(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Originally published on April 28, 2020.
Installment #17: “The Return of Edgar Harris”
Almost exactly years after we first made our acquaintances, I finally heard back from my old friend Edgar Harris. Before he called, I thought possibly he was in Los Angeles, working on a new TV project with his uncle Cordwainer Bird or in Colorado with his Uncle Raoul, testing the absolute limits of the cannabis genome. Nope: he’s currently holed up in Chicago with his uncle Slats Grobnik, running elaborate cryptography experiments in the guise of sidewalk chalk murals. Well, Edgar does the experiments: Uncle Slats just keeps a lookout for the authorities, particularly for homeowner association control freaks and other Karens. Between the two, they’ve got a couple of psychology papers in the works if they ever decide to publish, as well as a deep understanding of the upper range of commercially available paintball guns.
Anyway, we got caught up on our particular projects, and then wondered if anyone was going to learn anything from the current COVID-19 shutdown before comparing notes as to what 21st-Century trend would be the first to die in the new normal. Me, I argued “the open office,” not because the idiot MBAs promoting the idea care about their employees, but because the people pushing it the most don’t have their own offices to hide in when everyone else gets sick. “Trust me: the moment some senior VP having to use a hot workstation while visiting a subsidiary branch is going to lose it the second someone else coughs around them.” I then asked Edgar what he thought was going to end in the ashes of the COVID bonfire. He went quiet for a few seconds, and said “The old people hanging out at the supermarket all summer, telling people ‘It’s HOT’ over and over.”
”Well, yeah. The last thing they’ll want to do is hang around a supermarket and risk catching this.”
”No, you don’t understand. For the first few weeks of shutdown, everyone stayed inside. Seriously inside. You couldn’t go into a movie theater or a diner or a nonessential store, to the point where restaurants started stacking up tables and chairs so Karens wouldn’t just sit down and expect to be served. That meant that everyone was online.”
”It’s not just that you run out of stuff to watch on Amazon Prime. Right now, half of America is learning about that one guy on every street who slurped up all of the available Internet bandwidth because he was downloading hentai at 3 in the morning, because now THEY’re up at 3 in the morning, too, and they’d like to be able to check their email. You get on Facebook and NextDoor and realize that half of your neighbors shouldn’t be trusted with pointed sticks. You’ve gone through the Amazon shopping sprees, the furious checks with FedEx as to what the hell happened to your Amazon packages and did the FedEx delivery guy just drop them in a creek, and you’ve baked every form of bread ever devised by man. In fact, NOBODY wants to see your sourdough starter unless it’s developing tool use. It’s hard to focus on online education when you’re wondering how long before you’re racing motorcycles across the Australian outback with a Mohawk and buttless leather chaps.”
”So being outside…”
”So the one thing you can do through most of America is go outside. Go get some exercise. Fresh air and nature, so long as you’re maintaining social distancing. Get out on the sidewalk, get on a bike, start a garden. Pull out that telescope that’s been in the box since 1997 because you don’t have airplanes in the way. Pull out the grill and shout over the fence at your neighbor, because you haven’t talked to a fellow human who wasn’t on Skype or Zoom in a month. Go out looking for new lichens or pond turtles or heron nests, because you just discovered that Netflix decided to kill the second season of Daybreak and you don’t want to scream inside the house and scare the cat.
“And here’s where it gets fun,” Edgar said. “You‘ve got all of these people outdoors that wouldn’t have gone outdoors otherwise. A year ago, they would have started bicycling, and quit after the first trip when they woke up with a sore butt. Now, they don’t HAVE to be somewhere other than ‘out,’ and that sore butt on the first day is a reasonable price for getting away from the smell of sourdough starter. You get out to the back yard because your SO is putting the third coat of lacquer on the dog or teaching the kids how to make gunpowder, and within a month, both you and the yard look like one of those Worker’s Paradise bas-reliefs from 1950s Russia. Even when you go back to work, you’ll have something to talk about besides which VP is stabbing random passersby with hatpins.”
”It’s preparing them for summer at the best time possible, when it’s not already ‘MY FACE IS FLAMING GAS’ hot. They’ve already gotten used to the sun, and the bugs, and to walking five miles uphill because they couldn’t stand the smell of dog lacquer. They’re not ready for the Tour de France, but the thought of bicycling in the middle of the day isn’t immediately horrifying. Better, they start paying attention to the weather so they don’t get caught in sudden storms.
”Hm. So what does this have to do with the ‘It’s HOT’ people?”
”Everything, dude. They could get away with it before because of 50 years of central heat and air. The typical grocery store customer in Dallas in the Before Days was inside all of the time. The only time they’d go outside was to go from their car to the nearest door at work and then rush back to the car to go home. They didn’t even go outside to pick up the newspaper in the morning because they who gets print newspapers any more? If they got cornered at the grocery store and lectured about the heat, they weren’t responding out of sympathy. They were responding because they were cornered in the one place where they couldn’t get out of the sun, and they’d agree to go to a Maroon 5 concert if it meant not having their brains boil out of their heads.”
”But wait. The screechers have been outside, too.”
”Yeah, but they’re making noise because they’re wanting everyone to agree with them. They don’t want a response other than ‘Oh, dear, yes.’ The moment someone stops and says ‘It’s Dallas in July; were you expecting thundersnow?’, and they’ll be stunned. You get a hundred people an hour telling them ‘Oh, this isn’t HOT,’ and they’ll never return.”
”Now that’s an idea. Set up speakers that randomly spout ‘Shut the HELL up’ at the screechers, like the speakers on the Kremlin to keep crows from skating on their claws off the towers.”
”We might keep them around, though. The screechers made the place sound and smell like a pterosaur rookery. With all of these new gardeners around, they’ll need guano for their roses, right?”
Speaking of Texas Frightmare Weekend HQ, the festivities started early with a segment on April 25 that featured video from within the Triffid Ranch, as well as a lot of the patter that most Frightmare regulars already know very well. That’s in addition to the new Triffid Ranch Twitch channel, which will be expanding quite a bit in the next few months. Hey, I’m tired of the smell of dog lacquer, too.
Back at the beginning of the century, during my pro writer days, I wrote columns for several magazines that had a sadly typical attitude toward their subscribers. The first places to get the latest issues were big bookstore chains, with the magazines jammed into plastic bags full of all sorts of swag, and people who actually put down money in advance to get those magazines delivered to their houses got them about a month later and sans freebies. (The contributors who produced the content that made the magazines purchase-worthy would usually get their comp copies a month after that, and that was still faster than when we’d finally receive the checks that were supposed to be drafted “30 days after publication.”) Subscribers would write to me asking if I knew a way that they could get the same poster or CD-ROM that was included with the newsstand copies, because they couldn’t get a response from anybody else at the magazine, and I’d forward their request to someone who I learned later had no intention of doing anything. I even got rather vocal with one editor about this, and his take was also very typical: “We’ve got their money, so the publisher doesn’t care what they want.” And yet so many of these publishers had the nerve to look surprised when the print magazine market started to implode with the advent of the first smartphones.
Anyway, I thought about that a lot with a recent newsletter subscriber drive that included a free Triffid Ranch poster to new subscribers. For those who read this far without deleting it, here’s a thank-you for subscribing. The first ten people who write back with a viable mailing address get a free poster, and that offer will be extended with each subsequent newsletter: I’m not asking for anything in return other than a mailing address. Just look at this as an appreciation for everyone who subscribed in the first place, and I hope that this will be just one of many such rewards for continuing to read this silliness. Thank you all.
A new section: it’s time for an expansion of the last newsletter, in which it’s time to share people, places, venues, and objects that need a little extra love right about now. Near the top is the Cedars Union, an arts incubator on the south side of downtown Dallas specializing in short-term artist spaces. For local food, you can’t go with Kosher Palate, which celebrates Dallas’s kosher barbecue tradition. With places like these, you can understand why I stay in Dallas.
One of these days, I’ll have my skills to the point where I can enter enclosure photos in the Spectrum Awards for fantastic art. Maybe. Of course, after going through the Spectrum 26 anthology, every time I think I’m to that level, the artists in this year’s collection make me realize how far I still need to go. Don’t look at it as discouragement. Look at it as very positive reinforcement.
Until very recently, it hadn’t occurred to me that for all of the seeming democratization of contemporary music from just 20 years ago, that the new models of music distribution would make musicians work even harder to get paid than before. I definitely didn’t know about the various streaming services that did with music what the old Borders bookstore chain did with books and magazines: pay when they feel like it, and a fraction of what was actually owed. With the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, the one source most musicians had for a return on their efforts, live shows and tours, just evaporated, and even under the best of circumstances, it’ll be at least next year before tours can get going again, even with an available vaccine. That’s why it’s important to note the steampunk band Abney Park and the band’s efforts toward virtual concerts such as the upcoming Live From The Quarantine Apocalypse #2 streaming show. If nothing else, I for one hope to see a continuation of shows such as this after live tours become a thing again: the Abney Park show I attempted to catch in 2008 was ruined both by the venue (advertising a show start of 8:00 and then finally allowing the band on stage at nearly 1 in the morning) and yet another DJ determined to get attendees to stop trying to talk over his lousy selections by jacking the volume ever higher. Anything that would allow me to enjoy live shows without these and the idiots recording the whole thing on their iPads in the front row is worth paying for.