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
Chicken Ranch Central

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
Chicken Ranch Central

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
Chicken Ranch Central

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 Realtor.com 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
Chicken Ranch Central

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.

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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.

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