LB: Live! From Paradise #232 – “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”

(The Intro above is from this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

As Neil Sedaka once sang, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

Even when it doesn’t involve a loving partner or significant other sort of relationship.

I don’t know what happens with other people, but Gwen the Beautiful and I share a common characteristic when it comes to keeping friendships. We’re pretty much able to go along with anything as long as we know the friend truly cares for us and shares our basic desire to help human beings to become the best they can be.

But once a friend crosses the line it’s as though a switch has gone off in our heads and it’s all over.

I’ve only seen this happen with Gwen a couple of times. In both cases her reaction was immediate and powerful.

The first time, she discovered that her best friend Paula had been stealing from our house. Clothes. Children’s toys. Small items of décor.

Did Gwen march over to Paula’s place and demand everything back? Call her and scream? Fire off a furious note?

Nope. It was too late for that. With the switch in the off position, the friendship was over. And with the friendship over there was no need or responsibility to talk anything through.

Never again did Gwen talk to Paula. Not a word. Nothing. No matter what.

Harsh? Sure.

But necessary because some betrayals cut so deeply that discussing them can itself cause a fatal wound. To the soul.

The second time Gwen “paula-ed” someone was when another longtime friend decided that instead of hiding the racism we hadn’t known she felt she was going to be “open and honest” about it.

Oh, and “cute and funny” too.

Her jokes about Hispanics didn’t find the acceptance she sought.

Gwen got out of the car the woman was driving at the time, carefully shut the door…and never spoke to her again either.

I first met my (former) friend Joe when we were in college. He was the world’s greatest wingman, a charming guy who could start a conversation with anyone and always—unfailingly—keep whomever he was talking to at ease.

When you’re a shy youth, having a friend who’s ready and willing to walk up to any young woman you think is cute and pave the way for you is worth just about anything. And when a friend like that sticks by you, no matter what, the “just about anything” becomes everything.

We were buds for life.

Except that life changes people. Over the years, Joe has become more and more difficult for me to be around, even electronically. He teaches college but hates college students. “They’re idiots,” he says. “I hate them so much I even hate college towns.”

He’s become a hard-liner about all aspects of human conduct, constantly measuring people against his idea of intelligence.

“My next door neighbor not only can’t dress a deer, he’s never even shot one. How stupid can you get?”

“That idiot doesn’t even have an M.A., let alone a PhD. Can’t believe a thing he says.”

“I don’t see Doris anymore. When we were in Taos she drank straight from the untreated spring. What a moron!”

During the past six months, Joe has e-mailed me articles and reflections on “the stupid side of life,” some serious and some intended to be funny, at least twice a day. I asked him to stop several times, but the e-mails kept coming. Along with Joe’s assurances that, “Larry B, don’t worry. You’re the smartest guy I know. We’re BFFs.”

When we were in college I would’ve been happy to pass muster like that. But now? I couldn’t take his attitude toward others anymore. I didn’t want to hear about “idiots.” And even though I was exempt, I knew I couldn’t survive any more encounters with Joe’s hatred.

I’ve been paula-ing him for five days.

Gwen made it look easy, but now I know how much it hurt her.

Because I ache.

How I ache!

Joe’s on the phone now. Leaving a message. All I’ve got to do is pick up and tell him what’s going on. Do the manly thing and talk it through.
But Joe’s a charmer. If we talk, he’ll own me the way he used to.

I’ll apologize, and after we hang up I’ll feel miserable. And angry at myself.

Sorry, Joe, but I can’t risk it. I can’t let myself inflict my own fatal wound.

LB: Live! From Paradise #231 – “Final Rest”

(The Intro above is from this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

“What do you think, Larry B? Mighty fine location, wouldn’t you say?”

The Old Billionaire and I were at a cemetery just outside Fayetteville, looking at his family crypt.

He’s been thinking a lot about death lately, he told me, “because I don’t seem to be much good at thinking about life anymore. Sometimes I feel like I’m remembering everything backwards.”

His memory on this sunny day was right on target, as far as I could tell.

“I was never a big fan of mausoleums,” the O.B. said. “Remind me too much of those old horror movies. Thunder! Lightning! Vincent Price!

“But about 20 years ago,” he went on, “Nettie got on me about how we were well-to-do people and had an image to maintain, so I moved our folks, mine and hers, into this concrete monstrosity, and when I shuffle off I’ll be in there too. First drawer on the left. When it’s her time, Nettie’ll lie beside me on the right.”

“Nettie really said you had an image to uphold even after you were dead?” I said.

“Well, I think it was Nettie. Might’ve been my son the Harvard Genius. Sounds more like him, doesn’t it?”

“Sounds more like the way people would think in Hollywood than the Ozarks,” I said.

“Hollywood, Harvard—what’s the difference? People from both places think the same way, don’t they? They’re absolutely sure what they’re doing is more important than anything else anybody else is doing because they’re spending more money than anybody else can.”

“Let me get back to you on that,” I said.

“On what?” said the O.B. He read my face. “I’m joking,” he said. “I know what you just said. I can remember from moment to moment. It’s the overall moments that sometimes slip away. I never knew I had so much of myself to lose.”

We walked back into the sunlight. Together, we gazed at the big, brass guardian angel that hovered over the roof of the building. It gleamed so brightly that all I could think of were Biblical references to graven images.

It was as though the Old Billionaire read my mind.

“Like the Golden Calf, isn’t it? Except the Golden Calf didn’t cost anywhere near what this monstrosity did. That European sculptor I found took the Billionaire Family Trust for an arm, a leg, half a ribcage, and both lungs.”

“You really thinking you’re going to die soon?” I said. “You look full of life to me.”

“Full of something anyway,” he said. “Don’t know when I’m going to die. Just hoping.”

“It’s come to that?”

The O.B. didn’t answer, just shook his head and forced a smile. “What about you? Got a place where you want to be laid to rest?”

“I’m looking forward to a tidy cremation,” I said. “But I’ve never thought about where the ashes would go from there.”

“Think about it now, will you?”

His look showed how much it meant to him. I did my best. “I don’t have any special place. And I don’t think I’ll be where my ashes are anyway. I’ll be with the Wind that scatters them.”

The Old Billionaire shook his head. “Think anyway,” he said. “For me?”

As he asked, I realized that if I wanted to be buried anywhere I did know a place that could be perfect for both my spirit and any physical remains. The cemetery in Mannsville, Oklahoma, where Gwen the Beautiful’s father is buried.

It’s the epitome of the country graveyard. Green. Blue-skyed. Lined with shady trees. A feeling of perfect harmony lies over the Mannsville cemetery. In many ways it’s the most peaceful spot I’ve ever been.

I opened my mouth to explain it to the O.B., but his eyes, still looking back at his mausoleum, stopped me. Suddenly, I understood what he wanted to hear.

“Well, like you, I’ve always thought this area around Fayetteville was beautiful,” I said. “A man could be comfortable sleeping forever here.”

The Old Billionaire smiled. “Yep,” he said. “I think so too. But not yet. Oh, no, no, no. Not for you, or Nettie, or Gwen. Not yet.”

“No,” I said. “Not yet.”

“If I were a drinking man, I’d drink to that,” said the Old Billionaire. “Hmm, maybe – just for today – I am.”

He waved to his driver, and we went back into town, to a little place on Dickson Street.

My treat.

LB: Live! From Paradise #230 – “A Friendly Game of Tag”

(The Intro above is from this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

Huck the Spotless Appaloosa has been after me to spend more time with him. He read me the riot act for spending all summer either in the house or out of town.

“We’re brothers,” he said. “But where’s the brotherhood when you only come outside to throw hay over the fence? What happened to the good times? I miss playing tag.”

His words took me back a decade, to Huck’s childhood. To say he was a frisky young colt would be an understatement. He was, in truth, a demented wild man of a colt, always bobbing and weaving as though shadow boxing with himself, rearing and kicking and running, running, running—

Huck was so wild that for a long time I was convinced that his purpose on this planet was to kill me. Not out of head-lowered, ears-flattened anger but with head-high, ears-up enthusiasm. As a colt, Huck had a lot in common with young Emmy the Bold, whose favorite puppy activity was running to the edge of a mountain…and then throwing herself off it like a chuteless skydiver.

Except that Huck outweighed Emmy by over a thousand pounds and seemed more likely to shove me off a mountain if he could.

Our game of tag was the perfect example of what every horse trainer tells you to never do with a horse. I would climb into the corral and Huck would run at me, then stop and wait for me to rub his head. When I stopped rubbing and turned away, he would reach out with his super long neck and bump me on the butt with his nose. I would whirl back to him, and he’d take off, racing away.

His enjoyment was so wonderfully obvious that from the first time he did it I was hooked. I would run after him, and he’d slow down just enough for me to reach his rump and smack it. Then he’d do an about-face and run after me, smacking my butt and starting the game all over again.

Back in the day, Huck and I would play like this for hours. His testosterone was high, and my adrenalin matched it. And, believe me, my adrenalin was in control. The fact is that when Huck was “it” I always was terrified that he would run right over me instead of settling for just swinging his head.

But even pure, primitive, hormonal fear can be exciting, and I loved our game more than anything else we ever did.

When I finally did stop playing it wasn’t because of a sudden jolt of good sense on my part. On the contrary, I stopped because here in the steamy Ozarks running full speed ahead takes a lot more out of a man than it does back in arid L.A. I just plain couldn’t hack it anymore.

I explained all this to my hoofed brother. He listened closely, then let out a long, horsey sigh.

“In other words, I beat you, didn’t I?” he said. “We played until you couldn’t play anymore. And you know what that means, right?”

Huck’s face had that look a horse gets when he’s messing with you. The look of the practical joker right before you sit on a whoopee cushion or catch a pie in your face. But he’s my brother, so I played along.

“No, Huck, actually I don’t know. Are you going to tell me what it means?”

“It means you’ve lost your place in the herd. I’m the boss now.” His head bobbed up and down, and he made the braying sound people call a horselaugh.

“And what does being the boss of the herd mean?” I asked him.

Huck looked over at Rosie the Romantic Arabian. She stood, as she always stands, about four feet beside and slightly behind him.

“Means I get all the girls!” Huck said.

He neighed emphatically, another joyful laugh. I turned my back on him to show my disdain—

And he bumped me in the butt.

I turned, and so did he, taking off across the corral at full speed. Rosie whinnied and reared upward in terror, then took off after him.

“No!” Huck cried. “Not you, baby. Him. Larry! Larry! Chase me! C’mon!”

And chase him I did. Smacked him on the rump just like in the old days.

I don’t know how long we played, but I’m sure of this: It was an afternoon of pure, adrenalized terror…and I can’t wait to do it again.

LB: Live! From Paradise #229 – “Tracking the Ghost Dog”

(The Intro above is from this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

I had almost zero sleep last night, thanks to the noise.

It started at about eleven o’clock. The sound of Decker the Giant-Hearted barking ferociously from the front porch.

A sound that drove Ditsy Dixie, who was sleeping at our feet, Emmy the Bold, who was sleeping on the floor in front of us, Belle the Wary, who was curled up on the couch downstairs, and Decker the Giant-Hearted, who was sprawled in front of Sir Elvis, our ancient suit of armor, insane.

All four dogs bolted to their feet, barking and howling so loudly that they sounded like a fleet of cement mixers grinding along our gravel road. The dogs jumped at the front door, eager to join their buddy

In an impossible situation that I’m still trying to figure out.

Picture it.

Outside: Decker barking in a fury.

Inside: Emmy, Dixie, Belle, and Decker barking and clawing to get outside.

That’s right. All of us in the house heard Decker outside, all too loud and clear.

Including the very same Decker, who was inside as well.

I grabbed my headlamp from the nightstand and turned on its beam. Hurried downstairs. I pushed my way through the dogs, opened the door.
And four dogs joined a fifth, racing together from the porch around to the recently fenced-in back of the clearing.

“Gwen…?!” I called upstairs.

Gwen responded with a sleepy half-shout. “What…?”

“There’s two Deckers out here, honey,” I said.

“I don’t think so, honey,” said Gwen. Her voice was a little less sleepy. And more irritated.

I went outside and down the side steps—just in time to whirl like a falling leaf as the dogs came running back. Still barking, of course.

Four dogs, not five. Only one Decker.

“Sure sounded like you who started the ruckus, Deck,” I said.

In the headlamp’s light Decker’s eyes shone mischievously. “Ya think?” Decker said.

Over the past few weeks, Dixie has been working on a new trick no one’s wanted her to learn. She used this time to demonstrate it, jumping up on the front door, and pressing her paw down on the handle at the same time she pushed forward. The door swung open, and she slipped inside. The other dogs and I followed.

With a sigh, I went back upstairs, and just as I got into bed, there it was again.

Decker barking. From outside.

Down I went once again, finding out why it’s not such a good idea for a man my age to take the the steps two at a time. I looked over at the front door from where I was sprawled at the foot of the stairway.

Four dogs barked at the front porch.

From the front porch one dog barked at the night.

I pulled myself to my feet, grateful that my legs, knees, and hips still worked. Did the whole pushing through the dogs and going outside with them thing I’d done once already.

Then I ran after the pack as it scrambled into the backyard.

My headlamp picked out four large, semi-hysterical canine bodies.

A fifth one barked behind me.

I turned and saw Decker standing with his tongue lolling out.

“When did you become the Ghost Dog?” I said.

“Just now,” Decker said. “A special gift, I think. For tonight.”

“What’d you do to earn this gift?” I said.

“Maybe I sat for the right spirit at the right time. Or rolled over for the Wind of Mystery.” Decker said. “How should I know? I’m a dog.”

With a series of half-howling barks, he ran to join the others. For an instant I saw five forms in the darkness. Then the two Deckers blended into one.

I went back inside, leaving the dogs behind. I called up the stairs once more.

“Gwen? Honey—”

“I don’t want to hear it, honey,” came the very awake, very irritated response.

I sat down at my desk, waiting for the dogs to come back. I don’t know which is more marvelous. Decker being in two places at once, or Dixie being able to open the front door.

I wonder what other “rewards” Decker and the other dogs will earn.

And if Dixie can learn how to open the door from the inside as well. So she can let everyone out in addition to bringing them in and Gwen and I can get some sleep.

It certainly would fit into our life better than a doggy door.