Monthly Archives: July 2011

“I prefer the term ‘artificial person’ myself.”

Back when I started this little trek into horticulture nearly a decade ago, I thought things would settle down a bit. I mean, I know that orchid people are weird (in the Old English meaning of the word) and rose people are even worse, but not everybody could be as fundamentally broken as science fiction people, right?

Oh, I had no idea. None. Witness my friend Amanda Thomsen of the very disturbing blog Kiss My Aster and her fascination with building gardening robots. I can’t help but think that I’ve seen this movie before, with the same soundtrack:

Okay, that’s a bit cruel, but I have to admit that there’s this odd fascination with gardening robots in science fiction. In reality, too, for that matter. The underlying idea is that while humans should be the ones to do all of the fine-tuning, there’s no reason why you can’t leave robots to do the weeding, pruning, mowing, and other menial tasks. At least, until they rise up and tell humanity to bite their shiny metal asses.

Ah well. As a kid, I made most of my spending money by mowing lawns throughout my neighborhood in obscene summer heat, and I didn’t have a problem with doing the mowing myself. Having a robot on hand to clean up the piles of dog crap that most of my customers let build up, though, would have been perfect. These days, I still wouldn’t complain about a robot that took out the treerats going after the tomato plants, with a bit more precision than the motion-sensitive lawn sprinklers currently available. If it could clean out the gutters while waiting for its next hit, so much the better.


Have a Great Weekend

And now a bit more greenhouse music:

Contest: Last call on the Joey Boxes

Just a friendly note: the Joey Box contest ends tomorrow, and there’s still technically time to get one in. You like to receive odd things in the mail, don’t you?

Presented without context

And now I’m understanding why I see so many of those hexagon tanks from the late Eighties being abandoned at estate and yard sales. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a standard glass top for one of these, without making it yourself?


For further grins and giggles, I’ve discovered that the threat of picking up that glass case offers unlimited entertainment possibilities. It takes a certain demented mind to come up with brand new ways to torment the Czarina, or in my case, a mind wracked with the 24-hour summer flu going around. I come up with all sorts of Lovecraftian takes on destroying one’s sanity when mortally ill (I’m by now notorious for leaving ER techs in helpless laughter while they’re trying to suture me back together), and this one was a beaut.

By yesterday evening, I was feeling lucid and coherent enough to join my parents-in-law for dinner. Naturally, the terms “lucid” and “coherent” are subjects of intense discussion when talking about my train of thought on my better days, and when in this condition, I’d leave Charles Manson shaking his head and muttering “That boy ain’t right.” Also naturally, it’s not a perfect night unless the Czarina bellows “Now, LISTEN, Sparky!” at least once while we’re eating. The cats and I have one thing in common: we cannot sleep at night unless we’ve had a good beating.

We were starting on my mother-in-law’s exemplary pot roast when I broached the subject. “You know, I had a great idea about that case…”


“But it occurred to me…”


“Now there you go, cutting me off, and I haven’t even said ‘How does Brundlefly eat?’ yet. I can get away with saying this: you knew I was like this when you married me.”

*sad, hopeless sigh, as a tiny portion of her soul decided to play Russian roulette with an automatic to save time* “Am I going to regret this?”

“Not at all. I have an idea that would make salvaging that case a sane and reasonable proposition.”

She put her chin on her hand, just waiting for my non-Euclidean logic to justify my being capped in my sleep and buried in the desert somewhere. “Really.”

“Absolutely. It would be great…”


“…it would be wonderful…”


“…it would be a perfect…”


“It would be a perfect enclosure for a crocodile monitor.”

I will say that Akira Kurosawa would have been amazed and impressed by the Czarina’s economy of movement with a killing blow at that point, and her mother joined in with a glare that would have burned a hole in the wall had it been aimed at the wall instead of between my eyes. Her father just rolled his eyes and told himself “At least he’s better than the last husband,” which really isn’t saying much. The night was rent with screams and the occasional reminder of “Hey, at least I’m not blowing the mortgate money on drugs, right? RIGHT?” Some people just don’t know when they have a better deal than they had a decade ago.

Anyway, if you don’t hear from me by Monday, it’s because the Czarina will have taken the issue with my sneaking down to the hotel to rescue that case under her wing. Four rolls of duct tape are enough to immobilize any human alive, and please don’t ask me how I know this. And I’ll be giggling “And you BELIEVED me?” the whole time? Oh, our tenth anniversary is going to be an absolute blast.

“I’m a Time Lord, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.”

Now, I may joke that my life resembles a horrible mashup of select episodes of Doctor Who and The Red Green Show, but there are times where this assessment doesn’t come close to the real story. I may also joke about the Czarina’s exceptionally sharp and venomous elbows, and then she puts them on display. Then, then, I occasionally have an adventure where all of the stories come together at once.

To start off, let me introduce you to my friend Barry Kooda, one of the biggest catalysts in the Dallas music community. Barry’s been an influence on Dallas music for working on 40 years: he’s best-known outside of the city for his work with the Nervebreakers, the band that opened for the Sex Pistols when the Pistols played at the Longhorn Ballroom in 1978, but if he wasn’t in a band, he was influencing other musicians for decades. I’ve known him since 1991, when I moved to the Exposition Park area near downtown, and I can say that I’ve had a tiny influence on him. If you don’t believe me, ask him about the Tyrannosaurus and Ichthyosaurus tattoos on his arms.

Anyway, Barry still keeps everyone updated via Facebook, and he passed along a beaut yesterday. Specifically, he came across a display case being discarded behind a landmark hotel, and sent along a photo:

Barry's Display Case

Barry's display case

Now, you have to understand that I come from a long, extensive line of packrats, and the reason why I enjoyed The Red Green Show when it was running is because it’s funny when it’s fiction. The family joke is that everyone was hoping for another Tim Allen when I was born, and instead they got a Tim Burton. The reality is even more insidious, because the packrat gene just took a new and deadly form. Unwatched, I’m just as likely to produce a real-life “Handyman’s Corner” segment and take it into directions that nobody really wants to see.

So there I was, with the offer of a freestanding case that would be perfect for a permanent Nepenthes display. All for no cost, either. All I had to do was figure out how to get the thing home. With a carefree inattention to reality or the repercussions of my actions unseen since my first marriage, I waited until the Czarina picked me up from The Day Job and asked, gently, “Do you think we could look at a display case tonight?”

Absolutely amazingly, she didn’t pin me to the car seat with her elbows. Even more amazingly, she only said “After we eat.” This plan might work after all.

Well, after getting her dinner, we drove down to the north side of downtown to the hotel, and after a bit of wrangling, found the case. It was a bit, erm, larger than I expected. With the base, it stood at least eight feet tall, meaning that even with dismantling it for moving, there was no way it was going to fit into the car. The Czarina didn’t bother to point this out: she just kept mumbling “No way. No way.”

It’s not that it’s a bad case. The base and the molding are brass, with a stout shower-glass backing on good strong hinges. The top had a lighting system, and the plug is still in place. The base is hollow, meaning that it could be perfect for setting in a sunken container for a bog garden arrangement. Best of all, you see what look like sandblast-etched decorations on the side? Those and the advertising for the presumably long-dead spa that owned this case are all made of contact plastic, so a bit of peeling and a bit of Goo-Gone would clean them up nicely.

The Czarina was helpful and thorough. No threats, no yelling, and no untoward displays of the elbows. She noted that with big pieces of glass like this, merely putting them on the bottom of a flatbed would still risk breakage. Since they probably weren’t pieces of safety glass, that breakage could possibly be catastrophic. Worse, we don’t have any place to put it while I cleaned it up, save in the back yard. The garage is too short. The back porch is too short. The greenhouse is definitely too short. She’s right, she’s always right, why do I keep doing these dumb things?

And then my father’s lineage calls to me, over a thousand years. I really hope that someone else gets this before Sunday. If it’s still there by then, I’m renting a truck.

384 days and counting

It’s been a bit crazy as of late. As the newsfeeds keep noting, the drought in Texas is now comparable to the big drought in the early 1950s. This is particularly significant because my parents-in-law were married in the middle of that, and they have lots of particularly disturbing stories. (Among other things, discovering that the plethora of reservoirs built in North Texas by the Army Corps of Engineers over the last fifty years was the direct result of the water rationing imposed by that drought. It says a lot about how rapidly North Texas grew after the reservoirs were built that they’re not enough any more.) It’s also been particularly brutal to state agriculture, between the heat and the utter lack of moisture. I keep joking about how if it gets any dryer, we’ll all have to walk without rhythm so as not to attract sandworms, and it’s pure gallows humor.

Anyway, it’s a bit quiet around the Triffid Ranch, mostly due to the lack of humidity. The Sarracenia are squeaking by, but they generally stop producing traps once the humidity consistently goes below 50 percent during the day. Flytraps have it even worse: between the heat and the dryness, they tend to shut down, and sometimes come back in the autumn. This year, though, I can’t make any promises, considering that the summer has killed all but two species of triggerplant in the collection, including seedlings from seed given to me by Ryan Kitko. (I’ve become convinced that nothing but nuclear flame can destroy Stylidium debile, as it survives both freezes and ridiculous heat, and keeps coming back after I’m certain that it’s already dead.) The Nepenthes are all in the greenhouse, and said greenhouse is getting fitted with a full mister system tonight so as to keep the humidity high and the temperature (relatively) low. I don’t even want to talk about what happened to the Darlingtonia I raised from seed five years ago.

If there’s any joy in Triffidville, it comes from renewing my membership with the International Carnivorous Plant Society. I could mention the seed bank, which allowed me to learn a ridiculous amount about the growth and habits of the devil’s claw (Proboscidea lousianica). I could mention the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter, which is one of the best benefits of joining the ICPS. (I’m now at the point where it’s one of the few print magazines I read from cover to cover any more, and considering my voracious reading appetites, that’s saying something.) I could mention the cultivar registration list, which should prove beyond a shadow that carnivorous plant enthusiasts have a good warped sense of humor. I could, but then I’d have to beat you with a pool noodle, yelling “Join, you scurvy shysters! JOIN!” at the top of my lungs, and that’s no fun in this heat.

I’d also like to pass on the announcement of the 9th International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference in Seekonk, Massachusetts, running from August 11 through the 13th of 2012. The Czarina has already promised that I can go, but only after we make a trip of her choosing before then. (She wants a nice quiet trip to San Francisco, and I only plan to disappear for a day or so while we’re there.) Only 384 days to go, and I understand that my 300-pound Samoan attorney should be out of the shop by then.