Thursday, 24 April 2014


EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

 

Knock Knock

 

There’s a fresh cake of suet hanging from a limb of the Ohio buckeye in the backyard. Bug flavour. It is there to attract woodpeckers: pileated woodpeckers with their red punk Mohawk crests during the winter months and then their smaller less showy cousins, downy woodpeckers, at this time of year. In the morning the birds beat out competing dead wood tattoos. A southside story of turf and territory demarcated by the back alley.

 

We are working in the backyard. There is heat in the sunshine and ice in the shade. Ann is turning the flowerbeds. Some shoots are showing through the earth. I’m refinishing parts and portions of outdoor furniture. Wire brush, sandpaper and stain. Sturdy wooden utilitarian pieces her late father had designed and assembled before the Beatles broke up. One of the patio tabletops is a large and heavy triangular slab of slate which probably should not have been purloined from one of our national parks, especially by a judge.

 

Ann says, ‘Dad always said he’d come back as a woodpecker.’ Why, he never revealed. Maybe he appreciated our need for natural noises in these days of digital cacophony. Maybe it was just a joke. Knock knock.

 

Three of the best books I’ve ever read were loans from him: Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow, a unique single volume of history, memoir and novella; Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon’s American travel odyssey; and Son of the Morning Star, a clear-eyed look at Custer’s comeuppance at Little Bighorn by Evan S. Connell.

 

We were passing acquaintances in real life. I’ve come to know the man a little bit better because his library is shelved in our basement. There is great fiction, from the sea stories of Patrick O’Brian to the works of Gore Vidal. I was thrilled to happen upon his edition of Hard Times by Studs Terkel as I’ve enjoyed and learned from other Terkel oral histories: “The Good War”, Working and Will the Circle Be Unbroken?. There are more volumes of history, from Waterloo to World War II. Books on birds which I now refer to frequently. And like my father and me, he had an evident fascination with the secret world, the night watch. These spines, these authors, these titles – all this type – aid in my composition of a portrait of a man I never got to know all that well.

 
The woodpeckers drum and thrum, knock knock. My brush hovers over a leg of wood Ann's father had measured twice and sawed once years ago. The stain drips onto the yellow grass. I listen to the woodpeckers. And for a moment I wonder, wonder about things I may never understand.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


A FAN’S NOTES

 

Elvis, Elvis, Elvis: An American Trilogy

 

Elvis rose three times last night in our town. By my count Lazarus and Jesus add up to just two risings combined. I’m writing about the King this Easter Sunday; a 50s hip swiveling greaser Elvis, a black leather clad ’68 comeback special Elvis and a still slim, early 70s, white jumpsuit Vegas Elvis.

 

Our magical day began appropriately enough. At breakfast I graced our house with grilled peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches. Heart stopping goodness, my chest was a-heavin’. The consensus was that the combination of flavours, the sweet and the salt, was actually pretty tasty. Elvis sandwiches are safe to attempt at home. Honest.

 

The auditorium located on the Univerity of Alberta campus appeared full. My mother’s seniors’ residence aside, I’ve never seen so many canes and walkers in one place so standing room only was out of the question. There was a sense too that a goodly portion of the audience had made the pilgrimage from beyond the city limit signs. Outside the doors smoking fans mingled, comparing notes on the various Elvis impersonators, excuse me, Elvis tribute artists, they’d seen previously. A genuine Vegas gig carried more cachet than a local casino. This is the reality of existing Elvis fandom as the King himself shat his mortal coil in 1977.

 

Theatre has always been a key element of traditional rock ‘n’ roll. Tribute shows are like staring at a mirror’s reflection of a row of arches. There is the live music naturally. There is the faux performer in the spotlight portraying another performer, reproducing the original theatrics of said performer who essentially projected an unreal stage persona of himself to begin with. Imagine a scene in a biopic of Elvis showing the actor playing Elvis acting as Vince Everett - Elvis’s character in Jailhouse Rock. We chose our seats carefully, hoping that middle-distance might help maintain at least the visual layer of the illusion. Alas, each of the three performers, just as we were all getting ready to suspend our disbelief, would step out of character, breaking the fourth wall with some trite Elvis factoid.

 

The care of time blunts the impact of everything eventually. Even the ‘filth and the fury’ of the Sex Pistols’ debut just 13 years after the hysteria of Beatlemania seems somehow quaint. What was the fuss about? Elvis, along with Chuck Berry, blew the post-war Eisenhower era wide open (ironically each man was mistaken for his contemporary polar opposite sight unseen, Elvis black and Chuck white). The Sun singles still delight and amaze. The studio echo alone fractured Earth’s tectonic plates. Elvis Presley, his first RCA release (1956), a masterpiece, is arguably responsible for the long time dominance of the pre-digital age standard LP format; the cover of the Clash’s London Calling remains the ultimate punk homage. From this point on the Elvis canon becomes a matter of taste tempered or inflated by degrees of worship. His homecoming album, 1969’s From Elvis In Memphis is essential. Two subsequent live albums, both worth a listen, On Stage and Elvis In Person, comprise the musical gospel of most of his costumed apers.


This was the Elvis the obese diabetics cheered last night. The sweaty, glittery admirer of Nixon in white with the hyper-kinetic karate moves and the Rat Pack stage shtick, not the striking blonde savant who sang Mystery Train and Baby, Let’s Play House. The Elvis industry fostered by his estate has unfortunately transformed their only asset into a pop culture punch line through increasingly dodgy and ersatz marketing. That's not all right, mama. It’s somewhat surprising that cheese trays weren’t available at the refreshment stands last night.

 
Maybe resurrection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But you know what? From the moment the bacon hit the hot black iron frying pan yesterday morning we had a laugh and a lark.

Saturday, 19 April 2014


HUMAN WRECKAGE

 

You Know I Read It in a Magazine

 

Some nights are hard. My screaming nightmares don’t interfere with my own sleep but they do tend to disturb everyone else’s in the house. Other times I awake drenched in a sweaty panic. Job one is to make sure the bogeyman is still confined behind the closed bedroom closet door. In order to do this, the bedroom blind can never, ever, be fully drawn because I depend upon bleeding urban ambient light to prove that the closet door is still shut tight. After that there’s nothing else to do but get up and wander the darkened house and wonder what exactly is percolating throughout my darker subconscious. And after that, there’s not much else to do except make a sandwich in the kitchen and peruse a magazine.

 

I was not a quick study in the late 60s. I kept clipping that form for the 200 Roman soldiers advertised on the last page of comic books and kept mailing off a $2 Canadian bill to somewhere in the United States. The legions never arrived but my big brother’s Hockey Pictorial always did. I soon learned that the best way to avoid a thrashing was to leave his new magazine exactly as I’d found it in the hall amidst the pile of other mail, maintaining the pristine illusion of an unread and unsullied publication. (This tradecraft paid off years later down the road with my stepfather’s Playboy subscription.)

 

When my brother grew up, graduated from McGill, moved out and moved away to Edmonton, AB he left me a stealth gift. He’d arranged a paid up Sports Illustrated subscription, my name on my magazine. And that was good because after my father moved out and moved away Time stopped. But dad was diligent too. In Ottawa, ON each week he’d purchase History of the Second World War which he’d then mail off to me in Montreal, QC. (I still have all 128 issues filed chronologically in eight commemorative storage binders. They’re heavy and these days the type seems awfully small.) Across the street lived three American brothers. The Rigler boys in their thick Lake Charles, LA accents raved about Hit Parader and Circus. Rock ‘n’ roll! Hello, Satan! And Mad was so much more sophisticated than Cracked its juvenile rip-off, though so obviously puerile compared to National Lampoon, the Ivy League inspired and often obscenely hilarious big daddy of humour magazines.

 

In my early teens I was shipped off to Edmonton to spend the summer with my brother; likely to prevent me from becoming a delinquent from a broken home. Left to my own devices I soon discovered Mike’s News on Jasper Avenue. Warped wooden floors, cigarette and cigar smoke, and every newspaper and magazine in the known universe. Stacks of them. God, is heaven in central Alberta? Mike’s is where I bought my very first issue of Rolling Stone, Mick and Keith on the cover, gearing up for their 1975 American tour.

 

Back home before the fall and crusty with impetigo, I quickly found one of Montreal’s many Mike’s, the less atmospheric Multimags at de Maisonneuve and Guy, around the corner from a porn theatre. There the horizons of my world began to stretch infinitely in every direction. Creem and Trouser Press embraced punk and the British New Wave, new sounds ignored by Beatles, Dylan and Stones fixated Rolling Stone. I bought albums based on interviews and record reviews, never having heard a single note. There was Punch, Frank and Saturday Night. The sports publications replayed the previous week and looked ahead to the next one. Newsweek got swindled by the supposed Hitler diaries: Ha, ha, the fools! It was unlikely Adolf would’ve actually written that anywhere or even whispered it to Eva Braun. More recently Sports Illustrated ate up the tragic details of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s cancer ridden and accident prone imaginary girlfriend. Evidently when a media conglomerate is faced with shrinking revenues those first to get axed are the fact checkers.

 

Throughout my career in advertising I was always a little stunned by how little attention many of my colleagues paid to our own industry and even more importantly, those of our clients’. I probably learned more about advertising from Barry Base’s often hysterical columns in the back of each issue of Strategy than I did from any mentor. Adbusters was essential reading because it’s imperative to know what your opponents are thinking. No trade publication was too esoteric, no news or business magazine too general.

 

Like everyone else’s my tactile magazine consumption has dropped. I’ve noticed you can still purchase girlie mags at airport newsstands. I want to meet the guy (and it will be a guy) with the nerve to spread open one of those in the confines of the cabin. Travel usually calls for one of those hideously expensive British pop pubs, Mojo or Uncut. Artists featured on their covers are usually dead or retired.

 
At three in the morning when there’s no one around, the company is limited. There’s still Rolling Stone but I’m wondering about renewing my subscription come December. We’ve been together forever and there’s nothing left to say now. Albertaviews provides a nice compendium of regional perspectives. The world resides in the grey pages of The Economist, the best magazine available on the planet. The writing is uniformly elegant, often humourous, and whoever pens the photo cut lines exhibits a sly wit. A recent story on robotics was illustrated by a photograph of a functioning metallic prosthetic hand. The caption read: Welcome, my son, welcome to the machine. It took a moment for the tumblers to click into place and recall the handshake sticker graphic from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Subtle. I look forward to a similar gem or two each week and if the cost of enjoying the subscription must include a nightmare, so be it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


A FAN’S NOTES

 

The Puck Drops Here

 

Hockey! Hockey! Hockey! The first round of the NHL playoffs starts tonight. Every evening for the next couple of weeks promises two or three televised games of a quality far superior to the deep winter doldrums of the 82-game regular season. The nation’s sporting press has begun its seasonal hand-wringing, wither the Stanley Cup and will the championship trophy ever return to Canada?

 

Who cares. All that matters now is that my team, the Montreal Canadiens, qualified for the two months-long derby. I despise the other 29 clubs in the league. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I only dislike Pittsburgh because I believe Sidney Crosby is a wonderful hockey player. Boston, despite their rivalry with Montreal, well, Bobby Orr, the best there ever was, was a Bruin. The New York Rangers, Chicago, Detroit and Vancouver all have decent unis. Some teams only provoke indifference and I can’t be bothered to name them, but you wonder why they have any supporters at all. Otherwise, it’s sheer joy to seethe with the obsessive hate of an Ahab or Khan.

 

To be alive is to be angry, vengeful and as is the lot of the majority of fans, ultimately suffer the agony of failure. Even for losers there is schadenfreude. Toronto’s epic implosion against the Bruins last spring was probably as important a factor to me as fear, love and common sense when I realized that hanging myself in my garage might not be the best idea I’ve ever had: I want to be around to revel in it when those bastards crater again.

 

It’s been a decade since the Habs faced off against Tampa Bay in a series that really, really matters. I had to look that up because the Lightning is one of those clubs that merely plug a Tuesday night slot on the schedule. Despite winning it all in 2004, little mystique surrounds the Florida-based squad; they’re more notable for the two execrable alternate sweaters they’ve marketed to their lone fan in their short history. From my perspective, to know Tampa Bay today is to love them: their starting goaltender is hurt and they were forced to dump their snitty and second-best player at the trade deadline.

 

The Canadiens have ranged from awful to pretty good since they last won the Stanley Cup in 1993. This spring’s club rates as pretty good although scoring goals is problematic. Maybe signing point-a-game playoff forward Danny Briere will turn into one of those legendarily canny Sam Pollock moves. Here’s hoping that netminder Carey Price cut a deal with Ol’ Scratch: My soul in exchange for Sochi men’s hockey gold and the Stanley Cup in 2014. Deal? We fans are all in, heart and soul.

 
Game’s on. Got to go. Got to pace and look away from the TV. Christ, the score’s already 1-1.


HUMAN WRECKAGE

 

Hell Is the Grocery Store

 

I have spent years in the grocery industry. Whether working directly for a banner or marketing and advertising the brands available on the shelves. So a trip to the grocery store is never a boring chore for me, the product placement, the permanent signage and even the week’s mixed and matched specials on the endcap displays are of interest.

 

Like most consumers we like to shop in a familiar setting. Ann and mine’s default grocery store is a Save On Foods in the neighbourhood. I like its scale, modest by current standards; I like the layout and d├ęcor; we know where everything is. We tend to shop two or three times a week, just looking ahead at the next few days; the trips are shorter and our lists are specific so impulse buying is kept to a minimum. Some Saturdays I pop in just to get the weekend National Post. Frequency means we often bump into neighbours and friends, and has allowed us to get to know the staff and them us, at least by sight.

 

A few weeks ago there was tension in our household. Unbelievably, Ann did not want to watch the Montreal Canadiens on TV that Saturday night. So we went to The Movie Studio to rent a classic like The Maltese Falcon or one of the recent Oscar nominees. Unbelievably, Ann was uninterested in films featuring Nazis, explosions and sustained automatic weapons fire. There we ran into Liz. Ann mentioned that we hadn’t encountered her at Save On lately. Liz replied that she’d stopped shopping there. ‘That cashier.’ Nuff said. We know the one.

 

That cashier, oh boy, she’s something. She has to lean on her checkout counter to process an order. She’s got something a sports betting book would describe as a lower body injury. She’s a slow scanner. And that’s all right. And she’s nice enough though a little less conversation might be welcome, but it’s her habit of holding up each item in your order to examine the label and the mouse type at length and then remarking upon its merits and faults before bagging it. Meanwhile you stare at your other purchases, statues on the stopped conveyor belt. There’s enough time for the frozen berries to defrost into compote muck and the romaine lettuce to wilt. The green peppers ripen into red ones. When you reach a certain age sometimes you require the balm of certain personal products. God forbid she hoists something from the pharmacy department aloft for the gratification of the impatiently shuffling line behind you.

 

Tuesday we went shopping. Ten minutes up and down the aisles and around the store’s perimeter. Twenty-two items in the cart. Seven goods too many for the manned express checkout till which meant the dilemma of either the irksome automated self-checkout or that cashier. A classic lose-lose scenario. My first thought was to abandon our groceries. But we have to eat.

 

I’ve always had authority issues, especially with the dicta of august institutions long since rendered rotten by the passage of time and the eventual triumph of inconvenient truths. But to abide the commands of a mechanical voice in any setting invokes instantaneous fury. Spontaneous human combustion. PLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA. Okay, did that. ITEM HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM BAGGING AREA. REPLACE ITEM IN BAGGING AREA. The bag’s full you fucking fuck! I’ve put it down on the fucking floor and started loading another fucking bag. WAIT FOR ASSOCIATE. Fuck! Whereas dealing with that cashier is more akin to a burlesque striptease. Fury builds scan by scan, product by product and remark by remark. HOT SALAMI? Uh, yeah. IT’S NICE ON RYE BUT IT DOESN’T ALWAYS AGREE WITH ME. DO YOU LIKE RYE? We do. I SEE YOU DIDN’T BUY ANY. Uh, well, there’s a bakery we like… WHAT KIND OF APPLES ARE THESE? They’re green. They’re Granny fucking Smiths. Every apple in the bag has a sticker on its skin with a four-digit Save On Foods produce department PLU number. You’ve seen them before, for Christ’s sake. Even the fucking self-checkout machine knows what they are. WHAT DO YOU USE THIS OINTMENT FOR? Oh, fuck me, saints preserve us. Can you fucking hold that fucking tube up a little fucking higher so everyone can fucking see it!? Would you mind awfully? Thank you. Fuck!

 
We lingered a while by the magazines, hoping another cashier might come off a break. A third way did not present itself so we opted for technology over humanity. The process went as well as it could which is to say not smoothly. Our next errand was the liquor store where I bought everything and then started drinking in the parking lot.

Monday, 14 April 2014


SAINTS PRESERVE US

 

The Heartbleed of America

 

Years ago a friend of mine e-mailed me a link which I clicked on. Attention: You have reached the very last page of the Internet. We hope you have enjoyed your browsing. Now turn off your computer and go outside. I laughed; I spat coffee. The absurdity of the joke is profound.

 

Last week we learned there was something behind and beyond the endpapers of the great grid. The Internet has had a wide open back door into many reputedly secure sites for the past two years. The bug, as you know, is called Heartbleed. Its genesis is a coding flaw, perhaps an incorrect alpha-numeric sequence mis-hunted-and-pecked on a QWERTY keyboard by a tired programmer. Simple as that.

 

More disturbing was Friday’s revelation that the post-9/11 and now massive ‘peculiar service’ infrastructure of the United States, specifically the National Security Agency (NSA), Washington’s signal intelligence (SIGINT) ‘listeners,’ knew the screen door was unhooked and banging in the breeze from the get-go. There must’ve been other crepe soled feet on the porch. It stands to reason that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was either aware or made aware by the NSA of the delicious scents wafting out of the figurative kitchen. It’s possible therefore that the three other countries comprising the allied SIGINT Five Eyes, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, knew about the Heartbleed bug too. And if our spooks did, well, you can bet the Chinese and the Russians and other interested parties were right there.

 

Nobody in the secret world breathed a word. The Heartbleed bug was something to exploit, not patch as a public service. Agencies like the NSA and CSEC are supposed to be on our side.

 

What is the price of mandated silence? For General Motors, bailed out by the governments of two countries in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the toll is 15 customers dead because being tight lipped for a decade over a faulty $5 part seemed to be the prudent course of inaction. Heartbleed is not a life and death matter, though it’s indicative of the fundamental conflict in the Information Age: an individual’s right to privacy versus a state’s requirement to know.

 
Maybe we really should get offline and get out more.

Thursday, 10 April 2014


EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

 

Raking the Lawn on a Windy Day as the Regular Season Winds Up

 

The world made it through another night. The morning is sunny, warm enough for just a sweatshirt. I’m raking the snow mould and last fall’s mange from the front lawn. The sky’s bluer than a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. The spring wind inflates my yard bags faster than a middle-aged bladder. It’s a blustery day and I’m reminded of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Then I remember The National Lampoon magazine’s long ago Winnie the Pooh sex scene: Ooh, Kanga, yes!  Tigger purred. I supposed the modern equivalent would have to do with the works of J.K. Rowling. Erecto! cried Harry. Hermione gasped with undisguised delight at the immensity of Harry’s wand. Poor Ron could only goggle at his own flaccid miscast spell.

 

Our postman, a stocky, cheery fellow with a shaved head marched up the drive. I touched the brim of my Montreal Canadiens CH logo cap to him and said, ‘Hello.’ He said, ‘I’ve got some bad news for you.’ I thought, This is it, the end of home delivery. And the latest issue of Rolling Stone with Kiss on the cover hasn’t even arrived yet. That’s okay, it’s all right. Kiss sucked in 1975 or whenever and they still suck now and their recent, revisionist and inexplicable election into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does not negate their bottomless quotient of musical suck so much as celebrate their undeniably savvy and staggeringly successful marketing of suck. If the magazine must stay rolled up in some community mailbox, well, that won’t suck. The postman continued, ‘My Bruins will beat your Habs in the playoffs.’

 

Eh?

 
We are standing on a street in Edmonton, AB maybe two hundred yards from the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River talking about two hockey teams who play their home games on the other side of the continent. There’s no guarantee that our respective favourites will even cross paths during the ensuing two month grind to the Stanley Cup final, but hey, it’ll be playoff time soon enough and the gauntlet’s been thrown down. And fuck me for having spent our long dark winter sanding and salting the front walk for the safety of a Boston Bruins fan.

Monday, 7 April 2014


EAT ME

 

meGeoff’s Guide to the Big Three and a Half Fast Food Burger Joints

 

I know. I know. You can’t get kale or quinoa. There’s those disgusting cyber myths about pink slime and anti-nausea medication mixed into the cereal bulked beef patties. Every ingredient is processed right down to the Boris Karloff Frankenstein green pickle garnish, they must be. The burger, once out of its wrapper, box or bag, never even remotely resembles its picture on the back-lit store menu or its portrait on the cover of that coupon-rife unaddressed ad mailer. Overseas there may come a soul-crushing moment that reminds you of a relationship gone sour. You will see that North American mega-brand sign shining down on a square or roundabout where it should never be and shake your head: I came all this way to get away from you.

 

Assembly line burgers are assembly line burgers. Nothing special. And yet, that craving hits and you know you want to. Perhaps the trigger is partly nostalgia. As a kid a visit definitely constituted a rare treat. As a teen the restaurants were places to hang out. Later on, a long after dark order of half the menu was thought to be sufficient enough to prevent bed spins. Or not.

 

Let’s all go to A&W/Food’s more fun at A&W/Hop in your car/Come as you are/To A&W! My enduring memory is sitting in the front seat of our maroon Beaumont beside my newly divorced mother, orange plastic trays hanging off the partially rolled down passenger windows. It is Sunday. We are skipping our parish’s 11 o’clock Catholic mass because Mom is now technically excommunicated. She got the bell, book and candle, and Mama Burger. I’m munching on a Teen Burger and a Whistle Dog, chasing bites with orangeade from a heavy glass mug. This is making the best of a bad situation.

 

Saturday night Ann and I had options. Take the downtown train to hear Pepperland, a Beatles tribute outfit at The Rose & Crown or head to the local A&W to try the new Uncle Burger (we make our own Whistle Dogs at home). Shakespeare dubbed music moodie food. Real food won out. The restaurant was clean though weirdly all of the chrome stools were upside down on the tables so the place appeared closed from the sidewalk. Bad for business on a Saturday night. The burger was well presented in its wax paper pocket and all of the toppings were crisp and fresh. Ann’s root beer was served in the heavy glass mug of memory. I kept hoping the balding TV campaign store manager would wander by to engage in some witty banter. The Root Bear mascot’s long gone, but A&W, you’re still the best there ever was.

 

Years before Homeland Security was even a gleam in George Dubya’s eye, we used to drive two hours south to the Pyramid Mall in Plattsburgh, NY wanting things that could not be found in Montreal, QC or anywhere else in Canada. Jacques, behind the wheel of his parents’ Volvo, would tell the US customs official that it was a day trip: ‘Burger King, Budweiser and OTB (Off Track Betting).’ Sometimes I wonder how we ever made it back home alive. Back then drunk driving was like a sport and, anyway, a couple of Whoppers would soak up all the booze. And they did their jobs later on in New York City and in London on the Piccadilly Circus.

 

The middle-aged Burger King experience has been nothing short of tragic. The chain’s restaurants are universally filthy. The Whopper, their holy grail, is a slimy disk of sludge. These days they sort of taste all right, I guess, but there are no teenaged American girls sliding into your booth entranced by your exotic Canadian cigarette package and impressed you’re able to speak their language good. Fortunately Ann is Canadian so there’s no overt communication barrier. We easily agree that everything is dreadful.

 

Harvey’s makes a hamburger a beautiful thing. But I’ve always preferred hot dogs; welcome our lone Canadian contender. There was a Harvey’s restaurant on Cote-des-Neiges Road, across the four busy lanes from the new brick mall where I went to buy LPs at Discus Records – the first baby steps of what remains a life-long obsession. I’d go into Harvey’s with my loot and order a hot dog, speaking English. The counter guy would yell over his shoulder: ‘Un penis!’ The fellow manning the grill would shout: ‘Un penis!’ and whap a wiener on the grill. They were literally back-to-back, two feet apart from each other, volume at 11. These guys were years ahead of the Saturday Night Live Cheeseburger skits and the Seinfeld Soup Nazi.

 

While back east last fall I tried unsuccessfully to pinpoint the doorway of the long defunct location on Saint Catherine Street that fed me while I was in university. These days it’s hard to find a Harvey’s. One might be hidden away in a Home Depot. One might be free-standing in a big box outdoor mall where we won’t go. The destination allure cannot overcome the inconvenience of hunting down char-broiled perfection. This is why our lone domestic chain is the half in our seven month, gut-busting, fast food burger joint survey.

 

Ann and me tend to hit the one at Edmonton’s International Airport before we pass through the blue-gloved security. The garnishes are still neatly arrayed in steel bowls although sometimes the tomatoes look a little too yellow. The coffee’s not great but the lineups are shorter than Tim Hortons’. I would pay extra to hear someone shout ‘Un penis!’ on the concourse.

 

Mickey D’s. The first time a friend mentioned that to me I had no idea what he was talking about. God bless McDonald’s, you can’t get much hipper than a gang argot handle. There is no way to orchestrate or manipulate this type of street cred. Just run with it and stick to your core expertise.

 

The first McDonald’s franchise I remember in Montreal was near the corner of Jean Talon and Decarie Boulevards, between Blue Bonnets race track and the Orange Julep, facing me and my Mom’s A&W across the Decarie expressway trench. It was a long and risky bike ride to get a taste of the American Dream served up in a red cardboard cube. The AM radio advertising back then was voiced by a veteran, long distance trucker with a Brooklyn accent exhorting a newbie to simply Look for the golden arches. These guys didn’t care a whit for in-store playgrounds, limp salads or lattes. Alas, so many lifetimes later, the double decker bread of a Big Mac sandwich still tastes like its container. And you never can quite let go of all those saucy, special topping punchlines.

 
And what of the other well known burger chains? I believe our allegiances, those secret, deal closing handshakes with brands, authors, sports teams or music and film genres are done forever when we’re too young to know better, curious and open without prejudice, unafraid of spiders. Dairy Queen was always soft ice cream to me growing up; a grape Mister Misty to go for my sister in the hospital and no meat on the brazier. I’ve noticed that Wendy, like Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker and the Export A cigarette girl has been tarted up, Hot and Juicy. However Dave Thomas and his square burgers came too late into my life to generate any brand loyalty or affection. Wendy’s Singles, Doubles and Triples are decent enough while other inferior assembly line burgers become time machines. A bit of a life may be revisited with a single bite.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


SAINTS PRESERVE US

 

Google ‘Rabbit Ears’

 

A century or so from today historians will hang a handle on our times and give this remarkable era of ours a name for the remainder of human history. The current phrase in vogue is The Information Age, which seems grossly inadequate, as if bitter, puerile shame exposures and celebrity gossip internet sites are the best we can do. Consider the miniscule timeline from the establishment of ‘dark satanic mills’ to their usurpation by binary code. Something like The Digital Revolution is more encompassing though it’s manifested by mere invisible ones and zeros.

 

With every revolution comes the wall the losers must be lined up against. Your newspaper isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t publish on Sundays anymore and early week editions are thin and stand alone sections are often combined. The industry is struggling to survive, costs are rising and subscriber bases are declining. In these amped and caffeinated days the nature of print production means that while your morning paper may be hot off the press, it is already a relic, a portrait of the world as it was some 20 hours ago. Can’t go for that, no can do anymore. But something more mundane torqued the industry’s downward spiral: classified ads, the grey, dreary lifeblood of tabloids and broadsheets alike, migrated to a new online medium taking their essential and reliable revenue with them.

 

Old school network television may now be a passenger on that same sinking boat. Technology has freed viewers from tuning into their preferred shows in real time (sports or breaking catastrophic news being the exceptions). And who doesn’t relish picking up the remote and zapping a commercial? You can’t help but feel a little like Elvis pulling a Magnum on the big screen in the Jungle Room. The expansion of the television universe has also fostered debate regarding our storytelling art forms: have specialized cable channels with content so superior to the tired dreck of traditional networks like CTV, NBC, ABC or CBS, actually killed the novel with cleverly crafted long-form serials like The Wire or The Sopranos? Finally, television is no longer the sole purveyor of moving pictures.

 

The death knell of old school television will be struck by advertising, specifically the lack of it. The Wall Street Journal this week reports that Google’s YouTube is proposing to essentially guarantee media buyers traditional idiot box gross ratings points (GRPs), an hitherto unavailable quantifiable measurement of return on investment for marketers desperate to reach those hip, young, tipping point eyeballs scanning fresh platforms for alternative video distraction. Mere mouse clicks are so 20th century. Tin foil and rabbit ear network ad spends, once lock-stepped with the early evening manna of primetime - We’re still the one! - must ultimately go the way of the classifieds in your daily newspaper.

 
The revolution began some 20 years ago and it is televised; we just need to figure out which channel will carry it.