Saturday, 19 May 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Bite Your Tongue!

My mouth is full of scar tissue. It was crammed with sharp metal braces during the 70s. I’ve received blows to the head while playing sports and drinking at university beer bashes. I’ve escaped screaming nightmares by biting myself awake. Sometimes the simple reflexive action of chewing food gets complicated. Worse, I’ve eaten my words many times and serif fonts tend to go down like glass shards and razors.

Late last month I turned up at my dentist’s office one morning for my regularly scheduled scaling and cleaning. I was no sooner reclined in the chair with my back already becoming sore and my jaw unhooked like a snake who’s about to swallow a rodent when the hygienist said, “Oh.”

I said, “Umgh?”

“I’m going to take a picture for Doctor to get a second opinion but I think you’ll have to see a pathologist. You appear to have a pre-cancerous lesion on the floor of your mouth.”

I thought: Swell. And wasn’t the graphic warning on the packet of cigarettes in the pocket of my leather jacket the oral cancer one. Was this irony or mere pathetic fallacy? Coincidence and probability more likely, a random carton of Player’s from a random convenience store.

“Have you eaten any sharp foods lately? Potato chips?”

“Umgh.”

Meanwhile, would I like to watch the skinny television mounted on the ceiling? No. No, thanks. I’ll just stare at the Philips Econ-o-watt logo on the fluorescent light tubes and count the baffling number of holes punched through the t-bar ceiling panels. “We’ll just continue with your appointment.” And I’ll just live with the stuff you’ve sent reverberating through my head, listen to the noise of your tools and my silent voice. Fair enough?

So, I had 30 or 40 uncomfortable minutes to endure in a place I hate to contemplate cancer. The disease is slowly killing my mother. It killed my big brother. I believe cancer killed my father too in a way: Dad, a Second World War air force veteran, had his own health issues but to live longer than his first born child even as he himself was nearing the end of his life was just a little too much more to bear.

I thought: This could be bad, some sort of head cancer or something. The doctors will have to saw off my jawbone, remove my neck, cut out my tongue and extract my esophagus. They don’t do skull transplants. Maybe the cancer has already metastasized into my lungs and brain? And probably some organ around my stomach that I’ve taken for granted. What does a pancreas do, anyway? Fuckit, they wouldn’t even operate because some medical bureaucrat would sniff that I was a poor patient: “He smokes, he drinks and he likes deli food, pizza and hot dogs. He’s not proactive about wellness. Never ate kale. Can you imagine? Sad bastard deserves everything that’s coming to him and I hope it hurts.”

Scrape. Scrape.

I thought: Everything’s fine until it’s not. I just wanted the black coffee stains on my teeth polished away. As for dying, a cardiac keel-over shoveling snow would be a blessing, no disfigurement and minimal pain. Death itself isn’t scary but the Reaper’s method can be terrifying, torture, drawn out.

Scrape. Scrape.

I thought: This is just great, me dying of cancer in the dentist’s office. If Mom has to bury both of her sons that would reduce the family to just our sister and Mom, and they’ve been butting heads since 1954. Don’t want to leave a legacy of conflict. All right, at least my will is up to date and The Great Big Book of Very Important Documents, housing certificates of baptism and birth (in that order), insurance policies, copyrights, computer passwords, investments and other notarized documentation detailing my time on Earth is on the floor of the closet in the spare room. The paperwork is done except for my certificate of death. It’s all good.

Scrape. Scrape.

I thought: Stick with the original cremation plan because who wants to view a decapitated cancerous head in a very small open casket or an Amazon shipping box? Organ donation for sure, but my lungs and liver have been heavily used, not my call. I offered my brother a kidney toward the end of his life, but he already had two and they seemed to be working okay. Other internal bits and parts had failed him before their warranties were due to expire. I would have exchanged my existence for his but that’s an impossible deal to broker with another’s indifferent malignant disease.

Scrape. Scrape.

I thought: My death will be a hassle for Ann. She’ll have a lot on her plate following my departure. I know she loves me and will miss me but she’ll have to get on with things. I better formulate a play list; help her out with some details for the biggest day of my life, my end of life celebration which I don’t believe I’ll be able to attend. Ding dong! Geoff is dead! “Pow! Right between the eyes/Oh, how nature loves her little surprises.” Joe Walsh’s Life of Illusion, good one, “Wow! It all seems so logical now.” Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill: “Son, he said, grab your things I’ve come to take you home.” The wistful wisdom of the Faces’ lovely Ooh La La will be apropos if a little late: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” Oh, and Springsteen’s Better Days, this one’s going out to you, my darling Ann.

Scrape. Scrape.

I thought: Since I won’t be able to talk I must write it down for Ann: don’t forget that fabulous Rolling Stones boot of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away on YouTube. “Give me the beat boys and free my soul/I want to get lost in your rock ‘n’ roll and drift away… Thanks for the joy you’ve given me…” A good note to go out on minus my head and sundry organs, says it all about everyone and everything in my life, really.

“Okay, we’re done. Doctor’s just going to examine your lesion.”

“Umgh.”

“Geoff! Nice to see you! How’s Ann? I’m just going to have a look.” He got his fingers, his instruments and a bit of cotton into my mouth, manipulated my tongue, peered around, checked his computer screen. “Yes, yes… No, nothing’s changed since you started coming to see us five years ago. I’ve been monitoring it. There’s some scar tissue but your gums are pink and healthy and your teeth are strong. You have good genes! Have a great day!”

“Umgh.”

I thought: Well, it’s off to a great fucking start. Here it is, not even noon and I’ve already died and risen. Thanks for that. Christ.

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

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

THE GARAGE SAILOR

A Man Out of Time

John Doyle, the snarky and often hilarious Irishman who scribbles as the Globe and Mail’s television critic has argued for years that intricate long form series have replaced the novel as the world’s favoured storytelling platform. He cites ‘The Sopranos’ as the seminal torque of transition, a show whose debut coincided with and encouraged the rise of specialized cable channels. His premise is difficult to refute.

There’s compelling anecdotal evidence on the ground. My nephew, a petroleum engineer under the age of 30, says none of his friends read. I know a couple of them and they possess university English degrees. There are too many other forms of entertainment readily available across a slew of electronic devices. In my circle of friends, the guys as they’ve aged have gradually gravitated toward non-fiction.

My novel The Garage Sailor is about the mostly male world of dedicated music fandom, B-sides, vinyl collecting and noisy chat boards. It’s a world I suppose I should’ve grown up and out of, a sort of sub-culture joy to be squashed by the realities of everyday life. But some old habits are so hard to shake. Upon reflection I realize I’ve spent five or six years writing a story which will appeal to no known demographic. Time well wasted perhaps. Then again, love, longing, greed and even nostalgia are universal human feelings, common traits. Does it really matter if your copy of Black Market Clash is the original EP, the extended CD or whether you even own it?

Alias Jones is a character in The Garage Sailor. A has-been, a dusty Canadian rock legend, a one hit wonder who sat atop the world in 1970, another man out of time, much like me. He was not all that difficult to conjure because my head is filled with useless information and trivia. I’m afflicted with the dreamer’s disease. Still, it’s peculiar what you retain through the years and what memories you tug at to create a character.

When I was growing up in Montreal the city had two competing English-language newspapers, broadsheets, the morning Gazette and the afternoon Star. Their Saturday editions were thick, stuffed with extra sections, colour comics and magazine supplements - square trimmed and saddle stitched. One Saturday I read and reread a magazine feature about Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Their album Not Fragile had become a massive hit; I was playing that record constantly in the basement on a cheap little Fleetwood stereo. The story mentioned in passing that Randy Bachman’s previous band, the Guess Who, had sold more albums than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1970. Hmm.

What would my aged teen idol be doing as the 20th century morphed into the 21st? In 1991 my ball club, the Just Abouts, entered an annual and provincially legendary slo-pitch tournament held in Edson, Alberta. The gas station-pancake restaurant on the highway through town was selling a book which irrefutably proved that the Rolling Stones were agents of Satan. The headlining music act for the Saturday night shaker was Trooper, regrettable AM radio kings from back in the day, the 70s, and unfortunately, still working. Hmm.

My rocker needed a name. One bonus of my mother remarrying was colour television and cable - three channels from American border stations. There was a short-lived western on air around 1975 called ‘Alias Smith and Jones,’ sort of a network’s take on Newman and Redford, Butch and Sundance. Terrible television. However, Alias Jones sounded like a cool sort of stage name, not Ziggy Stardust exactly, but… Hmm.

The Garage Sailor is in part about identities: proper names, Internet chat names. Why would someone like Alias Jones come to prominence again so many decades after the height he’d hit just once? What if during his time in the stratosphere he’d recorded a song with an ex-Beatle who sometimes called himself Sir Winston O’Boogie? Glory days, lost weekends, pure gold by any other name: if only he could get the lone recording of the song back and top the charts one more time. Hmm.

The Garage Sailor has set sail. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

THE GARAGE SAILOR

Playing the Slot

I’ve been squirming inside my skin for more than 58 years now. Depending how you date its genesis, the release of ‘Earth Angel,’ ‘Rocket 88,’ ‘Maybellene,’ ‘That’s All Right’ or something else, I’m about five to seven years younger than rock ‘n’ roll. It shaped and informed my life and it still does.

The Garage Sailor is a novel about a fan, an aged one still finding comfort and meaning in the devil’s music. His unremarkable existence of reassuring routine is upended after he stumbles upon rock ‘n’ roll gold at a garage sale. A story I made up but worth writing and well worth reading.

In the nascent days of the since disrupted record industry, songs waxed by regional labels like Chess or Sun were more often than not distributed haphazardly from the trunks of reps’ automobiles. Record shops as we knew them did not yet exist. The classic example from those days is future Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s decision to stock vinyl in his family’s furniture store.

My outlet for The Garage Sailor is a digital storefront. Have a look at it at Megeoff.com. If you decide to purchase the book for $29.98, my obligation is to ship it to you at a reasonable, competitive price. I cannot afford you abandoning your cart at checkout nor can I afford red ink distribution costs to swamp an already lean margin. This is an e-commerce problem, my particular problem. There is nothing new under the sun and everything old is new again but I cannot turn up at your home wearing a seersucker suit, sporting a fedora and unlock the trunk of my Cadillac.

Canada Post plays the slots. Every outlet has at least one acrylic sheet that features a range of die-cut slots. If your package fits through one of them the carrier designates it ‘lettermail’ and not a parcel, and the crown corporation has staked its very viability on parcels. The cost saving between the two is substantial. I figured a reader’s threshold for being shipped The Garage Sailor within Canada maxed out at $5. I also was aware that The Garage Sailor at 275 pages, weighing about a pound and packaged in a bulky bubble envelope would languish on its digital display because of an expensive parcel rate of $12 to $13.

If I were to sum up my 25 years in advertising using the words of a colleague or client, they would read: “We’ve got a deadline and no budget. Make it happen.” Following a brief silent pause to wonder, “Why bother?” and then thinking, “Go fuck yourself and stop wasting my time,” I’d then set about solving the problem, a process I enjoyed. I’m solutions-driven, solving other people’s self-perpetuated professional problems is my passion! Christ. If your career induces ulcers, it pays to be fickle about your seeping internal organ fissures; they’re not to be wasted.

And so after I told myself to go fuck myself, I lit a cigarette and considered my problem with Sailor. I had to play by Canada Post rules, a slim slot package had to get to interested readers undamaged. The bar was set, $5. It was too late to shave the point size of the font and cut a few pages of the novel’s length. And call me crazy but at my age I appreciate legible text.

I had to game the system. The Garage Sailor is to a large extent about records. I hit upon the idea of wrapping the book in clear plastic food wrap. A layer of Saran would suggest LP packaging and keep the corners of the cover and pages tight, no dog-ears from sloppy handling. But I didn’t believe a standard kraft paper envelope would be sturdy enough for proper fulfillment although I had a hunch an unpadded envelope would fit Canada Post’s ‘lettermail’ slot.

My Edmonton neighbourhood is in transition. Older homes have been demolished. Lots have been sub-divided. New builds before they get their streetscape skins are usually wrapped with Tyvek, a durable and synthetic paper-like substrate resistant to tearing and moisture. I used to print banners and ice graphics on it. TYVEC, big blue sans-serif letters on every block and avenue. My mental gears clicked, “Hey, wait! I can buy envelopes made of Tyvec!” So I did.

All advance orders of The Garage Sailor have shipped. Discounting my time and the costs of Tyvec envelopes and leftover food cellophane, I’m losing a nickel per unit instead of $6 or $7. Even I can do that math.

 The Garage Sailor is ready to ship to you, at minimal cost. Honest. I've done my homework. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

A Little Victory

Avenue is a glossy lifestyle magazine focused on the fashion, food and d├ęcor trending in Edmonton. There is a sister Calgary edition too. Its limited content is largely irrelevant to me as are its ads which trumpet expensive stuff I neither need nor desire. The May issue arrived at the Crooked 9 this morning, inserted into The Globe and Mail. It was particularly insipid.

I flipped through a six-page colour photo spread featuring the pampered dogs of prominent Edmontonians muttering, “Jesus,” repeatedly. The dogs were interviewed: What’s your favourite activity? “Hanging out with my humans.”  Where do you like to shop? Jesus. Everybody and everything get a grip.

I generally don’t mind dogs. I don’t even mind some of their owners. That said, I’ve been on a five-year mission, gunning for a certain neighbourhood dog lady. I know her name. I know where she lives. But I’ve never been able to catch her in the act of depositing her dog’s excrement in my back alley garbage bins. I’ve considered posting a rude warning on the fence. I’ve considered lying in wait with a Daisy Red Rider BB gun and winging her. And I’ve been careful not to let her infuriating behaviour become an obsession of mine.

Saturday morning was sunny and warm. I was working in the backyard, raking mange from the lawn and collecting the leaves I’d missed last fall because of the early snow. I was near the gate, facing the tumble-down fence. A dog strobed in the gaps between the slats. It squatted. I leaned on my rake. I watched the dog lady bag her next gift for me, knot it. She made a beeline for my garbage bins, a pink jacket flashing between the fence boards. Gotcha!

I lowered my voice into a deeper register. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

There was a pause. She couldn’t see me because she’s short and our angles in relation to the fence had changed. She heard the voice of God. “Are you speaking to me?”

“I am.”

“What am I doing?”

“You’re about to put your dog dirt in my garbage bin which means I will have to fish it out and rebag it.”

“No I’m not!” The exquisite sound of schoolyard guilt and panic, busted.

“You are.” Ever the diplomat, I added, “If that’s not case then I must apologize.”

My thorny olive branch was accepted with a flummoxed silence from the lane. After a moment I heard the flap-slap of sensible walking shoes and the tac-tic of dog nails on concrete, a double scurry. The dog lady and her dog may pass this way again, I thought, but they won’t be stopping anymore. I don’t mind your entitled little dog, sister, or maybe even you, but I’ve had it up to here dealing with your shit.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

THE GARAGE SAILOR

Pricing, Proofs and Packaging – Part II

Following a quarter century’s experience in the ad industry, I’ve gleaned a little insight into marketing and promotion. That knowledge has always been expended on behalf of others. Blowing my own horn is anathema, icky and crass. Still, advertising is nothing if not dirty work but I realized I’d need help: A good friend will help you move; a great friend will help you move a body.

You can’t judge a book by its cover even though you do. Early on in my career in the ad business I learned that if I didn’t have the answer at my fingertips I’d better know who to call. I phoned CreativeWorks, a Calgary-based design shop, my friend Rene. “My third novel,” I said. “I’m going full indie. I’ll need a cover, all that stuff.” He was laconic: “I’m going on holiday and I’ll need something to read besides. Leave it with me.”

Rene read The Garage Sailor manuscript and got it. His preliminary vision was almost exactly what I’d been imagining. He refined his graphics a tad by incorporating the Who’s Live at Leeds bootleg stamp for the title and lifting some elements from punk rock’s DIY ransom note design. The novel’s plot revolves around the tribulations of a lonely record collector saddled with the duties of attending to a diabetic cat. Rene added ears and whiskers to the O on Sailor. The final art is magical, the plot at one glance. Genius.

Provided I’m still around, the first of May 2020 will denote a singular demarcation in my life: 30 years as a Montrealer and an additional 30 as an Albertan. The characters in my previous two novels were wistful ex-Montrealers. Yet I consider myself a regional scribbler, an Alberta writer. “Oh, you’re not based in Toronto,” one agent sniffed to me. The reality is that my novels sold only in Calgary and Edmonton. My publisher’s distribution seemed haphazard: this title in this Chapters or Coles but not others; that title in some independent bookshops, but not all of them; Murder Incorporated available on Amazon but not Duke Street Kings. The marketplace for The Garage Sailor appeared too arcane, daunting and bizarre.

Spike the project. Feed the cat. Shovel snow. Nobody reads fiction anymore anyway. Between Scrabble games at our dining room table Ann said to me, “It’s a good story. I think you should go ahead with it.” I agreed that maybe The Garage Sailor was better off out there in the world than turning yellow, pages curling constrained by a blue elastic band, in my desk drawer.

Sometime in the early 80s while I was using a Bic medium ballpoint pen to fill in the warranty card for my new Smith-Corona electric typewriter, my friend Jim was sussing the future shock implications of personal computing and the advent of the new digital age. We spoke this past winter. I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this Sailor thing.” He said, “E-commerce, my friend.” I said, “Easy for you to say.” He said, “Leave it with me.”

Utilizing Rene’s artwork and Ann’s pencil sketch of my profile, Jim created an engaging place for interested readers. My new digital storefront has presence, and it reflects the novel’s jacket graphics and its spirit; I wish I could sweep its sidewalk. The site is secure and live, compliments of Jim and the tools supplied by Shopify. The book won’t be ready to ship for another week or so. Only time travellers are able to pre-do anything. However, if you’re prepared to be somewhat patient, you can order your copy of The Garage Sailor in advance. Window shop at Megeoff.com.

Monday, 23 April 2018

THE GARAGE SAILOR

Pricing, Proofs and Packaging – Part I

Thursday evening I signed off the seventh printer’s proof of my third novel The Garage Sailor. This after a first draft scribbled six or seven years ago and six or seven rewrites. So many corrections. It’s too late to start the story all over again, rewrite it. The moment to let it go has come. In a couple weeks I’ll break the champagne bottle, launch the book, wait and watch, see if it floats.

Meanwhile, now’s the time to fret and sweat. There must be an error in its pages, typographical or grammatical. There must be an inelegant sentence somewhere in the prose, a rhythm breaker. My unconfident voice of self-doubt has risen from a whisper to a scream. How do I arrive at a price point for what is surely the worst novel ever written in the entire literary history of humanity?

In general economic theory, a product is sold at a price which ensures that its replacement twin may be efficiently manufactured and brought to market. Discounting the intricacies involved in most commercial transactions, the terms of exchange are clear. Should I sell you item A for one dollar, your money must allow me to make another item A and shill it at the same price you paid. Seems simple enough.

The rule of thumb in the brave new world of DIY publishing is to settle upon a cover price that is triple the cost per unit. The math accounts for expensive incidentals beyond simply printing a book: cover art, internal formatting, proofs, corrections (and the time they take) and couriers. It’s an insane equation for an author like me who’s never sold well to begin with – but hey, those dizzy weeks for my first two novels on the Edmonton Journal’s Top Ten list, they can’t take that away from me – I’m too insignificant to realize any economies of scale; this is the reality for many writers.

The Garage Sailor’s cover price of $29.98 was arrived at after some research and a few post-midnight cigarettes with the neighbourhood’s nocturnal creatures, skunks mostly. I ultimately went with my instinct. That competitive number allowed for a slight return on investment and did not breach a potential reader’s psychological barrier of $30 for a 6”x9” trade paperback. As the plot revolves around a music fan, a man who collects vinyl, I thought there was some resonance with $29.98: about the cost of two issues of either of those biblical British music magazines, MOJO or Uncut, or one new single LP.

And that, I thought, is that. So my attention slowly turned toward a projected fourth novel, a light-hearted ‘Walter Mitty’ fable with elements of science fiction exploring the universe of cancer and death. Naturally there have been a few false starts and a couple of different working titles. Oh, a beginning, a middle and an end would be handy, whatever their order. Life has had a way of providing lessons to me about stuff I really didn’t care to know about; I’ve got to write it down.

But not yet. This morning over bowls of chewy coffee a good friend of mine, a voracious reader, an author himself, and a fellow who appreciates the arcane craft involved in producing an actual physical book, said to me, “There are so many wonderful books out there. How do you choose, how can you?” I said, “What are you reading now?” He replied, “John le Carre and that’s because we’ve talked about him and you seem to hold him in such high esteem. Otherwise…”

Otherwise… The journey of The Garage Sailor hasn’t ended with a pen drop and a price point. The title needs to be advertised, brought to market and somehow distributed to interested readers. This is the part I didn’t sign up for.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Uncle. UNCLE!

Tuesday morning, please be gone, I’m tired of you, hey, hey…

My sense this morning was that everyone living on our street has given up, become apathetic. The cause of so many drooped shoulders was not the news, economic, political, social or otherwise. No, it was the weather, the last damn thing anyone in any community has in common with their neighbours. The oppressive bone-toned sky rained down pins and needles, freezing rain and diamond-hard pellets of ice.

During the winter months most Edmontonians are diligent about keeping their walks, driveways, back lanes and public sidewalks clear, shoveling snow and spreading sand, grit or salt. I saw my first spring robin yesterday, Monday. A glimpsed red breast through a soapy car wash windshield blinding snowstorm, a bemused bird perched in a birch tree in the front yard. The flakes had snowballed on their journey down from the clouds, splatting to the ground in wet clumps. A bough of the overgrown lilac that usually overhangs and frames the garage door was bowed enough to block entry and exit.

I gave the bush a few whacks with my red plastic snow plow whose scraping edge has been chewed into some fatal-looking line you’d see on a medical chart. I reluctantly cleared a narrow path through the cardiac arrest snow for our newspaper carrier. The snow rolled up like a lead blanket. Shovel drop; nobody else on the street had even bothered to pick theirs up: sick and tired and fed up with this, this endless assault of winter.

Things had seemed so fine on Sunday. There was a flash of garter belt blue in the sky, the teasing band of a come hither spring. It seemed warmer outside the Crooked 9 than inside. I sat on the porch enjoying the mild temperature although I had to wear a fleece pullover and a scarf. The windows were open to create draughts of fresh air, change the stale atmosphere after months of low light and freezing cold. I’d left the front door ajar for the cat and because Van Morrison live at the Rainbow in 1973 was on the stereo in the living room: Turn it up! A little bit higher, so you know, it’s got soul. Turn it up!

Two men, both of them a little older than me, walked up the driveway. I didn’t recognize them. They mentioned the music spilling out into the street. Uh-oh, I put my cigarette and beer down. But on that same note, they’d arrived on a nobler mission than one of sniffy complaint: to gauge interest in a proposed block party in June or maybe July, blocking off the street and getting neighbours together for a shaker. I said, “Yeah, sounds great. Summer will be here before we know it.”

And, well, gee, on a lazy April Sunday summer seemed like a genuine possibility. A sure bet in fact because there was some semblance of spring in the city, something I could actually smell. But that was then.