Tag Archives: Dallas Observer

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #27

(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.)

Installment #27: “Horticultural Thunderdome”

Living in an older neighborhood has lots of interesting challenges already, as witnessed when the water main that blew out and left the front yard a sodden marsh last summer decided to go out entirely this spring. We were reasonably lucky, as February’s Icepocalypse left neighbors up and down the street with flooded-out living rooms and garages as pipes froze and thawed, and others discovered what subfreezing temperatures tend to do to electrical insulation that’s not rated for that sort of cold. (No fires, thankfully, but we’re seeing a lot of mood and porch lighting being torn out and replaced.) For the most part, it’s been the same with animal and plant life: the cold apparently thinned out the local squirrel population, but opossums clamber onto the porch to yell at each other and the cats with no sign of being affected by the freeze, and by the way the anoles and Mediterranean geckos act on the side of the house, you’d think they were campaigning for a reboot of the Mesozoic.

Things were considerably rougher for flora, particularly that better suited for areas further south. Dallas is right on the edge of safe growing zones for palm and saw palmetto trees, and neighbors with pools all figured “Let’s put palm trees in the back yard to add to the Polynesian ambiance.” That worked well since the last big freeze in 2015, which was over before anyone really recognized that it had arrived, but a solid week of subfreezing temperatures left those neighbors trying to figure out how to remove a 15-meter dead tree without hitting the pool, hitting the house, or requiring use of a crane. At this point, they’re better off pooling funds (pun intended) and just run that crane down the alley, plucking out palm carcasses like weeds.

The real problem, though, lies with actual weeds. Invasive exotics, to be precise. Being an older neighborhood, birds look at everything as a place to eat, rest, and nest, and that means they bring in all sorts of seeds from all sorts of plants, and many get established. This gets aggravated by those invasives that someone decides are suitably pretty or potentially useful, thus exacerbating the seed problem. Every little gizzard-bearing flying dinosaur in the area, with the possible exception of the two red-shouldered hawks who land atop my garage to yell at me as I’m trying to go to work, drags in more than their fair share of seeds, all lovingly scraped and scarified and tumbled with gizzard stones and grit, and 2021 is a particularly good year for them to find new places to take over. We don’t have kudzu yet, but two of the invasives could give kudzu a serious fight.

The first, morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) is about as ubiquitous in Dallas as roses in Portland or Spanish moss in Tallahassee, but these aren’t the gigantic-bloomed cultivated and domesticated variety grown for their lovely flowers. These produce much more subtle, but still beautiful, blooms, and the energy they’d use on ostentatious petals goes instead into vines that cover EVERYTHING. Pull them off shrubs and lawn furniture and vehicles left outside, and they’re back in a day or so, and Arioch help us all if they ever get a taste for blood.  Mowing and weedeating them just encourages them, and they have a wonderful habit of binding mowers and cutting blades.

And then we have the other green menace, scarlet trumpetvine (Campsis radicans), usually spread by yuppie homeowners told by Some Guy that a great way to hide telephone poles and other utility poles is to let them be covered by trumpetvine. Not only will the local lineman for the county want to set you on fire for doing so (trumpetvine sap causes contact dermatitis in many people), but the seeds are appreciated by a wide variety of birds, which then spread said seeds all over the area. Left unchecked, the vines collapse fences and squeeze between barriers, and most efforts to thin them back that don’t involve radioisotopes merely spread them further. Worst of all, since the roots spread through the toughest clay hardpan soil, new clumps pop up and start spreading meters from the original infestation, dislodging brick pathways and drowning bird feeders and barbecue grills with runners. As with morning glories, local garden centers sell trumpetvine to unassuming novices, thereby guaranteeing that subsequent residents curse their names years and decades after they’ve moved on and left their mess.

This year, possibly because of the freeze, both morning glory and trumpetvine are determined to take over. It’s not enough to pull trumpetvine: you have to let it dry until dead if it’s to be composted or mowed, and it thrives on weeding regimens that would get poison ivy to give up and die. Morning glory at least makes a good hide for assassin bugs and anoles, and it’s kept somewhat in check by leafcutter bees that strip big chunks from their leaves. Trumpetvine, though, has no controls, and the phrase “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit” is a regular one from people fighting it for a decade or more. Then, when it’s finally held to a dull roar, that’s when an unknowing neighbor actually pays real cash money for the horrible stuff because “I hate that telephone pole out front, and I hear it attracts hummingbirds.”

That leaves the only real option: Thunderdome. Along one fence wall, I’m trying a little experiment, and letting trumpetvine and morning glory beat each other. So far, the morning glory seems to be choking out the trumpetvine, but the trumpetvine apparently discovered that hiding underneath rosebushes and behind hibiscus trees was a reasonable alternative, and it’s discovered a horrible trick of running tendrils underneath mulch and then emerging in multiple spots. Not that it’ll do any good: two weeks ago, when Dallas was getting unseasonable rains, I planted sweet potato, and so long as they don’t form an alliance to remove the animal scum keeping them from their destinies, the morning glories and trumpetvine are in TROUBLE.

Upcoming Gallery Events

Now that the heat has kicked in, the weekend Porch Sales have moved inside for the duration of the summer, but they’ll go back outside later in September. The holiday Carnivorous Plant Weekends were so popular for Memorial Day and Independence Day Weekends that we’re reprising it for Labor Day, with the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend running on Saturday, September 4 from 4:00 to 9:00 pm and then on Sunday, September 5 from 10am to 3pm. As always, admission is free and masks are mandatory.

Outside Events

In other developments, obviously the big show of the year is going to be Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport in September, and then it’s time to head back down to Austin for an extended weekend. Being invited as a vendor for Armadillocon 43 brings on all sorts of comments (mine is “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), but it’s been a very long time since Austin’s premier literary science fiction convention ran in October instead of the middle of August, and Austin is lovely in October.

Other News

In yet more developments, the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW vote is now going, and keeps going until September 2, and the Triffid Ranch is on the ballot under “Best Art Gallery” and “Best Garden Center.” The gallery isn’t automatically on the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Reader’s Poll, but it offers room for write-in votes, so do what thou wilt.

Shameless Plugs

One of the many reasons why I live in Garland, Texas, besides its obvious film reference, is that my town is just loaded with interesting food options. One of the absolute best came from discovering a regular Vietnamese food truck outlet at the Cali Saigon Mall at Jupiter Road and Beltline Road: unenlightened people may scoff or laugh at the concept of “Vietnamese tacos,” and they’re welcome to do so, because that’s just that much more for me. Anyway, should you decide to trundle out to the Dallas area for dinner, let me put a bug in your ear about Em & Bubba’s Home Cooking: As someone with 40 years’ experience in the subject, let me say that Em & Bubba’s barbecue brisket is some of the absolute best I have ever eaten, bar none. For vegetarians, they have a lot of options as well, and that’s not counting the other food trucks right alongside. This Saturday, after recovering from the Porch Sale, we’re probably heading there for dinner, and anyone caring to join us is welcome to do so.

Recommended Reading

Since we’re coming up on the fifth anniversary of the gallery’s move from Valley View Center, I’m going to have to dig out photos taken from those final days and add commentary on the ultra-slow-motion implosion of the mall. In the interim, I recommend picking up Capital by Mark Hage: for those who have never started a venue in an existing retail or gallery space, there’s an odd sense of archaeology that comes from the dribs and drabs left behind by previous tenants, sometimes ones gone for decades (mine was the surprising number of pennies dropped on the floor in the back storage area, as well as breaker box labels from the mall’s food court expansion in 1998), and Capital hits on that sense of mystery quite well.

Music

With the summer heat, pretty much the only way to get through August in North Texas is by dreaming of autumn. A touch of Emilie Autumn goes a long way toward that, as well as making a perfectly suitable soundtrack when the heat finally breaks.

Shameless Plugs and Equally Shameless Promotion

It’s August in North Texas, which means that everyone is making plans for what they’re planning to do when (a) the heat finally breaks in September and (b) the COVID-19 alerts signal “All Clear.” This also means lots of local awards intended to send readers, viewers, and listeners in the right direction. The Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Reader’s Choice Awards voting just opened, and as of this week, nominations are in for the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW awards and voting open to the general public. Interestingly, both allow votes every day until the ballots close, thus encouraging enthusiasts of a particular venue to keep coming back. This year, the Best in DFW nominations include the Texas Triffid Ranch for “Best Art Gallery” and “Best Garden Center,” mostly because there really wasn’t room for “Best Doctor Who/Red Green Show Cosplayer Photo Backdrop,” but you take what you get.

Anyway, for those so inclined, feel free to hype up your favorite Dallas venues (and note that the Triffid Ranch already received a Best of Dallas Award in 2017, so write-in votes are wide open), and also feel free to get the word out. We’re all in this together. And if you want to know exactly why you’d want to vote for a Dallas carnivorous plant gallery, you’re cordially invited to come out to see it in person.

State of the Gallery: August 2018

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.

State of the Gallery

No combat-ready unit ever passed inspectionWelp. Two years ago this week, after years of planning and plotting, the Triffid Ranch finally made the transition from a show-only operation to one with a permanent base of operations. An awful lot has happened since then, with a lot more to happen between now and the end of the year. Close the roll cage and keep the fire extinguisher at hand, because things continue to get interesting.

Firstly, while the first official exhibition in the new gallery space isn’t until the weekend of October 13, things aren’t going quiet. The exhibition itself, titled “Relics,” takes up nearly all of the available gallery space, and the enclosures for that are filling out. This leads to funny discussions with friends, and there’s nothing quite like telling Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach series, with the movie adaptation of the first book Annihilation due very soon) that an enclosure based on his latest novel Borne is the reason why my work area is covered with Anne Hathaway heads. Trust me: it was even funnier to explain how to get an Anne Hathaway head out of a space helmet without damaging the helmet. And if the thought of WHY a space helmet is so important in a carnivorous plant enclosure, then I’m definitely talking to the wrong audience. (If you’ve read Borne, you’ll know why I needed three.)

Incidentally, as opposed to the one-night ARTwalk events at the old Valley View location, future Triffid Ranch shows will run with extended hours. The opening of “Relics” stretches over Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14, with the gallery opening to the public over subsequent weekends until Halloween. The Triffid Ranch is supposed to be an art gallery, so it’s time it acted like one. 

And with the mention of shows, September is going to be quite the busy interlude. In addition to SmallCon in Addison on September 9, it’s time to announce the Triffid Ranch’s first appearance at the Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, Texas on September 16 and 17. The DCS was always problematic at the Valley View location because it tended to coincide with ARTwalk weekends, but with the gallery’s move, the Richardson Convention Center is literally up Central Expressway. This means not only a quick and reasonably painless load-in and load-out for the show, but interested bystanders wanting to view larger enclosures have the option of coming by the gallery after the Saturday night festivities. If this one works out well, a trip to the Irving Convention Convention Center event in February 2018 may be in order.

And on a separate note, the much-beloved Alamo Drafthouse chain announced this week that it was hosting specialty 35mm screenings of the original George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, with the Dallas and Richardson venues running Dawn on August 21 and 23. This is noteworthy partly because the film hasn’t been screened in Dallas since the original AMC Northwood Hills 4 midnight shows ended in 1986, partly because I always wanted to host a screening over at the Valley View space, and partly because this is a charity screening for lung cancer awareness. Oh, and the Alamo Drafthouse Richardson is also literally up Central Expressway from the gallery. If you feel so inclined to catch the greatest documentary about life in 1980s Dallas ever made, I look forward to seeing you all at the Richardson screening on August 23. (For those of us who remember the Northwood Hills midnight shows, it’ll be slightly bittersweet: the Northwood Hills hosted an audience participation crowd that made Rocky Horror look sick, and we can’t relive those days because of Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking policy. Sadly, screaming “You mean I spent the whole day shooting zombies, and all you’ve got is LIGHT BEER?” falls under that policy.)

And on final notes, a mea maxima culpa is due. For decades, my relationship with the Dallas Observer was, shall we say, adversarial. During my writing career (1989-2002), I worked for the Observer‘s competitor The Met specifically because the word that best described Observer writing was “smarm”. There was the story about the editor who introduced himself with “You, of course, know who I am, don’t you?”, and would slam in print anyone who didn’t get down on knees and thank him for the privilege of kissing his butt. There was the other editor who spent all of his available time negging the Dallas Morning News in the hopes that the paper would hire him, or anybody else, really. I was nearly stomped at a music festival in Carl’s Corner, south of Dallas on I-35, because I was introduced as a writer and half of the bands there assumed that I worked for the Observer. I won’t even start with the writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom”: to this day, members of Dallas’s music community refer to being nagged and bullied for freebies and access and then slammed in print for acquiescing as “getting wilonskyed”. And then there was the lovely habit of the annual Best of Dallas Awards, where five to ten contenders in every category would be told by the ad department that they would be listed as the winner if they bought at least a half-page ad, and you can imagine the surprise when the Best of Dallas issue finally hit the stands.

Well, as they say, that was then and this is now. The change was first noticeable in Editorial, when an editor apologized in print to a writer for adding incorrect information instead of hiding behind a “We regret the error” note in 4-point font next to the masthead. Then starting with former editor Joe Tone, the paper shed the smarm and the entitlement (not to mention dining reporters prone to making the paper settle on libel lawsuits), to where it’s barely recognizable today from where it was circa 1999. While I can complement many of the regular writers, particularly news writer Steven Young, the changes to the Arts & Culture section under editor Caroline North are stunning. The highest compliment I can ever pay to any publication is noting that the writers all appear to WANT to be there, rather than just collecting a check while paying back on high school slights, and Dallas news and entertainment coverage is all the better for it. By the time Observer reporter Nicholas Bostick stopped by the Triffid Ranch space last February, I wasn’t dreading getting covered by the Observer. I was welcoming it, to the point where I have a standing invitation for the Observer staff to come by the gallery and let me pay for the beer. No expectations, no obligations, just thanks from someone horribly burned out on writing for a crew that makes me want to read a weekly newspaper again out of enjoyment.

In a roundabout way, this is my cue to let everyone know that the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is now online, and I ask everyone to chip in. No obligations, no expectations, and certainly no slates (although I’ll say that I’m very fond of many of the nominees, and a couple of the categories were a tough call in picking the best out of four or five). Dallas is becoming a very different city from the one I grew up in, and we need to encourage and celebrate that. Hell, maybe this is the year I start buying Observer advertising, just to do my part to keep the paper hale and hearty, and keep those great writers and editors in coffee and spare pencils. If you’d told me in 2004 that I’d say this, much less in 1996, I would have punched you in the throat.

Otherwise, it’s the usual song: developments are upcoming, mostly because I can’t talk about them yet. That said, though, sleep between now and the end of the year is going to be something I only hear about. And so it goes.