Saturday, 15 June 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Ruminations on Advertising in the Still of the Night

Why I look at food photography, the Platonic ideal of any recipe, when I’m reheating limp leftovers in the dead of night isn’t quite beyond me: I’ve exhausted that day’s Globe and Mail and last week’s Economist. Yet the real takeaway from flipping through the glossy pages of Canadian Living at the kitchen counter an hour or two before the sun rises and birds begin to sing is a sense of sweat-inducing dread. According to the advertisements the unintended consequences of a relatively lengthy lifespan in a wealthy western country are aches and pains, disease, infirmity and incontinence; stuff I’ve no interest in taking back to bed with me.

Unsurprisingly, The Economist offers its readership an entirely different simmering barrel of advertising red herrings than Canadian Living even though they may rub covers in the same household - thereby bridging in a pithy way that awful personal chasm between aspiration and decline.

You never actually own a Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe is Suisse, de Geneve. They don’t make watches. No, they create heirloom chronometers, an entirely different kettle of monkeys. And you’ll never actually own one because most people can’t afford them except for the impeccably groomed Eurotrash metrosexual depicted in the ad. His frail little replicant simply gushes a silent masochistic desire to be bullied in the hallway of the average Canadian school.

You merely look after it for the next generation.

But how do the rich procreate? Lonely, unfulfilled members of the Davos set utilize exclusive internet matchmaking services with sniffily prestigious home office street addresses in New York and London. The grinning couple in the Selective Search (Executive search meets personal matchmaking) half-page ad appear delighted enough in each other’s company. The blonde in the bikini looking back over her shoulder seems proud of her dental work. Her digital soulmate has a face resembling the UPS shield logo topped with a thatch of black Muppet bristles – as if Ernie had spent every penny of his Sesame Street residuals with a celebrity plastic surgeon. Their lottery-winning child will surely inherit a well cared for Patek Philippe. Sometimes I think wealthy people should be obligated to marry poor ones to better spread the cash around – as far as the pre-nup permits.

Periodic reminders of the fragile nature of existence are healthy. When the night begins to lift during those solitary kitchen minutes it’s critical to be reminded that who’s on your arm or what’s on your wrist doesn’t really matter. You will die. And you must inevitably die alone, with little dignity and lots of pain your only company.  

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Monday, 10 June 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Artless Noise

There’s a new microwave-convection oven over the range in the kitchen. Its timer dings when its heating job is done. As it should. These appliances appeal to the human instant gratification gene because the stuff inside them gets het up real fast. Excessive heat inflicts pain on the unwary, their fingertips and tongues. It took me a long time and many blisters to figure this out. And so I add an impatient minute to the midnight snack process by waiting for things to cool down before popping open the door and chowing down. The KitchenAid KMCC5015 is one of those modern, ineptly smart machines. It keeps dinging in insistent intervals to remind me I’ve just used it: I know, I know, even I can remember two minutes ago; I’m not that demented yet. The blessing for the microwave (and my pocketbook) is that the six or seven Trini Lopez tools in the Crooked 9 are down in the basement workroom.

Noise. I am so fed up with noise.

The telephone is ringing with yet another Chinese spam-scam call. There’s a Bluetooth head spouting confidential business information on the sidewalk. Even the most primitive of yard implements come with motors. Nattering self-checkouts: welcoming, instructing, thanking. Talking elevators – although I’m not blind to their functionality. Social media dog whistle fish hooks. Excitable sports commentators shouting their enthusiasm! Pundits arguing partisan rhetoric. Hysterical politicians reciting talking points by rote. Self-styled victims whining for special dispensation; everybody else complaining. Experts who can’t keep their alternative facts straight. The visual white noise of advertising – is there any surface left on the planet on which we cannot paste a logo? That dreadful, sinister roar of hate and intolerance. That neighbourhood guy I avoid because he talks too much about nothing; I wish he smoked so he’d be a little shorter of breath.

Would everybody and everything in this world please shut the fuck up for an hour or two? Or at least tone it down. I can’t even hear myself think about losing my mind.  

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Sunday, 2 June 2019

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Life on Mars?

The FOR SALE sign on the unkempt lawn across the street sways and creaks in a gentle breeze speckled with ash motes. Its sound suggests high noon in a Hollywood western, a showdown, a reckoning. Everyone is indoors, sheltering from the pale lemon sky and shimmering blood orange sun. Lights are on inside the Crooked 9 because an average day shouldn’t be so spookily dark at noon what with the window shades up and summer on its way. Twilight is golden, provided it’s late in the evening.

A massive red-flagged wildfire is burning some five hours’ drive north of Edmonton, up at High Level. Evacuations have commenced. The conflagration is a bar bully, overheated and aggressive, and maybe tough enough to create its own micro-weather system. Consequently it’s lunchtime on Mars in the capital city, that’s the way the wind blows. God (or preferably a paramedic) help you should you suffer from a respiratory ailment. Emergency sirens have set the neighbourhood dogs baying.

I’m a jaded old ad man. I was skeptical about climate change initially because that phrase was a rebrand of global warming. Flag! How many times had advertising agencies and their clients got it wrong, tried to fix a non-existent bugaboo? Hello and goodbye New Coke or Coke II or whatever it was. I thought too that the political left, devoid of fresh policy ideas, had shifted its focus to panicky weather reports. Still, intelligent and qualified people were discussing climate change. And so I began to pay attention, investigate, because an uninformed opinion is a particularly cacophonic form of halitosis.

Reading science, even when it’s written in layman’s terms, is repetitive work, my lips move. However, the consequences of accelerated climate change are relatively easy to grasp: fire, flooding and death. You can’t get more basic than the Old Testament. The recently elected right-wing Alberta government achieved power by promising to undo all of the previous administration’s modest efforts to fight climate change. And so it seems that longer, hotter wildfire seasons are here to stay until there’s nothing left to burn.

Edmonton is drier than a Lutheran prayer meeting. Last week nearly saw my nightmare scenario unfold: a firebug loose in the nearby river valley, attempting to ignite catastrophe. The fire department’s response time was so swift it could only be measured by an atomic clock. Even still, embers wafted onto the cedar shingles of a wooden house that predates this postwar neighbourhood.

The goal of advertising is to raise your awareness, change your perception and influence your behaviour. Wildfires should have a similar effect on rational people. Now, all I see is fuel whilst strolling along our smoky, hazy streets. A decade of drought has slowly strangled many old growth trees; pests and disease are opportunistic. Private property is demarcated by wooden fences. Older homes are clad with fir or cedar planks, or wrapped with vinyl siding. Skinny new-builds on sub-divided lots seem mere inches apart, the barest legal minimum.

My advertising career ensured I was sleepless many nights over the course of 30 years. There were always deadlines, sometimes there were moral and ethical dilemmas and from time to time I had to make a really dumb idea manifest. I’m out of the game now but I still have recurring dreams about my work. In days like these as a retiree I feel as if I’m tossing and turning on a pyre.            

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Thursday, 16 May 2019

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Rumours of Spring Authenticated

Every year about this time Ann and I take a drive beyond the ever-spreading outskirts of the city. Our destination is always the same, J&C Gardens, a pacific greenhouse operation situated off Airport Road in the rapidly disappearing farmland southeast of Edmonton and the newly incorporated city of Beaumont.

Mill Woods, now a long established capital suburb, almost encroaches on the corporate limits of Beaumont, once a remote French-Canadian farming community. The demarcation is the Anthony Henday ring road. Beaumont’s population has more than doubled since 2006. It is now home to nearly 20,000 commuters. Its main street is faux quaint, anchored by a French restaurant that gourmands swear is worth the drive.

Beaumont’s most impressive and dominant structure is the lovely red brick Saint Vital Catholic church with its steeple and pristine white trim. It sits at the crest of a steep hill which descends to the older, other side of town and leads ultimately to J&C Gardens provided you take a left at Airport Road. The straight ahead vista through the windshield before the drop suggests 100-yard elongated shadows at noon even though nothing in the unfolding landscape is taller than a fencepost or a yellow traffic sign. The not so distant right showcases all the signs of progress: the oil patch-centric Nisku industrial area and its empty travel hotels, the grey ribbon of Alberta’s major highway, the new outlet mall with its prison guard towers, the even newer racetrack and casino and of course the corkscrew control tower of the Edmonton International Airport.

Saint Vital (Vitalis in Latin and men’s grooming) is not so obvious. St. Vital is a Winnipeg, Manitoba, city ward, originally a vibrant and now historic enclave of French-Canadian and Metis settlers adjacent to Fort Garry. It’s easy to infer how the name leapt further west over Prince Rupert’s Land to Beaumont. However, my searching of both the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia has dredged up eight Saint Vitals, five of whom were Italians and three of whom were martyred. Faith is a complex construct; said Saints Vitals are not be confused with Saint Vitus, he’s a wholly different dance.

The layout of J&C Gardens resembles a human hand, palm up. The main structure is the base which includes a splayed, possibly green, hitch-hiker thumb. The too many fingers, pale tents shaped like Nissen huts, extend from the perpendicular. We turn up every spring always hopeful that the dirt and gravel parking lot won’t be a shoe-sucking quagmire. Ann brings a list of her summer planting plans which also includes notations of past failures, flora to avoid. This is big, important and ultimately fleeting stuff, a lot like life.

I man the three-tiered blue steel cart. Ann examines the plants as if they were Lawren Harris paintings in the National Gallery; a book in a bookshop too, you know, you never purchase the one atop the stack, you have to dig. I’m the runner even if the process involves a pleasant and leisurely couple of hours. I move the potato vines and sunpatiens from tent to cart and everything must be just so because there’s more to come and the gartenmeister fuschia and the alyssum will need their spaces. Ann’s walking up and down the floral rows three inches off the sagging concrete. Man, she’s shimmying on an ether of scent and colour, even the neon geraniums are impressed. All you Saint Vitals, here’s a genuine sense of wonder, sense of joy.

And, believe it, there’s another attraction at J&C for me that just enhances a happy errand. There is a cat who hangs about the main greenhouse. Its fur is charcoal accented with some faint caramel markings resembling incomplete tiger stripes. I deserted Ann and our cart to go searching for my indifferent harbinger; we’ve been tight for years. I found the little soul curled up sound asleep in a picked-over black plastic tray of sweet peas.

Spring.

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Monday, 13 May 2019


HUMAN WRECKAGE

Game On!

The bathroom door isn’t ajar but the game’s afoot at the Crooked 9.

I don’t believe Ann finds me overly annoying to live with. I get things done though perhaps not as promptly as I’d promised. I don’t floss my teeth over simmering pots on the stove. I don’t clip my toenails in the dining room. I squeeze toothpaste tubes from the bottom only because Ann squeezes them from the middle but that’s an easy twice or thrice daily correction. We both make certain the cap is on when we’re done. And we agree that rolls of toilet tissue must be dispensed from the over-the-top position and not from the bottom – this is just plain common sense.

Ann has often remarked that our togetherness at this stage of our lives is “simple but complicated.” And so are the rules of our devious game. As with any human contest, the ultimate objective is victory; in our case that margin is measured in two-ply, four-inch squares. It’s so easy to change a roll of toilet paper. It takes ten seconds or less, you’re right there and there’s not much else to do.

I am a member of a music chat board based in the United Kingdom. Some years ago American singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow pronounced in the press that nobody on the planet should ever need to use more than three squares of toilet paper. A noble environmental sentiment since creatures equipped with lungs appreciate forests and trees are better left standing instead of being pulped into bleached tissue. Still, toilet paper is one heck of a modern convenience and manufactured from a renewable (albeit shrinking) resource. And as one poster speculated, it’s highly unlikely that Ms. Crow had ever consumed a curry takeaway after a night at the pub.

In our game, leaving a bare cardboard tube on the spool isn’t cricket. Skunk! Default! Game over. Cheaters never prosper. No, the strategic player will leave enough squares on the roll as to be useful to Ms Crow but not entirely useful to the average housemate. Talk about three sheets to the draft of the heating vent. Well played, Madam. As always.

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