And as we pass to the two-thirds mark on 2018, it’s time to hole up in the gallery for a while and get busy. Friday, though, involves a tradition kept up for the last third of a century on this date: picking up a big load of barbecue, with lots of sausage and ribs, and settling back to watch one of my favorite movies.
Posted onAugust 27, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Third Anniversary Open House
It’s only taken 18 months, but life at the gallery is now a gentle routine. Said routine consists of frantically composing and constructing new enclosures, frantically sending out press releases for the next open house, running a Google search or five every hour to see if the press releases reached their intended targets, overdosing on pineapple frozen fruit bars (since I can’t drink) and needing to be tased before I can commission a giant mural to go on the outside back wall, going back home and crying on the cat, squeegeeing snot and tears off the cat before she’s stained green forever, finishing up the enclosures just before the open house, and opening the door to the public. I then listen for thunder, sleet, hail the size of hedgehogs and twice as friendly, tornado sirens, or what other meteorological atrocities Texas has in its quiver, and promise to take a local meteorologist out for dinner and tell him/her “there’s NO WAY you can be blamed for this, when you only got five minutes’ notice.” Then, once the last person leaves, it’s time to start it all over again. Just be glad I don’t do the enclosure construction in public where people are within reach, and when the cat is too far away.
Seriously, aside from the raging thunderstorm that blew in out of nowhere right at opening, and threatened to blow the whole of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex back to Lankhmar, this last open house really turned out well. The promised horsecrippler cactus ice cream was a hit, and we had enough left over that we’ll share the rest at the next open house. An old and dear friend brought his whole family, just in time to watch the sky open up atop nearly-white-hot pavement and watch the whole city become a communal steambath. A lot of new folks came out for the first time, and they didn’t seem to leave disappointed. And now for preparation for the next open house.
As for that next open house? Prepare for Saturday, October 13: the heat should break by then, that weekend won’t interfere with Halloween festivities, and the last of the drunks in town for the big UT-OU football game will have returned to doing whatever it is they do. We might even have wonderful weather for once. Watch for details.
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Posted onAugust 24, 2018|Comments Off on Enclosures: Tezcatlipoca Blues (2018)
The novel Smoking Mirror Blues by Ernest Hogan is only obscured by his more famous novels Cortez on Jupiter and High Aztech because of its original publication during the dotcom crash of 2001. Working on the idea of an electronic avatar of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca and his rapid expansion into and domination of a nightlife “twenty minutes into the future,” the novel examines not just the resilience of myth, but the concern that some myths may do better in the future than in their past.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 46.99 cm x 31.75 cm)
In many environments, it’s hard to believe that seemingly abandoned structures and equipment are still used and maintained frequently, just based on weathering and wear. Paint chips from thermal stresses and powders from exposure to ultraviolet light, metal rusts quickly or slowly depending upon the rainfall and ambient humidity (even in deep deserts, iron rusts due to water condensing on the cold metal at night), organic compounds rot and crack, and stone and concrete change color from sun, rain, and algae. Under the right conditions, a military installation temporarily mothballed can look completely abandoned within years or even months without steady maintenance, and that maintenance may be withheld so long as the equipment still works. Are the weapons left pitted and worn because of abandonment, because of neglect, or to encourage enemies to get close?
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 46.99 cm x 46.99 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes ventrata
Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, green goldstone.
One. Thirty years ago, I purchased an anthology written by one of my favorite authors at the time. The author was Harlan Ellison, the volume was Angry Candy, and the theme was death. Specifically, Ellison was 54 when I purchased my copy, and every story had been conceived and finished at a time when it seemed as if all of his friends and cohorts were dying. To look at the timeline he included with his introduction, he wasn’t kidding: childhood heroes, contemporaries, students…it was a horrendous chronicle of funerals and eulogies, and they seemed to concentrate within the previous three to four years. Three decades later, I understood the logic behind that pattern: when you’ve lived long enough to have a large assemblage of friends and acquaintances, you run into a convergence of demographics, mortality statistics, and confirmation bias that really appears to be an active effort to kill off everyone you know.
Again, it took me three decades to understand the feeling, especially after losing several people I knew and admired at the time I was reading Angry Candy. Harlan’s death this year just added to the sensation of feeling big chunks of your old life peeling off like old scabs, with twinges of pain and interesting new scars. One of the big messages the scars leave is that once you get to a certain age, if you’ve made an active effort to go in a different direction, you can look back and mark the exact year and month that your life diverges from Before to After. A lot of people never do: these are the people on Facebook desperately nagging about high school class reunions and how “you really need to be
there, because you’ll regret not getting back in touch.”
Two. For the most part, I love living in the future. The thought of going back to where things were in 1998 or 1988 (much less 1978) brings on waves of nausea instead of nostalgia. Every once in a while, though, reviving a nearly-dead concept has its merits. In the case of the eternal Port-o-John fire that is Facebook, it works less and less at what it was originally intended to do: stay in touch. Between the ever-changing algorithms determining what users may and may not see, the ever-increasing push for businesses to pay for willing subscribers to see posts (and then watching as those posts are buried in the main timeline under idiot memes and political diatribes), and Facebook’s lackadaisical attitude toward personal privacy, it’s once again time to back off and consider the brevity and efficiency of email newsletters. The reader opts in, the writer provides regular updates, and no interruption from that grade school classmate who sees messages to and from the reptile men from Arcturus in contrail patterns.
The phenomena converge:
About a decade ago, a big scab came free when I sold off the majority of my writing library on eBay. This was a matter of getting rid of reference materials, review copies (you’d be amazed at how many critics will hang onto advance reading copies of books because of that one neckbeard who claimed “you never actually read it!”, just to recite line and verse as to passages that justified a particular review), magazines containing published articles, and the innumerable books read, or that should be read, while building a voice. The vast majority went out early, only to discover that particular books are only valuable if someone is willing to pay the price, and that there’s a huge disconnect in perceived value between a book that can stay on a shelf or in a bookseller’s transport box until it finds a buyer, and a book that has to move within a week in an online auction.
In a subsequent evaluation of current library needs, though, I came across a cross-section of Harlan Ellison collections that escaped the original slaughter. It already was time to find them new homes, as I already know the stories by heart, and rereading them just doesn’t work when too much new reading keeps intruding. This came at a time when younger friends complained about the unavailability of much of Ellison’s work, both between earlier books being out of print and later books being snapped up from used bookstores and hoarded until the inevitable estate sale. That gave me an idea directly involving a much-needed relaunch of the Texas Triffid Ranch newsletter, and one where everyone wins.
In essence, here’s the deal. I’m looking for subscribers, and I have a big pile of Harlan Ellison books that need new homes. For the next nine weeks, this is the scenario that runs every week:
Numero Uno: Subscribe to the Texas Triffid Ranch email newsletter. It’s free, it’s going to come out once per month or so, you can unsubscribe at any time, and none of your personal information will be shared with ANYONE. (That’s why I’m putting out word about the subscriptions here. As easy as it would be to sign up friends and acquaintances, I refuse to do so without their permission and prior knowledge.)
Numero Two-O: Every Sunday starting on August 12, five lucky subscribers will be picked from the general subscriber pool, contacted for a mailing address, and given a randomly selected book from the pile. Said book will come with various magazines, flyers, stickers, and other cultural detritus to be determined, and the recipient gets it all delivered for free. This will run every week while supplies last. (Incidentally, signing up early means a better chance of winning at the beginning of the giveaway, so jump in now while you have the chance.) This applies worldwide, so anyone reading this from Antarctica is in for a serious surprise.
Number Three-O: You get a new (to you) book, including the possibility of rare volumes, I get more bookshelf space, and everyone wins.
Now, as to what is involved, the photos list most of it, but I’d like to point out a few extras. Among others is an autographed copy of one of Ellison’s early novels, Spider Kiss, when it was first published under the title “Rockabilly!” There’s also a copy of Six Science Fiction Plays edited by Roger Elwood, containing what was the only publication of Ellison’s original screenplay for the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever” for twenty years. Likewise, the paperback edition of Wandering Stars contains Ellison’s classic short story “I’m Looking For Kadak,” still one of my favorite stories. While Ellison’s recounting of the nightmare of being the story editor for the Canadian television series The Starlost is well-known, Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed was a barely fictionalized comedy about his involvement as the science advisor for The Starlost, with Ellison slightly fictionalized as “Ron Gabriel” and included on the front cover. A rare copy of From the Land of Fear contains what may be the cigarette ad that inspired his essay “Driving In the Spikes” on personal revenge. (For those unfamiliar with the situation, the ad was a violation of Ellison’s contract with the publisher, and when the publisher ignored the contract, things culminated with Ellison mailing the publishing company’s comptroller a dead gopher, sent Fourth Class Mail.) This includes several copies of The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, including the first printing of The Other Glass Teat published only after Spiro Agnew left the White House. (And that was a story in itself.) Finally, the collection includes a limited-edition slipcased hardcover of A Lit Fuse, the Ellison biography published two years ago. What’s not to like about this?
So again, subscribe and get free stuff. Better, feel free to let friends and cohorts know, so they can get free stuff as well. Best of all, if I really hate you, if I really, really loathe you and want you to suffer, you could get the booby prize: one of two volumes from a notorious fourth-rate Harlan Ellison impersonator from the 1990s. If that doesn’t clean out your lower GI tract all at once, I don’t know what will.
The days end the way they begin: covered with glue, paint, epoxy putty, and random bits of styrofoam. First comes the watering, and you don’t want to know how much water moves through the gallery on a weekly basis. The floor of the gallery is a concrete slab, and yet you’d swear that it listed back and forth like a sailing ship deck. Either the sundews have evolved speaking apparatus or the sleep deprivation has reached the point of no return, because their conversations are so BORING. And then there are the people wanting to come by at 3 in the morning, and I have to explain “I don’t care if you’re from D magazine! I don’t have any coca plants here! No, wait, I don’t have any at all! No flowers in this town: only carnivorous plants.” And that’s when I start screaming “The floor is LAVA!”, because I’ve wandered outside into the parking lot and lava isn’t anywhere near as hot. At what point will the heat break and my brain stop impersonating a toasted marshmallow?
Oh, hi. Um, never mind me. Just getting things ready for the next gallery open house. Just do me a favor and look behind you. Do you see my dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth? Cool: so it’s not just me.
A bit more seriously, the best analogy for August in Dallas comes from what the late author Harlan Ellison described as “the hour that stretches.” Apparently space-time is as bent and warped by overstressed air conditioners as by gravitic anomalies, because you wake up one morning and figure “Oh, I have five weeks to get everything done, and I’m not going to slack off, so I’m going to start now.” Look down for a second and then back to the clock, and everything has to be finished in an hour before everyone arrives. You KNOW you’re working, and you KNOW you’re making better progress than ever before, and it’s still not fast enough to deal with that hour that stretches. Hence, after this gets published, it’s back to the workspace, because carnivorous plant enclosures don’t make themselves. I know this from experience.
The biggest news, of course, is that the Triffid Ranch celebrates three years as a gallery this month, which means it’s time for another open house. Specifically, the Texas Triffid Ranch Third Anniversary Open House starts at 6:00 on Saturday, August 18, and ends pretty much when everyone goes home. Besides the novelty of the event itself (I look at pictures of the first ArtWalk at the old Valley View location and jawdrop as to how far everything has come since 2015), this open house includes the premieres of new enclosures, a custom cake designed and baked by the one and only Angela Nelson, and samples of that horsecrippler cactus ice cream mentioned last month. This is, of course, in addition to the opportunity to take home your own carnivorous plant enclosure or talk about commissioning a custom enclosure. As always, Triffid Ranch open houses are family-friendly events, too, so don’t feel obligated to leave kids at home.
As far as outside events and shows are concerned, one of the best things about living in North Texas is that autumn lasts until the end of the year, and as soon as the heat starts letting up in September, everyone rushes outside to breathe fresh air. (Every vendor familiar with outdoor Dallas shows can appreciate the Ray Bradbury novella Frost & Fire, because it hits all of the notes on show setup and teardown.) This means that everyone waits until the middle of August to get word on acceptance into big shows in late October. Since we’re not quite there yet, the wait for word from several local shows in October is almost painful. In the interim, though, the next three big shows in which you can expect to see the Triffid Ranch booth include:
Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 5: November 11 in Austin. It may be a one-day show, but the Horror For the Holidays events have three things going for them: the people running them, the people attending them, and Central Texas when the heat breaks. Not only is this a chance to say hello to a lot of Triffid Ranch regulars who can’t always get up to Dallas for every event, but it’s a perfect time to get out of town for a road trip without worrying about the plants cooking on the way down. (It also revives good memories of when the litcon Armadillocon used to run opposite Texas/OU Weekend, instead of just before fall classes started at UT-Austin, back when the convention actually encouraged attendees under the age of 60.) Of course, that’s not the only reason to come out: if you’d told most anybody of the untapped potential for dark and dire gifts before the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas 25 years ago, they’d have laughed and pointed. Horror For the Holidays just screams back “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?”
Dallas Fantasy Fair: November 24 and 25 in Irving. A quarter-century ago, the autumn Dallas Fantasy Fairs served a very specific purpose for those of a certain bent: when the house was full of distant relations, the television full of either Christmas specials or football, and most public venues full of Dawn of the Dead cosplayers, it was a chance to get away from the house, talk to people who wanted to talk about something other than work or raising kids. Things have changed a lot since then, as the internet was just getting going when the last Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996. Sometimes you have to let something go fallow for a while in order for it to come back stronger and better, and nearly 23 years should be plenty of time.
Texas Frightmare Weekend: May 3 through 5 at DFW Airport. Every year, I look at the lineup of guests and events and figure “There is NO WAY that the Frightmare crew will be able to top what they’ve accomplished here. NO WAY.” Every year, the Frightmare crew comes by my table and laughs and points over my assumptions. That’s fair, because at the rate Frightmare exceeds the previous year, we may get a panel with special guest speakers Lon Chaney Sr., Mary Shelley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lemmy in 2020. In the meantime, the 2019 Frightmare gets Tim Curry as its headliner guest, which means I have even more to accomplish over the next nine months than ever before. (For those unfamiliar with Tim Curry’s horticultural accomplishments, his hacienda garden in Los Angeles is world-famous, and he’s also a leading authority on agave cultivation and propagation, so I will NOT be caught flatfooted in 2019 if he decides to come by the Triffid Ranch booth to look around.) And this is just the first guest announcement after opening up ticket sales: the next nine months are going to be interesting.
In other developments, expect a much more enthusiastic schedule for the poor neglected newsletter, partly because of the ongoing Port-O-John fire that is Facebook. The other reason is that I’ve missed email newsletters, and I’ve missed the community that invariably sprouts up with them. Because of that, it’s time to do a proper relaunch, and that includes free surprises for randomly selected subscribers. Expect details within a few days, but trust me: it’ll be worth it.
Finally, for those in the Dallas area or those sympathetic to the area, it’s time to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards. This isn’t a plea to enter the Triffid Ranch for any number of categories. I won an award last year, which was more of a surprise to me than anyone else, and that’s good enough. Instead, it’s a matter of letting everyone outside of Dallas know what we have going for us, and that the cliché of big hair and shopping malls is one we’re killing one inch at a time. Besides, the last five years drastically changed my view of the Observer: it’s not the smarmy entitlement farm that it was back at the turn of the century, and I bow to no one in my admiration for dining critic Beth Rankin‘s articles and essays. (As far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best example of the paper’s change was with her recent essay on why she wouldn’t and couldn’t take publicity freebies sent her by various restaurants for ethical reasons: those who remember the paper around 2000, especially with the film and music sections, can understand why this was such a big deal.) Now go vote.
Posted onAugust 2, 2018|Comments Off on Horsecrippler Ice Cream Project, Episode Two
(In Episode One, we discussed the horsecrippler cactus, Echinocactus texensis, the easternmost barrel cactus in North America, and its extremely visible fruit. The idea was to see how well horsecrippler cactus fruit juice worked as a flavoring for ice cream, based on earlier experiments. We return to the program, already in progress.)
Because of the uncharted territory of cactus fruit ice cream, the output of the juicing sat in deep freeze until plans could be made for a proper ice cream cranking. As every science fiction movie and novel involving deep freezing will tell you, lots of developments come up while the juice was sleeping. Among other things, researching the preparation of prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) fruit noted that gently roasting the fruit in an oven or over a fire brought out the flavor by converting the starches in the fruit into sugars. Experiments with a couple of late-ripening horsecrippler fruit confirmed that while the roasted fruits’ flavor was still awfully subtle, the character changed enough to justify more experiments next spring. Those experiments also gave ideas for prickly pear gelato when the prickly pears ripen in October. Onward.
Since the whole ice cream making process was new, the best option was to work from scratch, figuring that improvements could be made with more experience. With that in mind, I started with a good ice cream base recipe, dropping in the frozen juice during its reduction in order to sweeten it. To minimize the risks of losing the whole batch, everything was done in one-liter batches, in order to get a better feel for the process as it progressed. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the best mix required a lot less whole milk than the base recipe recommended.
Ice Cream Base
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 large egg yolks
Oh, yes, and a recommendation for any recipe using eggs: you may note that most of the recipes recommend reducing your base and then straining it through a sieve. There’s a reason for it, as no matter how well-blended the base may be, the egg yolk can and will congeal along the bottom, essentially making ice cream-flavored scrambled eggs. Those chunks can and will get into the final product, so take it as friendly advice. Another recommendation: some people may think that ice cream-flavored scrambled eggs are a great idea. Those people are perverts. For them, I’m making a batch of venison sorbet, and I’ll gleefully scream “HAPPY NOW?” while they’re eating a big bowl each.
Working on the second batch, it’s easy to see both how distinctively brilliantly colored the juice is, and how well the color spreads through the ice cream. Considering how pastel strawberry ice cream can be, if nothing else, horsecrippler fruit might make a good natural coloration for frozen confections of all sorts. Again, experimentation: seeing if the juice can be dried is a possibility for the future, but that depends both upon availability and timing. It’s not as if anyone is going to be growing fields of horsecripplers for food colorings any time soon.
And now it’s time to put everything in the ice cream maker. Normally, the final mix goes into the refrigerator and chills overnight before going into the ice cream maker. Because of day job commitments and general exhaustion, I cheated and gave the mix a good bath in dry ice while the machine was turning. That cut down on the time spent in the maker, improved the consistency by producing lots of tiny ice crystals instead of large ones that affect the palatability, and made lots of fog on the garage floor. When trying something this new, always go for the unquantifiables to make things fun. Just be glad I didn’t have access to a significant quantity of liquid nitrogen: there’s an Air Liquide facility just south of the gallery, though, and I may have to ask about bulk rates…
WE HAVE ICE CREAM. I REPEAT; WE HAVE ICE CREAM.
Now to finish up. We may have ice cream, but it’s still at about the consistency of soft-serve, so it needs firming up. Into the freezer it goes, waiting for someone to be one of the first individuals on the planet to try horsecrippler cactus ice cream. And so it goes.
As for what’s going to happen to it? Well, that depends. The plan is to serve up samples to everyone coming out for this month’s Triffid Ranch third anniversary open house on August 18, so you can try for yourself. Alternately, I was serious about the prickly pear gelato: cactus isn’t common in Dallas proper, but I know of several bushes in neglected areas throughout the city, and going on a fruit-collecting expedition in October is a good excuse for a trip to either Glen Rose or Mineral Wells. I was also serious about the liquid nitrogen, too: how many art galleries in the Dallas area can brag about having ice cream tastings, too?
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