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Originally published on June 19, 2020.
Installment #18: “Faces of Meat”
We’re right on the cusp of summer in Texas, although for all intents and purposes that started in the middle of May and won’t let up until the middle of October. Out at the gallery, that means that the air conditioning pretty much runs all day, with things getting worse in August and September as the sun shifts to the south and the entire southern wall of the gallery turns into a convection oven. It’s not much better in the greenhouse: the only difference is that greenhouse film stops the constant drying south wind that turns most of Dallas into beef jerky, which the plants love. The plants love it, but the sweat glands don’t.
Even in the worst of it, life continues: plant, animal, and fungus. The best part is the motley crew of visitors that keep coming back, whether out of expectation of food, curiosity, or other, more obscure reasons. It’s time to introduce some of the background characters.
To start, while the ongoing migration of the suburbs across North Texas disrupt innumerable native life forms, some take advantage of the world of ranch homes and lawn sprinklers and move right in. This includes the introduced Mediterranean gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), which can be found under any light at night capable of attracting insects, and the native Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), which patrols those areas during the day. Carolina anoles are famed for their coloration changing abilities, thus explaining their common nickname of “American chameleons,” even if their range of colors and patterns don’t come close to those of true chameleons. What’s not so famed, and deserves more recognition, is that Carolina anoles have a wide range of oversized personalities. Anoles will not drink still water and depend upon dew, rain, or other splashed water for sustenance, including spray from hoses and sprinklers. This led to one big male that lives in a grapefruit tree in my back yard training me to water him: he sees me with a garden hose, and he promptly goes into a full display of dewlap-flashing to get me to spray him down.
The real antics, though, come from a big male who lives on my front porch. Named “Guy,” as in “Gardner,” this galoot alternates between overseeing the front of my house (anoles are highly territorial, with males claiming individual spaces and doing their utmost to protect them from interlopers) and letting me know who’s really in charge. Now, he knows that actually doing more than pose and threaten is a bad idea, with the end result being comparable to that of his namesake, but he can’t resist. He doesn’t challenge my wife, the postman, or cable solicitors. He challenges me, because I think he knows that I’m getting as much entertainment as he is.
Another resident with an unexpected broad personality lives at the gallery, and comes out to visit during the flash sales every Sunday. Jumping spiders of the genus Phippidus are completely harmless to humans, settling for feeding on small arthropods, but they have a curiosity more expected from mammals and birds than from a spider. This one in particular apparently thought I was absolutely fascinating, and after being moved for safety to atop a pitcher plant, was determined to get back to my elbow, flashing his palps in an obvious attempt at some sort of communication. I couldn’t figure out what it was trying to communicate, and still can’t, but so long as it keeps coming out to the tables on Sundays, it’s always welcome to keep trying.
Nearly everybody in horticulture has stories about the greenhouse cat: the one that moves in, figures “this is a pretty good deal,” and promptly takes over. For the last two years, this Creamsicle menace spends his winter evenings in the greenhouse, sleeping on potting benches until he decides to go home. In the summer mornings, he camps atop a smoker near the greenhouse to oversee watering operations and occasionally demanding ear-scritches. He doesn’t pick fights with my cats, his most outstanding damage comes from cat fur atop the lawn mower (he apparently decided that the grasscatcher bag is the perfect hammock), and he acts as a referee when opossums get into the greenhouse and start screaming matches at each other and at their own asses. He’s absolutely indispensable, his owner is thrilled that he’s camping out in a place where he’s appreciated and valued, and he’s probably going to be the first Triffid Ranch fulltime employee once I figure out how to get him on a W-2 form. best of all, as of last week, I learned his name is “Baby,” which beats out my naming him “Benji,” and to which he responds about as well as a cat will to any name. Yes, you can tell that the beasts have me well-trained.
Members of Dallas fandom of a certain age will most likely recognize the name of “Ogre”: for those who weren’t part, Ogre was an essential component of local conventions and music through the Eighties and Nineties, particularly when he worked security. If his hair, bulk, and the carefully affected lower canine popping from his lip didn’t explain his nickname, there was the bison femur he carried to enforce his authority as Someone With Whom You Do Not Want To Mess, complete with a rawhide thong with the other end attached to his wrist so that, as he put it, “I don’t lose it if the blood makes it slippery.” Despite or probably because of that, Ogre and I became friends pretty much from the moment we met in May 1989, and he remained a good and dear friend even after I quit writing, when most people suddenly cut me off as if they were afraid my condition was communicable. Even when health issues prevented him from coming out to shows to hang out, I always made sure to have a chair on hand for him to sit, because it wasn’t a real party until Ogre got there.
(And then there was the famed 2000 fundraiser where if contributions reached a certain level, Ogre was going to stand on the intersection of LBJ Freeway and Dallas North Tollway on a particular Monday morning in a Sailor Moon outfit, singing “I’m A Little Teapot” to the morning commuters. As soon as he told us all that the only way he was wearing a Sailor Moon dress was wearing it commando, contributions to an identical fundraiser that promised that he’d never do this doubled the original. Me, I threw in $20 into both: at the time, I was commuting up that stretch of Dallas North Tollway every morning, and that trip was really, really dull otherwise.)
Anyway, my dear friend died on May 18, and this newsletter is dedicated to him. If Valhalla exists, I can see him at the best banquet table, pulling out the odd liquor concoction everyone referred to as “Ogre’s Blood” and making sure that everyone got some before he put up the bottle. Hail and farewell, dude: life is going to be a lot less interesting without you here.
Because we’re all hurting, and because the Triffid Ranch isn’t the only reason to visit Dallas when it’s safe to do so, the Shameless Plugs section keeps on, well, plugging. This newsletter, the two you should be watching are Visions of Venice, the glassware retailer located right next door (and the best business neighbor a boy could ever ask for), and Blu’s Barbecue, which I promise you makes the absolute best collard greens you’re ever going to find west of Memphis. (Blu’s barbecue and sides are all exemplary, but if you’re getting on a plane and crossing the International Date Line to visit Dallas, those collards are the best reason to pay for First Class.)
As an additional plug, the Dallas goth club Panoptikon already has a special place with the Triffid Ranch (co-owner Jiri forgets more about carnivorous plants in his sleep than I’ll ever be able to learn), and the ongoing shutdown has hit it as hard as every other club in the area. That said, the crew has become very proactive with regular Friday and Saturday night events via Twitch, and the Friday night streams are now essential listening while I’m working at the gallery. When things get better and you’re hopping that flight to Dallas for glassware and collards, do it on a Friday so you can stop by.
One of these days, I’ll get down to writing that essay on how much science fiction design over the last 45 years owes to the modelbuilders working for Gerry Anderson on such television shows as UFO and Space: 1999, but until then, go snag a copy of Martin Bower’s World of Models ASAP. For those unfamiliar with the name, Mr. Bower was a model builder and designer for dozens of movies, television series, and assorted sideprojects: most are familiar with his team’s work on the shuttle in Alien, the various alien ships in Space: 1999, and almost everything in Outland. For anyone looking for more particulars on kitbashing for science fiction, or merely looking for inspiration for fantastical art from the days before CGI poisoning was a thing, this book is worth every pfennig. (For those familiar with the Jason Heller book Strange Stars, the connection between rock & roll and science fiction gets even more entangled when discussing commissions between Bower and Roger Dean, the prog rock album cover artist. Trust me: it’s worth it.)
Having first come across her work as part of the band Angelspit, listening to Amelia Arsenic‘s solo albums are now essential greenhouse music, and will probably remain so for a while. When working with carnivorous plants, good dark music, preferably from Australia, is almost a prerequisite.