Executives are paid to impose their perspectives, but readers have no reason to respond unless what they’ve read has meaning for them. Having an effect on people—that’s what TV and newspapers and films and everything else we call “media” should be all about.

So my thanks to all of you for saying “Hi” at WalMart, and e-mailing me your thoughts, pro or con. As long as you keep reading I’ll keep writing.

How else will I be able to get Buck to bush hog my yard?