Monthly Archives: April 2019

Have a Great Weekend

Today is a day for plant presentations at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and it’s a day for the new Hatebeak single. After all, if a death metal band fronted by a derived theropod dinosaur isn’t science fiction, what is?

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – 9

(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 April 12, 2019.

You’d never know it, but garden centers and daily newspapers have a lot in common. 25 years ago, they were effective and ruthless gatekeepers for the general public, arrogant in the knowledge that they were the only game in town and you either paid their rates or went without. Now, with innumerable online resources for information and retail, independent garden centers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth the way daily newspapers are. Some are acknowledging that times have changed and that they need to cultivate new audiences before their old audiences leave forever, and others…well, others figure that if they just hold out a little longer, the calendars will all switch back to 1997, that horrible Interwebs thing will just go away and leave them alone, and all of their old clientele and sponsors will come rushing back to their rightful places. And it will, any day now. Any. Day. Now. Just you watch.
 
This all tied in with a conversation with friends about the Independent Garden Center show, a big three-day event in Chicago every August. Now, you can make jokes about how the air in Chicago in August is “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on,” but I’d made tentative plans to attend one of these days, just to visit Chicago for the first time since I moved from there forty years ago. Admittedly, part of the appeal was the excuse, quite popular with conference and convention regulars, that “I’ll see old friends who live near there” when you know damn well that you’ll be lucky to see the outside of the conference hotel, but I was actually enthused to see what’s going on with garden center distributors and vendors. One of these days, I hope to turn the Triffid Ranch into a full-time venue, and comparing notes with others in the field might impart wisdom that save me a lot of aggravation. And if one of the big draws at the IGC is the annual free concert by a musical act whose playlist shifted from “Classic rock” to “golden oldie” on the terrestrial radio dial in the last ten years, well, I look at that the way I look at chocolate and wine and demur with “More for everybody else.”
 
Well, that was then. Chicago friends had already related how the IGC was a bear to enter and leave, but the finale for me was the announcement that one of the keynote speakers wasn’t someone with actual horticultural  experience, but a stand-in for Rush Limbaugh whose entire schtick was alleged comedy about millennials. Now never mind the political spectrum: many of my dearest cohorts in the horticultural community are diametrically opposed to my political leanings, and we set rules up front that discussions of politics are only on subjects that directly affect our business. (Discussions on cannabis production and distribution, for instance, go wonderfully awry when everyone realizes that, appearances notwithstanding, I’m a complete teetotaler as far as marijuana is concerned thanks to various respiratory issues. This just makes the conversations about industrial hemp, of which I’m a passionate advocate, that much more interesting.) However, listening to the same people crying about how younger generations won’t get involved in gardening, then attending lectures that come off as parodies of the District Attorneys’ Convention in the book and movie Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, seems, a little, I don’t know, counterproductive. It’s like listening to the old guard in science fiction literature kvetching about how to attract new readers while mocking them at the same time: considering the costs of air travel and hotels, if I wanted to listen to a herd of seventysomething xenophobes cry impotently about how the universe dared change without their express written permission, I’d go to Armadillocon.
 
Because of this, it might be time for a new garden center conference, for those who want to blast into the middle of the 21st Century instead of pining for the 20th. The interest is there, especially with garden center employees desperately trying to convince their bosses that maybe buying a half-page ad in the local daily newspaper isn’t the best expenditure of their advertising budget. The vendors are out there, especially the ones who’d like to move from Etsy to a proper distributor. Certainly, the musicians are there. What I wasn’t expecting was the enthusiastic response from garden center managers and employees looking for something Different. This may be easier than I thought.
 
As anybody who has spent any time on Facebook will tell you, enthusiasm without commitment is worthless, so the next big hurdle is creating programming that speaks to the newer generations of garden center owners and employees. A few minutes of brainstorming came up with a few ideas for panels and workshops:
 
“Smartphones and Dumbasses”: With the expansion of custom phone apps to help identify garden plants and bugs, creating phone apps to handle other vital garden center functions is both easy and inexpensive. In this two-hour workshop, learn how to use machine learning technology to identify customers screaming “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?’, prove that your garden center has never offered unlimited free landscaping services, demonstrate what happens when you try to plant tomato plants outdoors in Chicago in February, and confirm or deny that the owner automatically gives a 70 percent discount to his/her elementary school teachers. Spend a little money now and save innumerable hours on arguments with idiots and grifters!
 
“Gravestones In the Garden”: The under-50 gardening crowd is looking for unorthodox garden decorations, and your standard distributors offer the usual endless line of twee. More importantly, YOU’RE sick of carrying the same mediocre birdbaths and wall hangings, and want to spice things up a bit. Find out where to get the best concrete dinosaurs, Daleks, kaiju, and gargoyles, how to shut down complaints about how “these are COMPLETELY inappropriate” from fussbudgets, and how to brace the customer who wants 
Dom Perignon-quality black granite tombstones but only has a Dr. Pepper budget.
 
“Electronics and Your Uncle Who Lives In A Tree”: You spend thousands of dollars on a digital signage solution to display specials, calendar events, and plant information, only to have it regularly damaged by occasional customers trying to switch the feed to Fox News. Learn how to use parental locks on remotes to stop Fox News Grandpa hijackings during busy periods, strategic mounting brackets to prevent their reaching the monitors or signage servers, and cattle prods to move them out the door after the inevitable temper tantrums. Discussions also include restroom paint that resists Infowars stickers and methods to recycle Jack Chick pamphlets.
 
“Mommy Will Be Right Back”: with Toys ‘R’ Us and Borders gone and shopping mall pet shops as obsolete as daily newspaper delivery, more and more soccer moms are looking for free babysitting and petting zoo options for their toddlers and preteens, and your garden center is a tempting target. With signs reading “Unescorted children will be given six shots of espresso and a free puppy” making less of an impression, our panelists and the audience discuss methods to keep your garden center child-friendly while preventing non-customers from draining your liability insurance policy. ($25 workshop fee, $75 for optional wood chipper.)
 
“Fan or Smartaleck”: With the current boom in science fiction/fantasy/horror fandom and fannish interests, it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between actual plant species and cultivars and ones created for books, comics, movies, and television. Do YOU know how to tell the difference between the bladderworts “Asenath Waite” and “Mrs. Marsh”, or the traits that define a “Violet Carson” rose? More importantly, can you tell the difference between a wiseacre asking about purchasing Whomping Willows and Pink Bunkadoos and the individual who honestly thinks Day of the Triffids is a documentary? Learn what to watch for, and be able to laugh politely when asked “Do you carry Slaver sunflowers?” (Guest lecturers: Dr. Dr. Pamela Iseley and Dr. Alec Holland.)
 
“But It Looked Different In the Video”: Sick of explaining to customers that those rainbow rose or blue Venus flytrap seeds offered for sale on eBay aren’t real? Tired of people arguing that they shouldn’t have to pay your prices for rare plants when Some Guy on the Internet is offering legitimate, guaranteed seeds directly from China for a pittance? Soulhurt from trying to explain the vast difference between fruit trees with multiple varieties grafted on and that “Magical Fruit Salad Plant” seed they saw advertised on Facebook? Nearly homicidal from having 1300 customers pointing to the same Pinterest post that not at all saw any Photoshop manipulation, no sir, we wouldn’t lie? Bring your phone, because we bought one of everything, and you’ll want to take photos of every last weed you’ll see when that customer comes in and asks “So what are WE going to do to get my money back?”
 
“Stand-Up Up Fight or Bug Hunt”: Apply the power of artificial intelligence to solving your customers’ greatest question: whether that blurry phone photo really shows a dangerous, venomous, or invasive insect that’s going to eat the neighborhood. Finally: the one tool to prove to skeptical customers that not every spider is a brown recluse, not every flying insect is an emerald tree borer, and that the scratchings in the new garden bed are from cats and not armadillos.
 
“Every Day is 4/20“: Whether or not your state allows recreational use of marijuana, your workweek will be filled every April 20 with stoners looking for their next distraction, and most guides to psychoactive plants are at least 40 years old. Learn the difference between garden plants that actually have some of psychotropic effect, ones which stretch the meaning of the term “placebo,” and ones with an effect but will make the user regret the day they were conceived.
 
Musical Guests: After a long day talking with vendors and fellow garden center owners/staffers, you’re going to want a break. Please join us all for a musical maelstrom that sums up the new generation of gardeners, with One Eyed Doll and Ministry opening for headliners Gwar and Rob Zombie. No Winstar Casino leftovers for THIS crowd.
 
So…Dallas in 2020? We’ll even try to schedule it for spring, so nobody melts in the heat. What say?

Other News

In separate developments, many thanks to everyone’s celebration of my late cat Leiber, and because Alexandria was mourning harder than we were, we adopted a new cat to keep her company. Considering how badly she wanted to play with Leiber toward the end, it was a matter of finding another cat as enthusiastic about tearing through the house at Mach 4 as she is. This is how we got Simon, a kitten found abandoned near the University of Texas at Dallas campus. He’s almost as quiet as Alexandria: he chirps and murmurs, but he has yet to make a single meow. The best adjective we can use for him is “goofy”: he’s sweet and definitely intelligent, but he remembers to forget that he can’t run through furniture and up walls, to spectacular effect. As of this morning, though, he picked up on Alexandria’s wonderful habit of bushwhacking me in the dark first thing in the morning, so now I have two cats who love my Bill Paxton impersonation screaming “I’m telling ya, there’s something moving and it ain’t us!” Oh, when the days start getting shorter in August, getting ready for work is going to suck.

Recommended Reading

Not that it hasn’t received justifiably rave reviews from much better reviewers than I, but go out and snag Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady From The Black Lagoon, on Millicent Patrick, the actual creator and designer of the monster suit from The Creature From the Black Lagoon. It’s not just a matter of recognizing that an exceptional talent was cut off early due to managerial jealousy (this hit a chord, as I watched a lot of this same behavior in weekly newspaper and magazine publishing), but it’s also a matter of noting that an obscure talent can become an inspiration to a whole new generation of artists given half a chance. As someone studying prop and set design in the hopes of finding new techniques and references that apply to enclosure construction, this matters more than you can know.

Music

The Texas comedian Bill Hicks once described his annual trips to dance clubs as “filling my hump of hate,” and I share that sentiment about going to most music venues. I love catching up with friends and thoroughly enjoy the music, but can’t get past the behavior of the typical showgoer, especially the dolts who feel compelled to capture whole performances on their phones and tablets…held up so that nobody behind them can see a thing. (This is right up there with getting a good location early with an unobstructed view of the stage, only to have last-minute dolts climbing up into my armpit and insisting “we should all share, right?”) Only the right band can convince me that my hump of hate is sufficiently depleted to deal with that, and the news that the band Doll Skin is on tour this year as a headliner, with a stop in Dallas, means that my hump capacity grew four sizes that day. I was lucky enough to catch the band opening for One Eyed Doll two years ago, and a dear friend practically uses the song “Furious Fixation” as a daily soundtrack, so seeing what the band is doing as a followup to the album Manic Pixie Dream Girl is worth a few attacks from the armpit trolls.

Introducing “Simon”

Apologies for things going a bit quiet, and for once, impending shows only take half of the blame. The other half is due to our adopting a new chew toy for our cat Alexandria: with Leiber gone, she was threatening to resemble a Thylacosmilus if her teeth didn’t get worn down regularly. Say hello to “Simon.”

Simon continues a 30-year run of adopting homeless cats: he apparently was found as a kitten abandoned at the University of Texas at Dallas campus. Although he appears to have some Abyssinian or Siamese heritage, he doesn’t express it: aside from the occasional chirp, he’s as silent as Alexandria. He also has the thinnest drybrush of white fur at his chest, which is about the only way to tell the two apart without picking them up. He also loathes being picked up: the biggest difference is that he’s as muscular as the typical brisket, and just as easy to put down without dropping when he’s determined to move.

As can be expected at this stage, we’re still assessing each others’ idiosyncrasies, but he’s already earned a nickname because of his habit of looking up soulfully and stage-falling to the ground. Those familiar with the Clifford Simak short story “Drop Dead” can appreciate why his now-permanent nickname is “Critter”.

Anyway, the real fun will be watching him react to the constant packing and unpacking of show season: if he decides he likes riding in the car, we may be in trouble.

Have a Great Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – 8

(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 March 22, 2019

Most books on the history of classic Japanese gardens relate how the form really took off thanks to the number of veteran samurai seeking a way to heal after years of war. Not enough is discussed about the current trend of outre and gonzo artists, writers, and musicians seeking the same peace after decades of battling corporate culture. It’s reasonable to assume that priorities at 50 are different than those at 25, or that age gives a polish and a patience better suited for gardening right when the artist needs a break from waking up angry and going to bed angrier. It’s even more reasonable to assume that gardening is a side-project best engaged when working on other, presumably worthier projects at an impasse. However one wants to look at it, those involved with punk bands in the Eighties or zine culture in the Nineties tend to look at what they’ve done up to that point, look at the bare patch of soil next to the telephone pole at the streetlight, and decide “Forget working on that riot grrl revival album. I really need pumpkins in my life.”
 
Nowhere is this more prominent than in discovering the fate of Edgar Harris. Some of you may remember  Edgar Harris if you read a lot of science fiction-related magazines and Web sites between 1993 and 2002. First seeing print in the long-dead magazine Science Fiction Eye (best known for its multiyear delays between issues, to the point of it being nicknamed “The Last Dangerous Magazine”), Harris reached his pinnacle as the Sports Editor for the glossy monthly Science Fiction Age in the late Nineties. Often compared at the time to famed writers and essayists Slats Grobnik, Raoul Duke, and Cordwainer Bird, Harris’s work for the Age combined a style described as “somewhere between inspired and actionable” with a personal ethos of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos, and break your foot off in someone’s ass at every available opportunity.” At writers’ conferences and conventions, he managed to cover the latest scandals and impending lawsuits without ever being photographed or caught on video in turn. Neutrinos make more of an impression passing through than he did while chasing a story. Even his short foray in Hollywood, both in screenwriting and directing, left almost no lipstick traces, and queries about the work print for his uncompleted 1996 movie go unanswered. Harris had tremendous influence, mostly because he refused to make the story about him, and some wondered if his enthusiastic uurge to give credit to cohorts and underlings in print was a matter of recognition of superior talents or an opportunity to put others in the line of fire. Those who knew him admitted that both were probably true. 
 
Because of his skill at evading capture and extradition, Edgar Harris’s disappearance from journalism in 2002 was only a surprise in retrospect. His presence was like an extended bout of the flu, where you only realize that you’re no longer sick when you get into the shower and realize “Hey, I’m no longer coughing up blood.” He had already seen the future of periodical publishing’s illness, and got out before its coughing up blood switched to coughing up urine. Where he went, what he did, what he saw, who he ate…all of these were vague mysteries for years, and getting answers required a lot more than a quick Google search.
 
This was why Harris’s reappearance was so shocking. Like so many of us, he channeled his blue-hot rage at the universe into something productive. The difference is that nobody expected him to master video editing, microphotography, acoustics, and Olmec ceramics AND combine all of these disciplines into a documentary on horticulture. We even less expected a companion book with its own companion volume of citations and references. Absolutely no person on the face of the planet expected these to be previewed with a non-disclosure agreement. Because of this, a proper review is absolutely impossible, and even writing this much leads to extended correspondence with lawyers as to what can be revealed before the documentary’s release date. 
 
Now, in the nearly twenty years since I last saw Harris, he’s both simultaneously mellowed out and become more intense, so we had a few “discussions” on what any review could say. I say “discussions,” but “naked threats” and “promises of release of information unaffected by statutes of limitations” work well, too. What I can say is this:

Compost.

Radioisotopes.

Radish.

Regolith simulant.

Microstresses.
 
Snot.
 
The correct pronunciation of “axolotl.”
 
With this sort of content, you can’t go wrong. Screenings of [REDACTED] [REDACTED] Oranges, [REDACTED] start in April, at sites to be disclosed. While waiting, be sure to buy the book, either from your local bookstore or through the publisher’s Web site, NOW. Trust me: you won’t regret it.

Other News

In other delusions, the new essay The Magician’s Garden appeared in the 150th issue of Clarkesworld this month, and another essay is being finished right now. Yes, these are relapses from a long period of professional writing abstinence, but the opportunity to write about botany and the fantastic was just too good to pass up. Well, that and the fact that these are paying assignments. As to whether there will be any others, that honestly depends upon both the general response and the ongoing run of Clarkesworld. In the meantime, enjoy the essay, and feel free to let the publisher and editor know how much you like it.

Recommended Reading

Thanks to a close acquaintance on Twitter bringing up museum exhibit design, the last month’s reading has been a serious trip down the rabbit hole, with the ultimate result hopefully being improved enclosure design, improved enclosure presentation, and improved informative labels. At the top of the reading pile is the second edition of Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell, which collates and interprets expert views on what should and should not be on a museum label, and why. For those who haven’t been to a Triffid Ranch open house yet, expect a lot of changes over the next few months, particularly as far as descriptions and interpretations are concerned, and this book is directly responsible. After all, why spend years at ground level designing new interpretive labels when so many others have shed blood and ear wax to perfect the discipline?

Music

And in the context of lipstick traces on popular culture, a discussion with a younger friend about interesting music in the 1970s revealed that he had no knowledge whatsoever on the one British band responsible for influencing half of rock music over the subsequent four decades. It’s not that surprising that most American rock enthusiasts have never heard of Hawkwind, as getting any airplay whatsoever in the US was pretty much impossible. With that in mind, though, Hawkwind has an oversized influence on the big movements in rock since then: without this odd little space rock band, you wouldn’t have had Pink FloydBlue Oyster Cult, the Sex Pistols and PiL, or the Flaming Lips, among many others. Likewise, if the original lead singer hadn’t been fired on a drug possession charge, he wouldn’t have split off, named his new band after a Hawkwind song, and completely changed the face of heavy metal. (Yes, I’m talking about Lemmy of Motorhead.)
Nearly a half-century later, the band is still going along, and the fact that Hawkwind tribute bands aren’t crossing the US every day is an injustice that needs to be rectified. I have some personal skin in this: there’s nothing quite like the look on a younger rock fan’s face that coming across songs like “Silver Machine” or “Song of the Swords” for the first time, because now I get to see the look I had on MY face thirty years ago when I was scouring obscure record shops for new listening.

Enclosures: “Paredolia” (2019)

Description: As highly visual animals, humans are predisposed to see patterns, particularly those that might comprise faces. Even with objects and items that have no living component, the urge is to look for a pattern, even when that pattern does not exist.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $ 150US

Shirt Price: $ 125US

Enclosures: “Mashup” (2019)

Description: An experiment in materials and techniques, partly as a reminder that the films Star Wars: Episode One and Alien were released almost exactly 20 years apart. This enclosure will debut at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes ampullaria x ventricosa “Bloody Mary”

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $ 150US

Shirt Price: $ 125US

Manchester United Flower Show: Cancelled

This is the first time in four years that a scheduled gallery event has had to be cancelled, but this is the first time I’ve caught a stomach bug like this before an open house, and you do NOT want to catch it. Apologies to everyone who had plans: we’ll reschedule as soon as we can.

Have a Great Weekend

The third Manchester United Flower Show is this weekend, and between this and the show last weekend…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Finale

 

And so it ends. Many thanks to the Oddities and Curiosities Expo staff for putting up with me, many thanks to the staff of Fair Park for putting up with me, and even more thanks to the attendees for making this one of the most pleasurable and memorable one-day events I’ve ever attended. For those with means to get to Austin this summer, the Triffid Ranch sets up at the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on August 17, and coming back out for the Dallas 2020 Expo isn’t even a question. Between these, the Spooky Spectacle in Fort Worth in September, and the next Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, it’s going to be a good year for road trips.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 9

One of the funnier questions of which I’m asked is one that doesn’t seem funny: “Do you take cards?” It’s funny in context of the last half-century. 50 years ago, ATMs were science fiction. 40 years ago, temporary venues could run credit card machines, but only if they could get a telephone line over which to transmit transactions. 30 years ago, mobile ATMs were a standard, but individual vendors generally stuck with cash unless they had access to a dedicated credit card processor, which was ridiculously expensive for small and medium-sized vendors. 20 years ago, card readers were cheaper, to the point of anybody registering a business license for any sort of retail was flooded with spam calls offering “reasonable” prices for card transactions. Ten years ago, small vendors could do the occasional card transaction, but that was dependent upon specialized readers that only worked with certain PDAs and phones, and everything was dependent upon cellular phone networks that didn’t like each other or buildings with walls thicker than toilet paper. Now? Now, when I’m asked “do you take cards?”, I just laugh and ask “What do you think this is: the Twentieth Century?” Watching the incredible changes of the last half-century, can you blame me for being fond of the phrase “I love living in the future”?

(Seriously, for both vendors and attendees of events, try to keep your payment options diversified. For vendors, this means having a good card reader through a phone or tablet AND having plenty of change for those still paying with cash. For attendees, this means having a couple of options as far as cards are concerned: many banks will shut down transactions on a card that appears to be used across multiple states or countries, even though you physically moved only a few meters. As for cash, be kind and try to diversify: the only thing that will make a vendor hate you more than trying to buy a $2 item with a $100 bill is buying an expensive item with rolls of coins. One is a surprising prevention for the other: I give change for cash in dollar coins, partly because kids love them, and partly because the person facing getting back a kilo of change suddenly either finds a smaller bill or finds a card.)

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 8

Having been selling plants at shows and events for a decade, many beginning vendors ask for advice on which shows and events they should attend. Never you mind that asking my advice about shows and events is like asking for vegan recipes from Jeffrey Dahmer. Unlike so much of the advice requested by beginning writers and musicians, the question isn’t “how can I skip to the front of the line?” The question is, essentially, “How do I minimize my losses and my pain?” And that’s a really good question. It’s just a shame that nobody has a good answer for it. 

Part of the problem with answering that question is that every show is different. EVERY show. Even if you’ve been vending at the same show every year for a decade, all you need is a change of location or even a good impending storm to throw off everything. Competing shows deliberately scheduling opposite your show, a glitch in advertising, an accident on the highway that slows or stops incoming traffic for a few hours, a hotel name change…any of these can throw off attendance of an event, and I’ve come across all of these and a few more. Don’t even get me started on events with management changes between the last and the next show, where the only thing in common between the two shows is the title. (For that reason, one bit of advice I can give is to be really leery of events using the name of a once-beloved event that’s been dead for a while. The name was purchased for name recognition, but the odds of the new show having even the remote possibility of the audience of the old one are extremely remote.)

 The other part? It’s all about the intended audience. Some shows thrive on vendor variety, where attendees look forward to something new in each and every booth or tent. Others…well, not so much. My wife once slogged through a long weekend at an Oktoberfest show where the only potential customers she saw over three days were drunken fratbros looking for a traditional Oktoberfest “chicken hat“: they weren’t willing to pay more than $3 for one, and they had no interest in purchasing anything else but beer. On the other, her first big show was at a convention for mystery writers, where she and a friend were the only vendors carrying anything other than books. Until just a couple of years ago, this was her biggest grossing weekend ever, because family members and friends of the main attendees saw jewelry and exclaimed “Finally! Something other than books!” (Sadly, this show didn’t lead to future success at subsequent shows: one of the convention organizers was one of the book dealers, and since he felt that any sales going to anybody else were sales that weren’t going to him, he made sure that non-book dealers weren’t allowed back.) It’s Schrödinger’s Show: until you put the money down for a booth fee, take the time from your day job, arrive at the venue, and get set up, you have no idea how it’s going to go. That can even apply on individual days during a three- or four-day show: everyone who has been traveling to events for more than a few months will have stories about Friday and Saturday audiences being dead, only for Sunday’s crowd to converge and strip out everything before closing.

 And this advice for vendors applies to attendees, too. I can tell you about fellow vendors whose inventory may be enticing, but the only way you’ll find out which events would be worth your time is by hitting a lot of them and finding what works the best for you. Yes, that might cost money, but would you rather stay home and spend the rest of your life wondering on what you missed out?

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 7

And for this installment, a discussion of alcohol. Increasingly, as Texas’s and particularly Dallas’s alcohol sales and distribution laws start to enter the 18th Century, more local events with vendor spaces are allowing and encouraging beer and wine sales. Contrary to the panicked liturgies of Those With Authoritah, removing the patchwork of “wet” versus “dry” areas in Dallas and allowing every grocery store in town to sell beer and wine didn’t cause the city to become a booze-fueled Mad Max horrorscape. Well, that still happens every year with the Lower Greenville St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and Texas/OU Weekend in October, but sane and tasteful people avoid those mass midlife crises anyway. Everywhere else, with events that aren’t already associated with projectile vomiting competitions, it’s nice and mellow. Yes, people will drink, and they’d probably smoke as well once Texas finally legalizes recreational cannabis. I can’t do either, so I figure “More for everyone else.”

That’s probably one of the best things about various events in the last decade: the easy access to well-controlled and well-monitored beer and wine as anxiety and shyness self-medication. Occasionally vendors get accidental spills, but not often, and the whole purpose behind drinking is to relax, not to get messed up. Even better, there’s no pressure to indulge, so those of us who can’t or don’t aren’t ostracized or needled into participating “because everyone else is doing it.” Dallas’s Fair Park held two events for two completely different audiences last weekend: the Oddities & Curiosities Expo and a “bier garden” beer tasting event. Want to guess which one had a crowd of socially lubricated and extremely pleasant attendees who knew better than to drink and drive, and which one was responsible for the dolt in a Lexus (but I repeat myself) driving the wrong way on a busy street who nearly hit me and three other people as I was leaving the Expo? The choice is simple: when your alcohol consumption makes the shade of Hunter S. Thompson yell “GET TREATMENT, NOW” in your ear, heed the advice. You’re harshing it for the rest of us.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 6

From a vendor’s perspective, one of the biggest regrets on being on that side of the cash register involves getting to visit with other vendors in a particular venue. Oh, YOU may be done and ready to go an hour before the door opens, but not everyone is that lucky, and interrupting fellow vendors while they’re trying to get the last touches in place is really bad form. The real irony is that the only chance most vendors get to talk to their neighbors after the venue opens to the public is if the show is horrible and the public doesn’t show up. At a good show, if you’re very lucky, you might get the chance to wave at neighbors once or twice in momentary slowdowns (and I really mean “momentary”) before the rush hits again and you start playing the game “What Character From The Walking Dead Are You?” (For the record, I’m Glenn. I’m always Glenn.)

 The particularly good news at last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was that I’ve known my across-the-aisle neighbor for nearly 30 years, back from when he and I were neighbors in Exposition Park in the early 1990s. Jason Cohen of Curious Garden has been a fellow Dallas troublemaker for longer than I have, and I’m proud to announce that he’s hosting a repeat of last year’s carnivorous plant workshop sometime later this year.  The exact details are still open: right now, we’re both trying to get through the spring season rush with all of our tendons and ligaments still attached, but we’re trying to wrangle a time in the schedule, probably in mid-May. Details will follow as I get them.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5

Another business proposal to fill my voluminous free time: unique enclosure decorations for smaller containers. Just as how a vast untapped market for darker garden decorations exists that isn’t being serviced by standard garden centers, and how so many of us have to hope that Halloween decorations from Target will survive an entire summer of sun and rain, the decorative options for those making indoor gardens from converted fishtanks and sushi trays is generally limited to the twee. Not that there’s anything wrong with fairies and forest animals if that’s your kink, but it may be time to consider a line of gonzo terrarium ornaments, both UV-resistant and leach-resistant, for the more discerning customer. It may be time to discuss licensing deals with a few artists or their estates, particularly Wayne Barlowe, H.R. Giger, and Charles R. Knight.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4

A side venture inspired by a lack of a certain behavior at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo: I’m going to move into the carnivorous plant fertilizer business. In the last few years, several safe and effective foliar fertilizers for most carnivores have hit the market (whatever you do, never EVER try to fertilize sundews or butterworts, no matter what), but I’m looking at an effective name. After doing a bit of research into existing and lapsed copyrights (among other things, I discovered that the copyrights on several magazines and a weekly newspaper for which I worked in the 1990s were allowed to lapse, and I could buy them up with petty cash if I wanted to waste money and sanity trying to revive them), I’ve found a perfect one: a tie-in with a 20th Century Fox movie of the last decade. With the recent purchase of the vast majority of the former Fox empire by Disney, that property is now managed by a team very much willing to work with vendors willing to pay for limited product licenses. I don’t expect to make a lot of money off the fertilizer itself, but at shows where half of the attendees see carnivorous plants and start yelling “Feed me, Seymour!” at the tops of their lungs, I can hold up a big bottle of branded carnivorous plant fertilizer and yell back “Brawndo’s got what plants crave!

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 3

A minor observation based on years of anecdotal data: Dallas may have considerably more esoterics and nonconformists than what the city’s promotional bureau may want to advertise, but Texas’s real freak capitol is Houston. Oh, Austin has a reputation that precedes the 1960s, but when it comes to any gonzo event, Houstonites outnumber Austinites by about 30 to one. Even better, Houston folk see nothing wrong with hopping in the car or heading to the airport and taking a trip to get their esoterica fixes. In the last ten years since the Triffid Ranch started, some of my most enthusiastic and energetic customers, as well as some of my best and dearest friends, were Houstonites who came tearing up I-45 to see what Dallas had going on. Starting this year, I no longer have any excuse not to return the favor: Dallas isn’t the city everyone thought it was 25 years ago, and neither is Houston, and if the Oddities & Curiosities Expo sets up shop in Houston in 2020, I’ll be one of the first vendors applying for a booth.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2

One of the more surprising aspects about last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo wasn’t the gigantic crowd. The surprise is that in spite of huge turnouts, events such as this are downplayed in Dallas under the idea that “Dallas is a really conservative city, so there’s not much of an interest in weird stuff.” Loyd Cryer, the founder of Texas Frightmare Weekend, heard the same thing over and over when he was first trying to get Frightmare off the ground. Today, if Frightmare isn’t the biggest horror convention in the country, it’s definitely in the top three, and easily most of its core audience hails from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Considering the number of events intended for that perceived traditional Dallas audience that crash and burn, it may be time to acknowledge that my home town is a bastion of nontraditionals, and let our freak flag fly high and proud.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1

Ah, to describe the general attendance at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo…well, everyone understood why the aisles between vendor rows were so wide, because otherwise whole sections would have been impassable. According to those who had been waiting in the cold and rain to get in, the line for tickets stretched around the Centennial Hall as late as 3:00 in the afternoon, and both the parking lots at Fair Park and the DART Green Line trains stopping at the Fair Park station were packed. Not that it was possible to see this, because Every vendor in the place was lucky to leave his/her booth until Fair Park security started shooing attendees toward the door at closing. In my own case, I came out with what I thought was a reasonable collection of plants, with a booth arrangement that could handle a reasonable crowd. When the crowds formed lines to get through booths, and customers were reaching across booth walls to view other vendors’ goods because they simply couldn’t get in, it wasn’t hard to make allusions to George Romero movies. Considering the general vibe of the show, and considering the crowd attending, those allusions were GOOD things.

To be continued…