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Originally published on January 7, 2019
The parties are over. The decorations are put up. The Merry Christmas/Happy New Year accoutrements at the grocery store are in the clearance aisle, already marked 50 percent off or more. The shortbread cookie tins are already being used for their second lives as sewing supply containers. At the day job, managers, directors, and executive VPs are coming back from extended vacations, meaning that daily office productivity just took a hit until they rediscover their favorite bright sparkly object or until Memorial Day, whichever comes first. It may be cold and rainy, or cold and snowy, but you can walk in public without a PA system pumping carols and novelty songs at “11”. In other words, it’s time to get busy.
For those of us in horticultural venues, it’s really time to get busy, because we’re already running out of time. Halfway through January, we only have two months before the beginning of spring, which means EVERYTHING has to be done by the time everyone gets the gardening bug. Seedlings. Tissue culture meristems. Unique pots. Tent and booth fees for shows and markets. I won’t say that sleep is overrated, because that’s a cliché. I WILL say that as soon as someone develops an effective and inexpensive cure for sleep, I’m investing in the company.
This time of the year is also when fellow retailers and artists relate their favorite Stupid Human Tricks from the previous holiday season. These can include non-customers who drop their kids off at a store and assume that the staff will act as free babysitters while Mommy and Daddy shop next door, or down the street, or in the next time zone. A lot of times, it includes customers who were the owners’ elementary school teachers 40 years back and expect a special 80-percent-off discount because of that vital connection. (Every jeweler reading this just nodded in recognition.) Others relate the customer who stated “I know the owner, and he told me I get a discount”…to the owner, and she’s never seen this person in her life. And who can forget the screams of “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” and the response “Should I? Are you wanted by the police?”
2018 had a lot of stories like this at the Triffid Ranch. Now, there are the stories where the person involved was understandably mistaken and everyone laughed about it later. These stories should never be shared without permission, and usually with drinks of everyone’s choice in hand. However, there are the stories where the person involved wasn’t a customer, never would be a customer, and whose smirk of “Haven’t you ever heard of ‘the customer is always right’?” should be answered with a sack full of caltrops that reads “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, JACK? WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?” on the side. Where this sack is inserted, and whether the sack should be electrified, depends upon the intensity of the smirk. It should never depend upon the dollar value of the transaction to be disputed: at the gallery, the worst offenders are bar owners who call to get a very big and very expensive enclosure delivered to their venue for free, because “you could use the exposure.” (Without fail, I read about these venues shutting down in the middle of the night with no warning to landlords or employees, the interior contents sold at about one in the morning to fend off coke dealer beatings, and creditors and the FBI trying to find what assumed name the owner is using THIS time. This is entertainment enough.)
After a while, when retailers get together and relax a bit, we all share our Amazon Showcase stories. This is the equivalent of the famed comedian joke “The Aristocrats,” only without a distinctive opener or punchline. All have the same theme, though: the customer has assumptions that because Amazon or eBay do things a particular way, “you should just” do the same thing. Bookstore friends relate the customers who tell them “You should start selling Kindles here,” and who escalate their assumptions when told that Kindles are an exclusively Amazon product. An acquaintance who worked in a gift shop told me about a customer pointing to a Hallmark Star Trek Christmas decoration from 20 years ago on Amazon and insisted that she could order one at the original retail price, because the Amazon price was far too high. We all have one variation on the Monty Python bookstore sketch, and we all have a variation on the Lou Costello birthday cake sketch. The Euclidean ideal of these stories is the person who walks in, looks around, and says “Do you know someone who sells something exactly like this, but just not for so muuuuuuuuch?” The most common Amazon Showcase story, though, always involves someone who assumes that a price on Amazon should be the price everywhere else, no matter what. The Triffid Ranch has two versions: the person who bought a dead or dying plant from an Amazon reseller and expects assistance in getting a refund, or an incident that happens about once per month.
(phone rings) “Hello, this is the Texas Triffid Ranch. How may I help?”
“Yes. I’m a (doctor, lawyer, MBA, software development project manager, or other charter member of the Dunning-Kruger Club), and I’m wanting to buy a (Nepenthes rajah, Nepenthes hamata, Nepenthes attenboroughii, or other very rare, very temperamental, and very expensive carnivorous plant). Price is no object.”
“I may be able to help. Out of curiosity, have you kept a carnivorous plant before?”
“No, but I saw one on television today, and I WANT one.”
“Okay, let me check what I have in propagation right now. (Quick search.) I have one right now, in a custom enclosure.”
“I don’t want that. I just want the plant.”
“Oooookay. I can remove it if you’d like. Do you need a pot, or do you already have one?”
“My kid has an old aquarium that I can use. How much is it?”
“Well, considering the size, it would be $Price.”
“That’s completely unsuitable. Do you have any that are smaller?”
“I don’t, but I can recommend other carnivorous plant retailers who may be able to help. Have you contacted X or Y?”
“I already contacted them, and they don’t have one. You’re the only person in the Dallas area who shows up on a Google search, and I NEED one.”
“Sorry, but at $Price, I’m practically selling it at cost.”
“Well, I KNOW you can do better. I found someone online who’s selling one for (one-fourth to one-tenth of $Price).”
“And who is this? I’m very legitimately curious.”
(Customer gives a URL for an Amazon reseller who allegedly has the plant in question. Yes, it’s significantly cheaper than the cost any legitimate nursery could charge and still make its money back. The posting also has a picture of the plant that was stolen from a legitimate nursery’s Web site, as well as the description. The reseller is also selling such wonders as rainbow rose seeds, guaranteed blue Venus flytrap seeds, and lots of other miracles whose photos have so much of a connection to Photoshop that they’d qualify for alimony if they ever separated. Odds are pretty good that the reseller doesn’t have one of these plants, and likely never will.)
“Sorry, but there’s no way I can match this price, and neither will any other legitimate nursery or retailer.”
“But THEY’RE selling it at that price! Why are you being so unreasonable? Can’t you just cooperate?”
“Again, I can’t.”
“But they’re SELLING it at THAT price.” (Sudden menace over the phone.) “I KNOW you can get one at that price, too!”
“I’ll tell you what. If they’re selling it for that price, why not get a deal and buy it from Amazon?
“Because I want to SEE it first! I don’t want to get ripped off!”
Sigh. Three months of hype on the 2019 Pantone color of the year, and the horticulture community went into overload on new cultivars and varietals of indoor and outdoor plants that match. They’re beautiful, too. I’m just disappointed. Considering the number of bladderwort cultivars named after H.P. Lovecraft characters, and the number of daylily cultivars with Star Trek references for names, not one breeder, not ONE, could name a cultivar “Rick Grimes” and cash in on millions of non-gardeners who’d be willing to take a chance? Man, I dread the announcement of the 2020 Pantone color, because we’ll probably drop THAT ball, too.
In other developments, Some of you may have already noticed cover stories in the Dallas Observer and Fangoria about the return of Joe Bob Briggs, Official Drive-In Movie Critic of Rockwall, Texas, to video thanks to the Shudder streaming service. More than a few times during my long-defunct writing career and a lot more after I quit pro writing, I was compared to Joe Bob (rarely to his alter ego, John Bloom) in writing style and intensity. That makes perfect sense, as I literally grew up with the “Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In” column in the late and lamented Dallas Times Herald, starting in spring 1982 with the second column reviewing Mad Monkey Kung Fu. (Sadly, while the Joe Bob columns were published repeatedly in the 1990s, nobody ever put together a collection of John Bloom movie reviews written under his own byline for the Times Herald. This is a shame, because many of his reviews were funnier than the comedies he viewed. A lot of that well-deserved snark transferred over to the Joe Bob columns, and a lot more never made it to print or video: I interviewed him in 1991 for a magazine that promptly went under two weeks after I handed in the interview, and that interview included being backstage during a taping of Showtime’s “Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater” that included a review of Oliver Stone’s The Doors. You don’t worry about laughing too hard and messing up a take when the camera crew were literally falling down laughing at the same cracks.) Well, now he’s back, he’s back in Dallas, and he’s going to be one of the headliner guests at Texas Frightmare Weekend in May. To quote the man himself, heads roll.
A bushel-basket of new references led to a serious fall down an industrial design rabbit hole over the last month, but one to buy now is Typeset In the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey. The book expands extensively on the blog of the same name, which itself started as an analysis of the typography and logo design in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anyone interested in graphic design, especially logo and icon design, will be drooling over the in-depth discussion of what makes the perfect logo of the future (which, incidentally, is funny as hell), and everyone else will drool over the interviews on what design decisions in Alien, Blade Runner, and Wall-E still hold up, which ones aged horribly, and which ones still affect modern graphic design decades later. On a personal level, Typeset In the Future helped settle an impasse in an enclosure design that had been stuck since the Triffid Ranch was in the old gallery, so expect the end results to premiere at an open house this summer.
As of this month, I have known Texas blues musician Cricket Taylor for 28 years, and she was my neighbor for two of those years when we lived in Dallas’s Exposition Park in the early 1990s. (The artist’s lofts in which we lived had communal restrooms, and one of the only good things about having to get up to go to my day job at the time was listening to Cricket practice new songs in the women’s restroom because she swore it had the best acoustics in the Dallas area.) She’s one of the smartest, most considerate, and most musically talented people I know, and the fact that she’s not packing auditoriums with 30,000 people at a time is a crime. Let’s rectify that, shall we?