Tag Archives: television

Projects: “David Gerrold’s Vindication” (2013)

David Gerrold's Vindication (2013)Between the Day Job, Triffid Ranch shows, and general craziness, projects get delayed. Sometimes they get buried, and then it’s a matter of digging them up and getting them finished. Such was the case of the old Nineties-era console television conversion from last year, and it was looking for a theme. Cleaning it up, rigging it with lights, and making it as moisture-resistant as possible (hint: spar varnish is your friend when working with wood in high-humidity environments) was one thing, but this needed something other than the deathly dull pegboard backing with which it entered the world twenty years ago.  Even worse, with FenCon X coming up soon, it needed something with a science fictional theme that didn’t add too much weight, didn’t make it impossible to fill with plants, and didn’t require a Ph.D to install and maintain. It had to be reasonably nontoxic, if not necessarily for the plants, but as a proof of concept for an upcoming arrangement that needs to be friendly to both carnivorous plants and small reptiles. It had to do horrible things to a set of action figures given me by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer a few years back. Oh, and it had to make the Czarina look inside, shake her head, and ask “What the hell is WRONG with you?” Hence, we get David Gerrold’s Vindication.

Gerrold's Vindication backdrop

I’ve always held that it’s bad form to explain an inside joke: if you have to explain the joke to make it funny, or if the joke is so obscure that only a handful of people get any merriment from it, it’s not working. Let’s just say that the title of the piece refers to the famed science fiction writer David Gerrold, best noted for a lot of things in my childhood that permanently damaged my fragile little mind. Among many other considerations in his extensive television writing career, Mr. Gerrold can be credited with creating the concept of the “Away Teams” in Star Trek: The Next Generation. After all, if following the conceit that every adventure of the original Star Trek series had to feature the senior bridge crew and one expendable character beaming down into hostile alien environments, why, all sorts of horrible things could happen. Or should happen.

Gerrold's Vindication detail

Another challenge was utilizing the actual shape of the backing for the original television. Aside from a plastic indentation intended to allow the cathode tube to cool via air circulation, the whole thing was nothing but flat pegboard: a little air circulation via the back was desirable, but too much would drop the humidity in the cabinet below the optimum for Nepenthes pitcher plants. Hence, concealing the majority of the ventilation holes while still allowing some air to enter (and some heat to exit) was necessary. It’s amazing what four coats of spar varnish accomplishes in sealing the backing, and it’s equally amazing how many adhesives will stick to spar varnish that’s been sanded lightly to give it “tooth”. Put a custom-cut piece of glass in the front and hold it in place with pegs, and it’s both accessible and disturbing.

Gerrold's Vindication detail

Gerrold's Vindication detail

Gerrold's Vindication detail

Aside from the obvious figures, everything else inside was hand-sculpted, including the eggs (jewelry-grade epoxy putty), the alien constructs (insulating foam), and the bulkheads and chamber walls (converted catering containers). In addition, as a tribute to my best friend’s comments a quarter-century back, it needed a bit of graffiti as well:Gerrold's Vindication detail

Gerrold's Vindication detail

As an art project, the winner in the FenCon art auction was extremely happy with it. As a proof of concept, it gave me plenty of ideas on what to do with the next one. Most importantly, it taught me “make sure you have all the parts together when you start the next one, because you really don’t want to tear apart the garage again to find them next time.”

Melanoma risk

Over the weekend, I accomplished the impossible. Well, I accomplished a whole lot, but the impossible was a side effect. Best of all, I didn’t even know I was doing it. In the process, I learned something very valuable.

First, the preamble. Traditionally, the Labor Day weekend in North Texas is a meteorological Schrodinger’s cat, in that the quantum potentialities will collapse the moment you make plans. Staying home to work on the garden? We’ll hit extreme and often record-setting heat, right about the time you figure the tomatoes need some judicious weeding. Going on one last vacation before the school season really gets into gear, or having to work? Three inches of rain every hour for the whole of Monday. Since I’d planned to stick around, our surprisingly mellow and wet August turned into a September more evocative of a cement kiln. Heat stress, shifting foundations, small birds and insects spontaneously exploding in midair…we had it all.

Essential information, numero two-o. I know I’m pale. Johnny and Edgar Winter express horror at my lack of melanin. It’s not just a matter of applying sunscreen, but needing to apply it with a concrete float. If I could garden in the dark, my skin would appreciate it, but I have to settle for soaking in the best sunblock I can find and hoping I don’t burst into flame more than ten minutes in.

And now the situation. Besides repotting a large batch of Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion peppers, it was time to finish a set of storage shelves given to me by a friend. The shelves were made of rather weak fiberboard, so I made a quick command decision and planned to seal them with spar varnish. This also applied toward continuing the conversion of that Nineties-era television console: spar varnish offers both water and moisture resistance and UV resistance, and the only thing holding off a good painting was the funky weather every weekend in August. I discovered that a gallon of Cabot Stains spar varnish can cover the interior of a 28-inch television console and ten shelves with three coats and nothing left in the can. That was the good news.

The bad? The best option for painting the shelves was to lie them flat on the ground and paint them while kneeling. This kept the mess to a minimum, to be sure, but it opened up one vulnerability I’d never considered. Much like Achilles being dipped in the River Styx as an infant to give him invulnerability, I’d covered myself quite liberally with sunblock. Much like Achilles’s mother holding him by one heel, thereby leaving him with one fatal weakness, it had never occurred to me that kneeling while barefoot meant that I left two size-13-sized vulnerabilities exposed to our gentle and tender sun.

The rest of me? A bit of singing along my arms, but no actual burns anywhere. The soles of my feet? Well, you ever really look at a piece of pizza that’s short on cheese that’s been left in a refrigerator for a week? The skin moves the same way. This is compounded by the realization that sunburned feet have a completely different type of pain than any other. It doesn’t really hurt, but walking anywhere for any length of time is annoying. It’s just enough to make me wish I’d put a mesquite thorn or a rusty nail through my arch, just to give me something to complain about.

The really bad part is that all of this fussing is moot. According to the National Weather Service, the vicious heat of the rest of the week should be gone by Saturday, and we’ll be back to our normal end-of-summer temperatures and precipitation. About blasted time, if you ask me. Until then, I might as well take advantage of the skin tone and hair color and get prepped for Halloween. All I need right now is a sentient black Roto-Tiller, just so I can wave it over my head and scream “Sap and stolons for my lord Arioch!

Just shut up and watch

All I can say is that some people have the BEST jobs.

“I want you to pass me that trowel as hard as you can.”

Mary at Black Walnut Dispatch once again hits a nerve. Responding to concerns that the cable channel HGTV is removing the last of its gardening programs, presumably for more programming friendlier to advertisers wanting to sell $80k in house renovations at a time, she’s suggesting her own line of amped-up garden shows. I don’t disagree with her, and in fact I’ve been arguing for years that gardening and horticulture shows need to get more gonzo.

The reason that this hits a nerve is because it connects with a longrunning tradition in the Riddell household. Neither the Czarina nor myself are much for serious television-watching these days, and that’s only partly because we swore to the other that either one has legal permission to shoot, club, or garrote the other if terminal television addiction becomes apparent. Running something as background entertainment while engaging in hands-intensive activities is perfectly acceptable, which is why the Czarina drops in a few episodes of Midsomer Murders while doing pearl restringings. I’m a bit more partial to reruns of Primeval while potting up butterworts, but that comes with the territory. Either way, as mentioned in the past, our greatest fear is finding ourselves flipping through 8800 channels looking for one program that sucks marginally less for a half-hour, and watching friends getting addicted to the latest soon-to-be-forgotten “hit drama” is another sour note. (This leads to all sorts of interesting situations, such as when the Czarina tries to get decent Web access that doesn’t require either FIOS television or a telephone land line as part of the deal. It’s like trying to get a cell phone plan where you have the choice of texting or a party line.)

In most years, though, that changes on our anniversary. In most years, we get a nice out-of-the-way hotel or housesit, and spend our time relaxing. By “relaxing”, this usually means the Czarina fires up the cable or satellite connection, turns on HGTV, and we watch until what comedian Bill Hicks referred to as a “hump of hate” is filled. I’m amazed at her ability to digest horrible “flip this house” gibberish and walk out still sane, but she’s usually taking notes on new home repair techniques and materials. When we’ve both reached our saturation point on the advertising, especially with the annual special-television-offer flotsam that’s advertised twice every commercial break, it’s time to go home, thankful that we don’t do it more than once per year.

This last year, though, we had to skip out. The Czarina didn’t believe me when I told her that I wanted to stay home and shovel out my office, and I used the opportunity to prove her wrong. No: Prove Her Wrong. (Okay, so she proved me wrong, because I still have one box that needs to be sorted and pitched. However, I proudly state that fourteen boxes of obscurantia have been sorted, filed, indexed, shredded, and donated, and I even have two boxes of old financial papers that will make great kindling for a bonfire this weekend.) She went in to her Day Job to fend off the worst of the Boxing Day freakiness, and I covered the living room with ever-growing piles of detritus. I finally got the space cleared out, pitched the last worn copy paper box, bound my cracked and bleeding hands as best as I could, looked up at the calendar, and realized “We skipped out on our inoculation against excessive consumption, didn’t we?”

No fear, though. The Czarina has Plans this weekend, and they involve reminding her why we don’t need to get a replacement for the television any time soon. By the time we’re done, we may both have ideas for what makes the perfect gonzo garden show, and then it’s time to look for sponsorships. I figure that the teaser ads for the pilot episode could start with this little missive, with severe apologies to Chuck Pahlaniuk:

The first rule of Garden Club: You do not talk about Garden Club.
The second rule of Garden Club: You DO NOT TALK ABOUT GARDEN CLUB.
Third rule: If gives up and goes inside to watch television, the garden is over.
Fourth rule: Only two guys to a garden.
Fifth rule: One garden at a time.
Sixth rule: No fertilizers, no hydroponics.
Seventh rule: Growing seasons will go on as long as they have to.
And the Eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Garden Club, you have to weed.

The horror, the horror…

Lots of hyping of this weekend’s Discovery Days show at the Museum of Nature & Science in Fair Park in this blog’s future, and I hope everyone can deal with it until after the show is over. In the interim, here’s something to give you an idea of what to expect. Last May, the exemplary local photojournalist Mike Kinney came out from our CBS affiliate to shoot some video, and this is what he got for his trouble.

And before anybody says anything, I know, I know: I have a voice that Fran Drescher finds nasal and annoying. I’m trying to rectify that, with an ice pick if necessary. However, considering that I’m also one of the few people on the planet whose driver’s license photo is preferable to real life, I chalk up the voice as yet another one of my character flaws. On the bright side, though, this is yet another bit of news reportage that states my name without starting with the words “convicted chainsaw murderer and cannibal” and ending with “…before being taken down by police snipers.” This annoys my sister to no end, and I plan to keep doing so for years and years.

The Triffid Ranch in the news – Update

Remember when I promised a link to the recent Lone Star Adventures interview? It’s now online. And why won’t people tell me beforehand that I sound like Fran Drescher on helium?

The Triffid Ranch in the news

My father-in-law is a man of few frivolous words. He’s a man of quick wit and sly humor, but he doesn’t waste his gifts. That’s why the Czarina and I didn’t know who was more surprised when he called this evening to let me know that KDFW, our local Fox affiliate, was running a segment on the Triffid Ranch for the Lone Star Adventures segment of the evening’s newscast. When it’s online, I’ll give everyone a yell.

“Something’s wrong with Jack”

Back in the fall of 1993, I took a date to see the premiere of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although I was still trying to get the taste of Tim Burton’s Batman out of my mouth, I was willing to give Nightmare a fair chance. The film is justified for its reputation for turning millions of embryonic goths over to the dark(er) side, but since I was goth back when the term referred to Germanic tribes invading the Roman Empire, it simply cemented my attitude that a little bit of Halloween in my Christmas was a very good thing. (Trust me: Rowan Atkinson isn’t the only one who adds Daleks and dinosaurs to his nativity set.)

Anyway, I didn’t quite go willingly, as my very old friend Joey Shea kept pushing me in the back, telling me “Don’t worry about the candiru! The water’s fine!” After I discovered that maybe I shouldn’t walk to his house in Connecticut and talk him to death, we compared notes on the movie. The one absolute full-stop plot hole? Not one kid, NOT ONE, who received Jack Skellington’s presents didn’t prefer it to Santa’s intended replacements. Considering that I belonged to a generation that lusted after some of the darkest and most horrific toys ever to haunt Toys “R” Us ordering managers (from Creepy Crawlers to Prehistoric Scenes model kits to the Alien 18-inch action figure), I could picture the outtakes from Nightmare featuring one kid weeping “Puh-LEEEEEEEEEZE, Santa! Don’t take away my cuddly Cthulhu!”

I think that’s what bugs me the most about the idea behind the new HGTV reality series My Yard Goes Disney. Might it be time to start a gardening show that commissions Hans Rudi Giger, Jhonen Vasquez, and Steve Bissette to offer a few alternatives?

The Triffid Ranch in the news

For those in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, a quick heads-up. CBS DFW is running a short segment on the Triffid Ranch during its 4:00 newscast today, and it may run later. Either way, when the segment is available online, I’ll let everyone know.

EDIT: It’s now online. Why does nobody tell me that I sound like Fran Drescher on helium?

The Triffid Ranch in the news

Aside from the adventures with the allergy clinic, today was also a day for the plants to show off. Mike Kinney of KTVT, our local CBS affiliate, was kind enough to come out from Fort Worth to capture the Triffid Ranch in all of its dubious glory. He has a thing for interesting characters in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, so the segment should run sometime next week and appear on the Web shortly afterward. Details will follow.

The Triffid Ranch in the news

A quick interlude before getting back to the Day Job: 2011 must be the year for television interviews. I had one last April (airdate in progress), and I just received a query about another one for this next week. Details will follow, but if anyone wants to follow up with a contract for a regular gonzo gardening segment, I certainly won’t complain.

Put a little outhouse in your soul

Every year for our wedding anniversary, the Czarina and I watch television. Well, let me rephrase that. At that time, we simply watch television. We’re not arrogant anti-television snobs who sniff at the idea of watching anything on the “idiot box”. We just simply don’t have the time any more. In combination with the both of us previously having been married to television addicts, we just can’t justify paying nearly $75 a month solely to flip around looking for a program that sucks marginally less than the 80,000 other selections on cable.

That’s not to say that we ignore the incredible output of televised entertainment. We just ration it out with a NetFlix account, so the Czarina doesn’t need to listen to me whimper about my dream job and I don’t get in the way of her next challenge. Besides, the best thing about watching television series in bulk is that they don’t come with obnoxious commercials.

Even so, at the end of the year, we hie ourselves to one disclosed location or another for our anniversary. It might be a hotel in Fort Worth, a ranch house in far West Texas, or just about anyplace with good beds, clean bathrooms, and unlimited cable. With the latter, the Czarina turns the channel to HGTV, and we generally overdose on home improvement porn until she’s sated. After three days of nonstop HGTV, she’s received plenty of ideas, and we’ve filled our humps of hate on the commercials until the next anniversary. (Trust me: for those who haven’t given up on cable television, go six months without it, and then go for a test drive. Every time we figure “You know, we’d like to do something besides smile and nod when friends go on and on about their favorite television show, so why don’t we get cable?”, all we need is a handful of Pajama Jeans ads to burn that compulsion right out of our heads.)

Anyway, we’re nearly six months away from our hump-filling, and that’s when Amanda at Kiss My Aster brought up a truly Lovecraftian horror for our next anniversary. Namely, My Yard Goes Disney. Oh, I’m sure that the sort of people who sit through Hanna Montana marathons will love this idea. I just figure that the show might work a bit better if it went dark. REALLY dark. “Today on What The Hell Happened?, this lovely suburban house and yard were completely redone by H.R. Giger, Harlan Ellison, and Angelspit! Let’s see if the neighbors notice!”

Don’t get me wrong…

While poking about, I discovered a new cooking, gardening, and outdoor living show called Dig In Dallas, which runs on our local Fox affiliate at 6:00 on Saturday mornings. I regret that I missed out on last weekend’s interview with Leslie Halleck of North Haven Gardens, but I also admit that I probably wouldn’t have caught the show. I can understand running it at a timeslot that’s both available and relatively inexpensive, but 6 in the morning?

This may sound academic, but I was thinking about this a couple of years ago, when the hype about seeking younger gardeners was in full swing. Specifically, this was at a garden show where, with the exception of a few kids brought there by their grandparents, I was probably the youngest person in the entire exhibition hall who wasn’t working for the company hosting the show. Everyone was talking “young”, but the show wasn’t pitched to them. It wasn’t advertised in venues where anybody under the age of 65 would have noticed. Worse, it contained no content that would have made them brave Dallas traffic on a beautiful autumn day. (The only time we’re overloaded with worse drivers than when we get snow is when we have a truly spectacularly beautiful day, because that’s when the real dingbats decide to go to the mall.) The vendors were there, and ready, but how was anybody supposed to know the show was there for them?

This isn’t to say that gardening television and radio shows have to be remade in some horrible Disney Channel format. A lot of the effort can come with the timing. Many moons back, half of Dallas’s punk and metal community was absolutely addicted on the late Jack Horkheimer’s PBS-syndicated show Star Hustler. We’re talking about characters with the longest and sharpest Liberty spikes you’ve ever seen, hanging out in front of clubs and shading their eyes from streetlights in order to spot Mars because Jack had taught them where Mars was located at what time. It wasn’t hard to get hooked on Jack’s goofy enthusiasm, but the timing had to be just right. Our PBS affiliate would run Star Hustler just before it shut down for the night, which was usually about a half-hour after closing time at most clubs. This meant a lot of viewers started by coming home after a long night slamdancing, turning on the television for background noise while winding down, and finding themselves confronted by someone who made them give a damn about planetary astronomy.

Not that this couldn’t be done with a gardening show, but it would have to be handled carefully. Let’s face it: it’s hard to make horticulture dramatic, even if British television keeps trying. And trying. And someone much more eloquent than I sums up my feelings about the old PBS stalwart The Good Life:

Now, there’s nothing wrong with existing gardening programs, because they fill a niche. I just figure that, for all of the noise about getting younger gardeners into the fold, some extra effort should be made to encourage those younger gardeners to watch. Something darker and more gonzo, perhaps. How about this as a starting point for an opening credits theme?