Wednesday, 15 August 2018

NONSENSE VERSE

Talkin’ Tech

Hey, are you mentally ill?
Your voice is kinda shrill

Screaming at your iPhone
Suspect you’re never alone

That Bluetooth in your ear
Is most becoming, my dear

See you got headphones on
But I hear that lousy song

“I bought Japanese sushi
You kick like Bruce Lee”

Let’s go to the rock show
Pay to watch one-inch video

And your pic on Instagram?
Hashtag: “I’m so glam”

The hell did you just Tweet?
A motor neuron missed a beat

You get a hit of “dopa-meme”
Checking on your Facebook stream

I don’t like to be with you
Us, and your device too

You can’t talk to me
Too many videos to see

You’re a world class app
A damn phone on your lap

It rang during the eulogy
You took the call sheepishly

Turn it on in a parking slot
Stare at it on a crosswalk

It’s time to drive distracted
Your future life redacted

My new novel The Garage Sailor is available now. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Friday, 10 August 2018

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Pick of the Litter

Edmonton’s Kinsmen field house is a locus for community-minded fitness buffs. Why sweat the hamster wheel of private gyms? It is also a point of departure for cyclists, runners and, in my case, walkers who use the trails that go every which way.

The field house is on flatland, tucked up against a forested slope on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River’s urban valley. On its grounds there is more than enough room to be shared by a playground, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a softball diamond, a football field, a modest museum evoking the city’s birth as a fur trading fort, and, most charmingly, an stretch of simple, plain old, undedicated greenspace. Picnic tables and common barbeques abound.

The expansive manicured grounds are constrained to the west and east, psychologically at least, by bridges which connect the looming north and south ridges. To the west is the immense black iron High Level trestle bridge on its concrete plinths. Hard by that is a newer light rail transit (LRT) bridge with a breezy, swaying pedestrian span suspended beneath it, that much closer to the surface of the wide green river. To the east, just before the decommissioned seven-stack power station and the brick ballpark, are the soaring solar-white arches of the new Walterdale Bridge.

My walking loop begins at the field house. I head to the LRT bridge, cross the river, walk to Walterdale, re-cross the river and arrive back at Kinsmen. Two laps take me about an hour. I do not own a cell phone. Ergo, I do not adorn myself with wearable technology. But I do know that an army marches on its stomach and that the standard pace for infantry on the move in ideal conditions is about three miles-per-hour.

I like walking. I observe my surroundings. I reflect. I write without typing. I plan (but don’t tell God). Perhaps because the sandy dome of the Alberta legislature is always in view I began to wonder if I might not be more productive on my solitary strolls. Last Tuesday I set out on my walk carrying my rubber-coated gardening gloves and a white kitchen trash bag. May as well be useful.

I was mildly distressed when my self-appointed task commenced immediately in the Kinsmen parking lot. I soon set off with a seeded bag under a hazy, smokey sky. I could smell British Columbia burning. The park’s sunlit places had a strange tangerine hue to them. I wondered how far I should deviate from my chosen path to pick up litter. Five feet? Ten feet? I decided that used facial tissues were biodegradable and outside my private mandate. Debris on the ground beside a bin, as infuriating as cigarette butts beside an ashtray, I slam dunked. I filled my bag easily enough however, just one circuit of eccentric civic-minded behaviour.

The pick of the litter, the clear winner, was Tim Hortons coffee cups and lids which easily outpaced candy bar wrappers and salty snack food bags. And doesn’t a crushed, filthy coffee cup say everything about the state of Timmy’s brand under the cutthroat stewardship of Restaurant Brands International? I’ve no affection for Tim Hortons because better coffee is brewed in the kitchen of the Crooked 9. The chain’s media campaigns which peddle soft nationalism, rink rat Canadiana, make me gag even as I wipe a suddenly misted eye. I began to ponder what I could extrapolate from my collection of garbage.

Is Timmy’s the most popular quick service restaurant in Canada based on the volume of litter its customers generate? Or is it simply the national default for a relatively palatable cup of coffee? Are the majority of Tim Hortons customers ill-bred slobs for whom manners mean really big houses? Hard to know. The hard evidence was deemed garbage and thrown out.

My new novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Relics and Ruins

Early last week I bought a two-foot tall resin reproduction of a moai. It cost me three yard bags of empty beer cans – the recycling depot is just a few blocks from the local Home Depot and its outdoor garden centre - and so the monumental art of the Rapa Nui people has been appropriated for arguably tacky lawn ornamentation. But I really wanted an Easter Island head. I’d been hoping for a concrete one with its cranium scooped out so it could double as a bird bath, creating a concussed cartoon character effect. I settled.

It’s possible I spend too much time in my head. It’s staggering to realize what I don’t accomplish because I’m too busy sitting on the front porch or staring out the backdoor window. Still, a lot of thinking and processing gets done. Consequently, I’ve been dwelling on the root of my moai fixation. There’s no rational explanation; I’ve never been to Chile.

In my rock fan costume I arrived late to the Pink Floyd party. Many of my high school classmates worshipped the band. Fitting in with the stoners or any other clique did not suit me. I had a couple of their albums because everybody else did; I rarely played them. Later on in life I got around to really listening to Pink Floyd; I heard their music for the first time. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been such a calculated contrarian.

Some years ago, a friend of mine in Calgary, a graphic designer, took a welding course. The result of his efforts was a moai made of scrap iron which he installed in his backyard, already an eclectic place. His metal sculpture reminded me of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell. Of course it did. The cover of that album features a massive pair of angry robot profiles going nose to nose in an empty field, a manor house in the distant background. If you look at the two heads long enough, they blend together to become a single face, full on.

I planted my moari in the front garden bed so I can contemplate its stony expression from my usual perch on the front porch. It stares blankly back at me from under a dappling canopy of shrubbery, low scrubby juniper bushes near its base. It didn’t even blink when the cat sprayed it, so why the long face?

That stoic countenance doesn’t remind me of Pink Floyd whatsoever now. Instead, it transports me into the wondrous world of pulp fiction: H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, lost jungle cities and mysterious monuments on distant planets somewhere else in the cosmic spiral of the Milky Way. Home Depot sold me another portal to my imagination, cheap. Pith helmets and ray guns.

I took a picture of the moari nestled in the greenery. I saw it as the primary background image of a derring-do paperback; intrepid explorer, galactic queen, title and author to be superimposed later. Sort of a neat shot, I thought. As I swiped through the rest of my trove of some sixty saved digital photographs, I noticed a pattern. My eye is not drawn by the mundane. The pictures I take are usually from odd angles and perspectives. I like old buildings and tend to focus on their architectural flourishes, gargoyles. I like decrepit, crumbling things, tumble-down homesteads, dangling black iron fire escapes askew and rotting, weathered docks; places where things happened once and perhaps still do albeit in a different way.

My favourite photograph of mine is a landscape of an abandoned sugar factory near Kihei on the Hawaiian island of Maui. There is a single strand of rusted barbed wire in the foreground. There is history in the distance, the story of the “Big Five” sugar cartel, their foreign workers and their miserable working conditions, their baseball teams and the environmental toll of annual cane burnings. But I was dumbfounded too because that intricate, disintegrating hulk looked exactly like the liquid methane refinery I’d constructed on the Saturn moon of Titan as a setting for a short, dystopian science fiction story I wrote in 2014 (you can read the serialized Last Chance Gas in meGeoff’s February 2014 archive); I’d initially been inspired by the structures of the refineries east of Edmonton.

Every picture tells a story. Two of them. There is the documented history, incomplete with gaps and inevitable inaccuracies. And there is the secret history, the one created by the viewer’s imagination. In reality, my moai is a moulded hunk of resin mass produced overseas and since plunked under a lilac in the cat’s al fresco litter box. And in reality, on another level, it is so much more than that.

My new novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018


SAINTS PRESERVE US

Here We Go Again

The province of Alberta has been a member in good standing of the Canadian Confederation since 1905. Its political history is a bit peculiar. Once a party attains power it tends to keep it for decades, an era becomes an epoch for others squealing for their turn at the public trough.

This quirky pattern led in part to the formation of the new United Conservative Party (UCP), battle tested to date only in by-elections. It is the manifestation of cries to “Unite the Right!” The right was in disarray following the 2015 provincial election whose result was a resounding majority for the left of centre New Democratic Party (NDP). Before the NDP’s “We won! We actually won!” moment Alberta had been governed by the Progressive Conservatives (PC) for 44 consecutive years.

PC rule over time followed the law of declining returns as the party’s administration slid from dynamic and responsible, to complacent and arrogant, and ultimately sank to a nadir of indifference. No one inside the circle of power or lobbying around its diameter even imagined for a moment that the price of oil would drop like a fouled soccer striker. When booms go bust, as they must, fingers get pointed by enemies and allies alike. Some of the PC membership believed that the party was too centrist in its proposed economic solutions, and there were niggling social issues besides, silly stuff like human rights. This schism was the genesis of the farther-right Wildrose Party (WR).

Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, a student of ex-prime minister Stephen Harper, himself a cunning puppeteer who engineered the unification of the right on the national level, managed to graft the two provincial factions together in the guise of the UCP. Kenney then set about consolidating his leadership of the new party by squashing WR rival Brian Jean, he too a former Harper regime cabinet minister, and a fellow alarmingly prone to verbal and social media gaffes. Kenney also seized the opportunity to remove another potentially prickly pear thorn from his shoe as he focuses on the 2019 provincial election. He banished one Derek Fildebrandt from the nascent UCP caucus.

Until Friday, Fildebrandt sat in the legislative assembly as an Independent. The honourable member from Strathmore-Brooks was first elected on the Wildrose slate. Fildebrandt is one of those guys who believe ethics is the study of people who are not white men. He is a documented expense account fiddler. Perhaps a little slow too because he did not get away clean following his involvement in a hit-and-run. He seems to be one of those politicians we all see through, one who pursues their own self-interest over that of their riding, their province and their country.

Fildebrandt is now the self-anointed interim leader and only member of his primordial Freedom Conservative Party (FCP). Pity Kenney, who as ringmaster of the conservative circus, has tried to pitch a big, all-inclusive tent. Apparently the newly unified Alberta right is unable to contain itself yet again. The FCP is beyond the fringe taking a hunting knife to the seams of the UCP big top. Kenney’s coalition is too “vanilla” for Fildebrandt.

The freedom fighters’ goal is to shed the yolk of Ottawa’s colonial oppression and “obliterate the NDP.” Fildebrandt imagines the FCP as a grassroots movement that will engage “Alberta patriots.” Do you hear a dog whistle? Cup your hand to your right ear. The sound you hear is shriller than the pitch Kenney uses to summon "average Albertans." The vast majority of Canadians live within three hours’ drive of the American border. A vast majority of those reside in urban centres. The FCP is betting the farm on a dwindling number of disaffected rural voters. The inconvenient truth is that the only Rural Alberta Advantage most of the electorate is aware of is a Toronto indie band.

My new novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

A New Driveway

Years ago shortly after I was married (for the first time), my wife and I purchased a set of Corningware saucepans. They were clear. I could watch water boil. I did.

Together Ann and I have done extensive work on our Edmonton home over the course of the past four or five years. We’ve done a lot of painting because we both love colour and we believe contrasting walls make a room more vibrant. I enjoy watching paint dry.

Between then and now I endured a modestly successful career in advertising. I was one of those people behind the curtain who ensured that some suit’s silly promises were actually delivered on time. When deadlines ticked down to minutes instead of hours I’d hover behind a harried graphic artist and ask, “If I keep looking over your shoulder, distracting you and offering my unsolicited input, will you work any faster?” If I got a laugh and was told to go pound sand, I figured everything was going to be okay.

Over the weekend our sunken, crumbling driveway was torn up by a zippy, water-bug bobcat, what was left of the asphalt peeled away like cream cheese icing from a slice of carrot cake. I was amazed by the expertise of the driver and dexterity of the dime-spinning machine. A crewman said, “Easy job, no re-bar.”

By the cocktail hour our drive way had become a shallow trench, about a foot deep. After the crew departed I fetched a spade and dug another hole in the churned earth and clay. I filled a re-sealable plastic bag with relics intended to confuse and confound future diggers. I included a hockey puck with chipped edges. A toy soldier from the lost platoon I discovered along the side of the house five years ago. A letter from the Montreal Expos to my last known Montreal address shilling season tickets and mini-packs for their 20th anniversary season and promising BASEBALL THAT FITS YOU LIKE A GLOVE. A figurine of the team’s orange, hairy mascot went into the bag along with a golf ball featuring the Montreal Canadiens CH sweater crest. The last item into the bag was a copy of my new novel The Garage Sailor. My fantasy is that the book will be rediscovered years from now, long after I’ve slipped this mortal coil, and be revered as a classic; it could happen.

Monday the forms were installed. A bed of coarse sand was tamped down in the bottom of the trench. A grid of re-bar was placed on top of that layer, wired together and then anchored to the foundation of the Crooked 9. When the cement mixer arrived Tuesday morning the crew went into overdrive even though they were mired in six inches of wet cement. The muck was poured, spread and smoothed at high speed taking into account the pad’s slope, angles of drainage and the placement of de-bossed seams to ease the stress of expansion and contraction. A remarkably precise operation to complete before the concrete begins to set; I admire people who are good at what they do.

Our new driveway requires 28 days to properly cure, become solid over my entombed bag of goodies. Ann and I have been aiding the process by watering the new surface twice daily. Doing nothing or very little requires a surprising amount of effort; still, it’s been incredibly rewarding thus far sitting around up on the front porch watching concrete harden.

My new novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A FAN’S NOTES

My England and the World Cup

England will play Croatia this Wednesday in the World Cup semis. Black is white. Up is down. Set-pieces and penalty kicks.

I grew up in an idyllic Montreal neighbourhood. There was a park at the end of the street, three or four blocks wide and two deep. The summer red clay tennis courts were the foundation of the winter ice rinks. There was an unfenced baseball diamond where a well hit or misplayed ball could bounce its way onto the football field in deep left-centre. The football uprights were whitewashed iron, capital aitches. The field could easily be transformed into a rugby or soccer pitch. There was space enough for extra chalk lines atop the gridiron pattern, the uprights were already there for rugger and soccer netting could be attached to the bottom of the portion of the H.

The fellows who played rugby and soccer were not from the neighbourhood. They spoke with accents. English ones, mostly. These strange games shared characteristics with the ones I was trying to become better at: passing, play-making, attack the opponent’s goal and defend yours.

Dad’s father immigrated to Canada before the First World War. The family business, a near monopolistic haberdashery in Fishponds, a suburb of Bristol, UK, was disrupted by the introduction of a bus route into the city, and competition. Papa Moore settled in Montreal. He went to work for Bell Telephone. After company hours he earned his engineering degree at McGill, attending school in the evenings. Dad’s mother was born in Hove, near Brighton, UK, famous for its holiday pier. Her family owned a bakery. Nana was on holiday in Montreal when the First World War broke out. She didn’t go home again until 1968, a two week visit.

Canada’s only World Cup appearance was in 1986. Canada lost all of its group stage games and did not score a goal. The three of us watched a rather respectable one-nil defeat at the hands of the French in Nana’s and Papa’s apartment living room. Perhaps Canada would fare better four years hence? And judging from the way Mick and Keith spoke of one another in the music press, the Rolling Stones had obviously reached the end of the line. That particular tournament itself though lives on in infamy as England ceded a goal to Argentina, one guided into the net by ‘the hand of God.’

Around this time my first short story had appeared in a literary magazine. A second one had been accepted for publication. Still, my stack of rejection slips was thicker than the Montreal phone book. As a reader, I was immersed in the gritty world of post-war British fiction. Three titles still resonate some thirty-five years on, perhaps because they were sports oriented: Alan Sillitoe’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,’ David Storey’s ‘This Sporting Life’ and Brian Glanville’s collection of stories ‘Goalkeepers Are Crazy.’ Though the activities depicted were foreign to my experience, the insight into the universality of competition was not. These books in my library will outlive me.

Dad collected stamps his entire life. Another quiet, deskbound passion of his was digging around the roots of the Moore family tree. Dad wrote letters to various civic officials in English cities and towns seeking copies of official records. He’d enclose a modest money order to cover time spent on his behalf, usually five pounds. He managed to trace our family back to 1760, to one John Moore, a picture frame maker in Gloucester.

In 2005 my older brother, my older sister and I accompanied Dad to England. He was getting on. Since the early seventies the four of us had spent an exceedingly small amount of time together as a unit. Dad carried sheets of engineers’ graph paper filled with his precise printing. We had addresses for Moore family homes and businesses throughout the south of England: Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Fishponds, Gloucester, Hove and Salisbury. Dad of course had his own memories from previous visits and the war years spent in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Some of ‘our’ buildings were still intact, amazing given the passage of centuries and the Blitz aimed at factory towns and ports. We visited cousins and friends; we poked around graveyards seeking the resting places of ancestors.

During an afternoon lull in Gloucester I left the hotel we’d just registered at to investigate a Tesco store on the other side of a traffic roundabout. For the most part, my career in advertising had generally been intertwined with the grocery industry and the brands on the shelves. I was curious; I’ve always enjoyed walking up and down the aisles of grocery stores, especially those outside of Canada. There was a building beside the store with a kiddie playground, swings, slides, monkey bars, by its entrance. At first I thought it was a school or a daycare. I eventually realized it was a pub.

I went in. The space was jammed with people wearing either red or blue, and grey cigarette smoke. Children ran around shrieking or crawled along the floor. Madness. An October fixture between Chelsea and Liverpool. I ordered a pint, stood back and watched the fans watch their game. I felt as if I was inside Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch,’ a bookmark or a keepsake.

England is favoured over Croatia tomorrow. If that really meant anything they wouldn’t play the game and the betting shops wouldn’t offer odds that entice half their clientele to lay money to the contrary. Anything can happen. Yet there’s a giddy sense too that ‘anything’ has already happened: Argentina, Brazil and Germany, always favoured to advance, are out. England could reach the final and conceivably abscond with the country’s second World Cup. Given the current state of affairs in the old country, there’s no better time for a miracle.

My new novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Deliver Us

Years ago, before Hollywood devolved into a chum factory of sequels, when black and white television could not compete with it for eyeballs, most suburban households had a set of TV trays. Though eating in front of the television didn’t really compare to going to the movies, it nonetheless made for a pretty special evening. The meals of choice were Swanson TV dinners.

The menu was somewhat limited, fried chicken or leathery beef in brown gravy. The sides consisted of a vegetable, corn or peas and diced carrots, and salty whipped potatoes. Dessert was two forkfuls of mystery fruit cobbler, usually red. Each serving was neatly tucked into its own compartment on a foil tray which in turn was designed to nestle atop the portable furniture. God help us all, these frozen dinners were considered treats.

Naturally, some benevolent genius at Swanson decided that we could never have too much of a good thing. Subsequently the company launched a line of frozen lunches. Swanson learned quickly that it had erred in foisting sub-par inconvenience on consumers. People were not averse to heating a tin of soup and making a sandwich of their choice. That process took less time than heating the ersatz Swanson product in an oven. Their homemade sandwich tasted better. The noontime DIY efficiency promoted an inexpensive sense of accomplishment.

Theme restaurants were all the rage in the 90s. The business model was compliments of the Hard Rock CafĂ©. Sound and clever ideas will always be copied but they tend to lose their initial integrity as they’re increasingly replicated. Hard Rocks were McDonald’s for the Woodstock set, only cooler: much memorabilia, many autographs and a Dear Mr. Fantasy vibe for jukebox heroes.

Then came Planet Hollywood. Patrons were dismayed by the instant realization that they would never be seated next to Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. When they perused the prices on their menus, their eyes popped. Then they tasted the food. Suddenly a frozen Swanson TV lunch became Michelin star-worthy, cordon bleu.

There are a few take-aways from these old stories, wisdom to go, as it were. There is no economical or efficient method to simplify simplicity. People derive pleasure from completing an uncomplicated task. Making a sandwich is far less daunting than another week at work or writing a novel. Novelty itself has a short shelf life. And finally, most people are savvy enough to deke being gouged, to pay too much for too little.

Last week Cineplex, a cinema chain, announced an alliance with Uber Eats. Film buffs in certain Canadian markets will now be able to have movie theatre popcorn and other snacks such as nachos and hot dogs delivered to their homes to enhance their Netflix binge experience. What’s wrong with this moving picture?

There’s a reason why people sneak their private stashes of snacks into movie theatres.  They’re not misers. It’s because concession-stand fare is drastically overpriced. Nor is the food available particularly good. Cineplex is dreaming in Technicolor if it expects film fans who already avoid its theatres to order its lousy, costly snacks to their homes and pay a delivery surcharge on top.

The other flaw in the Cineplex scheme is obvious. Ten minutes is about all it takes for anybody to cook a hot dog, heat a tray of nachos or prepare a bowl of popcorn. If one is prepared to spend two passive hours watching a screen, one can spare ten minutes to eliminate delivery waiting time, save money and enjoy better food. Cineplex executives are counting on a Hollywood ending for their grand experiment, but they forgot the Planet part.

My new novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.