Friday, September 22, 2017

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday Sheriff Flournoy!

On this date in 1902, Thomas James Flournoy was born to Tom and Etta Flournoy on a ranch near Rock Island. He would grow up to work as a ranch hand on the famous King Ranch, a Texas Ranger patrolling the Big Bend region during World War II and--most famously--as the long-serving sheriff of Fayette County. Sheriff Jim famously defied political and media pressure to close down the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel outside of La Grange in 1973 before acquiescing to a direct order from Governor Dolph Briscoe. A year later, Sheriff Flournoy confronted Marvin Zindler on the town square, ripping off the reporter's hairpiece and throwing it in the street. The resulting lawsuits and counter suits were eventually settled out of court with a large donation to the Shriner's Children's Hospital.

Sheriff Flournoy died on October 27, 1982, from heart problems. He would've been 115 years old today.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Last week I featured Jay and the Americans here, and referenced a certain 1980 hit by the great Bobby Bare. That song is, of course, "Tequila Shiela." This genius song was, of course, written by the lyrical genius Shel Silverstein. The video version from German television is a bit truncated, with Bare leaving out the first verse, but the whole song can be heard at the link above. Classic. Between Bare and Hoyt Axton, the late 70s and early 80s produced some of the best character songs country music has ever enjoyed.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jay and the Americans

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tiki tour: No Bones Beach Club

Turn back the clock a couple of months and imagine we're still on vacation. We've completed our road trip along the Oregon coast and are spending the last two days in Portland. Got it? Great! Following out early excursion to the Tiki Putt, we planned to take the whole family for lunch at the legendary Alibi. The food there was reputed to be good, and since it's a vintage tiki location, I expected it to be open to all ages for lunch. All the classic tiki venues offered all-ages dining, right? At the very least, I figured they'd allow under 21 patrons until 6 p.m. or so, as many bars that offer food service in Texas do. Certainly, The Alibi's website gave no hint they were "21 and older" 24/7, with no exceptions. Alas, once we got there, we discovered that to be the case. Which really came as a disappointment, as The Wife and I wanted to share some cool vintage tiki experience with our kids. Our lunch plans scuppered, we went with Plan B: Lunch at the No Bones Beach Club.

Now, the No Bones Beach Club isn't exactly tiki, per se. It's pseudo-tiki. I learned about it from Humuhumu's writeup on Critiki. It's not a bar, but rather a restaurant with a beachy, tiki theme that has a limited menu of tropical cocktails. And get this--it's a vegan restaurant. I wanted to go here, in part, because my eldest daughter's been a vegetarian for more than a decade and I thought she'd appreciate it. The restaurant reviews were generally positive, and I seek out new experiences, so we gave it a try.

I ordered jackfruit flautas. I like jackfruit, and am planning on making an infused rum with which to invent new cocktails for my home bar, but I'd never had green, unripe jackfruit, which is reputed to have a neutral flavor and tears apart with a consistency not unlike shredded pork. In many parts of the tropics it's used as a meat substitute. I was skeptical, but wow, these flautas won me over. The taste simply exploded in my mouth. I'm not sure what spices they used, but it was a citrus-infused tomatillo and cilantro party in my mouth. The flavors were bright and crisp. The plate was filling, but it tasted so good I would've happily eaten another plate full, even if it made me miserable. Seriously, it was that good.

The Wife ordered beer-battered avocado tacos. She reports they were quite good as well. She didn't share any with me, so I can't report first-hand. They looked like better-quality fish tacos, and smelled fantastic.

My son refused to eat any of the "weird stuff" on the menu, but the girls got some Northwest nachos. They gobbled them up, but there were a few chips left for me to sample. Instead of cheese, they used a cashew sauce with smoked poblano. Texturally, it wasn't queso, obviously, but it had a spicy, savory flavor that was not inappropriate. Add to that black bean and corn salsa, charred tomato salsa, scallions and cilantro crema, and you've got a winning combination. I cannot stress this enough--the food is very, very good and the textures are such that unless you start off with the knowledge this was a vegan restaurant, you'd never notice from the actual dishes. Highly recommended.

Alas, the same cannot be said of their drinks. The Wife ordered a Mai Tai, having decided that would be her barometer of a bar's quality on this trip. The No Bones Mai Tai is not a real Mai Tai by historical standards--their menu lists it as a blend of light and dark rums, Saliza amaretto (no orgeat, but at least they made a gesture with the almond-flavored liqueur, right?), orange juice (what?), pineapple (no!) and fresh lime. The resulting cocktail wasn't great. It wasn't awful. Know what else it wasn't? It wasn't a Mai Tai, although I will allow that it looked very pretty.

I ordered a guava paloma. I'm not a big fan of grapefruit juice, which is the primary ingredient in a paloma, but I can take it in cocktails. And I am a fan of guava, which, next to passion fruit, is just about the definitive flavor of the tropics. Foolish me. When the paloma arrived, I tasted no guava. None. What did I taste? Bitterness. Bitter, bitter, bitter with a side of bitter. I don't know what they put in this thing, but I tasted no tequila, and even the grapefruit juice was overpowered by the bitterness. I let the ice melt to dilute it some, but that only improved it marginally.

As for the decor, well, again, it's not tiki. It was bright and airy and full of bamboo and matting and other things one would find in a tiki bar--up to and including tiki mugs--but the theme and vibe was more "tropical beach" than anything else. As such, it was pretty cool, except for the loud rap they had playing over the speakers. That did nothing for the ambience. After a few F-bombs, The Wife asked if they could play something else. Naturally, this annoyed the staff, who grudgingly changed the station to some generic contemporary techno-pop channel. That was still inappropriate music selection for the decor, but at least we weren't being bombarded with lyrics about "bangin' the bitches" or whatever. I don't understand why it's so difficult to grasp that some types of music are appropriate for certain situations and other types aren't.

Ultimately, No Bones Beach Club was a mixed bag. The food was fantastic, if a bit on the pricey side. I'd happily eat there again. I won't, though, because 1) the drinks were terrible, 2) the music selection was worse and 3) the atmosphere was completely lacking. It's not a tiki bar and shouldn't pretend to be one, but at the same time should embrace the tropical beach aesthetic and run with it. That, they're not doing. Pity, because this place is so close to being something special.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Last week we had the Kinks, so let's give equal billing to a group from this side of the Pond, Jay and the Americans. I know Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was criticized for some forced use of pop music throughout, but I have to say, the way they incorporated "Come a Little Bit Closer," was inspired. And I have to think that if this song didn't exist, we'd never have gotten a certain gloriously over-the-top hit from Bobby Bare. So yeah, this one's a keeper.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Tiki in Lockhart?

I did something Saturday I hardly ever do--I visited an estate sale. Why? Because the notice I happened across emphasized that the sale had a significant tiki element. Witness these photos from the listing:

What's more, the sale was in Lockhart. Lockhart? I knew they had lots of good barbecue in Lockhart, but tiki? I'd never heard of such a thing. Tiki, it seems, never really caught on in Texas. Unlike the Midwest, where folks were decking out their basements in the 1950s and 60s as South Seas getaways, and California, which is part of every cultural movement that ever sweeps the U.S., Texas sat on the sidelines as far as home tiki bars went. Yes, there was Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber's in Dallas and Houston, and Austin and Corpus Christi had their own, local restaurants, but it never became a thing here, you know? So for an actual tiki bar getaway to exist in Lockhart, well, I had to see it.

Unfortunately for me, the sale actually began on Friday. Which meant that by the time I got there around 9:30 Saturday morning, the best stuff--the hanging tiki lamps, the tiki bar itself, and a bunch of other upscale collectibles--were already gone. Heck, there was quite a collection of tiki mugs in a "saved" bin when I arrived that morning, grabbed up by folks who'd gotten there shortly before me. And those same mugs showed up on the Austin Craig's List today, so go figure. Despite some of the best stuff already being gone, I came away with a few nifty items. Shark Bites restaurant in Coos Bay, Oregon, has an entire wall decorated with an array of Hawaiian and tropical coffee bean burlap sacks. That's what this one had been used for in Lockhart, and that's the role it will serve in my tiki bar as well.

I don't really know why or how the oversized wooden fork and spoon became such an iconic part of tiki culture from the 1950s, but it did. I always knew I'd get some at some point, and that point was apparently Saturday. I like the designs on this set.

This punch bowl set is probably the most impressive of my acquisitions. The set came with 11 carved cups, carved punchbowl, ladle and lazy susan platform. I'm guessing it's carved monkeypod from the Philippines, but that's just a guess. It's dusty and needs a serious cleaning, but beyond one cup that has a crack starting on the rim, it is in excellent shape. Once I get it scrubbed up nice and clean, I plan to give it a good coating of pure tung oil to ensure it lasts for years to come.

There was also a huge CD collection, which I came away with a couple of steel drum band albums, a bunch of Hawaiian slack-key guitar discs, Harry Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall and the Crazed Mugs, which is kind of tiki/surf/folk music. Think of the Austin Lounge Lizards with a more tropical bent and you'll have an idea of the sound. I also got Night of the Tiki, which was a museum exhibit catalog from 2001 or so and is somewhat hard to come by these days, so yeah. I also grabbed a bunch of non-tiki CDs, like a Led Zeppeling boxed set, Count Basie, Jefferson Airplane... the folks who'd lived here, I started thinking, shared very similar tastes with me.

Little did I know. I started out in the tiki bar, which was housed in the garage, separate from the house. Then I went into the house to see what else was available, and was surprised to encounter his and her Starfleet uniforms:

They had lots of science fiction books. They were huge Babylon 5 fans, with just about every doll, model kit and CD produced for that show. They had several of the scripts JMS had published a decade or so back. Who were these people? Why hadn't I ever heard of them? We had so many overlapping interests. Were they Armadillocon regulars? Mikal Trimm was the only Lockhart resident I knew who frequented science fiction circles. Then I saw these shirts. Yes, that's a LoneStarCon 2 shirt from 1997 with a Don Maitz autograph. They also had a Bouchercon shirt as well. Hmm. This is neither here nor there, but they also had a bunch of scuba gear, beekeeping suits and a 1988 Pontiac Fiero for sale as well (some assembly required on that last item).

Surely I would've heard word from somewhere had such enthusiastic genre fans in the Austin area died! Even if I didn't know them personally, word gets around, right? Turns out this estate sale wasn't exactly a traditional estate sale. The couple is still very much alive, I learned from the sale workers. Both came into nice inheritances, and decided to build a house in Spain and retire there. That sounds amazing. At the same time, I can't fathom just picking up and leaving all this behind. All the tikis and mermaids and books and music and assorted decorations throughout the tiki bar and house meant something to them at one time, and they left it all behind. I don't think I could do the same.

Here's a half-assed panorama shot of the tiki lounge I took. There are just shelves and Babylon 5 collectibles behind me, nothing really tiki. I'd have like to see this place it its glory days, when it was set up for entertaining, not just to sell off.

This rack of tiki mugs was in the house. I got excited when I saw the 2015 Texas Tiki Week Armadillo mug. I really want one of those. I was considerably less excited when I saw the listed price of $75. I passed. I witnessed two other couples go through the same thing when they discovered that mug as well. All the other mugs there were overpriced as well, and none of those were as remotely desirable as the armadillo.

This banner was right outside the tiki bar. Huna Lounge? Is that what they called their getaway, or was this a banner they acquired somewhere else as a souvenir? A quick Google search indicates this was indeed the name for their tiki paradise, and the wife went by the online moniker of Janet Mermaid. More Google stalking turns up that "Mermaid Janet" is, in fact, mystery author Janet Christian. Huh. I'm certain she's well-known amongst my circle of author friends who write mysteries, but I don't think I've ever met her. Weird.

On the shelves to the right you can just glimpse the one thing I almost bought but talked myself out of. It's a set of 8 Siesta Ware frosted tiki Collins glasses, with mahogany wraps. These were in excellent condition--far better than the set I have--and also included some design patterns I'd never see before. The price was reasonable, and I was sorely tempted, justifying to myself that I could sell my existing set to break even. Alas, I was on a tight budget (and actually went way over as it was) so I left those glasses behind. But they were very, very nice.

Someday, my kids will be the beneficiaries of a similar estate sale. I wonder if they'll have tiki enthusiasts come from Austin and San Antonio, hoping to find some vintage treasure from tiki's 1950s heyday. I'm not there yet, but who am I to disappoint?

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I haven't featured the Kinks here in a while, and that's completely unacceptable. So here's the classic "Sunny Afternoon" from back in the day. You've got to love the old black-and-white promo films, and Ray, Dave, Pete and Mick being "clever" with the video by filming it in the middle of winter, surrounded by snow. Simpler times. Sunny afternoon, indeed.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Sheb Wooley.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 9

So, bamboo. I've posted quite a few of these build-alongs thus far, but have not yet spoken about bamboo in any great length. In light of that, you may consider this something of an interlude. I don't actually build anything here, but I do show some of the prep work that goes into preparing bamboo for use in tik bar construction.

First up, get some bamboo. I know, right? I don't have any bamboo at my house (yet). Some day I shall plant clumping bamboo as part of my tropical landscaping, but I'm not there yet. It must be clumping bamboo, because running bamboo is hyper-invasive and, for the most part, seems the more cold-tolerant. Which means you'll never get rid of it once planted and eventually live in a panda habitat. That said, there are a couple of patches near me where I harvest bamboo on occasion. From what I can tell, it's Golden bamboo, a moderate-sized plant that is a runner, and therefore invasive. Fortunately, it's contained by roads and rock and can't bust out of the location. Yay! This type of bamboo can grow to nearly 4" thick under ideal conditions, but around here, I've never seen it get much beyond 2", so no load-bearing timbers. From what I've seen online, older culms are preferred, as they have thicker walls and greater strength/durability. Younger culms might seem just as tall and wide, but the thickness of their wood isn't there yet. The trick is to harvest those clums that are 4-5 years old. Unfortunately, I've not quite figured out how to determine that reliably.

Here's something else to keep in mind: Bamboo is full of water. It's not going to drip on you when you cut it, but the cells are full of the wet stuff, just like fresh-cut wood, so to get it in usable condition it needs to dry out to prevent mold and rot. That's why bamboo FAQs online say to wait until after the monsoon season (in the tropics) or winter (when it goes dormant) to harvest bamboo--less water in the culms. When I started messing with bamboo, I didn't know much at all. So some pieces I set aside to dry without doing anything else. I've since learned that you want to flame-treat fresh bamboo first, and then let it dry. You can tell old, dry bamboo from it's pale yellow color. It's also fairly light in weight due to water loss.

The culm above is dry, but not completely so. It's hard to explain the difference, but there's a slight heft to the wood, and the color is more yellow than washed out. Flame-treating this one resulted in a decent finished pole with good color. But I've learned that it's much more difficult getting a good burn on an old, dry culm than a fresh, green one.

This one was very dry. I'm not sure the story on this one--maybe it was already dying when I cut it, or maybe it was in a pre-cut batch I picked up back in the spring from a Craig's List ad. Regardless, it was light in weight and drained of almost all color. Not a good place to start.

This is why. With green bamboo, there are dramatic color changes to help guide you and let you know when the flame-treatment is complete. With dried bamboo, there's no color change apart from charring. There's also little resin to boil to the surface. The result is a bamboo pole that's more likely than not to scorch.

The end result is also duller than other bamboo, with little in the way of rich, warm colors. It's hard to tell in these online photos, but trust me, if I showed you in person, the difference would be obvious.

So, why did I mess with those two old poles? Because they'd been sitting around for a long time and needed to be flame-treated before they rotted and became worthless. Basically, I was faced with "Fix these now or toss them into the trash heap." I can't afford to waste anything in my tiki bar build, so I treated them. Simple as that. But with those two out of the way, I could turn my attention to greener culms.

I can do a lot with 1" to 2" culms, which are the most common I get to work with. Heavy and dense makes me smile. They'll have a thick wall and be robust, durable. I got this one from a construction area around the beginning of August, before it was bulldozed. Not the best time to harvest, but I didn't want to see this nice one lost. The green isn't quite as bright as it was when I cut it down, but it's still fresh-looking. This culm was a big one--I was able to cut it into three 8' segments after it came down, with the tapered end still 3/4" thick. Not too shabby!

I use a simple, hand-held butane torch on bamboo. The flame-treatment does several things. First, it boils off some of the water in the wood. Not a lot, but those bamboo segments are air-tight, and if you get it hot enough, the pressure can cause the thinner-walled joints to burst. Ask me how I know. To avoid this, you can either punch holes through the nodes with rebar, or use a tiny drill bit to poke little holes through the culm wall near the nodes. Steam will billow out either way. The second thing heat does is harden the bamboo. Bamboo can be worked into different shapes using heat and pressure, but once it cools, the bamboo hardens in that position and loses its flexibility. Thirdly, the heat brings the natural resins within the bamboo to the surface. The resin is visible as white droplets in the image below. Wipe this down with a cloth to spread it evenly over the bamboo, and you've got a natural weatherproofing agent. This protective coating will wear away over time, but it still gives the bamboo a glossy, rich look, regardless.

The main reason I like working with green bamboo is that the color change is so dramatic. The first time I burned bamboo, I was so worried I'd overdo it that I only turned it an olive drab color and thought I was done. Nope, only about halfway there. When it turns olive drab, that's when the resin starts boiling up. Burn it more, and you'll get an abrupt color change to tan. It is abrupt and dramatic--there's no intermediary steps here. One moment a section is green, then poof it's tan. And this happens in weird, connected segments. It's almost pixellated, as if this is some obscure Atari video game from the 1980s. Pop! Pop! Pop! Change the colors of the bamboo from green to tan! It's fascinating to watch, and if you follow the color change, pretty much impossible to not flame the bamboo correctly.

When the color change happens, a lot more resin comes to the surface. When I burn bamboo, I do a single node at a time, brushing the flame over the wood in steady, deliberate strokes. Lingering will result in burned spots. After I achieve color change, I'll do a few more strokes over the node to get a darker color for contrast.

Here's something else I haven't seen mentioned online: Toasted bamboo smells great! That's not something I expected. I don't know if it's the resin or the wood or whatever, but when heated, it has this rich, savory aroma that reminds me of hot dogs and baseball in the late spring. How weirdly specific is that? I like it very much. Alas, the same can't be said of the dry bamboo culms--those just smell like charred grass. Not terribly appealing.

The end result is a rich, glossy pole that can be cut to suit for a wide array of projects and/or decorative uses. Some of which I will share in the not-too-distant-future.

And once those green culms are successfully heat treated, they still need to dry. They need to be stored out of the sun, away from moisture so they'll cure and ensure long-term durability. Bamboo poles 8'-9' long aren't terribly easy to store out of the way, so I went up. I used a few pieces of PVC pipe and fittings hung from the garage ceiling with rope to form a kind of rack, and piled the bamboo there. Voila! Instant bamboo drying space, up and out of the way until such a point in time where I need it.

Here's one more thing about flame-treating bamboo: I find it relaxing. That's not something I would've expected. It's slow going, and not terribly productive work. I've burned myself a couple of times. Normally I set the bamboo on saw horses and work on them that way, but when the saw horses are otherwise occupied (as they are now) I'll either use a chair or just hold them by hand. Either way, I've found that I can just zone out when I'm going this, let the higher functions of my brain go into standby mode and let inertia take over. It's almost a meditative state, which is, again, not something I'd have expected. With the stress of Hurricane Harvey and some other life challenges coming my way of late, I've been in need of such an escape. Fortunately, I've had a stack of bamboo waiting for just such an occasion.

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