Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Take This Job, Please

A recent issue of The Economist featured a four-page spread headlined Executive Focus. Though essentially career opportunities most of us are unqualified to pursue, I was nonetheless intrigued.

America’s Central Intelligence Agency was recruiting according to a half-page, vertical, full-colour ad. No specific work background required but candidates with experience in business and marketing were deemed highly desirable. I thought, “There it is, the job I’ve wanted my entire life, and I finally fit some of the criteria!” America’s bloated intelligence industry which inflated insanely following 9/11 is facing a crisis. Though operations have become increasingly digitized in the Information Age, the best and brightest minds are instead drawn to Silicon Valley, lured by better money and less stringent working conditions. I thought, “The CIA will hire anybody now,” until I read the fine print: I could not join the drug-free workforce without possessing United States citizenship. “Can’t go for those, no can do.” Glee gone.

I turned the page to face a double-truck, black-only, bilingual ad seeking a new president and chief executive officer for Canada Post and its trio of subsidiaries. Lately I’ve been re-fighting the Second World War on YouTube, watching ancient episodes of Garrison’s Gorillas, The Rat Patrol and Combat!. Each series boasts a similar scene: some poor, perspiring bastard on his hands and knees poking at the dirt in a minefield with the tip of his bayonet. This is the job the Government of Canada hopes someone other than me will apply for, in confidence.

Times have changed since the Upper and Lower Canadas confederated in 1867. Canadian Crown corporations sport spotty histories. For the most part, these bastards of a mixed economy were created to supply essential services that the private sector was incapable, unwilling or distrusted to provide. In theory Crown corporations are models of enlightened capitalism in that profit is not their main goal but nor is draining the national treasury and so breaking even each fiscal year is the middling, sensible bar set for these entities.

Every Canadian taxpayer is a stakeholder in every Canadian Crown corporation. Every Canadian should derive some incremental benefit from the existence of any government administered business. The hitch is that Crown corporations are government businesses. They are subject to the philosophy, will and whims of the ruling party in Ottawa; long-term vision might last for three years or less because there’s always an election on the horizon. Senior executive positions, patronage plums, used to be doled out to committee room fixers, bagmen, party acolytes deemed too greasy for more prestigious Senate appointments. All a bit like the CIA these days: not much experience necessary.

Canada Post is a venerable 19th century institution attempting to cope in the 21st. Besides, telegraphs and telegrams were never a threat. Nor was Bell Telephone: people kept writing letters because long distance was so expensive. Cell phones were expensive toys for busy salesmen. Electronic mail was destined to remain an internal corporate communications tool. The disastrous parallel is Kodak blindly convinced that people would always require its film for their cameras (and high school drug dealers its canisters).

Faced with a rapidly declining volume of letter mail, unwieldy labour contracts and fearsome pension obligations, Canada Post finally began to pivot. The proposal that irked Canadians coast to coast to coast was the cessation of home delivery in favour of community mailboxes. Fewer carriers, inexpensive part-timers, could cover more walks. This was not a radical innovation. The method had already been implemented in apartment buildings, condominium developments and new suburban sub-divisions. Canada’s population is getting old; a goodly portion of us remember when the postman always rang twice and turned up again on Saturdays. And by God, we fought for the ongoing household delivery of nothing rather than walking a block for no reason.

We’re fortunate at the Crooked 9. By some quirk of fate we still have home delivery. However, our regular carrier has not been striding her route for a week now. I hope she’s on holiday and not been rotated to another neighbourhood in the city. Her substitute is some kid who wears a black flu mask – probably over his eyes because any mail we’ve received recently needs to be redirected to our neighbours. Maybe he could get work with the CIA, they’ll hire anybody, although dead letter drops might be tricky.

Canada Post’s venture into the digital world has met with middling results. Essentially the Crown Corporation was years late and an algorithm short. The other two pillars of continuing viability present an interesting juxtaposition. Direct mail, addressed or unaddressed, junk to you, works, does its job for marketers. Quaint though still remarkably effective, flyers, pamphlets and postcards draw consumers to sellers in their towns.

Cannily, Canada Post plays both sides of the country’s diminishing main streets. Revenue comes in e-commerce cartons, parcel delivery. Here, ironically, Canada Post competes against itself because Purolator, its courier subsidiary, does the exact same thing. A logistics analyst might describe the situation as a dual delivery stream. All I see are conflicting brands, and redundancies of services, jobs, fleets and facilities. A formal unification of the co-habiting cannibals only makes sense.

The morass would lay ahead, in the stew of negotiating to unite two different corporate cultures, one heavily unionized and the other not so much. A family discussion becomes a heated screaming match, dirty work. The elderly, the disabled, grandstanding politicians and union stewards will shriek about the demise of the old ways even though the status quo is ultimately the gateway to a wasteland haunted by the ghosts of Kodak and Toys “R” Us; a smoking moonscape populated with the broke spirits of Canada Post pensioners who like former Sears workers depended on their employer for a dignified retirement. Do you want this job? Are dissent, pizza flyers and hamburger coupons your passion?

Monday, 12 March 2018


It’s a Wash

Eventually you get around to sitting down at the kitchen counter and doing the math. Ann and I had become almost intimate with the gentleman who maintained our 30-year-old Maytag washer and dryer set. The washing machine leaked transmission fluid and sometimes water. But it was a top load with a proper agitator and immense capacity. The gas dryer’s igniter failed frequently which meant, if we weren’t paying attention, the machine would spin forever without heat.

Facts must be faced. After our repairman threw up his hands for the final time last week, he suggested a stacked unit on sale at an appliance store which extended additional discounts to his customers. After he left, Ann and I rushed out and bought his recommendation. Neither of us slept that night because we both had doubts about the viability of a tall, low capacity condo unit jury-rigged into the defined spaces of a bungalow constructed in 1955; we agreed we had made a poor decision in haste.

The salesman understood when Ann phoned him in the morning and cancelled our order. “Better now than after delivery,” he told her. Trouble was, we’d have to go back to the appliance store, and some days hell for me is shopping amid the company of strangers. Following a burst of online research including Consumer Reports, we returned to the store and settled upon an energy efficient washer and dryer finished in very fashionable graphite tones. They were on sale and also qualified for a modest government rebate. They would also fit into their allocated spaces.

The trouble with modern appliances is that all their electronics make old fashioned, mechanical repair moot. Front loaders become immense mouldy Petri dishes if they’re not cared for properly. Our salesman was forthright: “I’ll tell you right now that these won’t last 30 years.” Swell, consumer durables are disposable but at least they look cool.

After the new appliances were delivered and we'd re-hung a couple of doors (an inch matters), we phoned our repairman to book their installations because we trust him and, anyway, we helped his kids through college. He said to me, “Don’t tell your wife but you’ve made a big mistake.” He added, “And don’t ask me to repair these. Ever.” Finally he pronounced that the 220-volt socket above the dryer emitted only 110 volts and consequently our new dryer had no heat. Swell, right back where we started. “You should’ve kept the gas dryer!”

“But, you said…” You know what? You flicked the switch on this whole, maddening merry-go-round! You know what? I’m much happier when my day-to-day routine isn’t disrupted! You know what? I don’t like milling about appliance stores! You know what? I’ve got other things on what’s left of my mind, like trying to get my third novel on press!

The circuit breaker panel in the Crooked 9 is just off the kitchen, conveniently situated behind a bookshelf which is anchored to the wall. Before the electrician arrived I cleaned off the shelves, removing my plastic, spring-loaded American eagle jumpsuit Elvis, a cheesy, frowning tiki (wisdom and patience) purchased at a Maui souvenir stall, a Bob Marley Exodus lighter I bought in Bridgetown, a tin of AC/DC Australian hardrock beer with Black Ice artwork (brewed in France), Ann’s cookbooks and my bird books. All of this labour for a fix that took an expert less than five minutes.

With everything finally working, and the house to ourselves, Ann and I washed the laundry room floor. It sparkled the best it could. The new haute mode machines looked good. But didn’t the walls, the window sill, the trim, the door now seem worn, tired and drab? Of course they did. Best to repaint a dreary basement room before spring arrives and the days get long; best to keep that big, hellish, ball of disruption rolling downhill while the momentum is still palpable. What’s another few days of agitation?

Sunday, 25 February 2018


A New Novel Coming Soon

I’ve wasted two years fretting out the back door window, watching the birds, churning over the future of my third novel The Garage Sailor. Publishers release fewer titles and book shops sell throw cushions and candles. An archaic industry struggles with disruption. And I’m aware that what I write appeals to a very slim audience, if anyone at all. A couple of people I know have seriously suggested that I seek psychological help although who are we to argue with what goes on in my head? However, I am capable of scribbling a well written story.

The Garage Sailor is the most commercial book I’ve written which probably isn’t saying much. But hey, it features a diabetic tabby cat, I mean, c’mon, that’s cute. There’s some prose about being a rabid music fan too: maybe too much or perhaps not enough? Falcon Press published my first two works and I am grateful to that organization, but this time around I’ve decided to crash and burn on my own - without professional help.

There is a stigma attached to self-publishing. Personally, I imagine a Holocaust denier busy in his garage cranking out damp pamphlets from an antique mimeograph machine, high on hate and chemicals. Me, I will own up to being a relatively harmless misfit with a weathered voice. My friend Netflix Derek jokes that I write “dick lit.” Male readers don’t tend toward fiction and oftentimes I wonder why I bother to do what I’m apparently wired to do. Still, I believe The Garage Sailor deserves more than a seventh draft stack of paper constricted by a blue rubber band.

Thirty-nine years ago a creative director at McKim in Montreal harrumphed to me that everyone in the ad industry had a manuscript in their desk and that’s where they tended to remain; I would be no different. Upon the publication of a couple of short stories and then because of the gracious support of Falcon Press, I’ve been able to spare him a few smug second thoughts through the ensuing decades – I’ve never been overly prolific.

Flogging a novel is a lot like job hunting. Everyone worries about the potential fit. I’ve always tried to manage my own existence on my terms. Slots designated by others never particularly suited me. Despite the highest hopes and the best of intentions, the results I’ve achieved have often careened between disastrous and catastrophic. Life hasn’t been a picnic and I suppose I haven’t been one either.

Well, here I go again, as stubborn as ever, trying to do something my way. Inspired friends of mine, talented artists, musicians and entrepreneurs whom I respect and admire, are doing it for themselves. The tools to augment this young century’s DIY ethos are readily available at a reasonable price - for the first time in all of human history. The times, they are a sea changin’. No point in testing the water, time to dive in. I am excited. I am utterly petrified.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018


Encounters with the Lord of the Dance

Ann and I attended two funerals last week. Both of the deceased lived in our immediate neighbourhood. One of the men was our age which was cause for alarm. We’d often bump into John at Blues on Whyte, Edmonton’s premier lowdown music venue. The second gentleman died a day or two short of his ninety-third birthday and that was cold comfort. We’d chat with Earl in our shared back lane, careful always to reintroduce ourselves because he was legally blind. All the kids on the block knew John’s children and they all used to scamper through Earl’s yard shortcutting street to street. Earl thought kids having fun was a fine thing indeed.

The death rite has become less exotic these past five years. So much so, that if I had the wherewithal, the know-how and the backing, I’d create a Rate the Funeral Sandwiches app. But to what purpose, really? Only James Bond lived twice and everybody knows to avoid rancid Spam sandwiches lovingly assembled by well-intentioned Red Hat ladies and how egg salad can turn toxic in a hurry. Ann and I have been to a lot funerals together. I guess we’re at that age: the terrible tombs.

The upside of course is that life waltzes on. Over the weekend Ann and I partook in the celebration of her great-nephew Jake’s eighteenth birthday, a brilliant excuse to gather the clan. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I don’t know, but Jake is as heavily into music as his parents, his grandfather, his great auntie and her consort. Perhaps because it’s retro and somewhat exotic, or just sounds better, Jake is into vinyl. Consequently, a gang of his relatives invaded the indie music shop on Whyte Friday afternoon to watch Jake spend his birthday booty.

Forty years between us but my tastes and Jake’s overlap: Cream and Led Zeppelin, for example. In this disrupted age of streaming subscription services vinyl is obscenely expensive, much more so than compact discs when they began to appear in the marketplace in the mid-eighties. A decade earlier, sometime in the seventies when I would’ve been about Jake’s age, an hour’s wage was good for two long players, provided they were on sale or plucked from the delete bin. A curious fan could afford to explore.

My advice to Jake was, “If you’re into Zep, start with Physical Graffiti.” Speaking as a former advertising production manager, the packaging alone is a triumph of design. I figured also that their mid-career masterpiece would allow Jake to slide backward and forward through Led Zep’s catalogue should he be so inclined.

Sunday night, the midpoint of the Family Day long weekend: three generations of Jake’s family and various friends and relations went pub crawling; swilling shots with your mother and grandfather probably wasn’t the holiday’s intent. There was music all through the frozen night which ultimately culminated in a magical moment: every patron in a karaoke bar singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” accompanists to the newly minted voter on the mic, a birthday boy on his first legal night out.

A few hours prior our roving party had descended en masse on Blues on Whyte. A band was playing. We occupied a long table facing the stage, seating for fourteen. I glanced over at John’s usual table, where he’d always sat with his wife and their friends. It was vacant. Jake and the other kids were on the dance floor, having fun, cutting moves to the soundtrack of the great world spinning. And the beat goes on and on, as it will, as it must. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018


Doctor King Rocks a Ram

Martin Luther King Day was celebrated in the United States this past January 15th, less than one month ago. The late civil rights visionary and inspiring orator is perhaps under-served by such a national honour; a pause on a frigid winter’s day doesn’t quite envelope the man in full nor grant a genuine martyr proper justice and respect.

The Super Bowl was played on February 4th. The American championship football game is the singular global television event of the year. The sport itself is no longer the main attraction. The half-time spectacle, a 13- or 14-minute mini concert by one of the world’s biggest music stars draws viewers. The performer works gratis in exchange for exposure to hundreds of millions of ears and eyeballs. Advertisers, famous brands with immense marketing budgets, pile on hoping to share the numbers, leverage that one glorious evening of heightened receptivity. People want to watch ‘the Super Bowl ads’ televised during football’s annual finale. The commercials aren’t invasive or intrusive tonight; no, they’re part of the show!

Big brand. Big spend. Big stage. Big audience. Big opportunity. Big recipe for disaster.

Great advertising will reward you for a few moments of your attention. Essentially, a good ad is the shortest story ever told. You may glean a useful bit of information, have a chuckle or experience an emotion, warm or bittersweet. The tacit intention of the deal is always positive. Great advertising plunders the current zeitgeist and sometimes even pings an agency’s creation back into pop culture to form a sort of Mobius strip of common reference. Classic examples include ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ and Apple’s ‘1984.’

Bad advertising botches any such aspirations exponentially. Metaphors are butchered and analogies slaughtered for a minute of well-intentioned, contrived and patronizing pain that seems to last a lot longer. North American society is more divided than ever. Lately the New World pie hasn’t been doled out in wedges so much as slashed apart by a knife-wielding serial killer. Left, right, up, down, black, white, aboriginal and everyone caught in between, we can’t even mutter at ourselves in our bathroom mirrors let alone converse civilly with other people. Advertisers mean well, bridges (the exclusive walls of luxury brands aside) are generally in their interests. The more consumers, the merrier.

This is how we end up with Dr King, professional football and pickup trucks in the same sentence. God bless Super Sunday but the revolution will not be televised. The Dodge Ram spot debuted incorporates a speech by Dr King extolling the virtue of service to God and community ergo Ram trucks are ‘Built to Serve.’ Expropriating the words of an assassinated African-American reverend in the BlackLivesMatter era in a country still obviously grappling with race after the violent cessation of its 19th century slave economy and then serving up ‘Serve’ in the tag is so wrong-headed as to beggar any, any branding rationale. Nor is there an iota of evidence that Dr King was a closet gearhead, a Road & Track subscriber who frequently paused in his quest for universal civil rights to dream about engine torque and horsepower. 

Decades previous, rockers Bob Seger and John Mellencamp allowed Chevrolet to use songs of theirs to sell trucks. Seger said Detroit was his hometown and if ‘Like a Rock’ helped move another Chevy or two and kept a factory line going, he was okay with that. Mellencamp was less altruistic. He figured that since corporate radio had reduced his entire career to three songs, a television commercial was as good a way as any to give exposure to his latest single.

The speeches of Dr King are in the public domain. As such, his family has no say on the use of something they don’t own. One hopes they were consulted, at least out of courtesy. Perhaps, like Seger and Mellencamp, they were able to somehow rationalize a Super Bowl audience of millions to spread the wisdom and legacy of Dr King. The likely scenario is that the King family was helpless to intervene and is now sickened and embarrassed by the appalling ‘Built to Serve’ result.

Sunday, 4 February 2018


Love from Russia! XOXO!!

A meGeoff world exclusive! Your intrepid blogger has obtained an e-mail written by a senior White House official to the president himself, a close relation, eyes only. Its authenticity has been verified by independent sources. Its content promises to blow the lid off the 45th administration. Or not, because there’s no real news here.

Daddy Dearest,

I took another meeting with Boris and Natasha at the T. Tower. They’re well acquainted with our friend Vlad – as you know. We had a very productive working lunch although the steak was a little chewy. Ketchup might be my favourite condominium! LOL!

I’ll keep this brief because I know you’re busy. Two items of very good news. Tremendous news. Huge. Very, very big.

First, remember when no bank would lend us money for our projects? And we met those nice men in Italian suits in Moscow who provided the bridge loans? The ones with all those icky tattoos? They’re prepared to write off our entire debt! All they ask in return is a simple business arrangement, the ability to keep funneling money through our properties, especially the ones with casinos. A no-brainer, no strings attached, so I agreed. You are an inspired genius with a very high Q.I. to diversify into private financial services! Amaze balls!

Secondly, and best of all, Boris and Natasha promised more dirty laundry on Crooked Hillary! Did you know she ran a pedicure ring out of a pizza parlour in DC? Drain the swamp! Lock her up! There’s an e-mail trail too, they say. Who would be stupid enough to write anything down? Anyway, there’s still three years to teach that social climbing wonk a lesson she’ll never forget! Sweet revenge!

Must run. Have a meeting with the Feds I can’t blow off as you haven't fired them all. Boris and Natasha said not to worry about it. The Kremlin did not interfere in the last election. Collusion only applies to labour law, as you well know. Conspiracy and obstruction, whatever they are, aren’t easy to prove. In fact, they said Vlad really approves of the state our great country is in under your inspired leadership and that he’s more than happy to take up the slack given our shrinking spore of influence. Or something like that. It’s all good.

Hey, before I forget, who is Stormy Daniels? Her name came up a couple of times. Did she write your book or act on your TV show? I asked Melania but she got like, all frosty? Climate change or what! OMG!

Love you, big guy

Donnie Jr

PS: Has that Phillipino cook at your place learned how to make a decent Big Mac yet? Do I need to order the limo to stop at the drive-thru on my way from the helipad?

Tuesday, 30 January 2018


Very Bad Optics

Stop the world, I want to get off. Because most of us are not blind and because most of us have two eyes, I’m going to restrain myself to remarking upon just two active news stories that make me want to add vodka to my morning shot of cranberry juice.

German automaker Volkswagen is still reeling from last year’s jury-rigged software emissions scandal. It has since come to light that the company has been testing the toxicity of its vehicles’ exhaust on primates and people.

As is the case with many countries, Germany is burdened with some evil history. Volkswagen’s latest misstep leads to the ultimate “What the fuck were you thinking?” question. This is bigger than a car manufacturer attempting to make good or disprove poor past behaviour. The global takeaway is succinct: Germans, experiments, gas, humans. Das epic public relations national disaster.

Meanwhile in Washington, Tweeterdumbest is set to purse his lips and flash the A-Okay index finger and thumb symbol at his first State of the Union address, a revered and important annual tradition in American politics. And didn’t a batch of tickets invite VIPs to attend the “State of the Uniom?”

Granted, the White House did not issue the ducats and the letters N and M are neighbours on the QWERTY keyboard. But doesn’t a typo and a lack of proof reading sum up the current presidential administration rather neatly? Details? Who needs them?

Those involved in contentious debate about the Second Amendment understand that even the placement of a comma is problematic. One wonders about the little legislation that’s been passed on Tweeterdumbest’s watch and what’s been pinned onto it to ensure a yea vote and whether any wonk involved has actually read the text through before the lawyers pile on in courtrooms?

There’s much, much more going on in the world to rant about and despair, drive me to drink. I’m restricting myself to two for now.