Thursday, August 31, 2017

...and two of them are bad.

I don't post a lot of personal content on this blog. It's uncomfortable, for starters, and secondly, it's not my place to invade the privacy of the people inhabiting my day-to-day life. And some sharing can come back to bite you if you're not very careful. But sometimes, things reach critical mass and the pressure within builds to unsustainable levels. That brings us to now.

I am at a crossroads in my life. This has been building for a number of years, and I've done my damnedest to manage the situation. But, like most ugliness, it won't be appeased or reasoned with. It's affected my health--both mentally and physically. I know it's affected my family. It's impacted pretty much every aspect of my life, and even my small triumphs over the past few years have been undermined, in part, because of this. I'm perpetually looking over my shoulder, second-guessing myself, doubting my competency.

But things change. I've been backed into the proverbial corner, and from this position I can see but three outcomes, and two of them are bad. So yeah, I'm throwing up my Hail Mary (how's that for mixing football metaphors?). Taking action to defend myself sets things in motion. I may prevail, but the odds aren't exactly in my favor. Falling short means retribution will be swift and sure. But taking no action at all means retribution will only come a little more slowly, while remaining just as sure. Think of me as a modern-day Ned Stark, for all of you Game of Thrones fans out there.

Maybe if I were a gambler, I'd feel more confident. But I seem to lack the gambling gene and Las Vegas is probably my least-favorite place in the world. So instead of confident, I'm angsty and stressed. I don't believe in a God who micro-manages the universe, who directly intervenes in the personal affairs of mere humans, as that would pretty much undermine that whole free will thing. But the pattern-recognition parts of my brain have been working overtime of late, and from a writer's point of view, I've seen so much foreshadowing and the positioning of plot devices recently that I can't help but wonder, on some level, if I'm playing out a narrative someone else is writing. That's a roundabout way of saying any positive thoughts or wishes or prayers you want to send my way would be welcome. Think of them as letters to the editor. If I am indeed approaching my own, personal 1-900-Does-Robin-Live-Or-Die issue of Batman (how's that for an old-school reference?), I'd much rather have those phone lines lit up than not.

Now Playing: Gene Rains Far Away Lands
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

So, here I am, less than 24 hours away from Hurricane Harvey dumping a year's worth of rain on us, and hanging around for two or three more days like the unwelcome guest he is. The weather also seems intent on acting as a metaphor for my life right now, which, from my point of view, is pretty much a jerk move by the universe. So, as a measure of petty revenge on my part, today's featured video is the uber-cheesy, uber-80s "Rock You Like A Hurricane" by the Scorpions. I should feel guilty for this, but I'm not.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Beatles

Now Playing: Mozart The Best of Mozart
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 18, 2017

TexARTS' Best Little Whorehouse

Hey, folks! I've got a quick reminder that this Sunday, August 20, I'll be conducting a Q&A with the audience following TexARTS' 2 p.m. matinee performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The show's going on in Lakeway, which is on Lake Travis just a few miles west of Austin, so all you Central Texas folks who've only ever seen the Burt Reynolds movie version need to check this one out. I guarantee the stage play is a lot funnier with a bunch more heart than the film.

I also just received the following images (taken by Karla Ent) from the good folks over at TexARTS, which are too good not to share!

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a political satire full of flirty fun and gusto. Based on a true story, the show recounts the heyday and demise of the infamous "Chicken Ranch." The real-life story made national headlines in the 1970’s when investigative reporter Marvin Zindler started a crusade to shut the infamous house that had been in operation for more than a century. The cornball TV personality from Houston caused such a primetime ruckus that the local politicos, most of whom were regular customers, forced the Sheriff to close down the legendary institution.

The cast features Christina Stroup as Miss Mona, the classy yet brassy madam with a heart of gold. Jarret Mallon as Ed Earl, the hotheaded, celebrated cussin’ Sheriff joins her. The cast includes Joe Falocco (Melvin P. Thorpe), Roderick Sanford (Jewel), Yanis Kalnins (Governor), Zach Thompson (Senator Wingwoah), Corinna Browning (Doatsy Mae), Lauren DeFilippo (Angel) and Kristin DeGroot (Shy). The company features Emily McIntyre, Lara Wright, Lindsay Palinsky, Kaitlin Street, Thomas Griffin Williams, Nathan Daniel Ford, Michael Wheeler, J. Dylan Gibson and Ryan Alvarado.
Christina Stroup as Miss Mona

Lara Wright, Kaitlin Street, Lindsay Palinsky, Emily McIntyre, Christina Stoup (background) (Ladies of the "Chicken Ranch")

Ryan Alvarado, Thomas Griffin Williams, Nathan Daniel Ford and J. Dylan Gibson (The Texas Aggies)

The company of TexARTS' The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Joe Falocco (Melvin P. Thorpe), Yanis Klanins (Governor) and the company

The Company of TexARTS' The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Now Playing: Schubert Symphony No. 8
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Okay, I can't say as I've ever featured a Beatles video here. Nothing against the Fab Four--I know I've done McCarthy and Harrison videos on occasion. When it comes to the British Invasion, anyone who knows me knows I prefer the Kinks. Regardless, the Beatles were pretty good in their own right. I just came across this video for "Hello Goodbye" and had to share. Even if this isn't among their best songs, the video quality is pretty amazing for something this old--I suspect it wasn't copied over from someone's old Betamax tape in the basement. I'm not exactly sure what's going on here, and the go-go dancers dressed as hula girls are downright bizarre, but hey, it was the 60s. They could get away with stuff like that.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Midnight Oil

Now Playing: Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos Chant
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sailing Venus: Making up for lost time

July was a lost month. I knew it would be, with several weeks devoted to travel. For various reasons I won't bore you with, writing whilst traveling was not an option. Unfortunately, I didn't get any writing done when I wasn't traveling, either, which puts me behind the 8 ball, so to speak. As I look at my calendar, there are 77 days remaining until World Fantasy, which means I have to produce a minimum of 500 words a day to have a shot at finishing the darn thing. Trouble is, 500 words has been my average daily production, but I know with all certainty there's at least a dozen days in there that no writing will happen. So, substantially complete is a worthy goal, right?

The good news is that I've been moderately productive thus far in August. After getting only a page or two into Chapter 9 prior to the July disruption, I've completed it and am very close to finishing Chapter 10 as well. Interestingly enough, when I started 9 I was worried I wouldn't have enough story to fill the entire chapter. Well, it was more than enough, and a major sequence had to be split off for Chapter 10. And naturally enough, I worried that 10 would be unnaturally short, because I couldn't possibly have enough story to fill it. Guess what? It looks like 10 will end up almost exactly on average with the rest of the chapters. I guess my subconscious narrative construction is more reliable than my objective analysis, huh?

Tuesday I logged just a little north of 750 words, and last nigh around 500, give or take. That 500 is deceptive, though. While writing Tuesday, I had a notion to frame some actions in a certain way. Looking at the blocking of the scene within the chapter, it simply didn't make sense. It was pointless. So I didn't. I wrote it a different way and thought no more about it. But last night, I had to go back to a previous chapter to check a reference one character makes, and, lo and behold, I discover that way back in June I'd set up the scene to take place at a 45 degree angle. In light of this discovery, my initial urge to write the previous pages make complete and total sense and the way I'd actually written them, well, my descriptions and the actions of various characters were physically impossible. The literary equivalent of an Escher drawing, so to speak. So a great deal of last night was taken up with rewrites (happily, my rewrites go much more quickly than the initial writing) before progressing on to new stuff. The moral of this story? Trust my subconscious. My subconscious knows more than I do. It knows where the story's going, remembers where it's been. I could save myself a lot of grief by not over-thinking things.

Ultimately, I have to be pleased that I've returned to a consistent level of productivity, even if it's not as voluminous as I'd prefer. Here's a sample of what's happening in Erica's adventure on Venus:

Erica wrapped a hand around Wind Sprite's anchor cable and pulled herself up through the lock. She braced her feet against the angled rim of the access tunnel, one low and one high. The sailplane shifted treacherously beneath her, not quite in sync with the shudders of the ruined outpost above. Slowly Erica stood, both hands gripping the cable for stability.

"Don't look down. Don't look down," Erica muttered to herself before impulsively stealing a glance. Wind Sprite looked impossibly small, wedged amongst the wreckage of the outpost's docking port. Erica's feet straddled the edge of the abyss of billowing clouds. "Bad idea. Stop acting on bad ideas. Concentrate. Focus."

Sweat stung her eyes as she hooked her elbow around the cable, freeing a hand to brush uselessly against her mask. Annoyed as much by the sweat as her unthinking response, she shook her head vigorously to clear her eyes. That helped, a little.

Leaning her full length along the cable and extending her free arm, Erica could just reach the edge of the hatch. She slapped it with the flat of her palm, but the surrounding roar swallowed any sound she may have made. She didn't see any way she could open the hatch from the outside. She certainly had no way to push it open, not precariously perched as she was against the cable.

If there were survivors on board, they'd have to open from their side. But how to get their attention?

Why don't these damn breather masks have radios? she thought. I wish I could talk with Sigfried.

Wind Sprite shifted beneath her. Erica lost her balance, slipping to the side. Instinctively, she flung her free arm and legs around the cable, catching herself before she fell.

Dangling from the cable, high above Venus, Erica felt acutely alone. Tiny and vulnerable.
Now Playing: The Kinks To The Bone
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tiki tour: Hale Pele

When last we spoke of my trip to the Pacific Northwest, I lamented the very un-tiki nature of A Very Taki Tiki Bar. That bar has its place, I suppose, but they weren't even going through the motions. Tiki was a kitschy joke to them, not to be taken seriously. Not that tiki should be "Serious," because it's all about escapism, relaxation and fun. But there's a history that should be at least acknowledged, if not respected.

So, after tooling along the spectacular Oregon coast for the better part of a chilly week, we wrapped up our trip by spending a couple days in Portland. I have to say, I was looking forward to this the entire trip--my chance to visit the authentic, well-regarded tiki bar known as Hale Pele. It's easy to miss if you don't know what you're looking for. The photo above shows the understated storefront. It could just as easily be an unassuming strip mall. The sign above the awning doesn't stand out much more. Along the curb, only the "Open" sign (below) hints at what lies inside.

I was a little giddy, I'll admit. A relative newcomer to tiki, going on two years, I'd only had mediocre experiences with pseudo-tiki bars and the pretentious Pilikia. Hale Pele was supposed to be the real deal. What if it was underwhelming? What if was only separated from the other, lesser bars by a matter of degrees? I was nervous, because I had no reference through which to frame my expectations. I imagine I drove The Wife nuts with my neurotic angst. We went inside, and this is the scene that greeted us:

Wow! It looked great! Very atmospheric and textured. Warm. Cozy. Inviting. Tons and tons of eye candy. The foyer was small, but even that was fascinating--the floor was clear plexiglass, laid over a bed of black lava rocks with red light glowing beneath. A clever touch, perfectly in tune with the place's volcano theme. We'd arrived before six, but already there was a wait list. People get their tiki on early in Portland, it seems. Surprisingly, Hale Pele is small. Not tiny, mind you, but what you see when you enter is pretty much all there is. Sprawling, it is not. That's not bad, because it made the place feel more intimate, but at the same time, there was a wait list. As we waited, Lisa and I looked over the overwhelming cocktail list. Pretty much everything looked good (well, except for those drinks with absinthe or coconut, two flavors I'm not particularly fond of). Lisa ended up ordered Hale Pele's signature drink, A'a'po'e with the collectable tiki mug.

I ordered the Lapu Lapu, because I'm a huge fan of passion fruit and the rum, orange and lemon juice combination promised a different flavor experience than I get with classic Hurricane. I have to say, it was quite good. Very fruity and crisp, with the rum flavors complementing the fruit juices well. It was sweet, but not syrupy so. I could so see myself drinking this by (or in) the pool. I'm going to have to learn how to make it. The A'a'po'e was interesting. I'm not a huge fan of gin, and as one might expect, Lisa's drink leaned more herbal than tropical in flavor profile. Lisa likes gin, so she liked it, although it was her least favorite of the evening. I didn't dislike the few sips I had, but it wouldn't ever be my first choice.

So, when we were partway through our drinks, two seats opened up at the bar. Yay! The bar, though, threw me. Ever bar I've ever been at is high. Patrons sit on stools or elevated chairs so that they interact with the bartenders, who are standing, at eye level. At Hale Pele, the bar stools are regular chairs. The bar is short. But the area behind the bar is sunken, so that the bartenders are still interacting with patrons at eye level. That felt very odd at first, but we soon got used to it. Our bartender was Lindsey, and I have to say she was totally kickass. She saw we were photographing everything, so started presenting us each drink as she made it for a photo. And she really mixes a quality beverage. Once our first drinks were finished, Lisa ordered a Jungle Bird (below) made with Cruzan blackstrap rum and Campari. I was seriously considering this one, but Lisa ordering it made my decision easier.

I went with and 3 Dots and a Dash. I honestly can't remember if I tasted the Jungle Bird or not. It seems like my kind of drink, but I was completely captivated by my 3 Dots. I wasn't sure what to expect, and the menu indicated it was a complex mix of flavors for the adventurous rum lover. I'll vouch for the complexity. It wasn't terribly sweet, or terribly dry. There was a little bit of citrus coming through from the lime and orange juice, but overall it'd describe it as spicy, and just a little herbal, although not in a gin-herbal kind of way. Flavor-wise, it was like a puzzle box that kept defying my efforts to unpack it. This isn't a drink that I'd ever order multiples of, but one to savor and contemplate. Even now, I'm still fascinated by the mesh of flavors. About this point Lisa observed that the four drinks we'd had thus far at Hale Pele were the most complex and nuanced drinks she'd ever had. After so many false starts and blind alleys, we were finally starting to understand what the tiki cocktail fuss was all about.

Since we were driving and not familiar with the alcohol content of the tiki drinks (unfamiliar flavors can mask higher alcohol content and sneak up on you) we decided to split a Mai Tai before leaving. The quintessential tiki drink, we'd never had a real one. I now know what a real Mai Tai tastes like. It was a fine mix of rums with a hint of citrus, but also an unexpected spiciness, almost bitter, that must have come from the Curaçao. That was interesting and added a layer of complexity I did not see coming.

As I mentioned earlier, Lindsey presented us with several cocktails we didn't partake in, but did photograph. This is the Boo Loo--a cocktail for two, made up of pineapple, several rums and honey syrup, served in an actual pineapple. It's an attention-getter.

This is, I believe, the Jet Pilot, a potent blend of rums, citrus and cinnamon, served flaming.

This is the striking crimson Lava Flow. The inside of the glass is coated with strawberry cordial. These were very popular--the bartenders made them continuously throughout the evening.

And, of course, the famous "volcano bowl" group drinks. That's a spent lime peel on top, with lemon extract-soaked bread crumbs flaming away. I know, I always thought it was overproof rum burning as well, but that apparently creates an anemic blue flame that doesn't impress anybody. Learn something new every day.

The volcano bowl presentation is quite theatrical. Manic jungle drums begin playing over the speaker system, so everyone in the bar knows what's happening. Then the server, as he or she reaches the table, sprinkles a mixture of ground cinnamon and nutmeg over the flame, which flares up spectacularly. It's really quite impressive!

Lisa and I spent several hours at Hale Pele, and enjoyed our time spent there probably more than the time we've spent an pretty much every other bar we've visited, combined. Granted, we don't go to bars often, but that's because we don't normally enjoy them. Hale Pele was different. Very different. We found ourselves wishing it were much closer to home. Lisa took a whole bunch of pictures, and at my urging, took even more. The colors and shapes and textures of the place were simply fantastic. I'm going to examine these very closely, checking out the details as I continue to build out my own tiki bar. I'll never reach the level of magnificence that is Hale Pele, but at least I now know what the gold standard is!

Now Playing: Count Basie Jazz Biography Series
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I was in college when Midnight Oil burst upon the scene with their sole U.S. hit, "Beds Are Burning." I wasn't a huge fan, but I didn't dislike it, either. The music was aggressive and demanded attention. For a while, it seemed like I couldn't turn on the radio or MTV (back in the days where MTV played music videos, kids) without catching this one. A quarter century later, its as relevant today as it was then, which is pretty sad commentary.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Count Basie

Now Playing: Le Trio Joubran As Fâr
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marvin Zindler's birthday, plus Whorehouse comes to Austin!

On this date in 1921, KTRK consumer affairs reporter Marvin Zindler was born.

Zindler, of course, is forever linked with the Chicken Ranch, as his series of exposés on the brothel directly led to its closure. Marvin clashed with his father (who owned the well-regarded Zindler's clothing store in Houston) growing up and went on to try his hand at a host of different career options. He was a drum major (briefly) at Tarleton State, served in the Marines (again, briefly) before being discharged as 4F, was a radio reporter for defunct Houston radio station KATL, was a reporter for the defunct Houston Press, ran for mayor of Bellaire, was fired by one TV station because he was "too ugly for television" and was a Harris County deputy sheriff for years, where he worked in civil fraud and fugitive extradition before setting up the consumer fraud division.

Had he not died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Zindler would've been 96 today.

In other news, TexARTS in Lakeway (that's just west of Austin on Lake Travis) has a production of that particular Chicken Ranch musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, running August 18-September 3. For their 2 p.m. matinee performance August 20, TexARTS will host me for a post-show Q&A session. Stay after the show and learn more about the real-life saga that turned into a Broadway musical hit! And seriously, folks, if you've never seen the stage play--if all you know is that Burt Reynolds/Dolly Parton film--you don't know what you're missing. The live show is an entirely different animal, and for my money, about 10 times better than the movie. Get your tickets today for The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas presented by TexARTS at http://www.tex-arts.orb>

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

Now Playing: Antonio Carlos Jobim/Luiz Bonfá Orfeu Negro: Bof du Film de Marcel Camus
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Tiki tour: A Very Taki Tiki Bar

Last month we took out annual family vacation, and this year we decided on the Oregon coast. Cannon Beach impressed us tremendously a few years ago during a brief stop on out Pacific Coast Highway tour we wanted to revisit it. There were several tiki spots along the way, so The Wife and I made it a goal of stopping at as many as we could. We flew into Seattle, and after spending most of the afternoon at Pike Place Fish Market, we ran into some big problems with our hotel. The long and short of it is that we ended up at a motel in Edmonds rather than a hotel in the middle of Seattle.

After that ordeal, we wanted to go somewhere and unwind with a couple of drinks, but didn't want to battle Seattle traffic to reach the Hula Hula or Lava Lounge tiki bars. An internet search for something close by turned up A Very Taki Tiki Bar. The name did not instill confidence, and I could find no listing on Critiki, but by that point we were pretty much beyond caring. With expectations set to low, we headed out.

From the street, the place wasn't terribly impressive. There were a couple of fake-thatch umbrellas like we have at our place, so we knew we'd found the only tiki bar in the area. This being the Pacific Northwest, there wasn't a lot of outside seating--everything was interior.

True to its name, the decor was both tiki and aggressively tacky. What it wasn't was a tiki bar. This, folks, was a sports bar, straight up. A sports bar with tiki trappings. And really, the trappings were impressive. The atmospheric clutter was in place. There were some carved tikis and mugs. Surf boards and mounted fish (or fake versions of mounted fish) hung from the ceiling, and almost every single one of these sported the logo of one mass market beer or another. The place would feel a hell of a lot more authentic without all the advertising. But I can't really fault them--sports bars and beer ads go hand-in-hand, and the name of the place tells you what to expect. There were big-screen TVs visible from every angle, and the ambient music was some forgettable rock. Anyone hoping to hear exotica or Hawaiian or even reggae is simply in the wrong place.

Nevermind all the soccer games on the big-screen TVs--The Wife and I wanted something to drink. Their drink menu wasn't very extensive, but we recognized some of the offerings. Throwing caution to the wind, we both ordered the classic tiki cocktail, the Mai Tai. What we got was almost--but not quite--entirely unlike a Mai Tai. As near as I can figure, the drinks consisted of pineapple mixed with some white Puerto Rican rum, with a dark Jamaican rum floater and a pineapple wedge garnish, all contained in a hurricane glass. I will allow that it was a darn tasty pineapple-rum concoction, and drank it happily (one doesn't expect much in the way of complex cocktails from a sports bar).

Suddenly hungry, we ordered a plate of nachos to split. They were okay, not great, about what you'd expect from a Seattle-area sports bar. The place seemed very proud of its name, so much so that the management had it printed on sweat shirts, tees and caps. No tiki mugs, though, which I might've been tempted to get.

The long and short of it is that A Very Taki Tiki Bar is pretty terrible as far as tiki bars go, but fairly amusing for a sport bar. To be honest, it far exceeded my low expectations because of the effort put into decorating the place. They chose the theme of tacky tiki, and by golly, they nailed it. People who have a problem with Clown Tiki and Party City had best avoid.

Now Playing: Antonio Carlos Jobim Wave
Chicken Ranch Central