Monthly Archives: September 2012

Have a Great Weekend

Back at the day job, I’ve spent the last week fighting off a summer cold that keeps trying to metamorphose into pneumonia. Because of coughing fits strong enough to induce blackouts, one of my co-workers has had a considerable amount of entertainment singing this song under his breath. Worse, he’s mutated it to “Mister, will you please help my Paulie?” If he keeps it up, I’m going to talk him to death.

It’s that time of the year, where the local grocery stores and home improvement centers are full of Venus flytraps in the floral section. It’s also the time of the year where purchasers of said flytraps frantically ask “How do I keep my flytrap from dying?” As the 500th post at the Triffid Ranch, here’s my long-tested list of surefire steps to kill a Venus flytrap, along with information on how to keep them alive and happy by NOT DOING THESE THINGS. Feel free to pass this on far and wide, and I look forward to hearing from people whose flytraps emerge from winter dormancy this spring without any issue because they stayed away from these things.

The Texas Triffid Ranch

Some of this series appeared, in much shorter form, in Gothic Beauty magazine.

It’s a lament anybody who raises or sells carnivorous plants hears on a regular basis. Right after the inevitable Little Shop of Horrors jokes, after asking if they carry any man-eating plants, or asking about a plant that could eat the questioner’s ex-spouse, the comment is always the same. “I used to have a Venus flytrap, but it died.”

What happens next varies. Some people state it as if they were relaying the weather, figuring that all plants die and flytraps are just fussy. Some are almost accusatory, as if it’s the seller’s fault that mere mortals can’t keep them alive for more than a few weeks or days. A lot of kids apologize, as if they’re going to get yelled at for the plant dying or for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Some…

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A bit too thick to breathe, a bit too thin to plow

The National Weather Service assures us all that autumn officially arrived last Saturday. It also assures us all that something approximating autumn weather should arrive in North Texas by this coming Friday. As usual, I’ll believe it when I see it. We’re currently getting the weather that was held up last August, which means sun, heat, and dryness. It’s great for stargazers, because the humidity is regularly hitting 15 to 20 percent in the evening. My plants, though, are screaming.

I could bring up all sorts of anecdotal and chronicled evidence as to the horrible air quality in Dallas right now. I could mention that ragweed pollen levels are at the highest measured in fifty years. I could remind you that we had several air pollution alert days. I could bring up the natural history of how North Texas is the depository of all of the garbage in the air from Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, thanks to our unceasing summer southern wind. I could go political and mention the cement kilns in Midlothian, just south of here, which still burn all sorts of garbage without pollution filters. (Hey, at least they’re no longer burning toxic waste, no thanks to our governor, who threw a tantrum and threatened secession when the EPA stepped in.) I could list all sorts of factors, from the ongoing drought in South Texas that leads to pulverized earth blowing hundreds of miles north, to the amount of rubber coming off car tires that has to go somewhere. Any way you slice it, North Texas air is, to steal an old gag from Mad magazine from the Seventies, thick enough that a cubic foot can be mailed anywhere in the continental US.

However, all of this book-larnin’ isn’t enough. Two pictures sum things up the best as to why the end of September is so hellish out here before the rains come. Two weeks ago, the Czarina and I changed the air filter on the air conditioner in the house, figuring that things weren’t quite so bad this year. These are standard air filters, which should be replaced every two to three months. I’ll remind you: this is after two weeks.

Air filter, top

Air filter, bottom

And before you ask, yes, these used to be white. After two weeks, they normally might have a tinge of dust, not enough schmutz in them in which you could plant potatoes and carrots. No wonder nothing seemed to allow me to breathe at night.

Well, this leads to a few discussions of the future. I can accept that most of the detritus in the filter comes to us by way of the drought. However, if this keeps up for next year, it may be time to move to a place with better general air quality. Los Angeles or Houston, say. At this point, figuring that this also illustrates the condition of my lungs, Gary, Indiana isn’t out of the question.

Things To Do In Arlington When You’re Dead

We’re less than a week away from the beginning of October, and the National Weather Service keeps promising a break in the heat this weekend. Naturally, for us, a “break” means temperatures that encourage homicide and live burial in, say, Boston, but it’s all about perspective. Cooler weather and a good chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday…yep, it’s time to get ready for the next show.

With that in mind, I received a surprise missive from a rep from the Dallas – Fort Worth Herpetological Society, seeking new exhibitors for its first annual Reptile & Amphibian Day (PDF) at the University of Texas at Arlington on October 13. Smack in the middle of the month, perfect timing for those looking for something more unorthodox than a standard Halloween haunted house, a very good likelihood for spectacular weather…oh, yes, I’m going to be there.

In the interim, that’s a little less than three weeks away, so now it’s time to focus on taking care of all of the little things set aside while getting ready for last week’s show at FenCon. I’m not saying that my bathtub needs cleaning, but I swore that I saw Martin Sheen and Lawrence Fishburne passing by in a PT boat while I was taking my shower this morning, yelling something about never getting out of the boat. Please don’t make me think about what’s going to come out of the carpet when it’s time to vacuum it.

FenCon IX: The Aftermath

Triffid Ranch display

Five years ago, the Triffid Ranch had its first show at the now long-defunct Deep Ellum Sellum. A year later, we took the risk of going for a three-day show with FenCon. Five shows later, it’s still one of my favorites. Back at the first, a catgirl attendee just looked at the arrangement and sneered “Whoever heard of plants at a convention?” Well, after all of this time, the plants are now a draw for the convention all on their own.

(Speaking of which, the folks who came by for this year’s show got the last look at many different components of the traditional Triffid Ranch display. By the first show of the new year, expect a lot of new changes. It’s about time: a lot of the props and arrangements have been hanging on with spit and duct tape, and they really need replacement or revamping.)

As a heads-up for next year, the schedule for Fencon X in 2013 will be delayed by about two weeks, with it running the weekend of October 4. Since this also marks Texas-OU Weekend, if you’re planning to come to Dallas for the convention, reserve your hotel spaces early. The same holds true for attendees and vendors alike: since the guest list is full of major draws (including one who acted as a role model for me over the last ten years: friends have standing written orders that if I ever became as obsessive on a single subject as he does in public, they’re given full permission to stomp me to death), expect a lot of people. This may mean getting a second table space, just to show off larger arrangements for the first time. Either way, after the warm welcome from attendees and staff, we’re definitely in for 2013.

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I’d also like to tip the hat at the various staffers and volunteers from AggieCon at Texas A&M University. I haven’t been to one in nearly 13 years (when I topped Harlan Ellison’s story of being fired by Disney for suggesting an animated Disney porno film with my true tale of how I got my FBI record for allegedly selling government secrets to the Daleks), and it’s definitely time to return. With plants.

Dalek - Oblique

Speaking of which, this guy didn’t actually come into the dealer’s room, but he was apparently spotted in one of the party suites, drunkenly crying about how his creator didn’t really love him. It definitely beat his usual tactic of dressing up in a baseball cap and torn overalls, chasing Whitley Strieber while screaming “You will squeal like a pig! Squeal! SQUEAL!”

Elvis among the medusa head

Finally, while I didn’t have room for some of the more exotic arrangements I had planned (although that will be rectified for November’s Funky Finds Experience ), I couldn’t resist expanding a Euphorbia flanaganii pot with a touch of neo-Egyptian influence.
“I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Presley, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'”

It’s time to do something similar, only with more of an early Celtic feel. Anybody know where I can buy busts of John Lydon?

September 20, 2002

2012 is full of personal and professional anniversaries, but one of the two most important happened ten years ago. A few days over a decade ago, I pulled into Tallahassee, Florida, and my entire life changed a day later.

Economically speaking, 2002 was pretty much defined by the shakeouts from the dotcom bust, and my previous career as a technical writer correspondingly suffered. Half of the job postings in my line of work were excuses to claim that experienced professionals were considered before hiring the CEO’s grandchildren, and the other were nonexistent jobs posted by recruiters seeking new names for databases. By mid-March, I finally resorted to working as the wine manager of a liquor store, which both helped remove any urge I had to drink and sharpened my loathing for the Southern Methodist University contingent. I saw a lot of horrible and pitiful things during those days, including things that brought on sympathy for at least one person I previously loathed (and that’s a story for another day), and everyone rejoiced when I received a job offer from a tech company in Tallahassee. The day after leaving the liquor store, I was driving my Plymouth Neon along Highway I-10 to Florida, narrowly missing two tropical storms in the process, and pulled into Tally on a beautiful warm Friday afternoon. Get set up first, I thought, learn where everything was, and then come in for my first day rested and ready.

To cut to the punchline, the job didn’t work out. The company was still mired in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and my team was responsible for maintaining and updating a software suite that was once the jewel of that particular industry. Sadly, said software suite had a whole collection of frat-brother “understandings” attached to it, particularly involving partnerships with other companies that hadn’t survived the crash, so the plan was to produce a new, top-of-the-line version for the Aughts. The company’s finances didn’t allow this, and when the CEO killed the new version, he also killed the need for several programmers and a technical writer. I got the informal word about the layoff literally an hour after I’d purchased plane tickets to come back to Dallas so the Czarina and I could get married, but had to wait two weeks for the final word if I wanted to get any kind of severance. There I was, two days before Christmas and five days before the wedding, back to where I was at the beginning of the year.

If you think that this is a pity party, though, don’t worry. In many ways, this was the best thing that ever happened to me. Among other things, I don’t want to think about what would have happened if we’d both moved to Tally and then received my pink slip. Worse, I can only imagine what would have happened had we still been there when the real estate bust started four years later. For a glorious three months, though, I was in a whole new world, and a trip on my second day to the Tallahassee Museum gave me my first exposure to a carnivorous plant in the wild. It was all over after that.

In the meantime, the two of us look back on that last decade and chalk up everything to our long-distance relationship in those three months. I learned how far I could push myself, especially when I moved back. (By the time I hit the Texas border, I figured “Hey, I’ve only been driving ten hours straight. What’s wrong with going on to Dallas and sleeping in my own bed?” The Czarina still hasn’t forgiven me for that one.) In her turn, she learned how to trust herself and her own instincts. We both remain friends with a whole load of people we met during those days, and several were vital in efforts to start up the Triffid Ranch after I started getting the hang of growing carnivores. We definitely aren’t the people we were in 2002, and we absolutely weren’t the people we could have become if I hadn’t taken that job and fallen in love with Florida natural history. As it should be.

With the sudden surprise news that the Perot Museum is opening a month early, we’re thinking very long and hard about celebrating our tenth anniversary the way we started things: looking at the undercarriage of a prehistoric sea turtle. Now it’s time to see what the next decade brings.

Have a Great Weekend

If you aren’t going to be at FenCon IX this weekend, I guess this will have to do…