Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #6

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on January 7, 2019

The parties are over. The decorations are put up. The Merry Christmas/Happy New Year accoutrements at the grocery store are in the clearance aisle, already marked 50 percent off or more. The shortbread cookie tins are already being used for their second lives as sewing supply containers. At the day job, managers, directors, and executive VPs are coming back from extended vacations, meaning that daily office productivity just took a hit until they rediscover their favorite bright sparkly object or until Memorial Day, whichever comes first. It may be cold and rainy, or cold and snowy, but you can walk in public without a PA system pumping carols and novelty songs at “11”. In other words, it’s time to get busy.

For those of us in horticultural venues, it’s really time to get busy, because we’re already running out of time. Halfway through January, we only have two months before the beginning of spring, which means EVERYTHING has to be done by the time everyone gets the gardening bug. Seedlings. Tissue culture meristems. Unique pots. Tent and booth fees for shows and markets. I won’t say that sleep is overrated, because that’s a cliché. I WILL say that as soon as someone develops an effective and inexpensive cure for sleep, I’m investing in the company.

This time of the year is also when fellow retailers and artists relate their favorite Stupid Human Tricks from the previous holiday season. These can include non-customers who drop their kids off at a store and assume that the staff will act as free babysitters while Mommy and Daddy shop next door, or down the street, or in the next time zone. A lot of times, it includes customers who were the owners’ elementary school teachers 40 years back and expect a special 80-percent-off discount because of that vital connection. (Every jeweler reading this just nodded in recognition.) Others relate the customer who stated “I know the owner, and he told me I get a discount”…to the owner, and she’s never seen this person in her life. And who can forget the screams of “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” and the response “Should I? Are you wanted by the police?”

2018 had a lot of stories like this at the Triffid Ranch. Now, there are the stories where the person involved was understandably mistaken and everyone laughed about it later. These stories should never be shared without permission, and usually with drinks of everyone’s choice in hand. However, there are the stories where the person involved wasn’t a customer, never would be a customer, and whose smirk of “Haven’t you ever heard of ‘the customer is always right’?” should be answered with a sack full of caltrops that reads “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, JACK? WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?” on the side. Where this sack is inserted, and whether the sack should be electrified, depends upon the intensity of the smirk. It should never depend upon the dollar value of the transaction to be disputed: at the gallery, the worst offenders are bar owners who call to get a very big and very expensive enclosure delivered to their venue for free, because “you could use the exposure.” (Without fail, I read about these venues shutting down in the middle of the night with no warning to landlords or employees, the interior contents sold at about one in the morning to fend off coke dealer beatings, and creditors and the FBI trying to find what assumed name the owner is using THIS time. This is entertainment enough.)

After a while, when retailers get together and relax a bit, we all share our Amazon Showcase stories. This is the equivalent of the famed comedian joke “The Aristocrats,” only without a distinctive opener or punchline. All have the same theme, though: the customer has assumptions that because Amazon or eBay do things a particular way, “you should just” do the same thing. Bookstore friends relate the customers who tell them “You should start selling Kindles here,” and who escalate their assumptions when told that Kindles are an exclusively Amazon product. An acquaintance who worked in a gift shop told me about a customer pointing to a Hallmark Star Trek Christmas decoration from 20 years ago on Amazon and insisted that she could order one at the original retail price, because the Amazon price was far too high.  We all have one variation on the Monty Python bookstore sketch, and we all have a variation on the Lou Costello birthday cake sketch. The Euclidean ideal of these stories is the person who walks in, looks around, and says “Do you know someone who sells something exactly like this, but just not for so muuuuuuuuch?” The most common Amazon Showcase story, though, always involves someone who assumes that a price on Amazon should be the price everywhere else, no matter what. The Triffid Ranch has two versions: the person who bought a dead or dying plant from an Amazon reseller and expects assistance in getting a refund, or an incident that happens about once per month.

(phone rings) “Hello, this is the Texas Triffid Ranch. How may I help?”

“Yes. I’m a (doctor, lawyer, MBA, software development project manager, or other charter member of the Dunning-Kruger Club), and I’m wanting to buy a (Nepenthes rajah, Nepenthes hamata, Nepenthes attenboroughii, or other very rare, very temperamental, and very expensive carnivorous plant). Price is no object.”

“I may be able to help. Out of curiosity, have you kept a carnivorous plant before?”

“No, but I saw one on television today, and I WANT one.”

“Okay, let me check what I have in propagation right now. (Quick search.) I have one right now, in a custom enclosure.”

“I don’t want that. I just want the plant.”

“Oooookay. I can remove it if you’d like. Do you need a pot, or do you already have one?”

“My kid has an old aquarium that I can use. How much is it?”

“Well, considering the size, it would be $Price.”

“That’s completely unsuitable. Do you have any that are smaller?”

“I don’t, but I can recommend other carnivorous plant retailers who may be able to help. Have you contacted X or Y?”

“I already contacted them, and they don’t have one. You’re the only person in the Dallas area who shows up on a Google search, and I NEED one.”

“Sorry, but at $Price, I’m practically selling it at cost.” 

“Well, I KNOW you can do better. I found someone online who’s selling one for (one-fourth to one-tenth of $Price).”

“And who is this? I’m very legitimately curious.”

(Customer gives a URL for an Amazon reseller who allegedly has the plant in question. Yes, it’s significantly cheaper than the cost any legitimate nursery could charge and still make its money back. The posting also has a picture of the plant that was stolen from a legitimate nursery’s Web site, as well as the description. The reseller is also selling such wonders as rainbow rose seeds, guaranteed blue Venus flytrap seeds, and lots of other miracles whose photos have so much of a connection to Photoshop that they’d qualify for alimony if they ever separated. Odds are pretty good that the reseller doesn’t have one of these plants, and likely never will.)

“Sorry, but there’s no way I can match this price, and neither will any other legitimate nursery or retailer.”

“But THEY’RE selling it at that price! Why are you being so unreasonable? Can’t you just cooperate?”

“Again, I can’t.”

“But they’re SELLING it at THAT price.” (Sudden menace over the phone.) “I KNOW you can get one at that price, too!”

“I’ll tell you what. If they’re selling it for that price, why not get a deal and buy it from Amazon?

“Because I want to SEE it first! I don’t want to get ripped off!”

Other News

Sigh. Three months of hype on the 2019 Pantone color of the year, and the horticulture community went into overload on new cultivars and varietals of indoor and outdoor plants that match. They’re beautiful, too. I’m just disappointed. Considering the number of bladderwort cultivars named after H.P. Lovecraft characters, and the number of daylily cultivars with Star Trek references for names, not one breeder, not ONE, could name a cultivar “Rick Grimes” and cash in on millions of non-gardeners who’d be willing to take a chance? Man, I dread the announcement of the 2020 Pantone color, because we’ll probably drop THAT ball, too.

In other developments, Some of you may have already noticed cover stories in the Dallas Observer and Fangoria about the return of Joe Bob Briggs, Official Drive-In Movie Critic of Rockwall, Texas, to video thanks to the Shudder streaming service. More than a few times during my long-defunct writing career and a lot more after I quit pro writing, I was compared to Joe Bob (rarely to his alter ego, John Bloom) in writing style and intensity. That makes perfect sense, as I literally grew up with the “Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In” column in the late and lamented Dallas Times Herald, starting in spring 1982 with the second column reviewing Mad Monkey Kung Fu. (Sadly, while the Joe Bob columns were published repeatedly in the 1990s, nobody ever put together a collection of John Bloom movie reviews written under his own byline for the Times Herald. This is a shame, because many of his reviews were funnier than the comedies he viewed. A lot of that well-deserved snark transferred over to the Joe Bob columns, and a lot more never made it to print or video: I interviewed him in 1991 for a magazine that promptly went under two weeks after I handed in the interview, and that interview included being backstage during a taping of Showtime’s “Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater” that included a review of Oliver Stone’s The Doors. You don’t worry about laughing too hard and messing up a take when the camera crew were literally falling down laughing at the same cracks.) Well, now he’s back, he’s back in Dallas, and he’s going to be one of the headliner guests at Texas Frightmare Weekend in May. To quote the man himself, heads roll.

Recommended Reading

A bushel-basket of new references led to a serious fall down an industrial design rabbit hole over the last month, but one to buy now is Typeset In the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey. The book expands extensively on the blog of the same name, which itself started as an analysis of the typography and logo design in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anyone interested in graphic design, especially logo and icon design, will be drooling over the in-depth discussion of what makes the perfect logo of the future (which, incidentally, is funny as hell), and everyone else will drool over the interviews on what design decisions in Alien, Blade Runner, and Wall-E still hold up, which ones aged horribly, and which ones still affect modern graphic design decades later. On a personal level, Typeset In the Future helped settle an impasse in an enclosure design that had been stuck since the Triffid Ranch was in the old gallery, so expect the end results to premiere at an open house this summer.

Music

As of this month, I have known Texas blues musician Cricket Taylor for 28 years, and she was my neighbor for two of those years when we lived in Dallas’s Exposition Park in the early 1990s. (The artist’s lofts in which we lived had communal restrooms, and one of the only good things about having to get up to go to my day job at the time was listening to Cricket practice new songs in the women’s restroom because she swore it had the best acoustics in the Dallas area.) She’s one of the smartest, most considerate, and most musically talented people I know, and the fact that she’s not packing auditoriums with 30,000 people at a time is a crime. Let’s rectify that, shall we?

Have a Great Weekend

State of the Gallery: February 2019

Anniversary time at the Triffid Ranch. As of next week, it’s been two years since we packed up the last of the stuff in the old gallery, swept out the floors, handed in the keys, and drove the moving truck one last time to the new location. Oh, there was sadness that last day, as sheetrock barriers went up and all of us departing artists shook hands and wished each other the best. Two years later, the last of the stuff frantically put on shelves and in closets to make room is FINALLY getting put in proper locations. That’s perfect, considering the number of new commissions and projects that need to go out the door in 2019: the best thing for any artist isn’t about finding room to show off the latest project, but in working on new projects to replace the projects that just sold. Between a superior location and less commute time from the Day Job to the new gallery every day, this simply wouldn’t have been possible if we’d stayed at the old Valley View spot. And should I mention the new airbrush station?

(And as an aside, I thank everyone who keeps forwarding Dallas Morning News columns about the ongoing non-demolition of Valley View Center, but it’s time to let it go. I say this not only because, as is Dallas’s fashion, the current spate of lawsuits involving the property pretty much guarantee that nothing’s going to happen to the mall for years and possibly decades, until the cases are resolved or the grandchildren of everyone involved decide it’s time to get a real job and move on. It’s also because the only person who really cares any more is the James Lipton of Fandom over at the Morning News, because he had so much pinned on being able to get into the promised Midtown mall before anybody else. The mall that, based on his ecstatic front-page press release transcriptions in 2016, was supposed to be finished with initial construction and moving in tenants by now. I understand his attachment to memories of Valley View: his first swirly, the first time he pitched a fit about getting freebies he claimed he was going to review, the first time high school classmates told him to wait for them at Valley View so they could go to Prestonwood or the Galleria in peace without his obsessively yapping about Star Trek and comic books…I understand. I know the feeling all too well, and I got a life because that vague nostalgia for something that wasn’t all that great doesn’t accomplish a thing. However, considering that every column on Valley View still has the same underlying theme of “Do you know who I am? I used to have my own CABLE SHOW!”, reading any more goes contrary to my favorite Bible passage, Proverbs 26:11. If he’d had any concern for the artists and retailers being forced out of Valley View before last month, instead of crowing about its demolition, I might feel a bit differently, but that change was only because of his butthurt over the mall’s owner not returning his phone calls, and not because he gave a damn about Dallas artists and retailers. End rant.)

Anyway, the rest of February and the beginning of March are going to be a bit quiet, but only in the way setting the right seismic charges deep within the Earth’s crust is quieter than the resultant eruption of a significant portion of that crust into orbit as our newest moon. In addition to several commissions, this time of the year is vital for getting everything ready for spring. Cleaning out the Sarracenia pools, checking the rainwater caches, getting seeds for carnivores and peppers stratified before temperatures rise…it may stop, but it never ends. That affects the upcoming show schedule, too: as mentioned last month, we made the hard decision to pull out as vendors at March’s All-Con, mostly due to Day Job commitments that made appearing at a four-day convention impossible. Right now, the first Triffid Ranch show of the year will be at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Fair Park on March 30, and we’re awaiting word about the standby list for a big show shortly after that. As we hear more, we’ll pass it on.

I’ll also add that things get even more interesting on those commissions, because sometimes having to sit on something for a while yields unexpected benefits. Nearly a decade ago, what started as a vague suggestion from a cohort turned into a major project to convert an old first-generation iMac into a working and useable plant enclosure. The resultant iTerrarium led to a bit of coverage and a lot of smartaleck comments (including one Cat Piss Man who sat in front of my booth at the 2012 All-Con repeatedly snarking “That’s the one good use for a Mac” until I got up to confront him: I wonder what happened to him?), and other projects got in the way. Well, never underestimate late 1990s nostalgia, because I was just commissioned to do several more. Best of all, because of serious changes in in both lighting and painting technology, it’s possible to do these with higher light levels, lower heat buildup, and less general maintenance. Expect details within the next month, as I make the developers of white-light LEDs just a little bit richer.

Have a Great Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

Happy Darwin Day

Today is a very special day at the Triffid Ranch: it’s time to celebrate the 210th birthday of Charles Darwin. Others in the scientific and horticultural communities have their own specific reasons to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, but the overriding reason around here is simple: the publication in 1875 of the book Insectivorous Plants. Darwin’s research into the mechanics and chemistry of carnivorous plants obviously predated such tools as radioisotope tracing and DNA sequencing, but all such research into carnivores today depends to an extent on his careful study 150 years ago. While you’re out and about today, hoist a beverage of your choice in the direction of Westminster Abbey and toast this singular individual, without whose studies the current study of carnivorous plants would have been very different.

Have a Great Weekend

The Aftermath: Groundhog Day 2019 Open House

Even if the tradition behind Groundhog Day made any sense, North Texas weather throws the tradition under the bus. This year, the groundhog wouldn’t have seen his shadow, because the thick fog that morning would have had him screaming “THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE MIST!” That fog stuck around, too: as odd as it was, at least it beat the deadly cold up in Chicago: I survived the Blizzard of 1979, and that experience is a big reason on why the gallery is titled “the Texas Triffid Ranch” and not “the Illinois Varga Shop.”)

Fog aside, and aside from the local missing stair who was removed in short order and told not to return, the latest open house was a grand success, including one family that drove from Tulsa just to attend. Thanks to everyone who made it, other than the missing stair, because you were all braver than the groundhog this year.

The date for the next open house is in flux, dependent upon getting confirmation on an upcoming event. When it’s nailed down, though, read about it here.

Have a Great Weekend

The Groundhog Day open house at the gallery is this weekend, so for those in Dallas on Saturday, we’ll see you there. For everyone else, especially for those in the American Midwest, here’s hoping that Sid here doesn’t see his shadow, because we don’t need six more weeks of this. (40 years ago, I was in Chicago, still digging out from under the Blizzard on 1979. I sympathize more than you know.

The Aftermath: Perot Museum Social Science “Wild World”

perot02012019_3It’s been three years since the last time the Triffid Ranch was invited to show plants out at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and making a late evening of the Social Science 21+ museum event was a perfect way to finish off January. Just me, the provosts and staff, and a few thousand interested bystanders…the theme of this month’s Social Science event was “Wild World”, and carnivorous plants were just part of the fun.

perot02012019_2The relative lack of photos from “Wild World” had less to do with photographic aptitude and more to do with the sheer size of the crowd. When the official “everyone is worn out and going home, so you can break down” time was 10:00 and patrons were still asking enthusiastic questions at just short of midnight, it says a lot about the energy at the sold-out event. As it was, getting photos was a bit problematic, especially when people were crowded so thickly around the Triffid Ranch table that we occasionally blocked off access to the elevators. Every guest presenter at an event like this wants to make an impression upon its audience, and with five to ten people listening in on every answered question, the carnivores apparently made quite the impression. The crowd rushed in right at opening, and the only chance to get photos of the table itself was when everyone had cleared out for the night.

perot02012019_4perot02012019_1

Anyway, thanks to the multitudes of energetic and wildly curious attendees, this was a great way to start the 2019 Triffid Ranch show season, and I wish to thank everyone who made it. For those who couldn’t, get your tickets for the April 26 Social Science, “Science Fiction,” before they sell out, too.