Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #74 – “Tone of Voice”

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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 night while I was out on the front porch, talking on the phone with a friend in L.A., Emmy the Pit Mom came outside through the open door.

“You here to enjoy the night air?” I said. “Great.” I patted the wooden swing. “Want to sit next to me?”

At the other end of the line my friend chuckled. “Say hi to Gwen the Beautiful for me.”

“Oh, I will. As soon as I go inside.”

“Isn’t that who you were talking to just now?”

“No, that was Emmy.”

“The dog? You were talking to the dog like that? I was sure it had to be the woman you love. Or at least a human being.”

Those of you who are regular readers know how my mind works. So you know what he said got me to thinking.

And, of course, wondering.

Is there really something so strange about how I talk to Emmy? I talk to her the way I do all the animals around here. The way I talk to Huck the Spotless Appaloosa, Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang, Decker the Giant-Hearted, Belle the Wary, and the cats and the chickens too.

And I realized that the strange thing about the way I talk to the animals here on the Mountain is that I talk to them the same way I talk to people. I talk to them as conscious, self-aware human beings.

I talk to them the way I treat them—with respect.

Respect! For animals?! Who’d a thunk?

Certainly not me. Back in the day when I was scrambling for a living, fighting tooth and claw for my little piece of the pie, I saw a huge difference between humans and other species.

Humans were Kings of the Hill. Rulers of the planet! Big Kahunas in every way.

And animals—horses, dogs, barracudas, whatever—were background. Décor. Not so much creatures as objects to be bent and shaped and controlled.

Don’t get me wrong. I had lots of pets. Loved them all. But I talked to them in that stern, authoritarian voice people reserve for All Things Less Than Human.

“Come! Sit! Stay! Heel!”

Or in that sugary sweet supplicating tone we use when expressing affection. “Good doggie. Good girl. Who’s Daddy’s favorite kitten? Mmmm….”

Whoa. Imagine if we talked to our children that way. Or our spouses or partners. Co-workers….

Oops, never mind. As I look back on my life as father, husband, employee, and employer I realize I don’t have to imagine that at all.

I did talk that way.

Never thought about it. Never even noticed.

Patronizing? Sure.

Condescending? You bet.

Desperate for love and approval and authority too? Absolutely.

There I was, an adult in the meat market we call the Big City, begging, borrowing, and wheedling my way to personal and business success—and never noticing, not for a moment, that although I would say, when asked by those close to me, “I’m doing this all for you. My life is all about you,” that wasn’t how it was. My thoughts, feelings, and deeds weren’t about “you” at all.

They were all about “me.”

When I bragged about the achievements of friends and family I really was bragging about myself.

Looking for honor by association.

When I entered my St. Bernard in dog shows and showed off her ribbons it wasn’t because she loved it so much. It was because I felt enhanced and empowered by her “success.”

Now, though, I’m out here in Paradise. Surrounded by trees and critters. At the mercy of the wind and the sun and the rain.

Sharing this mountaintop with—yes—the woman I love.

And also with the animals whose behavior and interaction teach me so much everyday.

And for the life of me I can’t find one reason not to think of every single one of the creatures I’ve gotten to know so well as “people.” Nor to order them around.

Or even wheedle or beg or cajole.

I just plain respect them too much.

This morning I called my friend back and explained all this to him. His response was another chuckle. “You’ve been in the woods too long,” he said.

I don’t think so.

Right now I don’t think I ever could be in the woods for too long.

They’re filled with way too many new people of all species for me ever to get to know and love and respect.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #73 – “Just One of the 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

My new haircut, the one that buzzed me within an eighth of an inch of my scalp, has brought me a whole new world of acceptance here in Paradise.

Folks who never noticed me before nod as I walk by. Other folks wave from their trucks as we pass on the highway. The stocker at the market even comes out of the back to say howdy.

At last I’m one of the boys.

The clincher came yesterday when Brannigan the Contractor and I went over to the courthouse to check on the title to some property near Cloud Creek Ranch.

After we’d finished our business we walked over to the square, where a couple of Good Old Boys were shooting the breeze. Brannigan wrapped both men in his usual energetic bear hug, and then introduced us to each other.

Uncle Ernie, six plus feet of hard wire in a weathered face, shook my hand and smiled. Jimmy Blue, a little shorter and a lot rounder, did the same. “So you’re the new boy on the old Ross place,” Uncle Ernie said.

“That’s a great property,” said Jimmy Blue. “Remember the fun we used to have in that pond back when we were kids?”

“That’s what—a hundred and sixty acres?” said Uncle Ernie. “All the way down to the creek?”

“Is it that big?” Jimmy Blue said. “I don’t remember. When I think about the place all I see is woods.”

“Woods and critters,” Uncle Ernie said. “Used to go trapping out there. The Fish and Game Department had a bounty for everything. Fifty cents a squirrel. Same for rabbits and civets.”

“There were civets on my place?” I said.

“Sure were,” said Uncle Ernie. “Ornery little things. Spotted polecats is what they are, only they smell worse.”

Jimmy Blue leaned forward. “’Worse’ is putting it kindly. Civets smell so bad that if you ever meet up with one you’ll spend the rest of the day looking for a dead skunk to roll on.”

“Used to trap a lot of coyotes at the Ross’s too,” Uncle Ernie said. “And red wolves.” He looked at me curiously. “Ever see any red wolves these days?”

“Not a one,” I said. “But we don’t see much in the way of wild things. My dogs think it’s their job to keep the property clear.”

“And it is,” said Jimmy Blue. “Unless trapping’s your thing.”

“Larry’s thing is ‘appreciating,’” Brannigan said. “You’re looking at a man who’s so happy he left the city he could bust.”

“So you like it here, do you?” Uncle Ernie said. “That’s good. Very good….”

He looked me up and down. Nodded as though making a decision. “We need men who love this place to help take care of it. Could be we’ll stand you for office someday.”

“With all due respect,” Jimmy Blue said, “there’s more to public service than loving the land.”

He turned to me. “What about fiscal responsibility? Where do you stand when it comes to saving money?”

“Are you kidding? He’s all for it,” Brannigan said quickly. “A regular saving fool!” He gave me a look that said, Go along with me here.

“Oh,” I said. “Right. Absolutely. In fact, back in L.A. I saved so much money one day not buying a Ferrari that I was able to go down the block and buy a Porsche with the difference so it didn’t cost me anything at all.”

It was an old line Bob Hope had used on a TV show I’d produced. I knew I wouldn’t get the laugh he did, but I waited for the smile.

And waited some more.

Uncle Ernie and Jimmy Blue exchanged gazes.

Uncle Ernie shifted on his bench.

Jimmy Blue cleared his throat.

“Reckon it’s time to get on home—“ That was both of them, talking at once.

In about ten seconds they were gone.

Brannigan kicked at the dirt. “That was Uncle Ernie!” he roared. “If Uncle Ernie says he’s going to stand you for office in this town you’re as good as elected! You had it all right there—till you started in about Ferraris and Porsches!”

“But I’m not interested in running for anything—“

“Of course you are. Why else would you stand here like the perfect candidate? As your ex-campaign manager, I’m telling you. Next time stick to Chevy and Dodge Ram!”

And so it goes, when you’re one of the boys.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #72 – “Itchin’ Like a Man on a Fuzzy Tree”

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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

I’m covered with bites today and, as Elvis put it so well, “itchin’ like a man on a fuzzy tree.” Which means I’m ready to rant about one of the most maddening aspects of living in Paradise.

Ticks!

Wherever you find beautiful greenery you also are sure to find Earth’s most obnoxious little bloodsuckers.

Step outside on a beautiful summer day, and the odds are good you’ll step back in with a tick somewhere on—or in—your clothes.

Over the years I’ve learned how to deal with chiggers. Stay out of the woods. Wear boots and long pants and tuck your pants inside your boots. Keep moving. Deet up.

Ticks, however, are another story. Pick up a rake and presto! There’s a tick crawling up your arm.
Walk past a shed and wham! That’s a tick fastening itself to your neck.

Trim a tree branch and pow! That ain’t no aphid clinging to your leg.

I can Deet myself to death and still find a little bump in an inappropriate place, scratch at it…and splatter myself with my own blood, courtesy of one fat, well-fed tick mom.

I remember as a child plucking off a tick and continuing on my merry way. What I don’t remember is the welt the size of my mountaintop and the Big Itch afterward that I feel now. Have ticks mutated into something far more powerful than before?

In Paradise, common wisdom says there are two ways to beat the ticks.

The first way is to move to the city and spend your life on concrete and asphalt, insulated from nature’s miserable little sucks. Since my neighbors and I are all about living where we can touch and smell and listen to the land, that’s not an option.

The second way is to spray all around with the strongest possible poison. But that’s got a downside too. Everyone’s livestock would pay a high price for grazing on chemical-soaked grass.

Yesterday, as I pondered and scratched, Brannigan the Contractor came by to ratchet up our sagging back deck. After a couple of sweaty hours he came inside to take Gwen the Beautiful up on her offer of sweet tea.

After pulling up a chair, he noticed a two foot long feather on my desk. Brannigan eyed it curiously. “What’re you doing with this?”

“Admiring it,” I said. You don’t see an eagle feather every day.”

Brannigan snorted. “Eagle feather?! No way! It’s from a turkey vulture. Eagles are noble. They hunt just like real men. But vultures? They’re the lowest form of bird life there is. Good for nothing but stripping roadkill!”

After Brannigan left I picked up the feather. When I’d thought it was an eagle feather I’d seen it as beautiful. A prize. But now?

Now I felt like a jerk.

Which got me to wondering. Why value eagles over vultures? Is killing food automatically a “better” thing to do than eating what’s already dead? Wouldn’t it be easy to argue exactly the reverse?

I called Johnny Lee, Deputy Game Warden at Paradise County Fish and Game. Asked him what he knew about vultures.

“Vultures are awesome,” he said. “I’d want to be one if I was a bird.”

This was a surprise. I asked Johnny Lee one question. “Why?”

“They’re the ultimate team players. They know how to make everything around them work for them. They’re not made for hunting so they depend on others to kill. When the hunters are finished, the vultures eat what otherwise would rot and be wasted.

“And they share it with other animals. Everything in the woods knows where to go for supper when they see vultures circling around.

“They’re great flyers too. Most efficient gliders of any bird, and they’re just about the healthiest. They’ve got special bacteria that knock out most disease.”

Which, believe it or not, brings me back to ticks and the itch I’m still scratching. Vultures are in tune with the world, and they’re big on sharing, right?

Well then, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m taking that big feather outside and waving it at the next turkey vulture I see overhead. And I’m asking it the Question of the Hour:

“How can I get along with ticks? How can I get something good out of them? What should I do?”

And I promise that when that vulture tells me, Brannigan the Contractor will be the first to know.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #71 – “An Act of Great Daring”

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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

I committed an act of great daring yesterday.

I got a haircut.

Not just any haircut—oh no. As I write this my hair is shorter than it’s been in more years than I can face remembering.

It’s so short it makes the head of a USMC boot camp recruit look shaggy.

What happened was I woke up with an overwhelming need to change something about myself.

I do that from time to time, mostly when things are going too well and I feel a need to start something new. To find a reason to struggle. The last time I went through that I quit my job, got divorced, and ran off to live with “Wild Indians.”
Literally.
In comparison with that bit of work deciding I no longer wanted to present myself in a way that made people nod and say, “Oh, aging hippie, I get it,” shouldn’t have been a very big deal. My goal was to look more like the real me…formerly an aging hippie but now—

Now what?

I didn’t know, but I was hoping my neighbors would help me find out.

My plan was to drive over to the Paradise Barber Shop, tell Hank the Barber I wanted a change, and see what he’d do. I’ve been in that shop before, and I can tell you this: Clippers rule. I’ve never seen a customer leave there needing to use a comb.

But when I got into town I discovered I’d miscalculated. The barber shop was closed. So I walked across the street to the shop where a friendly divorcee named Melissa cuts Gwen the Beautiful’s hair and told her I wanted the $10 “Men’s Special.”

“Are you sure?” she said. “I set the clippers all the way down to ‘Two’ for the Special.”

“’Two’s’ pretty far down there, huh?”

“Well, not as far as ‘One.’”

“How’s this?” I said. “Set it for whatever you want. Give me any haircut you want. I’ve got total faith in your judgment.”

“You mean that? Really?” And before I could answer she fired up that clipper and cut the first swath.

Fifteen minutes later my hair formed a gray and silver and various shades of brown-colored pile of fluff on the floor. With a flourish, Melissa swiveled me around to face the mirror. “What do you think?”

I stared at my new reflection. “What do you think?” I said.

“I love it,” she said. “Honest.” Melissa nodded, more to herself than to me. “You look good. Like a man. Not an old man, and not a kid. Like an adult. Like I wish the man I’m dating over in Morning Star looked.”

Melissa reached out like she was going to hug me. Stopped herself. “Now tell me what you think,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I looked different, that’s for sure. Felt different too.

I felt the way I’d wanted to feel when I set out from the ranch.

I felt new.

I was walking a new road. At the beginning of a new adventure with a new me. The real me as seen by someone who had no ax to grind, no statement to make, nothing to gain or lose by not revealing the truth.

I thought, “Ah! Beginnings!” and felt my whole body stir.

I thought “Beginnings keep me alive!”

“I like it,” I said. “I like it fine.”

Melissa sighed with relief, and gave me that unfinished hug.

Half an hour later I was pulling up in front of our house. Gwen came rushing onto the front porch. Stared. It wasn’t her half-blind thing. It was something more.

“Who’s this?” she said. “Who’s this man standing over by that truck? When you left here I knew you. Now I’m not so sure.”

“Neither am I,” I said.

Gwen laughed. “That is so cool!”

I came up onto the porch so she could see me better. “I’m not sure I like this,” she said. “But I’m not saying I don’t.”

“That’s all right. We’re on the same page.”

“I’ll tell you one thing though,” Gwen said. “Whoever you are, you’re an adult. Wonder what it’ll be like after all these years, being married to an adult.”

“That’s the great thing about this,” I said. “We get to find out.”

We walked into the house, two familiar travelers taking a new road together.

An act of great daring indeed.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #70 – “Missing My Mother-in-Law”

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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 mother-in-law, Jesse Laverne Manns, known as Laverne by her friends and colleagues, died last week in Fontana, California, after a heart attack and many years of diabetes. Laverne was 72 years old and beautiful in every way.

She was born in a small town in Oklahoma and became a high school basketball star in a state that took – and still takes – its “girls” high school basketball very seriously. Her sports skills earned her a college scholarship, but although Laverne always loved sports her life was devoted to two other great loves.

The first was her husband, Everett.

I came into Laverne’s life too late to meet the man everyone called “Coach Manns,” and who died, also of a heart attack, when he was still a vigorous, bodybuilding 59. But Laverne spoke of him with such adoration that I still treasure the time she turned to me—I don’t remember what I was doing but sure wish I did—and said, “Why, you’re just like Everett!” and gave me a smile that made the whole room shine.

The second great object of Laverne’s devotion was education.

She was an educator all her adult life. Went from elementary school teacher to principal to university administrator because, for her, it was all about teaching and learning and guiding everyone she could toward a better future.

She could be pushy, demanding, stern. As manipulative, in a feminine “You talking about little ole me?” kind of way as Donald Trump is with his slick masculine aggression. But she played her games for the sake of others. Because she wanted the best for everyone else.

Laverne had big ambitions for her children, Vicki, Gwen, Denyse, Cary, and Johnny (who came over to the house for dinner with Coach Manns one day when he was still a schoolboy and stayed on to finish growing up), and her grandchildren. And for all her friends, neighbors, and co-workers as well.

“You’ve got to do your best to get the best,” she would tell them all. It was the motto behind all of Laverne’s days.

I know Laverne best as my beloved mother-in-law. Who wouldn’t love a mother-in-law who, on Gwen the Beautiful’s birthday last month, sent her all of my favorite food? New York cheesecake! Egg bagels! Chicago pizza
!
Laverne’s life was not without its share of travail. But it was impossible for her to stay down for long. Hope and idealism were like titles—or degrees—after her name. Quite simply, she was one of the most idealistic people I’ve ever known.

The last time Laverne visited us here on the Mountain, she told me about a problem a teacher she’d recruited was having with another faculty member. This teacher was semi-retired, a former Superintendent of Schools, and a very savvy and practical man.

When I said to Laverne, “If he’s upset why doesn’t he go to the Dean?” she looked astounded.

“Oh no,” Laverne said. “He would never go over somebody’s head like that. This is a university. Nobody would think of playing politics here.”

I’ve got a few friends who are professors at various colleges, and you can believe me when I say I’ve heard a story or two to the contrary over the years. But I didn’t argue. I just smiled and nodded.

Because if that’s how Laverne saw the world—if it was her world—well, that made her one very lucky woman. How could anyone ever want to change that?

Laverne’s death has brought luck to some other people too. In her never-ending battle to make things better at all times, she signed on as an organ donor. And, of course, her life helped all of us who knew her feel lucky indeed.

I already miss my mother-in-law. For fifteen years, no matter where Laverne and Gwen and I were, Laverne was part of every moment of my life. She was always tucked away in the safest corners of both my head and my heart. Over to the right, beside her daughter. Now–

Just a minute. I’m hearing something. Wait–

It’s a voice. A familiar voice. A very familiar voice…

“I love you,” the voice is saying, from its old place beside Gwen. “And I know I can count on you to go on and do what’s best.”

I’ll try, Laverne. It’ll be a lot easier now that I know you’re still here.