Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Young MC's only hit from the 80s, "Bust a Move," is certainly catchy and infectious. And the video is amusingly charming in its own 80s way. But you know what I always remember about this song? That maniac bass player with the stuffed animal pants. That's just magnificently weird, and I've never gotten that image out of my head.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Pink Floyd.

Now Playing: Dave Davies Unfinished Business
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Well, it's no "Wish You Were Here." It's not even "Learning to Fly." Polly Samson is never going to be mistaken for Roger Waters. But "Louder Than Words is the last new Pink Floyd song we're ever likely to get (not counting a handful of early unreleased recordings, including pre- and post-Barrett material), so that's worth celebrating. The album, The Endless River, is apparently not too much like the long-rumored The Big Spliff, even though it repurposes some of that material--notably Rick Wright's keyboard tracks. There are sections that don't quite hold together, and "Talkin' Hawkin'" amounts to table scraps from "What Do You Want From Me." But the album is enjoyable overall, with echoes (see what I did there?) of Dark Side of the Moon, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and Wish You Were Here. It's not a masterpiece, but it's no Final Cut, either. And despite its shortcomings, "Louder Than Words" has its moments--not to mention a video filmed at the Aral Sea. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Jacksons.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Animals
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Monday, November 10, 2014

That was the move that was

This past weekend, we moved. And moved. And moved some more. I know because today I am sleep-deprived and very, very achy. I broke my kneecap in a car wreck 30 years ago, and halfway through Friday it started to swell on me and spasm in protest against all the work I was making it do. It's probably been close to 20 years since it acted up thusly. My hands ache. My fingers are swollen and sincerely do not want to bend. I'm certain I became dehydrated several times over the course of the weekend, and ended up taking multiple showers each day because I reeked that badly.

Still, the move is completed. Mostly. This is something that, at times, I doubted would ever happen. Back in July when we first decided we desperately needed a new residence, we pretty much expected the process to take a year or more. When we rented a storage garage to being packing things away, we purposely left out all of our Christmas decorations, because we expected to live in our old house through the New Year at least. But then our house sold that quickly when we put it on the market in September (shocking everyone) that we were suddenly faced with the prospect of being homeless and having to find a short-term rental. At which point the ordeal that was 3148 Oak Hollow in New Braunfels inflicted itself upon us. As I've said elsewhere, this was the first property I saw online at the beginning of summer that convinced me a move to something nicer and more suitable for our family (ie more distant neighbors and more land) was within our means. That the Oak Hollow house was still available, with its 3.5 acres of land, when we were ready to buy seemed a sign from above. Myself, The Wife and kids fell in love with its potential. But then the realtor started jerking us around and once that was settled and we were under contract... well, the disastrous inspection report resulted in us getting out of the contract very quickly. That was rough. Very, very rough. The Wife likened it to a painful breakup, and I have to agree. We went through a period of mourning, even a brief bargaining session with ourselves where we asked "What would it take to make it liveable, and viable for our budget?" But it was not to be. We had to put it behind us.

Fortunately, we had one heck of a rebound waiting for us. While negotiating for the Oak Hollow house, we looked at another on the market nearby. It was gorgeous. It had lots of space, a pool, solar panels, a 5-car garage (which could be converted into a nice studio for Lisa On Location Photography... in truth, it was more swank than normally befits the Blaschke family. And it had flaws--a homeowner's association, which we'd wanted to avoid, and only one acre of land as opposed to the 3-plus we wanted. It was also out of our price range. Not a lot, but enough to tell the kids not to get attached to it. So when the Oak Hollow deal officially died, following a whirlwind viewing of countless houses in our price range that didn't offer much more than the home we'd already sold, in desperation we made an offer on the rebound house, now dubbed Plan B. It was a big offer for us, but less than the sellers were asking. They countered. We countered that. They countered again and we accepted--even throwing in a 5-day pre-lease prior to closing, because we really didn't want to be homeless.

From Thursday afternoon on through Sunday we moved. It was brutal. Saturday was hot. Piano, refrigerator, washer, dryer, beds, dressers... if it hadn't been for my brother and sister-in-law driving up to help with a huge trailer in tow, we'd never have made it. Even last night The Wife and I were at work, me collecting the beagles, fish (30-gallon aquariums are heavy even when empty), pet chicken and on suspicious outside cat, while she went over the house one more time making sure all the cleaning had been completed properly and not undone by someone's muddy boots tracking through the house (someone, namely being me).

Today I went back to the old house during my lunch break to drop off the final key, so that the new owners (a young couple married barely a year) could get in a little big ahead of time. I dropped off a map/key of all the fruit trees/plants I've been growing in the yard, with harvest/care instructions so they won't think all the pears bad (pears don't ripen properly on the tree--if they drop, they're already overripe and gross). The Wife had left a scrap book on the kitchen counter for them, a photo essay of the old house's first 10 years with all our family's milestones chronicled, with a lot of blank pages for the new couple to add their story to the book. To be honest, it choked me up. Hell, I'm choking up now just thinking about it. A tremendous amount of our lives were spent in that house. We made it ours. The new house, as nice as it is, still isn't ours, so to speak. We've moved in, but haven't put our mark on it. We missed the old house in Temple when we moved, but never like this. I hope the new owners love it as much as we did, because leaving the key and locking that door for the final time was far, far more difficult than I ever imagined.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads
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Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Here's a little "Torture" to set the Halloween mood. What? You were expecting "Thriller" or something? Too obvious. Now, I'm the first to admit that this single off the Jacksons' reunion album was underwhelming, especially in the very long shadow cast by Thriller's parade of chart-topping hits. But you know what? This video is so nuts that the music is irrelevant. It makes no sense in the way Captain Eo makes no sense, but this one has dancing skeletons and spider-people, but near as I can tell, no Michael. So, yeah. Happy Halloween!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lindsay Stirling.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd The Journey Suite
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Night Videos

This video of "Roundtable Rival" is gloriously gonzo. Crazy old west steampunk, outrageous dance moves and production values that are amazing in this era where YouTube is the only real outlet. Very impressive. And Lindsey Stirling is fantastic. I mean, she's an excellent musician, clearly. But to play the fiddle and bust those dance moves? Nobody else can do that. She has a magnificent sense of showmanship.

Beyond the video, the music is quite catchy, too. Frankly, I'm astonished at her popularity. Not because she doesn't deserve it, but because this type of neo-Celtic sound has been around for a long time but never broken out beyond a niche audience. Her style reminds me of some Cape Breton-style fiddlers, and her sound reminds me of Leahy, but nothing I've read about her online indicates any kind of Celtic/folk influence on her. Which I find hard to believe, given how her music dovetails so neatly with that genre. Perhaps she'll serve as a gateway drug to these other sounds?

Oh, and that Kodak Ektar lens? Not period.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Kasey Lansdale.

Now Playing: Various artists Celtic Moods
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Monday, October 20, 2014

The story so far

Today, The Wife and I signed away our home. We've lived here 11 years, and closing the sale was bitter sweet for us. Our real estate agent was actually concerned we'd back out. But we'd made a commitment to the young, newlywed couple who are giddy and eager to settle into their first home together, and it would be cruel to renege on the agreement. So, we are no longer homeowners. We have a three-week lease-back, and after that, we're homeless.

Yeah. That's proven to be an "interesting times" situation.

We had settled on a house, 3148 Oak Hollow Drive, New Braunfels, Texas, to be specific. You can Google it if you want. On the surface, it had everything we wanted--almost 3,000 square feet of living space in a house with some quirky charms. There was a detached three-car garage with a garage apartment that could be converted into a spectacular photo studio for Lisa On Location Photography with minimal effort. It was quiet and rural, with plenty of space (and woods!) between us and potential neighbors. Oh, and did I mention it came with more than three-and-a-half acres? It was just about as perfect as we could ask for.

Except... it was a forecosure. It'd sat vacant for more than two years, and was owned by Fannie Mae, which had a reputation of being difficult to work with. The house and apartment needed work. Siding and soffits and such had suffered damage over the years of vacancy. An above-ground pool had devolved into so much scrap metal. It looked like it needed work, but we could make it our own. So we began negotiations. And negotiated, and negotiated. Fannie Mae and their representing agent, ***** ******* of ******** ******, were indifferent at best, slow to respond to our offers and insulting in their counter-offers. Very inflexible. Most of the time it seemed like they didn't care if the house sold or not, which you have to wonder about, since it was a foreclosure taking up red ink on their books. After nearly a month of back-and-forth, we reached an agreement and got the property under contract. Then we had our home inspector take a look (they were selling it "as-is" with no disclosure) and that's when everything took a turn for the worse. Raccoons had invaded the attic, destroying all the HVAC duct work, ripping out a tremendous amount of insulation and leaving feces and fleas everywhere. Our inspector was repulsed by the mess and so concerned about hanta virus he insisted with both wash down with massive mounts of sanitizer. Squirrels and rats and found their way inside as well. All the wiring in the house turned out to be a do-it-yourself kind of job, violating pretty much every building code known to man. The foundations were solid--very solid, in fact--but laid in such a way to almost guarantee water would seep into the house. And yes, we found copious evidence of water damage. The water well wasn't functioning properly and... well, I'll be here all night if I try to write it all out. I'll save us all the trouble and just let you read the actual 3148 Oak Hollow Inspection Report

Suffice to say, the house was unliveable. Our lender wouldn't finance unless the most egregious of the hazards were addressed by the seller, so we wrote up the list and submitted it. Seeing as how our option period expired that Saturday, and Fannie Mae is closed over the weekend, we were eager to have some sort of closure so we wouldn't risk losing our earnest money. So when our rep contacted the listing agent that Friday, she was rewarded for her hard work on our behalf with an ass-chewing. The listing agent was quite rude, and concluded the sad affair by saying, "I don't have time for this." She's a realtor. That's her job. She doesn't have time to do her job? So we rescinded our offer. By that time we had little faith they'd be responsive to the problems with the house anyway, so we thought it best to cut our losses and preserve our earnest money.

The downside is, of course, we have no home awaiting us in three weeks. We do have a Plan B, but that's a story for another time. Fingers crossed.

Now Playing: The Kinks Give The People What They Want
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Babylon 5: The War Prayer

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Old friends and relatives dominate this episode, "The War Prayer." Delenn is meeting with an old friend, Shaal Mayan, a famed Minbari poet on her way to Earth for a major artistic tour/performance. She is to give a poetry recital on Babylon 5 later, before she departs for Earth. A Centauri ship arrives with detainees--young-adult Centauri lovers, Kiron and Aria, who are fleeing arranged marriages. They demand to see their cousin, Ambassador (!) Vir Cotto. Finally, Malcolm Biggs, Commander Susan Ivanova's old lover, whom she broke up with years before in order to accept a career-advancing post far away from him, choosing duty over romance.

After Mayan leaves Delenn's quarters, she's attacked by the Home Guard--xenophobic humans (think futuristic KKK)--beaten and branded on the forehead. This sets the station into an uproar, with the alien ambassadors outraged. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of suspects, as hatred of the alien races is high amongst the lower-rung humans aboard station, and some of the more powerfully-influential as well. As for the Centauri lovers, it turns out that Vir exaggerated his position just a little bit. Londo is unsympathetic to their pleas, arguing that love is overrated and that he despises all three of his wives, whom he calls "Pestilence, Disease and Famine." Marriages are for political and financial gain, nothing more. Vir grows a little bit of a backbone and argues with Londo, but to no avail. Londo is to weary and bitter about life to care. Kiron and Aria sneak off to the hydroponic gardens to be alone and feel sorry for themselves, and are attacked by the Home Guard. Kiron's shot with a blaster and Aria is stunned with a taser/club. Ivanova has a romantic dinner with Malcolm, who tells her he plans to set up permanent residence on the station so they can be together. Ivanova's surprised, and her stand-offish facade begins to crumble. They head back to her quarters, but before anything lustful happens, Ivanova's summoned back to duty because G'Kar has whipped the aliens up into a riot. Reviewing security video, Garibaldi finds that Malcolm had met with a prime Home Guard suspect--and recruited the suspect into the Home Guard. Ivanova is stunned. Commander Sinclair asks her to introduce him to Malcolm. Sinclair begins treating the alien ambassadors brusquely, to win over Malcolm's confidence. Sinclair rants that victory in the Earth-Minbari War tasted like ashes because the Minbari let Earth win. Malcolm is downright giddy at the prospect of reeling in Sinclair as an ally, but still wary. Sinclair and Ivanova rendezvous with Malcolm at a secret meeting, and many Home Guard appear, having been disguised by Earth Force "black light camouflage" devices. Malcolm tells Sinclair of a plot to orchestrate a mass assassination of the alien ambassadors on Babylon 5, for which they'll need Sinclair to grant them access to secure areas. As a test of Sinclair's loyalty, they bring forth a terrified alien delegate for the commander to execute. Garibaldi's security forces swoop in, and Ivanova captures Malcolm. Malcolm insults her for siding with "them," but man, Ivanova is stone cold, no regrets. She despises Malcolm something fierce at this point. As for the Centauri lovers, Kiron recovers, and Londo informs them they'll be sent back to Centauri Prime where they will enter into "fosterage" with his powerful, ancient family. Fosterage is a rare practice in modern Centauri society, but still prestigious. The fosterage will last until the lovers come of age, at which point they will be free to decide for themselves who to marry.

What Jayme Says: The main plot is no great shakes. The symbolism of racist vigilantes terrorizing those who are different from them is obvious and heavy-handed. Part of this stems from the fact the Home Guard springs forth fully-formed and active. It is too much all at once. Gradual escalation over several episodes would've served much better, but of course, Babylon 5 is still firmly in the episodic series mode right now. And I repeat myself by saying the introduction of the Home Guard will pay off more in the future, but it's the truth. The best parts of this episode are the glimpses into the alien cultures viewers are afforded. Characters as well. During their argument, Londo tells Vir, "'My shoes are too tight.' Something my father said. He was old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, 'My shoes are too tight, but it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.' I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance." This is incredibly sad and poignant, showing Londo as a thoroughly defeated person, bereft of hope. Londo, of course, is symbolic of the Centauri Republic as a whole--hopeless, in decline and hidebound by ritual and tradition. In contrast, G'Kar's brief appearance casts him as the rabble-rousing agitator, provoking conflict for conflict's sake, likewise reenforcing our perceptions of the Narn species as a whole. The other attention-grabbing moment comes when Sinclair visits the Vorlon Ambassador, Kosh, to warn him about the Home Guard attacks. Kosh is uninterested, and instead studies a screen showing scenes from Earth's pass. When Sinclair presses him, Kosh cuts him off abruptly. Afterward, Sinclair reflects back on the events of "The Gathering". Dr. Kyle and telepath Lyta Alexander--the only two humans to ever see a Vorlon outside of its encounter suit--had both been transferred off Babylon 5 shortly after that incident. But if Vorlons always wore encounter suits, then how could the Minbari assassin from that incident have applied poison directly onto Kosh's hand? Curious indeed. The bread crumbs and back story are starting to build up, but thus far for the viewer they look like so much window dressing, clever little throw-away bits with no greater long-term significance. Amazing how much you pick up on the second run-through.

Now Playing: Wynton Marsalis Live at Blues Alley
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Farscape: Rhapsody in Blue

Rhapsody in Blue
My Farscape rewatch continues with "Rhapsody in Blue," one of those punnish titles the writers were ever so fond of.

Crichton dreams himself back on Earth, at an earlier time, lounging around the bedroom with his girlfriend, Alex. After exchanging pillow talk/banter, Alex informs Crichton that yes, she has accepted the position at Stanford, which will separate her and him, effectively ending their relationship. A heartbroken Crichton reaches down and pushed an engagement ring under the bed to hide it from her. A sudden starburst jars him awake, and reaching the bridge he learns Moya's detected a pregnant leviathan's distress call. Other crew members experienced dreams reuniting them with lost spouses. Upon reaching the location, however, they find no leviathan, only a planet with a small enclave of Delvians. The leader, Tahleen, apologizes for mental deception she used to draw them to the planet, but she needs to meet with Zhaan. Wary, Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo and Zhaan descend to the planet, where they are greeted warmly. Many years before, Zhaan was an angry, violent anarchist, but used the mental disciplines she learned as a Delvian priestess to gain mastery over her impulses. Tahleen wants Zhaan to mind-meld and share this discipline with her, because this enclave of Delvians had unlocked great mental powers that are slowly driving them all insane. Without Zhaan's discipline, they are all doomed--which conveniently explains why they can't wait around and learn it themselves over a period of years/decades as Zhaan had.

Zhaan is suspicious and reluctant. She goes to Crichton for advice, and so that he truly understands what is at stake, has Tahleen project a mental image of Zhaan mind-melding (they call it "Unity" here, but who are we kidding?) with her lover, Bitaal, a high Delvian muckety-muck who participated in a coup on Delvia, ruining lives and imperiling their world. So Zhaan killed him with her mind during their unity. Cold. Crichton's not too happy, but Zhaan needed him to see what she had once been. Conflicted that Tahleen may use her powers to harm whilst also freeing Delvia, Zhaan waffles, but eventually agrees to help. Determined that the crew of Moya not interfere, Tahleen has her followers distract them with mental projections and false memories. Crichton suddenly finds himself with Alex, who was his co-pilot on the Farscape project. D'Argo chases after Peacekeepers who appear to have his son, Jothee. Rygel shrinks to a very tiny size. Aeryn's pulse rifle falls apart and she cannot reconstruct it. Tahleen and Zhaan complete unity, and while Tahleen is clearly stronger, the madness has also taken root in Zhaan. Tahleen is not satisfied, though, as she still doesn't have all the mental power she craves. She intends to mind-meld with Zhaan again to take every last bit of mental discipline, even if it kills Zhaan. Crichton argues with Alex about helping Zhaan, and Alex plays every sort of guilt trip card available. Finally, the the Delvian reveals herself and admits Alex was a construct, and says Crichton's devotion to Zhaan convinced her Tahleen's path is wrong. Crichton finds Zhaan, who is halfway into the deep end, and mind-melds with her to save her. Zhaan, obsessing over the darkness within, sees herself as Crichton sees her: Noble, gentle, caring, wise. This gives her anchor and she regains control. Tahleen attempts to destroy Crichton's mind, but Zhaan blocks her--the unity worked both ways, and Zhaan picked up some of Tahleen's mental abilities, rising to a 10th-level Pa'u in the process. They then return to Moya, but Zhaan leaves the vestments of a Pa'u behind, as she deems herself no longer worthy.

Commentary: This episode gives some much-welcome backstory on Delvian society, although the big reveal about the biological nature of their species still remains in the future. Curiously, some Delvians have hair. This is never explained. Considering the fact that Vinginia Hey departs the series, in part because of the need to remain bald for the role, I find this quite curious. It is obvious from the first moment Tahleen appears on the screen that this benevolent religious sect is anything but, but seeing the power-grab play out is interesting. As far as allegory goes, portraying the double-edged sword that is religion works pretty well, even if it is heavy-handed. And although Zhaan has been a Vulcan analog from Star Trek from the get-go (raging, dark emotions threaten to take control and lead to madness if discipline is not maintained, anyone?) the politics of their society along with their amplified mental abilities distinguish them and help stake out their own identity. Zhaan is progressively less of a Vulcan analog from here on out. Not anywhere close to being among my favorite episodes, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "It's like Disney on acid! Ten years of really great sex all at the same moment!"

Now Playing: Wynton Marsalis Live at Blues Alley
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Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday Night Videos

I'm not a betting man, but I'd wager this Kasey Lansdale has got a future ahead of her. She's been building her music career for a number of years now, and she's got a heck of a voice. Sure, there's a bit of Reba there, but on some songs she sounds like an improbable fusion of Patsy Cline and Janis Joplin. "Sorry Ain't Enough" isn't my favorite song of hers, but there's no arguing it doesn't show off her talent. Kasey also gets major bonus points for making a country video that doesn't utterly suck--a trend I've ranted about before. Not only does Kasey's video not suck, it's actually pretty damn good and succeeds in conveying some of her personality. Hard to believe this the same person as the teen who took it as a personal affront when she lost a Miss Aggiecon contest to a reptile many moons ago...

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Huey Lewis and the News.

Now Playing: The Go-Gos Return to the Valley of the Go-Gos
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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In which house-hunting takes a turn for the suck

We've identified a house we want to buy. We've actually had our eye on it for quite some time. In fact, back in June, when I first kinda semi-seriously flirted with the idea of selling our current home and moving, I searched some real estate sites just to see what kind of properties were available and whether or not a move would even be worth it. This house was the very first one I looked at, and convinced me we could make a move work.

So with our house under contract, our lender pre-approved us for a certain maximum price level we could offer on any particular property. Once we close on this home's sale, said max loan increases, as we'd no longer be carrying that mortgage. So we made an offer on the Prime Target.

A little background is in order. Prime Target is a Fannie Mae-owned property. It was a foreclosure. It has been on the market for 100-plus days at this point, and undergone several price cuts in that time to bring it close to our pre-approved loan amount before closing on our sale. Our offer was on the low end--our max ceiling was still less than the current asking price. We had reason for optimism, though. We were offering about 10 percent below asking price, and we'd seen Fannie Mae homes sold for that kind of price cut when they'd been on the market as long as this one. In addition to it being on the market for a long 100-plus days, other homes in this area and price bracket were newer and swankier. This one wasn't so much a fixer-upper as a cleaner-upper. We did some digging, and discovered it'd actually been on the market, off and on, since 2008 with no takers prior to going into foreclosure. I tracked down the original owners, and they were quite forthcoming about the circumstances of the foreclosure, their plans for the home (it's completed, but a lot of finishing touches such as replacing the vinyl siding with stone and stucco weren't accomplished). They want someone to buy and live in the house and bring it back from the brink of neglect Fannie Mae has left it in. They bid us good luck in our effort to buy it. There were quite a number of cosmetic issues that detracted from it's potential value to the average buyer. For us, though, it was a blank slate upon which to put our stamp. More than 3 acres of property, no HOA and a triple garage with upstairs apartment that simply begged to be converted into a full-blown studio for Lisa On Location Photography. It was perfect for us, decidedly imperfect for anyone else.

Today Fannie Mae responded to our offer, saying they had received a competing offer and inviting us to make our "best and final" bid.

You're telling me this house has languished on the market for seven fucking years without buyer interest, and the very week we make an offer somebody else does as well? Really? Really? Coincidence much? My gut tells me this is total and complete bullshit, a fake auction conjured by Fannie Mae to squeeze a few more pennies out of us. A little internet research turns up any number of people who've experienced the exact same thing as us. There's no way to prove the competing bid exists. There's no way to prove it doesn't. And there is no way for us to up our bid--at least not until Oct. 20, when we close on the sale of our current home (at which point this "best and final" auction will be ancient history).

At this point, there's nothing for it. There are three outcomes, all beyond our power to affect: 1) out current "best and final" wins the day and we get the house straight up, 2) we lose the house and someone else goes "neener neener" at us, or 3) all "bids" are rejected and the house stays on the market, or gets de-listed for a couple of weeks only to reappear at a later date. Regardless of how this shakes out, we'll be fine... given enough time. But again, I dread the prospects of having to go the short-term rental route as we hunt for a replacement that ticks as many boxes as Prime Target does.

Losing out on Prime Target is one thing, but the overwhelming feeling of being scammed is tough to stomach, regardless of the outcome.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Permanent Vacation
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Monday, September 29, 2014

Under contract

Have I mentioned how much I hate moving? Because I do. I hate everything about it, from the selling of the house to the buying of the new house to the actual packing and hauling and storing and trying to make vastly differing closing dates work so that we don't find ourselves homeless for a spell. It's actually every bit as bad as I remember from last time--which was 11 years ago. Nothing is different, other than the fact that this move is, believe it or not, by choice.

The Wife and I are fully committed to living out the remainder of our lives in whichever house we end up with, just so we never have to move again. Oh, yeah--we don't have a destination yet. Joy.

Yesterday marked the end of our prospective buyers' option period. Which means they're locked in to buy, and we're locked in to sell. The closing date's roughly three weeks out, but could possibly be moved up if their financing falls into place. Which is fine by us. After that point, we have a three-week lease-back, and then vacate. Won't that be fun? The buyers are a young couple, married a little over a year, practically kids. They don't really know what they're doing, but that's fine, because neither did we when we bought our first house. They're getting a great deal, though. They should be happy with their new home.

But back to that option period, and the source of my current headaches. Their building inspector turned up some issues they wanted us to address. No surprise, that's what building inspectors do. But the guy was a jerk, and shut off the power to the house even though he knew The Wife was working on a wedding on her computer at the time. Fried the entire batch of photos she had open in Lightroom, and made the computer very glitchy for about a week, until she emptied the entire cache to wipe the slate clean. And he departed leaving lights on, the AC set to sub-zero conditions and faucets trickling water--pretty much completely disrespecting us and our home. But one of the big demands they had from him was to install peak vents along our roof. A somewhat condescending explanation accompanied, which just about set us off. Our current vents weren't good enough for them? What they were demanding was no small task, and no small expense. Especially after we'd gotten a brand-new, Energy Star roof installed just a year earlier. We were this close to firing off a blistering counter-offer when I got a little twitchy feeling. The inspector's report hadn't said "install more vents," it said "install vents." Suspicious, but not really believing it possible, I pulled the ladder upstairs to take a look inside the attic and visually inspect our extant vents. That photo up above is what I saw. The roofers had shingled over our vents! Checking our contract, there were clearly line item charges for A) removal of existing vents and B) re-installation of said vents. I don't know where to begin. Fortunately, the roofing company seemed suitably embarrassed by this mess and ought to have the situation corrected before I get home. Except now I get a concerned call from home that gives me a dread feeling that even this simple task may have been botched. *sigh*

Now Playing: Sting Mercury FallingBut that's just one thing to fix. The concrete slab outside where the central AC unit sits has subsided over the past decade, so that the unit now sits at an angle. That needs to be leveled. I'm doing this myself, and managed to raise the shebang about 4 inches yesterday. Another 4 inches should do it, and I'll tackle that this evening. Another chore is to climb a ladder and check out a couple of bare spots where wind has pulled away siding. We suspect the siding simply telescoped into adjacent panels as we've never found any loose pieces on the ground, but it's still a logistical pain to accomplish two stories up. The final item is one I can't DIY, however. Our electric meter box has somehow pulled out of the siding and whatever it was mounted to inside the wall, and is now just dangling. It looks like a simple fix--three long screws, maybe use some sort of drywall anchor to make it more stable, and you're done in 10 minutes. Except the meter box is locked, and I'm not terribly keen on working around high voltage. I called the utility company, and they refuse to help. "Call an electrician," they said. So I called an electrician, who'd be happy to help, but they need the utility company to come out and unlock the box. And thus an infinite loop is created.

All of this would be more tolerable if we simply knew where we'd be living in another month, but even that is denied to us. The house we want, that ticks pretty much every box for us, won't take contingency contracts, period. And the amount we're pre-approved for whilst owning our current house falls just short of the magic number to get it under contract. So we wait, and watch, and occasionally look at other houses in an effort to compile a viable "Plan B" list in case our hoped-for home gets bought out from under us as we wait for our current house to close.

Have I mentioned how much I hate moving? Because I do.

Now Playing: Sting Mercury Falling
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Alamo City Comicon

John Picacio at Alamo City Comic Con
So, the family and I went to Alamo City Comic Con today, in downtown San Antonio. These kinds of uber-huge commercial conventions aren't really my thing. They're big, noisy, chaotic affairs that seemingly exist only to separate attendees from their money in the most efficient manner possible. But Bug's invented a super-hero of his own, and wanted to talk with the creator of Spider-Man, otherwise known as Stan Lee, about how to develop it as a property (really, he wanted help making a movie, but he's eight, so the nuance of building a character's popularity over time is lost on him). Monkey Girl and Fairy Girl both wanted to go, and The Wife thought it'd be fun, so we did the one-day whirlwind visit.

First off, traffic was awful. Bad even for downtown San Antonio. Stuck in gridlock, I let the family out to make their way to the convention center whilst I hunted for parking. As my luck would have it, the parking garage I made for was already full, so I had to work my way to my second choice. And I would like to take this opportunity to express how much I despise drivers who think they're being clever by driving ahead one lane over, only to cut in at the last minute. And you know who I hate just as much? The assholes who think they're being nice by letting those cutters in. Hey, nice guy, why don't you wave me around so I can get ahead as well? I've only been sitting behind you for the past 45 minutes. But I eventually parked and made my way several blocks over to the convention, which gave my blood pressure time to calm down. An hour after I'd dropped them off, I met up with The Wife and Bug--the girls had already bolted on their own--and headed into the artists' alley area. I wanted to find John Picacio first off, as I had something for him--a humorous, San Antonio-themed La Loteria game put out by the San Antonio Express-News for the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists annual meeting held a couple of months back. I found him and we had a good talk, bemoaning the impersonal nature of uber-cons like this (but he did point out that Alamo City, being local, treated the smaller/local guests much better than the national conventions did), and he thought the Loteria hilarious. The man was clearly running on fumes from operating his booth four days straight, so I let him get back to interacting with attendees/potential new fans, as he can see me any time he wants.

The Wife and Bug had gone off on their own whilst I chatted with Picacio, so I went to track them down. On the way, I ran across my daughters. I suppose I should explain at this point that they both have a thing for cosplay. Monkey Girl, the elder, is working on a steampunk outfit that is a long way from completion, so she simply dressed like a teen. Fairy Girl, on the other hand, is like so many other girls in that she's obsessed with Frozen and Elsa, the Ice Queen, in particular. So she attended the convention as Elsa. And a mighty fine Elsa she made, too--dozens of little girls flocked to have their picture taken with here (a bunch of older girls, too, including one in costume as "Hipster Elsa"). Fairy Girl is not quite so outgoing as her sister, and as such, was taken aback by her sudden celebrity status. By the end of the day, though, she was a veritable Disney princess, with the pose and smile down pat. It made me happy to see so many people fawning over her, and it made her giggle.

Elsa at Alamo City Comic Con

As for the main event, Bug meeting Stan Lee, that was a non-starter from the get-go. The thing I really hate about these commercial cons is the fact that they charge extra--lots extra--for anyone to get within spitting distance of the headlining guests. Which is why, for all their missteps, I love the smaller, fan-run conventions: You can chat with the guest of honor at any random party or even go to dinner with them. They're intimate and personal. With the massive cons, the little kids who are presumably the idealistic, future audience of the form, they're simply shut out by all the collectors and whatnot out to make a killing on Ebay. It's depressing, really. I wonder if folks like Lee even know there are alternative ways to do things? So, we told Bug well ahead of time he wouldn't be meeting Stan Lee. He kind of understood it, but his experience is with smaller conventions, so he kept looking around in the dealers' room/artists' alley area, expecting to catch a glimpse. How many eight-year-olds still get excited about the prospect of meeting Stan Lee in this day and age? But all was not lost. Bug's absolute favorite super-hero is Batman, okay? So guess who had a four-table spread set up? Neal Adams! I had no idea he'd be there. I mean, my obsession with Green Arrow is pretty well documented, and Adams is a big, big, big reason for that. I explained to Bug who Adams was, and he happily picked out a dramatic Batman-by-Adams print for me to buy for him. I didn't go total fanboy--Bug was the reason I was at the con in the first place--so in addition to Bug's print, I got myself a Green Arrow print for myself (to match the Grell on my wall), and went to have them autographed by the man himself. I have to say, Adams was great. Bug, chattering all day about his super-hero, was suddenly tongue-tied. Adams engaged him in small talk and tried to coax him out of his shell. When Bug finally articulated that he had a super-hero and wanted to know how to get it published, Adams told him first he had to write out the story, then draw the story, and then have Daddy pay the printer to get it printed in book form. When I suggested maybe we could do it as a web comic, Adams shut that down, saying no, Daddy had to pay to have it published. I'm not convinced those are the answers Bug wanted, but at the end of the day he came away happy he got to talk with a man who drew Batman for many years and gave him his undivided attention for five minutes. And Bug didn't mention Stan Lee again.

Bug and Neal Adams at Alamo City Comic Con

Now Playing: Billie Holiday Her Finest Studio Recordings
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Here's Huey Lewis and the News with "Heart and Soul," one of their hits off the album Sports. Interesting thing about this song, a band I really liked back in the day, Exile, recorded it several years before Huey Lewis did (and also several years before Exile shifted to country). It was very much not a hit for Exile. If you've ever wondered how important production, arrangement and instrumentation is to the success of any particular song, this is exhibit A.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Sheena Easton.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kontroversy
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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Texas Mead Fest 2014

Last Saturday, after completing my Chicken Ranch presentation to the Red Hat ladies, I went by the 3rd Annual Texas Mead Fest, held at Rohan Meadery just outside La Grange. The Wife and I went two years ago, when it was also held at Rohan Meadery, and had a great time. Last year it was in our back yard, at Texas Mead Works in Seguin, but we missed it because of a wedding.

I was flying solo this time, so it wasn't nearly so much fun. But I wanted to go since I'd entered two bottles of my homebrew mead in their mazer competition, and wanted to see what my scores were. My plum melomel had some issues--an unpleasant nose for one--and I knew it wouldn't do great, but my vanilla ice wine tea metheglin was very good and I really wanted to see what the judges thought. So to bide my time until they announced the contest results, I did tastings. And I've gotta say, there were some mighty impressive meads to be had here (a few less-than-stellar ones as well, but luckily I only sampled two that were disappointing). First up was Rhapsody (below), a semi-sweet blackberry melomel from Meridian Hive Meadery out of Austin. I've never heard of them before, but they had interesting meads listed on their blackboard. I had to give them a try. The mead had a nice reddish color and had a nice, fruity bounce in the mouth, like a good sangria, only lighter. Honey notes were subdued, and with an alcohol content of just 6.7 percent, it would appeal to anyone from the 80s who went nuts for wine coolers. And I don't mean that as an insult. This is a nice, easily drinkable mead that's perfect for a hot summer day when a higher alcohol content is a liability.


Next up was a bochet, or "burnt mead" from Enchanted Manor Winery, the folks who supply the official Texas Renaissance Festival mead. I confess I've had this before, and knew what to expect. Bochet is made by cooking the honey until it turns almost black--it's reduced and carmelized--and the result is a sweet, robust body with a creamy mouthfeel and rich, complex flavor. I've toyed with the idea of attempting one on my own, but fear of botching things has made me reluctant to take the plunge. Maybe this winter I'll work up the nerve...


After the semi-sweet blackberry and bochet, I wanted something drier, so I returned to Meridian Hive to try their dry black button sage metheglin. This was a mead that really stood out. I could tell its well-balanced quality. There were notes of honey and sage, yes, but also butterscotch (non-sweet, which took me a while to identify) and a very distinct undertone of liquorice. I despise liquorice, so obviously I did not like this mead. Be that as it may, I could still appreciate its well-constructed nature. People who like absinthe will find this a likeable, low-key alternative. After that, I tried Meridian Hive's oaked tupelo honey (below), a 7 percent semi-sweet traditional mead, mainly because I've never had tupelo honey before, let alone a mead made from it. It was very pale and crystal clear in the glass, almost straw-colored. And it was easily the lightest, most delicate mead I've ever tasted. It reminded me of a good pinot grigio, it had that quality to it, and was just barely sweet. It was crisp and bright, and it impressed me a good deal. I was disappointed The Wife wasn't with me, because this was a mead she would love.

oaked tupelo

About this time they announced the homebrew competition winners. The contest has become a lot more formalized since that first one two years ago, with entries being due weeks before the festival and all sorts of beer/wine/mead judging regulations. In 2012 you just showed up with a bottle and gave it to them. This way is better, for no other reason than the fact we didn't have to wait around forever as the overwhelmed judging staff worked its way through hundreds of bottles. Cutting to the chase, I didn't win. I didn't place. My plum melomel was hurt badly by the off scent it gives off ("vegetable" was the official description on the score sheet) and its acid was too high, but despite that it finished higher than my prickly pear and fig melomels I entered before. My vanilla ice wine tea metheglin, though, that's what I was eager to see. And even though it didn't place, it scored 38 out of 50 possible points, by far the best showing I've ever had. The judge wrote "A nice, very drinkable mead. It looks like you achieved what you were after." Yay! My initial impression is vindicated. The only downside is that I made this as a one-gallon test batch, and it's almost all gone. I will tweak the recipe and try to improve (more tannin and a touch more acid) once this infernal move is completed. But still, I'm very happy with this result.

After that, I had one ticket left, so I threw caution to the wind and tried Meridian Hive's raspberry chipotle mead. I've made jalapeno mead before, and know how difficult it is to get the right balance of sweet and heat in this type of mead. And raspberries can either be sublime or awful--there seems to be no middle ground in drinks. So even though I love raspberries and chipotle, I was wary. But holy moly, this stuff was fantastic! Easily my favorite mead of the day. The raspberry gave it an up-front fruity profile, but it didn't scream "RASPBERRY!" It was more subdued, less sharp, more like dewberries maybe. I found that very interesting. Even more interesting was the smoky chipotle heat--more heat than I was expecting with chipotle, but a restrained, disciplined heat. It reminded me for all the world of the pleasant burn you feel in the throat when drinking a good brandy. Folks, I savored this mead. I would've taken home several bottles, were it not for the fact that this was an experimental batch and they didn't have it in bottles--only growlers that cost $45 a pop. I couldn't swing that. But seriously, I hope they put this into production. It's that great.

raspberry chipotle

So yeah, if you get the chance, check out the Texas Mead Fest. Or check out Dancing Bee (our favorite from 2012), Griffin Meadery, Darcy's Vineyard or Thorin's Viking Mead (actually, Thorin was a no-show as far as I can tell, but we'll give 'em some love anyway). Mead is fun. It's historical. It has all the diversity of wine, if not moreso, and I suspect meaderies are becoming the new boutique hobby that wineries were a decade ago. And I can't say I can complain.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Get a Grip
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chicken Ranch: Of Sheriff Flournoy and Scarlett Hens

Sheriff J.T. Jim Flournoy
On this date in Chicken Ranch history, 1902 to be exact, J.T. "Big Jim" Flournoy, the larger-than-life Fayette County sheriff in the center of the epic Chicken Ranch dust-up of legend, was born. Happy birthday to Big Jim, who passed away in 1982. As the saying goes, they don't make 'em like him anymore.

Marking Sheriff Jim's birthday isn't the only Chicken Ranch news of late--no, sadly I don't have a publishing deal yet. Rather, I've developed something of a speaking career as the go-to authority on the infamous brothel. Those of you keeping score at home may remember I gave presentations ("lectures" seems too pretentious a word, doesn't it?) at the Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus, the San Antonio Writers Guild and the Fayette Public Library in La Grange. I've honed my presentation to the point where it's pretty doggone tight. Through trial and error, I've gotten a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't, and the audience responds.

So Saturday, Sept. 20, I was the guest speaker for the Queen's Confab of Texas (QCT) #16, sponsored by the La Grange Scarlett Hens chapter of the Red Hat Society. Yeah, that Red Hat Society. And I have to say I couldn't have asked for a better audience! Take a look at this crew and try telling me we didn't have a blast:

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch lecture, Scarlett Hens chapter, Red Hat Society, La Grange, TX, Sept. 20, 2014

They soaked up my tour of the ruins, asking plenty of questions, and found the history of all Chicken Ranch fakes for sale interesting. But Miss Edna's story held them in thrall. What she accomplished with her life, the obstacles and setbacks she overcame, really hit home for these ladies. More than one commented that "she was a real person" as opposed to the over-the-top Dolly Parton caricature from the movie. That Miss Edna had the same hopes and dreams as a child that any of them may have had, and lived out the final decades of her life in quiet anonymity humanized her for them. One piped up from the back that she'd rather see a movie version of Miss Edna's life than watch The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas again. Many of them came up to me afterward and thanked me for the presentation, telling me how interesting and meaningful it was. And they bought copies of Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch. Lots and lots of copies, so that I need to reorder. For a writer, this is always a good thing. It's nice to know when I've put together a book people want!

And I really need to get those Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch copies ordered ASAP--Oct. 9 I'm heading back to La Grange for a meeting of the Episcopal Church Women for St. James Episcopal Church. The Red Hens set the bar pretty high, but I have confidence the Episcopal women will have a good accounting of themselves.

Now Playing: Jewel 0304
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Night Videos

In honor of Scotland's almost-independence, I'm featuring today my favorite almost-Scottish singer, Sheena Easton. I say "almost-Scottish" because although she grew up outside of Glasgow, she's earned some notoriety over the past decade or so for her conspicuous suppression of her native accent. Since I've featured her here multiple times, finding something new of hers to feature was a challenge, but I've struck paydirt with her rendition of "He's a Rebel," an obscure cover by her from her 1983 NBC special, Act One. It was as gloriously cheesy as you'd expect an early-80s variety show to be, and this video bears it out. Pay special attention to her backup singers. So, what does this have to do with Scottish almost-independence? Nothing, really, except I like to think she's dedicating the song to William Wallace.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Genesis.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Relics
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

House for sale. Comes book-ready

We've finally bitten the bullet and placed our house on the market for some lucky family to buy. The complete listing can be found here. And here's the listing: Click here.

We've lived here 11 years, which is the longest Lisa and I have lived any place that wasn't our hometown. The kids barely remember living in Temple. Bug has never lived anywhere else. We really like this house, and have put a lot of effort into making it our own over the years. Here's my office, below. One of the first things I did when we moved in was close it in and install floor-to-ceiling book shelves. I really, really wanted to include a ladder on rails, but I just couldn't justify it in the limited space.

Astute readers may notice there aren't actually that many books on my library's shelves. That's because probably 90 percent of my collection is boxed up in storage. That was a lot of boxes. Double-stacked, and horizontally stacked on top, those shelves held a great number of books. I'm damn proud of those shelves--especially since my father couldn't understand why I just didn't get some cinder blocks and plywood and save all that effort. Our new house will have a new office, and I'll build a new set of book shelves, bigger and better, but I'm not looking forward to the considerable effort involved, and I'm not going to miss these any less. Heck, I miss my office already. I wrote "Prince Koindrindra Escapes" in here. "The Whale Below." "Being an Account of the Final Voyage of La Riaza: A Circumstance in Eight Parts." I edited fiction for RevolutionSF in here. I put together Voices of Vision. Heck, the massive undertaking that is my Chicken Ranch history book was conceived and executed entirely in here. I did a tremendous amount of writing in this room, even if my publication history doesn't reflect it. This office is going to be hard to replace.

We never expected to stay here forever. We always planned on moving to a more rural area with acreage we could develop (and the girls have been begging for horses for a decade now). Lisa on Location is going great guns, so much so that Lisa's already outgrown her studio in the Landmark. We need more space, and need a much larger studio space in particular so her business may continue to grow. We've already scouted several potential houses in our price range, and several are promising... if we're able to sell before someone else buys them out from under us.

The house has been on the market five days, and already we've had four showings, with another scheduled for tomorrow. When we were trying to sell the Temple house--which we loved, even though it was old and drafty--we would sometimes go an entire month without a single showing. So the initial interest is encouraging. Moving is entirely dependent on a sale, as our down payment is tied up in our home equity. This raises the interesting prospect of having to move out before we've closed on a new home. That's a scary thought. But as I say, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it. If you know anyone in need of a New Braunfels home in easy commuting distance to San Antonio, San Marcos or even Austin, point them our direction.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd A Saucerful of Secrets
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Babylon 5: Mind War

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Talia Winters' telepath mentor, Jason Ironheart, shows up on Babylon 5, running from the Psi Corps. He had volunteered for Psi Corps research into creating stronger telepaths. It turned out that the experimental treatment was intended to create stable telekinetics, and succeeded in spectacular fashion. Not only could Ironheart manipulate matter and energy with his mind, he could see into the mind of any telepath, no matter how powerful. That's when he discovered his telekinesis was intended to be weaponized, used for covert assassinations and the like, so he killed the program head and fled. Hot on his heels is Alfred Bester, a tough, ruthless Psi Cop intent on taking him down. As Bester rampages through the station (relatively speaking) breaking telepath rules right and left, Talia brings Ironheart to Sinclair. Ironheart explains his discoveries to Sinclair and warns that the Psi Corps is growing too powerful to trust. Ironheart himself is growing more and more powerful, losing control of his abilities as they outstrip his mastery of them. He is becoming a danger to the station. Bester and his team catch up with Ironheart, there's a fight (Bester loses) and Ironheart transforms into a being of pure consciousness or somesuch, infinitely more powerful than before. Then he waves "Bye" and goes off to wherever supremely powerful entities go. Bester intends to bring Sinclair up on charges for harboring a fugitive, but Sinclair threatens to do the same with Bester for all the Psi Corps and telepath laws he violated, so their pissing match ends in a draw.

Meanwhile, Sinclair's lady friend Catherine is about to launch a lucrative scouting mission to the abandoned world of Sigma 957 to search for Quantium 40 deposits, a very valuable material used in the manufacture of jump gates. G'Kar warns her not to go, indicating strange things happen around that system. Catherine ignores him, and once there encounters a massive, mysterious ship that vanishes leaving her without power in a decaying orbit. This is the first appearance of one of the elder races of the B5 universe, outside of the Vorlons, of course. At the last moment, Narn fighters sent by G'Kar arrive and rescue Catherine. It's one of the first time G'Kar is shown making a gesture that isn't wholly self-centered.

What Jayme Says: I remember first seeing this episode, and being surprised to see Walter Koening guest-starring. I also geeked a little when they revealed his name as "Bester," which of course is a reference to Alfred Bester, author of The Demolished Man which has some influence on this episode. I was a little disappointed when they revealed the character's full name as "Alfred Bester," which pushed the homage into elbow-in-the-ribs territory. This episode is our first real introduction to the active menace of the Psi Corps, Ivanova's hatred of them because of her mother being a bit too removed to drive the point home that the Corps is a menace to everyone, not just unwilling telepaths. Bester is bad news, all the way down to his black, fascist uniform. That said, the teeth are pulled from this episode pretty quickly. Despite warnings of dire consequences to come if she helps Ironheart, Talia helps him repeatedly with no real consequences. Yes, she's mind probed, a painful process clearly analogous to rape, but that comes early in the episode to show how ruthless Bester is, and Talia passes anyway. There are no consequences for Sinclair, who openly defied and obstructed Psi Corps business, and there are no consequences for Bester, who disregarded and broke countless regulations and laws in his pursuit of Ironheart. Realistically speaking, this sorry incident should've ruined all three parties rather than preserve the status quo because of the blackmail fodder each party has on the other. It also has one of the most Star Trek endings in all of Babylon 5, in which a character inflicted with god-like powers evolves into a higher form of being and is never seen again, thus resolving the moral choice the regular characters would otherwise have to make. And while I like Andrea Thompson/Talia far more than Lyta Alexander/Patricia Tallman, her acting is undeniably stiff and stilted here. False notes like this, coupled with the abysmal performances in "The Gathering, gave rise to that long-running and (in my opinion) misguided claim that Babylon 5 is rife with bad acting.

Ultimately, "Mind War" isn't among the series' best episodes, but is notable for what it sets up for the future.

Now Playing: The Kinks BBC Sessions: 1964-1977
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Genesis hasn't always had the best videos to go with their singles, but that changed with "Land of Confusion." Talk about bizarre. Those puppets are freaky beyond reason. And the mild satire here give the impression of being edgy, but is ultimately pretty inoffensive. I saw Genesis in concert a few years later, on their "We Can't Dance" tour. Of all the concerts I've seen, that was one of the more disappointing ones. They did a few token Peter Gabriel tunes, and the rest of the show was almost entirely from the Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance albums. No "Follow You, Follow Me," no "That's All," nothing from Duke at all that I can remember. The whole thing felt overly packaged and polished, with even the "spontaneous" moments feeling like they were scripted. To make matters worse, there was a trio of drunks behind us who managed to spill their beer all over us and kept yelling at the top of their lungs, "PLAY THE OLD STUFF! WE WANT INVISIBLE TOUCH!" over and over. I still like Genesis, but in the unlikely event Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford ever convince Phil Collins to do a reunion tour, I'll pass.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Get a Grip
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Friday, September 05, 2014

Chicken Ranch passing

Niki Zindler Niki Devine
The Las Vegas Sun is reporting that Niki Devine has died. "Who is that?" you may well ask, "and what does she have to do with the Chicken Ranch?" The connection might become a little more clear with the understanding that at one time she was known as Niki Zindler.

Yes, that Zindler. As in married to. She met Marvin Zindler in Houston in 2000, they married a few years thereafter and remained together until his death from cancer in 2007. She even became part of Marvin's media circus on occasion.

Obviously, she was not married to him in 1973, when the whole Chicken Ranch episode blew up in La Grange. Consequently, she had no real involvement in that. But during my research, one of my major goals was to gain access to Marvin's papers. I vaguely recalled him donating such to a library or institute in the early 2000s, but my efforts at finding it on my own (not to mention pestering all manner of research librarians) turned up nothing. I got to the point where I now think I imagined it. But Zindler had in his possession the original copies of some documents that survive only in small fragments, files that would fill in a lot of context for my research, and maybe answer persistent questions that I currently can only speculate about. So, unable to find an archive with his papers, I decided to try the estate, and to that end I wrote to Niki Zindler at her Houston address in 2010, explaining my project and requesting her help.

Out of the blue, she telephoned me some months later from Las Vegas. She, too, was interested in Marvin's papers. She didn't have them, and didn't know where they might be, or if they even still existed. She had no access to the estate of her late husband, no communication. She didn't come out and say it, but from her tone and word choice, I got the strong impression that she and Marvin's children did not get along. She suggested I approach Marvin Zindler, Jr., as he would be most likely to know where such materials are if they still existed, but did not think he would be very cooperative (For the record, I made multiple attempts to contact Marvin Zindler, Jr., even leaving telephone messages at his Houston office. He never responded).

Before the call ended, Niki agreed that his papers should be archived where they'd be preserved and accessible. She asked me to let her know if I ever found out information about the papers, their location, who had them, etc. I promised her I would. Alas, that's one promise I've not been able to fulfill.

The article indicates she battled Alzheimer's since 2009, but she was lucid and sharp when we spoke. I never suspected. She lived a very interesting life, and as the Sun's obituary states, "She prided herself on marrying colorful men." I don't think anyone can argue with that.

Now Playing: Miles Davis Cool Jazz
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Night Videos

"Eugene" was a hit for Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band in 1981. Not a huge hit, but it charted higher than singles from Billy Squier, Blue Oyster Cult, the Kinks, Rick James, Rush, ELO... you get the idea. Not even Ace Frehley's connection to the band can explain this success. Watch this video and tell me the early 80s wasn't a messed-up time.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... San Harris.

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's Jayme drinking?

So today The Wife and drove over to Texas Mead Works in Seguin to drop off my entries for the Texas Mead Fest homebrew competition. I entered two meads--my plum melomel (which, as an aside, I have to say turned out better than my review indicated. The bottle I reviewed was not entirely full, being the last of the batch. I don't know if excess oxygen was the culprit behind the off-putting odor, but upon opening a new bottle, the bouquet was inoffensive. Yay!) and a vanilla ice wine metheglin.

Now I know what you're thinking--"Jayme, you fool! Ice wine is a specialty wine, made from frozen, late-season grapes! What you've got is a pyment, not a metheglin!" And normally, you'd be right. But I didn't use any grapes--frozen or otherwise. Follow: I started this particular mead by adding two split vanilla bean pods to the secondary fermentation. I was hoping for a mellow vanilla taste, but the mead was dry and vanilla by itself is awkward and uninspiring. Vanilla tends to enhance other flavors very well in mead, but doesn't fly solo well. I back-sweetened with additional honey, and while this improved it some, the drink as a whole was still lacking. So on a whim, I added a bag of Ice Wine Tea (black tea infused with ice wine for the curious) which we'd picked up on our vacation trip to Vancouver back in June. I steeped it in the vanilla mead for a month and hoped the flavors would play well together. They did. Ergo, this mead is a metheglin, as I added various "spices" as opposed to grapes.

How did it turn out? Fantastic! This is, without a doubt, my best mead ever. The Wife liked it, and she rarely likes my meads (with good reason--they're usually not very good!). It pours a pale, lemon-yellow. The aroma is a mix of honey and floral notes, with a slightly spicy undertone--I want to say rosemary, but that's not quite it. Mouthfeel is lightly viscous, a bit thicker than the color and scent would lead one to believe.

Taste is medium-sweet. We're not talking sack mead or port here, but more along the lines of a moscato. The tannins and acid blend I added during the fermentation process add just the right amount of counterbalance to the honey sweetness. And the honey flavor definitely comes through. Honey is the first taste that hits the tongue, followed by a tumbled rush of orange citrus, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, all held together within a floral riesling embrace. Then the honey reasserts itself, darker and more muscular than those initial honeyed flavors. This is when the alcohol makes itself known, with a distinct warming sensation in the back of the mouth and throat. I have to admit I overshot the mark on this one--I was aiming for around 11 percent alcohol, but didn't neutralized the yeast effectively when I back sweetened with more honey, and fermentation started again. I don't have an accurate measurement, but I'm guessing the final alcohol content is pretty close to 13 percent.

This is a deceptively light, easily drinkable mead that packs a stealthy punch. It is not syrupy, but definitely sweet. The spicy flavors are easy to pick out individually, but collectively they're disconcerting (in a good way). I really, really like this one, and need to work on standardizing the recipe so I can 1) replicate this beverage reliably and 2) make a larger batch next time.

Now Playing: Genesis Duke
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Sam Harris scored a minor hit in 1984 with "Sugar Don't Bite, which is probably more than it deserved, because it's not a great song. What secured its place as a footnote of 80s music, however (other than the video's unfortunate mashup of 80s fashion with 70s disco), are the striking similarities betwixt it and a certain big hit from Madonna just a few years later. Coincidence? You decide.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Stevie Wonder.

Now Playing: Ray Davies The Kinks Choral Collection
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's Jayme drinking?

Plum melomel mead honey wine home brew
Got a little something different tonight: Plum melomel. For the uninitiated, that is mead (honey wine) made with plums. I made it myself. It's been in the works for quite a long time, the initial honey fermentation starting back in November 2012, keeping the fermentation cool by sitting the carboy in a water bath filled with ice and wet towels draped over it. This had the effect of slowing fermentation to prevent the formation of yucky fusel alcohols. I added the crushed plum juice to start secondary fermentation in June 2013, and finally bottled it in April of this year. That's a long time to invest in something to drink.

I have to say, though, the aging and cool fermentation has proven worth it. The mead pours a clear, light amber in the glass. No carbonation. The mead is not terribly viscous in the glass, not clinging to the sides when I swirl it around. The bouquet... well, that leaves something to be desired. The scent of rubber, dry wood and licorice hits my nose, along with some faintly sour esters and tired honey that give a slight chemical tinge. The traditional "Listerine" profile that marks the presence of those nasty fusels flashes through my mind. After a cautious sip, those worries are dispelled. There's a bright, cheerfulness on the surface here, light cherries, apricot, raspberries and, yes, plum. There's a light, demi-sweetness at work here, not quite comparable to a white zinfandel, but close. It's not cloying. It is, in fact, almost exactly the balance I was hoping for. The mild acidity balances the light sweetness very well, and the tannins give it just the right amount of body to ensure a robust mouthfeel. There's a heavier after taste of dark cherries, stronger plum and maybe currants. There's also an earthy undertone I'm struggling to place. It's almost woody, but not oak. Finally, the alcohol is not obvious in the mouth, but once swallowed there's a definite heat in the throat. The original alcohol potential of the honey was right at 11 percent, but with the addition of the plum and a little additional honey for back sweetening (fermentation hadn't quite been knocked out at that point) I'm guessing the final alcohol content is closer to 13 percent. That's a little higher than I'd intended, but certainly within the realm of acceptability.

I have to say that while imperfect, this batch of plum melomel is among of the best I've made since I started experimenting with mead. The scent is truly unfortunate, as it is quite off-putting, but getting past that it's quite a nice drink. I've got about two cases laid up, so I'll be able to enjoy this vintage for quite some time to come.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Night Videos

I've only got a couple of things to say about Stevie Wonder's hit from 1986, "Part Time Lover." First, the video is pretty bare bones: It looks like it could've been a performance clip lifted from Soul Train. I half-expected to see Rick Dees and the Solid Gold Dancers put in an appearance. Second, this song got a lot of airplay on the radio my sophomore year in high school. I mean a lot. And every single time it came on with that opening bass line, in my mind I expected Hall and Oates to start singing "Maneater." Every. Time. And you know what? That still happens.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Paul McCartney.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas rides again!

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas returns to Broadway for a revival under the direction of Rob Ashford
Friends and neighbors, if you were broken up about missing the Theatre Under the Stars' production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas staged at Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre last month (and really, you have every right to be. I was fortunate enough to be a guest for their production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas during it's run at the Hobby Center in 2012, and it was downright fantastic!) then do I have good news for you! News broke yesterday that the Tony Award-winning musical is getting its very own Broadway revival! This marks the first time the show's been performed on Broadway since the original 1978 production enjoyed a spectacular run of 1,584 shows.

Now wait a cotton-picking minute, you're probably thinking to yourself right now. If you know your Whorehouse history (and you know you do) you're looking at your Ann-Margret soundtrack and saying, "But Jayme! What about Ann-Margret's successful run as Miss Mona circa 2001-2002? I didn't just imagine that, did I?" You, you certainly did not. You are correct the immortal Ann-Margret headlined a successful re-staging of Whorehouse, along with Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. The original play's songwriter, Carol Hall, even penned a new song, "A Friend to Me," for Ann-Margret. It was kind of a big deal. The thing is, that was a national touring show. It played pretty much everywhere except Broadway.

So what do we know about this new show? Not much, actually. It's more or less the same show Larry L. King, Peter Masterson, Carol Hall and Tommy Tune struck it two-thirds rich with (as King liked to say) back in 1978. The announced director/choreographer is Rob Ashford, a big name in Broadway circles. He's got Tony, Emmy and Olivier awards on his mantlepiece, so it's hard to argue with his credentials. He was the creative force behind “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” with Daniel Radcliffe, "Macbeth" with Kenneth Branagh, “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Rachel Weisz, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and the 81st Academy Awards. Other than that, little information has been released--no theatre, dates or actors are known.

On the bright side, there continues to be no movement on Universal's remake of the mediocre 1982 film version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. While it's hard to imagine the remake could do much worst than Burt Reynolds singing, the fact that the producers, Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, are the folks who gave us the Twilight movies. I can see it now: All the prostitutes sparkle beautifully in sunlight.

Enough of the history lesson, Jayme (you're saying to yourself right now, I'll wager). Tell us what's really important--how does this impact your book on the history of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas? In all honesty, it doesn't. At least, not directly. The history and the entertainment are two different things, and apart from broad strokes, are pretty much separate animals. Where this could help me is in raising the public awareness of the Chicken Ranch. As the Broadway production ramps up, more and more folks are going to grow curious about the real story behind the infamous brothel. If the run is successful and the revival earns some Tony Award nominations--maybe even winning a few--then that exposure is multiplied. Anyone with a comprehensive book out on the subject could stand to capitalize on the ensuing publicity quite nicely. At least, that's what I'm telling the editors currently considering my book.

Hollywood Reporter: 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' Sets Broadway Return in 2015
Variety: ‘Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ Heads Back to Broadway
Playbill: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Will Stomp Its Way Back to Broadway, Run by Rob Ashford The Chicken Ranch reopens! The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Will Return to Broadway
USA Today: Rob Ashford to helm new 'Whorehouse' on Broadway
Star Tribune: Revival of sex romp musical 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' coming to Broadway
Dan Cirucci: 'Whorehouse' On Broadway? Yes, It Opens In 2015!

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