Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #51 – “New Life”

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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

Today is the most glorious day of 2006. It’s been raining since about midnight. Rumbling thunder. Gusting winds. Lightning in the distance.

Three consecutive days of deluge have changed everything here on the Mountain. Gwen the Beautiful’s irises are in bloom. So are the dogwoods. Even the grass that burned out in last summer’s drought is starting to return. The very atmosphere seems green.

And the sound! The main house and the Annex both have metal roofs, and I can’t think of a single existing musical group that can match the rhythm I hear and feel as I write.

I can honestly say I feel more alive than I have in many long months. I’m not the only one either. Gwen’s got a spring in her step that’d been missing for awhile. The animals are filled with energy.

And the Annex has started talking.

Yes, I know how strange that sounds. But on a property the original owners fled from because they saw and heard so many ghosts, it would be stranger still if things seemed normal.

The Annex has been empty for a couple of weeks, with Burl Jr., the New Cloud Creek Caretaker, scheduled to move in this weekend. Over that time Gwen’s been outfitting and decorating to make the place perfect for its use as both an art studio and the home of our new hand. So yesterday I walked over there to make sure there were no leaks to spoil things.

Now I’ll flat-out admit I’ve been uncomfortable with this trailer since we first moved it up here. It’s been nothing but an inanimate hunk of metal, blocking my view of the forest. But yesterday, in the cold, pouring rain, the place felt warmer than it ever had before.

Especially when it said, “Good morning.”

I jumped about two feet into the air. “You’re alive?” I said.

“Born last night,” the Annex said. “Daughter of the rain. And Gwen’s love.”

“That’s what it takes?

“I guess. I don’t really know. I’m just a kid.”

As we talked I started to smell something. Freshly made popcorn. I looked around the kitchen. The stove and the oven were clean as a whistle. I sniffed at the windows, the heating duct, even the portable air-conditioner. The popcorn smell wasn’t coming from any of those places.

It was coming from everywhere.

“What’s going on?” I said to the trailer.

“Don’t you like it?” the trailer said. “How’s this?”

The popcorn smell vanished. In its place was the aroma of fresh-baked cherry pie.

“Better?” said the trailer.

“I dunno,” I said.

“I want you to love me,” said the Annex. “I’ll love you back. I promise.

“Is that what this is about? You’re looking for something that’ll make me love you?”

“You and Gwen and everybody!” the Annex said. “People love food, don’t they? I don’t know how I know that, but I do.”

The smell of cherry pie grew stronger. It was like a dozen cherry pies baking together. Way too sweet. Overpowering. I staggered back, fled from the trailer.

As I stood on the deck, gasping for air in the rain, the Annex spoke again. “Too much?” it said.

“Too much,” I agreed. “You’re just a kid. You don’t understand how things can be both better and worse at the same time. But you’ve created one of those things.”

“I’ll keep trying.”

And it has. This morning the cherry pie smell was gone. Replaced by angel food cake with just the slightest strawberry tang.

The truth is that I’d love the Annex even if it didn’t try so hard. In fact, even if it didn’t try at all. Just the way I’d love any newborn.

But I’m not telling that trailer. No sir. Because the plain fact is that if there’s one dessert I go crazy for even more than chocolate fudge brownies it’s strawberry shortcake. And strawberry shortcake is what’s filling the air just inside that door.

I’ve reached a point here in Paradise where I don’t question the Annex’s new life. I am, however, wondering about something else. I don’t know which is more bewildering and wonderful to me. The fact that the scent exists…or the fact that in such a short time this child of the rain and Gwen’s love has found the right one.

Told you it was a glorious day!

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #50 – “I Used to be Cool”

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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 used to be a cool guy.

I wore sunglasses twenty-four hours a day, and was the second-in-command to one of the most famous Monster Producers in TV. He already had Yes Men. My job was to say No. And then hang around and party.

I even went to Las Vegas now and then, on the boss’s private jet. I didn’t gamble, but was always ready for dinner, a show and some backstage conversation. Witty conversation, we called it.

But until last weekend it’d been twelve years since I’d been in Vegas. I work for myself now, and never wear shades because I can’t abide the thought of anything clouding my view. As for witty conversation—these days I talk mostly about the weather, and my listeners are likely to be my dogs, horses, or trees.

Still, I was looking forward to a few days with old friends now living in America’s Playground even if this time around Gwen the Beautiful and I had to fly east from Little Rock to Memphis in order to get the best price going west. I expected a big contrast with life in Paradise, and I got it, all right.

The first thing I noticed when we got off the plane was all the plastic surgery on the folks in the airport. Men as well as women with facelifts and not a down-turned nose in sight.

The women were perfectly made-up, and both they and the men wore the hippest of fashions. We don’t see designer bags and flashing jewelry much in Paradise, but we sure saw it now. And after we got out on the street was saw another big difference. Ferraris, BMWs, and Lincoln SUVs like the one in which our friends picked us up.

Then there was their home. 3500 square feet under a red tile roof in a gated community with a vaguely Spanish name. A backyard the size of a dog run. “Low maintenance,” Mr. Vegas Friend grinned.

“No chiggers or ticks,” Mrs. Vegas Friend added. “Don’t you love cement?”

That night they took us to a French restaurant at the Wynn Hotel. I can still taste my entrée—a steak so rare it could only be described as singed, with a sauce that made my lips tingle. I like fried chicken as much as the next man, but this was beyond compare. And the mind-blowing light show that went with it wasn’t bad either.

The next day our foursome caught up on all that’s been happening in our lives in a marathon conversation with more laughs than words. And that night we saw Celine Dion’s show. The lady works hard for the money. Last time I saw that much sweat on a person was last August, when I walked from our front porch to the chicken coop.

Soon, though, we were back at the Little Rock airport, where our friend Celia, Sweet Jane The Realtor’s sister, picked us up. Celia wore faded jeans and had a smudge of grease on her cheek, and drove her old Chevy pickup, apologizing because her teenage son had added headers and ‘glas packs loud enough to out-call a mating bull elephant.

As Celia drove us home she brought us up to date on local events. The deputies were still looking for a robbery suspect they couldn’t seem to catch, “mostly because he’s six foot six and a former Marine and they don’t want to know how hard he’ll fight back.”

And, she said, her neighbor, Rita, “has been making a fool of herself, bringing home men at night who she’d never look at twice if it was day.”

Another neighbor, Tommy from Chicago, has been calling and asking Celia to “come over—please—and kick out the space aliens camped on my porch!”

Tommy even sent her a bottle of Paris Hilton perfume to sweeten the pot, but it didn’t work. “My word! Like I’d ever have a place to wear something as fancy as that!”

And…and…

And I sat there in the back seat while, beside her, Gwen smiled and said, “Thanks, Celia, for such a wonderful welcome home,” and I thought: Gwen’s right. It really is a wonderful welcome.

Because the way I see it is this.

I used to be a cool guy. Yep, I was.

But now—my word! Who cares?

I’m grateful to both Las Vegas and Paradise. Just for being two of the many places I can go.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #49 – “Two Dreamers”

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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

This is a Tale of Two Dreamers.

The first Dreamer is Chet the Unhandyman. He and his DVD movie collection have lived on the Mountain with Gwen the Beautiful and me for two years. He came here to start a new life because his old one had gotten away from him.

I’ve known Chet for fifteen years, and tried to help him even though he’s difficult to like. Chet’s sarcastic and cynical and thinks he’s the smartest man he’s ever met. He lived in the trailer we call our “Annex” for over a year before trying to get a job, and regular readers know what’s happened to every job he’s gotten.

That’s right. Gone in three days. Because not only does Chet never seem to get his work—whatever it is—done, he drives people crazy while he’s not doing it, mostly by relating everything that’s happening around him to everything that’s happened in movies.

At fifty-six, it’s as though the only things that are real to him are the films he watches over and over and over again. Can’t find Chet? Look in front of the TV, where he’ll be dreaming dreams of himself as a character in Casablanca or Citizen Kane, or the little boy in Shane calling, “Come back!”

Dreaming dreams that aren’t his own.

The second Dreamer is Burl Jr. Until I saw him in Paradise yesterday I thought he was still in Bristol, Virginia, where he’d gone searching for love. But here he was, pulling me into the Music Store and showing me an old acoustic guitar. “Beautiful, isn’t she? Listen to the tone.”

He strummed a couple of chords so perfect they sent shivers down my spine. His boss, DW, looked over at me. “Burl bought that guitar from the father of the girl he went to see. Guess what it cost him.”

“It cost me the girl,” Burl Jr. admitted. “Brittany.”

He picked out a blues that sounded as innocent as he is. “I found her where I met her, at the Golden Corral. I told her straight out I’d come back to be her man. Then I moved into Motel 6 and started going to Brittany’s house everyday. Met her little girl and her mom and dad.

“The old boy’s a musician. Been touring forty years. What a guitar player! He and I played music on the front porch every night. He gave me this guitar, and that’s when Brittany took me aside and asked what I wanted to do with my life.

“I told her I had several possibilities but wanted to be like her father. And she freaked! She said he’d been the worst dad in the world, always gone, always broke. She said she’d never let herself love a musician, no matter what!

“I was dumbfounded. I sat in my car and started picking at the guitar, and realized that making music about how I felt was as important to me as loving or being loved. Maybe more.

“Next day I drove back here. I’m renting a room, and as soon as I’ve saved enough money I’m hitting the road to make it or bust.”

Burl Jr.’s dream stayed with me as I drove home. I stopped at the Annex, where Chet’s been holed up since he broke his foot. The doctor had said he could get back to his Cloud Creek chores this week, so I asked what his plans were.

“Oh, I think I’ll take it easy for a couple more weeks,” Chet said. “Don’t want to turn into The English Patient here.” And he turned back to Jaws on DVD.

A few minutes later I was dialing the Music Store. When Burl Jr. answered I asked if he’d like a free trailer to live in. “All you’ve got to do is feed the animals and look after things when Gwen and I are out of town.”

“Wow,” Burl Jr. said. “I could build up a real nice nest egg that way. End of the month okay?”

Now I’ve got to tell Chet the Unhandyman it’s time for him to move on. Because the way I see it is this:

Two dreamers. One represents everything I’ve worked hard not to be. The other reminds me of my hopeful self once upon a time. Which dreamer would you rather see across your clearing everyday? Which dreamer would you rather help fill with the sweet fire that is life?

Me too.