Category Archives: Things to Do in Dallas When You’re Dead

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas -Introduction


A week from today, it begins. Even those who cut the cord years ago have email boxes full of notices about Black Friday specials. UPS trucks outnumber everything else on the road by three to one. If people aren’t driving like maniacs to get to the mall, they’re driving like maniacs to get home before the football game starts. For those who love and adore the holiday season, it’s absolute heaven. For the poor retail employees stuck in front of a display playing “Santa Baby” in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, they’re considering a career change or at least a pencil up the nose to kill those chunks of brain that hurt so much. And then there’s the Texas Triffid Ranch’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas run on a particular premise. For those of us who don’t know every line in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas by heart, the film ended with Jack Skellington conceding that his version of Christmas wasn’t working, and Santa works overtime to replace the horrific toys left by Jack around the world. When that film premiered in 1993, nobody at Disney understood the draw of those horrific toys, nor ever even considered a scene with a little goth kid crying and desperately begging Santa to leave Jack’s toys and decorations right where they were. Considering some of my friends’ responses, it wouldn’t be hard to picture Santa dragging himself back to Christmastown, a still-burning sleigh to go with his two black eyes and broken nose, asking one of the shop elves to grab a pair of pliers to pull the innumerable sharp teeth broken off in his butt. And when those kids had kids themselves, the cookies and milk were contingent upon the understanding that not only were the vampire bat tree toppers and Dawn of the Dead action playsets welcome, but they’d best not be replaced.

The Nightmare Weekends concept continues this. It’s not anti-Christmas or even anti-holiday. Instead, it runs on the reasonable premise that it’s possible to overdose on holiday cheer, and that some people may need to catch their breath before once more into the breach, once more. It’s for the people who love peppermint but who can’t handle the taste of it by December 20. It’s for those stuck in a workplace where the boss insists upon turning on the intercom and pumping in the local Christmas radio station all day, or the ones that charge employees for the mandatory-attendance holiday party. It’s for those who appreciate the history of those live Norfolk Island pines in the grocery store predates that of the dinosaurs, the parasitic nature of mistletoe, or the use of cinnamon as a fungicide. It’s for those who didn’t complain when Christmas lights and decorations started crowding out the Halloween stuff mid-September, but who want a little bit of Halloween to hang around during the longest nights of the year.

So here’s the plan. The Triffid Ranch has extended hours every Saturday between now and Christmas, with extra time on November 24 as well. No overplayed Christmas carols played far too loudly to hear anybody talk. No overcrowded mall parking lots. For those who missed the previous gallery openings, it’s an opportunity to visit. For those attending in the past at the old Valley View Center location, it’s a chance to see the new space. And for those already familiar with the gallery, it’s a nice nondenominational respite from the outside. With carnivorous plants.

As for questions:

What are the dates and hours for the Nightmare Weekends?

All times for Nightmare Weekend openings are from noon to 6:00 p.m., but these may be adjusted on request. The dates include:

  • Friday, November 24, 2017 (Friday)
  • Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 2, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 9, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 16, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 23, 2017 (Saturday)

Are you open at other times?

The Triffid Ranch is always open by appointment, but the Nightmare Weekends are for when everyone is free. During the week, the Day Job prevents being able to keep the gallery open all day, but consultation appointments are always available in the evenings and on Sundays. Also, the hours on the Nightmare Weekends aren’t absolute: if work schedule or other logistics prevent you from getting to the gallery by the normal hours, give us a call and we’ll accommodate you.

Do you have accommodations for children?

Parents attended by their children are always welcome, but any unattended parents will be given six shots of espresso and an American Express Card application. (Unfortunately, because of the sudden nature of the gallery’s move to its new location earlier this year, the Triffid Ranch entrance is not ADA-compliant. However, we’re looking at rectifying that in the future, as new locales in our neighborhood open up closer to the end of our lease.)

Are you working with other galleries and stores in the area?

That’s a very good question, because one of the disadvantages of having a separate gallery is not having the community that those who attended the late, lamented ARTwalk events at Valley View Center may remember. At the bare minimum, Tawanda! Jewelry will be set up in the front of the gallery, but that’s the advantage to being married to the proprietor. Other venues wanting to participate in the Nightmare Weekends are encouraged to get in touch, and additions will be shared before the actual date.

Will you have Venus flytraps?

Sadly, no. Like the vast majority of carnivorous plants from temperate climes, Venus flytraps have to undergo a dormancy over the winter, and all of the flytraps here are in a cold frame awaiting spring. They’ll bring themselves out of dormancy around the middle of March, but until then they HAVE to stay dormant, because forcing them out of dormancy early could kill them. This also applies to North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) as well: not only do they require the same sort of cooling off period as flytraps, but that dormancy is necessary for the huge display of blooms around St. Patrick’s Day. The gallery has a lot of tropical plants on display, though, and those don’t require a dormancy, so those are the stars this time of the year.

Suppose I’m looking for something other than the enclosures already available. What are my options?

That depends upon what you’re seeking. Are you looking for a whole new unique enclosure? Are you wanting to convert an existing reptile enclosure or aquarium into a carnivorous plant display? Do you want specific elements, such as a rock sample with sentimental attachments or a specific lighting arrangement? Come in during a Nightmare Weekend for a consultation. Depending upon its elements and construction, as well as the date in which it’s commissioned, the final enclosure may not be ready by the end of the holidays, but there’s always the surprise of getting a gift during the post-holiday doldrums.

Can I come by to watch the plants eat something?

Well, that’s problematic. With the plants that aren’t dormant for the winter, most either capture prey too small to see without a microscope, or they have passive traps that don’t move. However, that said, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, getting a bug’s-eye view of the inside of an Asian pitcher plant is now both possible and easy, so expect a viewing schedule soon.

Will Shirt Prices still apply?

That’s just silly. Of COURSE they do. The gallery has a limited number of Triffid Ranch shirts for sale, but if you want to order one online, come out to the gallery while wearing it and take advantage of the lower prices.

And that’s about it. Keep an eye out for specific attractions on specific days, as well as notices about new enclosures constructed in between weekends. To quote one of Dallas’s greatest culture writers, you’ll boogie ‘til you puke.

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State of the Gallery: November


Another month, another expansion. The official opening of the gallery on October 13 went without any serious hitches, and subsequent group appointments went even better, including one group that came out from Memphis just to view the new enclosures. The school lecture schedule started last month, and my experiences just confirm that no matter what teachers are paid, it’s never enough. (The art teacher at one lecture in Fort Worth was responsible for the Nepenthes hemsleyana portrait at the top of this post: this is going up in a place of honor on the gallery’s art wall.) Other than that, it’s the usual October rush: getting the gallery ready for the holiday season, doing everything that needs to be done outside before it’s too cold to do so, and prepping the Sarracenia and other temperate carnivores for their winter dormancy. Even Halloween was a surprise, with considerably more trick-or-treaters out, with regular threats of rain, than at any other time in the last decade. I won’t even start with the plans for next spring, because the last two years imparted that lesson over and over.

And what does that mean for November? Well, it means that the first two weekends of the month are going to be ridiculously busy, because it’s time to focus on the now-annual road trip to Austin. This year, the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show runs on November 19, so it’s a matter of loading the van on Saturday, driving down, recuperating for a few hours, setting up on Sunday morning, breaking down on Sunday evening, and driving back on Monday. The advantage of the new date isn’t just a lack of conflict with events at the University of Texas, but an opportunity to say hello to people starting an early holiday vacation that weekend. This is important because…

…the rest of November and December are going to be just as busy. As with last year, the Triffid Ranch will be open both for the Friday after Thanksgiving and for Small Business Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. CST: the difference between this year and last is, of course, having a much more central location. After that, the gallery will be open every Saturday from noon until 6 CST until Christmas (which works out to December 2, 9, 16, and 23), with earlier or later hours by appointment. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment during the week, but the holiday hours facilitate drop-by visits, especially from people desperately wanting to get away from the malls. For those seeking custom enclosures by Christmas, get your specifications in early, and we can even facilitate special deliveries and premieres at the gallery if you’re planning a special surprise.

After that? As a particularly influential television show noted nearly two decades ago, it’s a matter of going back to the end of the beginning. December 2002 was an especially rough time, and a 15th wedding anniversary party should celebrate how far you’ve come from those early days, right? Details will follow, because it’s been a very long strange trip over the intervening decade-and-a-half. Until then, see you in the future.

New Developments


Now that the gallery is open and available for commissions, it’s time to make plans for the rest of the year and the whole of 2018. Dallas has had a relatively mild summer so far as compared to the first half of the decade, but August is still the month where we all take inspiration from my animal role model, the Gila monster, and find someplace cool and dark to plot strategy. While Triffid Ranch strategy might not match Gila monster strategy, which consists of crawling to the surface to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, we’re not completely unsympathetic. Gila monster strategy pretty much summed up my entire writing career through the Eighties and Nineties.

The first part of Triffid Ranch strategy involves planning local events, both at the new gallery and throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. This starts with a lecture and presentation at Half Price Books Mesquite on July 22 from noon to 3 pm, and several new events between now and the beginning of November that aren’t nailed down yet. As always, check the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page for schedule changes and additions, and expect some surprising venues if things work out well.

 The biggest change in strategy, though, involves making the biggest jump in show audiences the Triffid Ranch has ever done, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit scary. Last April, an impulse trip to the Deep Ellum Arts Festival was nothing short of a mental explosion: the Festival has grown a LOT since its early days in the Twentieth Century, with a selection of artists and other vendors for whom the word “incredible” was an impotent shadow. Friday night alone was one of the most vibrant outdoor shows I’ve ever attended. no doubt accented by the best festival weather one could imagine. (Yes, summers in Dallas are harsh, but the springs and autumns out here make four months of slow simmering worthwhile.) Since then, checking on the availability of visual artist applications was a weekly event, and the applications for artists, musicians, and food vendors just opened. (And did I mention that the food at the Festival was so good that you could gain ten pounds just by standing at one of the intersections and inhaling for ten minutes?) This doesn’t just mean preparing for the huge crowds at Texas Frightmare Weekend during the first weekend of May, but having to prepare even more plants and enclosures for the Festival a month earlier. Applying is no guarantee of being accepted, and nobody will know anything until November, but considering that May 2018 marks a solid decade since the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, it’s time to make the jump. Here’s hoping I don’t faceplant any harder than usual.

And just in time for early preparation for local teachers in search of something different for their classrooms, watch this space for a big announcement next week on affordable enclosure acquisition and maintenance. This won’t be exclusively for teachers: doctors, lawyers, and dentists might have a big interest in this as well. However, teachers will appreciate the maintenance advantages. Details will follow.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 9

In all of the obvious love shown to Texas Frightmare Weekend, don’t think that it’s always perfect. No, there’s always someone who takes issue with what the Triffid Ranch is doing. The plants are living things, they yell, you shouldn’t be selling them, they yell, at least not something I can’t smoke. By way of example, for the first time, I share pictures of a heckler. The character came below and did nothing but take offense that his brethren and sisters were available for sale in glass bottles and containers, and he let me know it. Well, he kinda did: he was rather hard to understand, and random grumbling and wheezing counts as heckling, right?


Very seriously, it’s no exaggeration that I now spend the entire year getting ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend in one way or another, and I hope to pull off a display in 2018 that’s not affected by a sudden gallery eviction and relocation. Many thanks to everyone involved with Frightmare: attendees, guests, staff, support crew, and fellow vendors, and thanks in particular to convention founder Loyd Cryer: if not for him ignoring the various voices in the area telling him that a horror convention in “as conservative a city as Dallas” wouldn’t work, we wouldn’t be having THIS much fun. Here’s to seeing everyone next year, because the only way I’d miss it is by being dead, and even then.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 8

Trying to describe a show like Texas Frightmare Weekend to folks completely unfamiliar with the concept is hard enough, but trying to explain the costumers is harder. Part of it comes from the assumption that the costumers are just nostalgic for Halloween, or from the cliche of the convention costumer circa 1985. Both work from an assumption that costumes should be quick, flashy, and quickly discarded once the event is over. And that assumption is so wrong that it’s saddening.

As someone who first started attending conventions in the early 1980s, and who only became a vendor during the great costuming renaissance of the 2000s, this is another area of fandom where I have no interest or urge to go back to the Good Old Days. The sheer professionalism of costuming these days makes it worthy of further study: in fact, it’s the reason why so many TV and newspaper crews come to events like Frightmare to get images and video of the proceedings. In many ways, they treat Halloween the way Hunter S. Thompson handled New Year’s Eve: that’s the day you back off and let the amateurs have their fun.

As for being a vendor? I get to watch literally thousands of enthusiasts go by, and I get to ask questions. For a short time in the Eighties, I took inspiration from such makeup effects maestros as Dick Smith and Tom Savini and wanted to dive right into the world of movie illusions. I’ve gone off in a drastically different direction since then, but a lot of what I learned back then still influences plant enclosures today. How do I make this illusion? How do I put it together for the maximum effect? Does it grab the audience in the same way it grabbed me? I may be using live plants, long-fiber sphagnum, and perlite instead of silicone and resin, but it’s still the same thrill.


The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 7

One of the things that’s hard for people outside of the dealer’s room at a big convention such as Texas Frightmare Weekend is that it’s WORK. Heck, it’s hard for some people in the dealer’s room to understand, for that matter. (And no, I’m not naming names, although it’s tempting.) This means that very few of us have the time or opportunity to break free from the booth to view preview movie screenings or guest signings. This means that while the attendees are heading out to catch after-hours parties and concerts, we’re usually either heading home or to our hotel rooms to get some sleep before it starts all over again. This means having to cancel dinner plans with near and dear friends because a customer asked for a special commission that has to be ready by the next day. For anywhere from two to four days, depending upon the length of the convention, it’s a matter of scrambling and dancing and occasionally throwing things (you get really good at hitting trash cans from a distance when the crowd is too thick to get to it directly), and none of us would give it up for anything. 

And why wouldn’t we give it up? That’s because the party comes to us. At Frightmare, that meant anywhere between six and nine hours of fascinating people coming from all over the planet, in costume and out, all with different stories about why they were there. It’s a three-day Troll Market, and everyone involved simultaneously wishes that it could go on for years AND thanks Odin, Marduk, and Arioch that it doesn’t go on for a solid week. I don’t think any of us could handle more than five days, just because there are limits as to what the human body can endure.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 6

As an aside, it’s time to share the Great Doughtnut Dropoff story. When Texas Frightmare Weekend moved to its current location at DFW Airport five years ago, we made a run on a grocery store for drinks on the last day of the show, and decided “what the heck: let’s pick up a flat of doughnuts to share with the vendors and the staff.” Considering how many vendors were waiting for their final sales on Sunday to know how much gas money they’d have (yes, things were a bit tight that year), the box was denuded within seconds. Since then, things have gotten considerably better for the vendors, but the doughnut tradition continues. Every Sunday at the end of Frightmare, it’s a matter of going over to Donut Palace in Garland, one of the best doughnut shops in the whole of the D/FW Metroplex, and picking up a few dozen for the staff. They’re exhausted from running the show, so the sugar pick-me-up is important, and it’s a very careful thank-you for the realization that while all sorts of emergencies may have occurred over the weekend, attendees and vendors didn’t know about any of them. (Remind me to tell you about the fire alarm at Space City Con in Houston in 2014 some time.) 

This year, it was the usual: seven dozen, all fresh out of the fryer, and a suitable mix so that everybody got at least one of their favorites. By the end of the show, though, one box remained on the registration desk, with two or three remaining. By the time we finished packing up the truck and did the traditional “Did we get EVERYTHING?” inspection of the booth before leaving for the night, one was still there. It looked perfectly edible, so was that last one left because nobody wanted to be That Guy Who Took the Last Doughnut (And Thereby Had To Dispose Of The Box), or did someone write “Lovingly prepared by Tyler Durden” on the bottom? Next year, I’m setting up a remote camera, just to check.