Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Happy Halloween, folks! Today's musical selection is pretty obvious. I think I know a grand total of two songs by the Cranberries, and one of them happens to be "Zombie". How can I not go with that, seeing how the zombie apocalypse is well nigh upon us?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... BR549.

Now Playing: Louis Armstrong All-Time Greatest Hits
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dance with the dead

How's this for a fun Halloween/Chicken Ranch tie-in: Tomorrow night, Oct. 28, The Wife and I will be kicking up our heels at the Institute of Texan Cultures' Dance With the Dead Halloween Masquerade. It looks to be quite the fun shindig! But how, you may ask, does this tie-in with the Chicken Ranch? Well, the costume theme of the night is figures from Texas history. Dead Texans, if you will. And during the evening, there will be vignettes acted out highlighting certain figures and events of Texas history. I was contacted to serve a consultant of sorts for a planned presentation on the Chicken Ranch. Think they came to the right person? They were admittedly surprised when I informed them that Edna Milton is indeed still alive, but the fact that Marvin Zindler and Sheriff Jim Flournoy have passed on means the whole Chicken Ranch affair remains within the scope of the evening's festivities. And I might have provided them with a bit of information here and there to improve the historical accuracy of the presentation as well.

So, yes, I will be there in an official capacity as author of an eventually forthcoming book on the Chicken Ranch, answering any and all questions the curious may have about that infamous institution. And yes, The Wife and I will be in costume, dressed as famous, deceased Texans. She's going as Anna Nicole Smith, and I'll be J. Howard Marshall. It'll be a hoot and a half, I'm telling you--see y'all there!

Now Playing: London Philharmonic Orchestra Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

As the conference turns, pt. 7

A lot has happened since my last comment on this topic, where I wrapped up by wondering if Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds would resurrect his grand Pac-16 conference realignment plan from 18 months ago, or move heaven and Earth to hang onto his new Longhorn Network. Turns out the correct answer is the former. But first, a quick recap on the goings-on of the past two months:
  • Texas A&M announces application to Southeastern Conference
  • SEC conditionally accepts A&M as 13th member
  • Baylor threatens to sue A&M, SEC and anyone who points out that Baylor athletics has ridden the coattails of their athletic and academic superiors for 20 years in the Big 12 without doing anything with the opportunities they'd been handed on a silver platter
  • Oklahoma and Oklahoma State approach Pac-12 for membership
  • Pac-12 says "Not without Texas"
  • Texas (ie Dodds) says "Not without the LHN"
  • Pac-12 says "We're happy with 12 members"
  • Oklahoma says "$#&%@!"
  • SEC formally accepts A&M
  • Big 12 (minus 2, minus 1) invites TCU
  • TCU says "WHOO HOO!"
  • Big East says "$#&%@!"
  • Dodds says "We will never, ever, ever, ever, ever play A&M again. Ever."
  • A&M says "We'll play you whenever you want. Not Baylor, though."
  • Baylor says "We will never, ever, ever, ever, ever play A&M again. Ever. But we still might sue you for not playing us."
  • Missouri looks longingly to the rust belt mecca known as the Big 10 (ie the B1G) and asks maybe, possibly, if the B1G may have reconsidered its position on expansion?
  • The B1G replies that it still doesn't want Mizzou, but Nebraska is working out nicely
  • Texas Tech covers A&M team buses, inside and out, with stink bait.
  • A&M says "Not Tech, either."
  • Mizzou asks SEC for membership, all the while casting longing glances toward the B1G
  • SEC slowly, reluctantly, kinda, sorta says, "Yeah, okay Mizzou, you can join. But keep it quiet, because even though you were part of the Confederacy, nobody for a moment thinks you're southern or eastern, and you certainly aren't a Florida State or Virginia Tech."
  • Mizzou says "whoo hoo" while casting longing glances toward the B1G
  • Big 12 (minus 2, minus 1) says "$#&%@!"
  • Big 12 invites West Virginia
  • Big East says "$#&%@!"
That pretty much sums it up. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm tired of the realignment tilt-a-whirl and pretty much ready for it to wind down for a while. What I do find of particular interest is the fact that Texas' (ie Dodds') two biggest objections to the SEC are no longer valid. The first, that the SEC is too geographically sprawling for a team from the state of Texas to join, was always questionable at best, considering Iowa State is a member of the Big 12 and Dodds was gung-ho to create the Pac-16 just 18 months ago with trips to Pullman, Washington and Corvalis, Oregon on the itinerary. But now, with the addition of West Virginia (and this nifty graphic from Mizzou2SEC, we see that "Geographic integrity" means pretty much whatever the folks over at 40 Acres say it means:
But as anyone who has followed this particular story knows, the real kicker is academics. The SEC's academics are abysmal, sniffed Texas, a school which longed to rub shoulders with academic elites on the West Coast. Which is all well and good, except this realignment is about athletic competition not academic competition. With A&M, and now Mizzou joining the SEC, that league has four member who are part of the prestigious Association of American Universities, whereas the Big 12 now has three. And if you compare the two conferences using an average of their academic rankings, the SEC beats the Big 12 handily. And that's before West Virginia is considered. West Virginia? That school is certainly not known as an academic powerhouse. In fact, it's like the anti-powerhouse. Consider that Texas Tech is the lowest-ranking school from either the current Big 12 or the SEC on U.S. News & World Report's most recent ranking of national universities, coming in at no. 160. West Virginia lowers the bar at 164. For comparison's sake, Mississippi State, the lowest-ranking SEC school, checks in at 157. Vanderbilt, the top school in the SEC, is ranked at no. 17, followed by Texas, the top school in the Big 12, at no. 45. A&M and Florida are tied at 58. It's pretty clear that Dodds is very, very angry about A&M leaving for the SEC. That A&M didn't fall in line with what was in the best interest of Texas (ie Dodds), and instead did what was in the best interest of A&M. Dodds has maintained that he only is doing what is "in the best interest of Texas" when controversy over the LHN flared up, but when someone else does the same thing for their own institution, suddenly they're "throwing away tradition" and acting selfishly. Dodds, for maybe the first time in his life, did not get his way and is pitching a fit. Sadly, this means the long and storied rivalry between A&M and Texas will go on hiatus in all sports starting next season. That's sad, because most alumni I know on either side want the games to continue. On the upside, Dodds is getting closer to retirement every day (the man's 72, after all). I'll wager that the Lone Star Showdown resumes before 2020, and everyone can go home happy. As the conference turns, pt. 1 As the conference turns, pt. 2 As the conference turns, pt. 3 As the conference turns, pt. 4 As the conference turns, pt. 5 As the conference turns, pt. 6 Now Playing: Prince The Hits/The B Sides Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Night Videos

If you've never heard BR549 before, their sound is retro-country, sort of western swing meets rockabilly by way of hillbilly. They never hit it big on the country scene, but they did get to play an episode of Austin City Limits and produced gems such as "Me and Opie Down By the Duck Pond", the Andy Griffith Show episode that never existed, but you really, really wished did.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Foster the People.

Now Playing: Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Out
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicken Ranch report no. 4

Chicken Ranch brass token
Monday saw no writing from me, I'm sorry to say. The frenetic pace of the weekend finally caught up with me, and I crashed early. Sleep was much-needed and welcomed. Today has been much more productive for me.

Sadly, I discovered today that my dream telescope, the Meade LXD75 SN10-AT has been discontinued. I came this close to purchasing it after saving up quite a bit of money several years ago. Unfortunately, when I tried to place my order, I learned that it'd been backordered. Uh-oh. I'd seen this movie before. I tried to pay in advance anyway, knowing that if I waited, something would happen to deplete that stash of cash I'd worked so hard to save up. No dice, I couldn't pre-order. Sure enough, one of the kids needed unexpected dental work within a few weeks, and the money was all but gone by the time I got the notice a month later that they were ready to fill my order. Because the universe likes to jack me around that way. Someday I will get a high-end scope, but I'll end up paying significantly more than I would have for the SN10-AT, which makes me sad.

That has nothing to do with writing about the Chicken Ranch, however. Tonight's writing was filled with its own unique challenges. When writing about the earliest days of the brothel, there's a dearth of evidence available. No primary sources. No newspaper accounts. Essentially, there's nothing beyond oral tradition and oral traditions can be pretty screwy. So I'm writing up one version of the origins of the Chicken Ranch, the most widely-repeated version, and it's killing me. Because I've traced this story back to a single source, and I am convinced the author was shoveling 100 percent, grade-A B.S. That kind of stuff drives me insane, but then again, that's why I'm torturing myself with the writing of this book, to set the record straight and lay out the truth and the lies to the best of my limited ability. But enough of my inane drivel, here's a sample of tonight's work:
The very first madam to run a brothel in La Grange arrived in 1844 on La Bahia Road from New Orleans, that infamous Sodom-On-The-Mississippi, with a covey of three "soiled doves" in tow. Of their lives in New Orleans, or whether they made any detours along the way, nothing is known. It strains credibility to suggest that these women set out from New Orleans with the actual intent to settle in La Grange, a tiny frontier town barely known to anyone east of Nacogdoches, if even that. It is far more likely that their intended destination was San Antonio or possibly even the new capital of Austin. In any event, circumstances caused them to stop in La Grange, and in La Grange is where they stayed.
Yeppers, it does indeed appear that we're finally getting into some of the good stuff. I find history and background and worldbuilding fascinating (I am a Tolkien fan, after all) but I know good and well what folks will buy this book for!

Now Playing: Miles Davis Birth of the Cool
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chicken Ranch progress report no. 3

Chicken Ranch brass token
What an astonishingly exhausting weekend. I had a wedding to shoot on Friday--a solo gig, rather than my usual role of backing up The Wife. And that meant much of Saturday was taken up with editing photos--that, and watching the Aggies whoop up on Baylor! We followed that up with another wedding today, one in which The Wife and I did the normal double-team operation. Add in there Monkey Girl's band performance at the halftime of Canyon's football game against Clemens (Canyon won!) and various other locations and events to shuttle the kids to and from... is it any wonder that I'm exhausted?

Considering that jam-packed schedule, it'd be expected that I didn't get any writing done this weekend. Heck, I certainly wouldn't expect me to get any done, that's for sure. But miracle of miracles, I did. Not a lot, granted, but several hundred words' worth that gets pretty much the last of the purely infodump material out of the way. And by "purely infodump" I mean stuff I've had to glean from books and elsewhere, as opposed to the first-hand, primary source background I've gathered on my own. Let me share with you the first direct quote to appear in the book:
"Most of the population was German or Czech," said Oliver Kitzman, a former District Attorney who served Fayette County. "If you look around the country, you’ll see when the Czechs came over they settled in the blackland prairies, and the Germans settled in the hills, the more rolling places. I don't know why that is, but it's true. They were a frugal, hard-working people."
Nothing Earth-shaking, I'll grant you that. But those Czechs and Germans are a big reason why the Chicken Ranch became the enduring institution that it did. And Kitzman has a lot of interesting things to say later on. Stay tuned.

Now Playing: Miles Davis Sketches of Spain
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicken Ranch progress report no. 2

I had a good evening of writing tonight, which is actually a bit of a surprise. Yesterday was a struggle, and today, after getting a flu shot, I was feeling very lethargic and sleepy, with an uncomfortableness that almost became a generalized body ache. I've never reacted to a flu shot before, so I don't know if it was the stress of the day or lack of sleep or what, but it was hammering me good. As the evening wore on, the "ugh" feeling dissipated and I felt up to some writing.

Nothing I've written thus far had altered my thinking that chapter 1 is the most difficult for me to write. There's not a whole heck of a lot of information available on the Chicken Ranch during the 19th century, for starters. Since my narrative is generally chronological, I feel I have to include the history of the county and settlement of La Grange, since that all ties in and gives context to the Chicken Ranch and why it survived so long. The downside is that there's comparatively little sex in there, which (let's face it) is the big draw for any book on the Chicken Ranch.

In her 1980 book on the Chicken Ranch, Jan Hutson touches on the history of Fayette County as well, but I have significant issues with her dismissive and frankly racist comments about the Native American tribes in the area, comments which are flatly contradicted by near-contemporary accounts I've come across. "Tonks had most of the bad characteristics of their brethren tribes and a noticeable lack of the good ones. They were chronic beggars by inclination with an innate belief in public ownership of mobile property, preferably on four legs." It gets worse from there. While I'm not devoting a tremendous amount of chapter 1 to the Native American tribes in Fayette County, I do hope I can present (to the best of my knowledge) a more accurate picture. Without the effort coming across drier than sawdust:
Near the end of Spanish colonial rule through the Mexican revolution, the important La Bahia Road cut through the area, crossing the Colorado near the present site of La Grange. The Spanish never settled the region, though, and it wasn’t until 1822 that European settlers--members of Austin’s “Old Three Hundred”--arrived in significant numbers.

Almost from the start there were clashes between the whites and the natives. The first recorded battle occurred in 1823 on Skull Creek, when a hastily assembled troop of 22 settlers destroyed a Karankawa camp harassing whites along the river. The Karankawas, a tribe more commonly associated with the Texas Coastal Bend, were generally reviled by settlers and rival tribes alike for their reputed cannibalism. At the end of the fight, 23 Karankawas lay dead, without the loss of a single settler.
I'm somewhat conflicted right now by terminology in this section. In my sources, "whites" and "Indians" are used almost exclusively. "Native American" sounds entirely too modern and jarring for the most part, and "settlers" and "Europeans" become tedious after a dozen or so uses. Fortunately, it's a small section only a few pages long, and after that I shouldn't have to worry about that particular word-choice issue again. I imagine I'll sort it out eventually--that's what second drafts are for!

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chicken Ranch progress report no. 1

After all this time, it's hard to believe that I'm actually in writing mode, as opposed to research, interview or transcription mode. But yeah, I'm knee-deep in chapter one, making genuine progress on the whole book front. So for all of you people out there (you know who you are) who have asked me time and again over the past couple of years "When's the book coming out?" and I've made some vague comment that generally translates into "Eventually," here's to dashing your suspicions that I've been faking the whole thing.

Honestly, when I undertook this project, I figured it would be a lark. Six months of work at the most. Little did I know it would grow, Blob-like, and consume my entire life. But hey, I've never been one for doing things by half-measures. I cannot express what a huge relief it is to finally, finally, finally be putting words on the page. Here's a little sample of tonight's work for your reading pleasure.
What set the Chicken Ranch apart was its venerable history. By 1973, it was the last man standing, the lone holdout against changing times that had shuttered pretty much all of its one-time contemporaries.

From the earliest days of the Republic, long before vast oilfields covered the landscape and “black gold” made the state rich, the Texas economy depended on three industries: cattle, cotton and timber. A casual observer of the time could not be blamed, though, for thinking of prostitution as a fourth major cash crop.
In case you're wondering, those words were helped along by Pumpkin Ale from Buffalo Bill's Brewery. I highly recommend it--of the various pumpkin ales I've tried over the years, this one strikes the right balance between the pumpkin and hoppy malt flavors of the beer. Not that it has anything directly to do with the Chicken Ranch, but I felt like sharing.

Now Playing: Edward Shearmur and the London Metropolitan Orchestra Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Meet my new favorite song of recent vintage, Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks". It's brilliant for all sorts of reasons. First, it's got a bouncy, infectious groove that that conveys a happy, nostalgic vibe. Except that the lyrics are diametrically opposed to that same vibe. They're seriously dark, akin to laying the lyrics to Aerosmith's "Janie's Got A Gun" over the music from the B-52's "Love Shack." Yeah, that is seriously messed up, but I love the dissonance. The video isn't much to write home about, but I have to admit the home movie approach does tend to reenforce the happy nostalgic quality of the song, especially if the listener just hums along, not paying much attention to the lyrics.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Greg Kihn Band.

Now Playing: Billy Joel The Nylon Curtain
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