Daily Archives: October 31, 2012

Have a Great Halloween

Yes, music in the 1980s was a bit, erm, different, wasn’t it?

Requiescat in pace, Pat Graham

My grandmother

I have one photo of my maternal grandmother, Pat, dating from her retirement celebration 25 years ago today. Like many, she retired the day she turned 65, but she wasn’t worried about seeing the world or doing all of the things she wanted to do when she was younger. Instead, the first thing she did after she retired was ask me to call her, which I think was surprising for the both of us. For me, it was a surprise, because she regularly joked about how she assumed that I’d rejoin the human race once I turned 21, and there she was, right on the dot, holding open the door. I think I surprised her by returning the call.

When I refer to my grandmother as a major inspiration, a lot of this was because she was a force of nature with no fear of man, beast, or god. Much was made of how I had a grandmother who needed a hip replacement after breaking her natural one falling off a barstool, but the family stories didn’t continue and relate that she broke it beating the hell out of a biker who tried to steal her cigarettes. The guy had maybe 150 pounds and forty fewer years on her, and apparently he was crying and begging for someone to save him when four people peeled her off him. It wasn’t that she was deliberately picking bar fights or anything: she was just a very private and very focused individual who didn’t tolerate fools or knaves. Out of all of her descendants, I think she called me up back then because I had the most in common with her, and I returned the respect by being my own person as much as I could.

The author as walking dead, 1987

At times, I wonder what sort of person my grandmother would have been if she hadn’t been born where and when she was. Out of all of my friends, she reminds me the most of one friend who is very happy hanging out with friends for conversations, but who also needs and desperately craves time by herself. Back in the 1940s, that Just Wasn’t Done, and while she loved her family, I think she also wondered what could have been if she’d been able to throw propriety in the lake. To this day, I could see her becoming a noted explorer or historian, if she’d just been given the opportunity, and those sorts of opportunities simply weren’t available to her at that time.

As it was, while she couldn’t do it herself at that point, she was intensely curious as to what I was doing. When I dabbled in theatrical makeup and went full George Romero for Halloween 1987, she asked for photos and also asked how I pulled off the “peeling face” effect. (She was surprised to discover that it was nothing but toilet paper, liquid latex, and a bit of stage blood.) I changed hair color, and she asked for details. She told me that she was going to get her nose pierced after I got mine done in 1991, just to see what it was like, but I never knew for sure if she did it. After a while, it became a regular gag as to how she was more of a hellion than I was: for one birthday, I sent a card that featured a little old lady on the left and a gaggle of fully Mohawked punks on the right, and the caption “My friend and your friends finally meet.” Oh, and she completely lost it with laughter when I introduced her to Monty Python’s “Hell’s Grannies” skit:

At the time, the only issue she had with anything I did involved my fascination with reptiles. After purchasing my first savannah monitor, I made several attempts to come up to visit, with plans falling apart at the last minute, and she made only one demand. “If you come up, you’d better not bring that DAMN REPTILE with you.” For Christmas in 1989, I purchased a dinosaur hatchling sculpture from John Fischner, the noted dinosaur sculptor, and asked her what she thought when she received it. “You know, when I opened it, I just saw an eye, and I thought ‘If he mailed me that DAMN REPTILE, I’m going to kill him.'” She had no problem with dinosaurs, though, and was so charmed by Fischner’s babies that they became regular presents over the years.

She was also very interested in my writing career back then, such as it was, and insisted that I send her copies of everything I wrote. A lot of it just led her to smile and nod, but she loved my articles on natural history, and I made a point of dedicating one article on the animals of the Burgess Shale to her. Even as her health failed in the late Nineties, she kept asking for new pieces, and as I moved more and more often to online-only venues, I’d print them out just so she could have a hard copy. When I was quoted in an article at the beginning of 2000, she went well out of her way to hunt down a copy of the New York Times for that article, just to say that she had a grandson who could get his name in the Times without it being prefaced with “convicted axe murderer and cannibal” and followed by “before being taken out in a hail of police gunfire.”

Today would have been her ninetieth birthday, and a combination of emphysema and strokes caused her to miss her eightieth. Every time I go into the greenhouse, there’s not a time where I don’t regret that I can’t send her more photos of the latest pitcher plant. Requiescat in pace.

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 3

Chinese Lantern Festival - Czarina

I’d be lying if I said we attended the Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park solely for the Czarina, but it’s also mostly true. She wanted to catch this from the moment she heard about it, and I figured “Well, this should be interesting, but it’s for her.” How was I supposed to know that one particularly primordial end of Leonhardt Lagoon would be full of dinosaurs?

As for this first photo, for some reason, the Festival had two animatronic dinosaurs, probably brought out during the Museum of Nature & Science’s move, on display as well. Not only was nobody complaining, but at the end of October, it was actually quite charming.

Chinese Lantern Festival - Apatosaurus

Chinese Lantern Festival - Triceratops

Chinese Lantern Festival - Triceratops

Chinese Lantern Festival - Ouranosaurus

And for those who now regret not coming out to the Festival while it was running, the Festival was such a success that it re-opens on November 1 and runs until January 6, 2013. I recommend getting out there this weekend, while the weather remains this pleasant. Of course, this being Dallas, we could have this sort of weather holding out until after Christmas, but make plans to visit it early anyway. Maybe next time, I’ll come out there with fully charged batteries in my camera, just so I can photograph the rest of the dinosaurs.

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 3

Chinese Lantern Festival - Longhorns

One of the biggest selling points in the promotion of the Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park is that this isn’t a touring exhibition. This was designed specifically for Fair Park, and as such, it has a lot of touches endemic to Texas. Hence, longhorns.

Chinese Lantern Festival - trees

Chinese Lantern Festival - tower

Chinese Lantern Festival

Chinese Lantern Festival - Peacock and peahen

More to follow…

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 2

Chinese Lantern Festival

When the Chinese Lantern Festival opened at Dallas’s Fair Park, the automatic assumption was that this was going to be more like a Japanese lantern festival, with paper lanterns filled with candles being released into the sky. This was more of an ongoing exhibition of what could be done with silk, wire, and lighting. It includes everything from the childlike (a landscape of cartoonish pandas playing and ambling through the undergrowth) to the surreal (a gigantic dragon composed of porcelain plates and cups, outlined in neon). A high point, and the festival is nothing but highlights, is the tremendous lotus in the middle of Leonhardt Lagoon, which opens and closes slowly while frogs on lily pads slowly rotate around it.

Chinese Lantern Festival - Lotus and Frogs

Chinese Lantern Festival - Kirin

Chinese Lantern Festival - landscape

More to follow…

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Fair Park – 1

Texas Star ferris wheel

This time of the year gives plenty of reasons to visit the State Fair of Texas, and the Czarina and I finally got out there the Thursday before its closing on October 21. Those who haven’t attended before can’t understand the sheer joy of wandering through Fair Park this time of the year, especially at night. By the end of October, the skies are as clear as they’re ever going to get, adding a particular clarity to everything outside. Neon doesn’t just glow: it snaps. With the air quality comes a certain crispness to both vision and hearing, and it’s perfectly reasonable to just stand in one spot, watching people and events, without ever visiting a single event. I was first exposed to this when I lived across the street in Exposition Park two decades ago, and the sight of the Texas Star ferris wheel in full neon still thrills me to no end.

Big Tex burning up

“I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE, AND I GIVE YOU FIRE!” (photographer unknown)

This year, it was eventful, too. The news of Big Tex, the mascot and symbol of the State Fair, catching fire on October 19 reached an international audience. Some people cried. Others told dark jokes, such as the tale of two fellow Texas icons being caught fleeing the scene and giving their only statement to the police. In my case, thanks to the batteries in my camera dying at the worst possible time, I told myself “Oh, I’ll get a photo of Big Tex at night next year.” Now my biggest regret is that we’ll never see the ultimate in Lone Star daikaiju, with Big Tex going into battle against the Sinclair dinosaurs in Glen Rose.

The real reason to go to the Fair this year, though, was to see the Chinese Lantern Festival, wrapping around both sides of the old Museum of Nature & Science and taking over Leonhardt Lagoon. Let’s just say that anybody seeing the Festival during the day was definitely missing out.

Chinese Lantern Festival gate