Friday, 27 June 2014



The Stiff Silent Type


Some mornings you wake up and figure you’ve got a pretty firm handle on things. The coffeemaker was prepped the previous evening. World War III didn’t break out overnight. The tabby with the delicate gut kept his breakfast down. The garden has exploded with growth and colour. The weather is warm and sunny. The planet seems like a pretty normal place on this particular day. So you light that tasty first cigarette outside on the patio and open the newspaper. You close the newspaper and put it down. You check the publication date. No, it’s not April Fools Day. You pick up the paper and open it again and it’s still there in macabre black and white. You close the paper and put it down again. You sit back in the lawn chair and begin to ponder the wisdom of people planning their own funerals. Apparently an open casket just isn’t good enough for some.


Thursday’s Edmonton Journal carried a London Daily Telegraph story about a New Orleans funeral home that prides itself ‘on putting the “fun” into funerals.’ It’s sort of Madame Tussauds, except with corpses, a ghoulish business. Viewings at the parlour feature the dearly departed positioned (and obviously propped up – bungee cords?) in lifelike poses in lifelike settings, a boxer wearing a hoodie, robe and shades leaning on the turnbuckle is one actual example. Another recently deceased woman greeted her mourners whilst seated at a table posed with a cigarette and a beer. Again, sunglasses are de rigueur. The dead are respected of course, you can dress them up but you can’t take them anywhere.


If this trend strikes you as tasteless, it’s important to note that none of the poseurs wished to be interred in a KISS Kasket.


In related news, aRise!, a necrophilia advocacy group, has recently launched a public awareness campaign with the tag line, ‘See? We’re not so creepy after all.’ The initial YouTube ads featuring Alice Cooper’s ‘I Love the Dead’ and ‘Cold Ethyl’ were taken down after the legendary shock rocker refused to grant his consent for their usage. An aRise! spokesperson confirmed as much. ‘His people got in touch with us. They said it was all an act and always has been. And for me, well, it was like when I was a kid and found out there was no Santa Claus. Anyway, we’ve got a call into Marilyn Manson.’

Meanwhile, here in the backyard there’s so much more to think about. What do you wear to your own funeral? Where to sit or stand? What to drink? It’s tough enough picking a song or two for the service, let alone keeping your will up to date.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014



Third and Long as Usual


It’s Canada Week at Sports Illustrated’s National Football League guru Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback blog. The Canadian Football League likely hasn’t enjoyed this kind of coverage south of 49 since the magazine put Montreal Alouettes QB Vince Ferragamo on the cover way, way back in 1981. The story wasn’t about our three down game so much as the Los Angeles Rams star jumping leagues.


Our professional football league resembles every other Canadian monopoly: it is ancient by New World standards, inept, complacent, laughable and, from time to time, shockingly on the ball. What a long, strange trip it’s been.


If you’re not familiar with CFL ball, an abridged and subjective history of the Montreal Alouettes pretty much explains the quirkiness and seat-of-the-pants nature of our entire beloved, semi-national loop. There is a long tradition of football in Montreal and some folk maintain that North America’s take on rugger was invented by students at McGill University in the mid 19th century. The new sport’s first ever game may have been those innovators against like-minded fellows from Harvard. The Als were not Montreal’s first professional franchise, nor its only one, but they have survived and risen from the dead at least once more often than Jesus.


The Alouettes (English translation: Skylarks, always abbreviated to Larks in Anglophone newspaper sports headlines) were born after World War II, 1946. Those were the days when sport mirrored the natural progress of the seasons and its economics were fundamentally grounded in a reasonable reality. The team was as much a part of the city’s fall fabric as the reddening maple leaves on the slopes of Mount Royal. The players were as revered or scorned as much as any skater for the Montreal Canadiens. There was competition too: first from the Montreal Beavers of the Continental League in the late 60s and then the NFL’s encroaching ownership of Sunday afternoons on cable TV.


It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date when the City of Montreal became delusional. Perhaps it was when Queen Elizabeth II presided over the inauguration of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Perhaps it was sometime during the year of the country’s centennial when the island City built more islands in the stream to host Expo ’67. It may’ve been the securing of Canada’s first major league baseball franchise which first took to the diamond in 1969. There was of course the successful bid to host the Olympic Games during the summer of 1976. Around this time, the City registered the name Olympiques, the proposed handle of a dreamed of NFL franchise because the CFL was a bit too small time, a bit too quaint for a world class metropolis. The Als themselves became delusional in 1981, no ifs, ands or buts.


The franchise was now owned by a ‘colourful businessman,’ a euphemism for ‘highly leveraged sharpie.’ The team handed Vince Ferragamo a contract for half a million dollars, unheard of money even by then current NFL standards. They played home games in the immense and still unfinished Olympic Stadium erected for the ’76 games. The team went 3-13; no paying customers went. (But God bless the CFL, the Als actually made the playoffs.) The Als crapped out and ceased operations.


The league’s hole in Canada’s second largest market was plugged by the newly minted Montreal Concordes. They. Were. Awful. Dreadful despite having Nebraska Cornhusker legend Turner Gill under centre. The Concordes re-branded themselves as the Alouettes and promptly ceased operations about 24 hours before the start of the CFL’s 1987 season. (I would love to have a beer with the league’s schedule maker from that era.)


Next it was the league’s turn to become delusional. Displaying the tragic, ‘vaulting ambition’ of Macbeth, the CFL orchestrated an aggressive expansion into secondary American markets like Shreveport, Sacramento, Memphis and Las Vegas. Like every single Darwin Awards exploit, it did not end well. And so as their fellow US franchises crashed and burned the 1995 Grey Cup champion Baltimore Stallions and lone survivor of the botched American invasion relocated to Montreal to be reborn as the… Alouettes.


The brain-trust of the third incarnation of the Als was savvy. The team not only promoted itself (as it will), but began promoting the game to the grassroots Francophone majority in the province of Quebec, effectively negating the perception of football as an Anglo-only sport. Some of the bait was subtle: the league’s CFL logo on the collars of the Als jerseys was rendered as the French acronym: LCF. The club reached out to women with ‘Football 101’ courses. And then came the happy accident, serendipity, the miracle of Bono. A U2 concert at Olympic Stadium conflicted with an Als home playoff date. The team shifted the game to an intimate stadium located, fittingly, on the McGill University campus. The combination of a winning team and a tough ticket was a sports marketer’s wet dream.


The Als, playing out of a gussied up and expanded university facility, are now considered one of the CFL’s model franchises. Other teams around the country will play this season in new or refurbished stadiums. There’s an expansion team in Ottawa, albeit the third go-round in the capital. There is talk of a future club somewhere in the Maritimes or perhaps even Quebec City. The three down game is now critical live content for one of Canada’s cable sports channels and worth overpaying for; this fact made for some tense collective bargaining sessions during the spring as both the players and the league realized there was some actual cash money on the table – a new experience for each party. While the calendar doesn’t always cooperate, the league has managed to co-brand our nation’s July 1st Canada Day (Dominion Day if you’re of a certain age) celebrations by kicking off its season on the last weekend of June. Labour Day in this country is all about football, corporate sponsored ‘Classics.’ The Grey Cup championship, going on 102, has evolved from four quarters of football to a week-long festival in the host city.

And yet… One man, a respected Canadian senator, owns two of the CFL’s nine teams; no conflict (!), but the benevolent gentleman is getting on. Toronto has been awkwardly courting the NFL Buffalo Bills and if the American League baseball Blue Jays install natural turf in Rogers Centre the CFL Argonauts, football residents of Canada’s largest market, will have no place to play. And so it goes. It seems like small stuff but there are only nine teams and sometimes eight and things can move fast. That’s the nature of our game.

Monday, 23 June 2014



The Longest Days


Summer. As the solstice occurs the days in this northern town become insanely long. While we’re not quite living in Robert Service’s ‘Land of the Midnight Sun,’ darkness begins its slow motion fall only after 10 PM. All of this seasonal light comes with a cost of course. The days before Christmas are shorter than a mad dog’s temper. And goddamned flesh-freezing cold.


Ann’s informal string quartet gathered to play in the backyard Friday evening. One of the pieces on all four music stands was ‘El Choclo,’ an Argentine tango. It’s madcap and obviously fun for the musicians. Sitting outside their circle and listening I could only picture Bugs Bunny in drag looking hotter than Jessica Rabbit and Groucho Marx, eyebrows akimbo, running around on the furniture and waving his Cuban cigar. The session degenerated when the violist requested a cigarette break and then had a second glass of white wine. Not exactly the Rolling Stones at work though I filled the ensuing silence with the ‘Exile’ re-master.


Saturday was the longest day of the year. Following Friday night it truly was. After dinner we talked about an outdoor Scrabble game lit by our short summer’s eternal first evening. Ann’s record against me is something like 50 wins against four losses. Our last game was pretty much over on her second turn; all seven of her tiles down to make me PEEVISH, with a couple of key triple letter scores thrown in for good measure. I retaliated with ZONED, too little and already too late. The final tally had Ann breaking 400 points and me close to 300. So it was just as well we decided to sit outside and talk and just be so I could avoid feeling like the province of Quebec – humiliated yet again. And the mosquitoes weren’t too bad.


Summer is the time of grandiose plans. I will make the best pasta sauce ever with the tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis and basil growing in our garden. Let’s marinate and barbecue every last ounce of meat in Alberta. Let’s read every decent book ever written. Let’s go to Europe or Australia and see the Rolling Stones for maybe the last time – I don’t know. Let’s go to Edmonton’s jazz, folk and blues festivals, get full passes and see everybody. Let’s drive to Oregon. Let’s invite people over every night. Let’s go see a major league baseball game, preferably National League, ideally the Cards or the Cubs. Let’s scrape, sand and repaint the wrought iron railing on the front porch. Tomorrow I will mow the grass. Friday night’s leftovers should probably go into the garbage, especially the shrimp. The ashtray needs emptying, the dishwasher too. We’re low on beer.

Sometime after 11 as it was becoming almost too dark to see, we agreed to go back inside. Artificial light would’ve seemed an intrusion in the backyard. Anyway, urban stargazers are stymied by a city’s ambient light. ‘It’s all downhill from here, you know,’ Ann said. Yes. This is Canadian fatalism. The light of day must now continually dwindle. Heat must turn cold. Winter must come again. The living proof came yesterday when the National Hockey League announced its 2014-15 schedule. The Canadiens are here in late October; I can wait.

Friday, 20 June 2014



For Whom the Bell Tolls


American automobile nabob Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line. He also ensured that his employees were paid well enough to be able to afford one of the black Model Ts they’d assembled. In its infancy this business model was a closed circle, no advertising required, the proliferation of product and the status associated with it created more demand.


Surplus is the great engine of civilization. Too much of something must necessarily lead to trade with another group coping with a similar problem. Surplus created a division of labour and allowed some clever souls the time, well used to tinker with technology and science, to advance beyond the ingrained knowledge of mere seed sowing and animal husbandry. The ultimate outcome was mass production, which must necessarily cut artisan corners for the sake of efficiencies.


The end result of the Industrial Age was not a surplus of valued goods but a glut of inventory that had to be moved. It’s no coincidence that modern advertising began with the invention of the (then) incredibly fast steam powered printing press and the rise of newspapers. Thus, the birth of mass consumption (perhaps it’s no accident the phrase reads like a disease). Advertising is viewed with suspicion by intelligent folk, and rightly so. It is alchemy and vague voodoo jargon heaved up into the back of the cart before the horse named Branding. It is a seductive and elaborate come spend hither. Only a fool would mistake its message of persuasion as objective. But when ads are skewed so elegantly and exactly, when demand is up and the factory lines are moving and the stakeholders are all getting a return on their investments, it’s glorious. There’s no denying that properly executed advertising works.


I have spent a quarter century in the advertising industry, just another person behind the curtain. I have worked with colleagues whose cleverness and creative genius bordered on the sublime; suits who had a better grasp of their client’s industry than their client. What has also struck me through the years has been the reluctance of new businesses, start ups, to forego the costs of advertising within the budgets of their initial business plans. Advertising is typically deemed an unnecessary expense until revenue begins to snowball. My question was always, Yes, but how are you going to sell anything, make money, if nobody knows about you?


Amazon’s new Fire phone may make that query moot.


The Digital Age has confounded the advertising industry as much as it has the record industry. Standby traditional delivery systems no longer apply. Network TV viewership is declining as is readership of newspapers and magazines. Social media meanwhile got hip in a hurry. BMW posted some short films on YouTube. And wasn’t the subservient chicken hilarious? If only there’d been a smart code thingy on its ass! Now that would’ve created buzz, perhaps even a tipping point. You can like Pepsi and Doritos on Facebook. If you are vacuous enough, Kraft’s monster cookie spin-off, Mondelez, will send you witty tweets about sweets if you encourage them. Gullible consumers have entered into a very sad and one-sided relationship. Advertisers shout, But it’s interactive! Personal!

Amazon’s new Fire phone has done an insidious end run around that. This little fella, designed for one-handed use, comes with the acme of mass consumption apps. See something you like outside on the street in real life? Just scan the bar code or take a picture and hit send. The Amazon store is open. The Fire sale is on. The traditional persuader is circumvented, abandoned at the altar of consumption. Advertising is no longer influencing the transaction during a time when it’s easier than ever to buy. The irony is that advertising itself fostered our culture of immediate gratification and now may have an ever shrinking place in within it.

Monday, 16 June 2014



Saturday in Little Italy

The street party is on! Beyond the road-spanning brick and iron welcoming arch, 95th Street and Giovanni Caboto Square are awash in the royal blue of Gli Azzurri, Italy’s national soccer side. In a couple of hours the Blues will play their first match of Brazil 2014 against Group D rival England. A massive screen has been erected in the park, fittingly along a sideline of the community soccer field. While some supporters have already staked their places on the midfield grass, there’s plenty to do as 120 minutes tick down to kick off.

The Italian Centre Shop, the other focal point of the neighbourhood gathering, is cannily celebrating its 55th year in business as a prelude to the big game. If you find eating little more than a mundane chore to be repeated as necessary, this Edmonton institution is not for you. The shelves lining its narrow aisles are crammed with unfamiliar foreign brands and products. Compared to the prices in our many chain grocery stores the produce is almost free. If I’ve played my cards wrong and there actually is an afterlife, I dearly hope the Italian Centre delicatessen will be a major part of my eternal future – provided I am forgiven my many trespasses made these past 54 years.

Outside the storefront the sidewalk is overflowing with sagging tables of displayed goods, elaborate gift baskets, and café tables and chairs. There is no space for Ann nor me. We dance or swivel sideways only to bump into somebody else full-on. Ensconced in the shade of the awning at one tiny round table is a brazen lunatic sporting a white Three Lions jersey. Then again, there’s nothing quite like experiencing a sporting event amongst people for whom the game and its ensuing result really really matters. FC Edmonton, our city’s North American Soccer League club, has wisely erected a marketing booth in the square to trawl new fans for their version of our planet's beautiful game.


Sandwiches wrapped in butcher’s paper, Italian cold cuts and provolone cheese packed into freshly baked torpedo buns slathered with a spicy red vegetable condiment are available for $5, a bottle of water included. I’m relieved that I don’t operate a Quizno’s franchise; there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby. In the parking lot elderly men are making pizzas, hot wedges free to all, baking them in a portable oven. One just like it is on display and on sale for some $3000.00 and change. I’m tempted; it would look all right in the living room. But we learn something. The chefs roll the balls of risen dough in yellow corn meal before they stretch and toss them. When we make our own at home we merely sprinkle some token meal on the pan before the pie crust hits it. This will change.


Uncle Sid takes a seat at the head of the spaghetti eating contest table. His receding hair and sculpted beard are closely cropped. His black t-shirt is skintight. His white shoes have Velcro fasteners. His jeans are that modern type of fashion denim I dislike. His nephews and nieces crawl all over him. When a heaping silver tray of pasta from a nearby vat is placed before of him sans utensils, he asks, ‘Is that all there is?’ He tells the kids he’s going to win. A popular trash talker from the neighbourhood. He does win, his smug face glistening with sauce. One of the young ones wants to know what he’s just won. He says, ‘The respect of my family.’ For some reason a Journey song plays in my head.

It’s hot on the pavement beneath the big, hot sun. We retire to a joint in an adjacent strip mall a friend had recommended and described as ‘unusual.’ The sign reads GAMING. I expect a bank of VLTs. Instead we encounter a room wired with closed circuit televisions. Grey characters trying to grind out a profit on remote nags. Races from Northlands, Alberta Downs and other tracks around the continent are live, the odds highlighted. The barroom floor is littered with crumpled bettors’ slips. The other TVs show Costa Rica versus Uruguay and that shocker of a score. Salt and pepper wings are on special. The draft beer selection is limited. The toilets are for customers only which works for me: the price of a cold pint of Bud in exchange for a clean men’s room is a fair trade.

Inside here we are not locals. Patrons ignore us but they sneak glances. The handsome gambler hobbling about in a walking cast and wearing an Algeria World Cup cap (probably purchased at the Italian Centre) doesn’t warrant a raised an eyebrow. He must be a regular. Two blocks up 95th we are loyal customers at our favourite store. Merely dependable debit card holders to be thanked after our groceries have been packed. Out on the street we are rubbernecked tourists in our own town. I’ve never seen so many churches concentrated in such a small area. Dear God, You’re almost oppressive. We pass a modest albeit attractive timber faced seniors’ lodge. I’m glad I’m not in one yet though I worry how the rules might apply if you’re demented and insist on playing the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen over and over turned up to 11. A man associated with the street mission around the corner on 96th stops us to reveal that the line of cars parked along the curb all smell like Chinese food. I wonder if he’s crazy or just crazy about Chinese food? Anyway, he’s in the wrong neighbourhood today. I know this much.

Meanwhile parallel columns of blue and white stride onto the vast green. Gli Azzurri is set to play live on screen in Giovanni Caboto Square - or the English navigator John Cabot according to the Canadian history books I studied in school so many years ago in Montreal. I recall Cabot Square in Montreal at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Atwater across the street from the old Forum and how the entire park became a thriving bazaar rampant with soft drug peddlers and ticket scalpers before the house lights dimmed at the start of a concert. But I was a long way from Edmonton back then and a long way from this hitherto unimagined Saturday afternoon in a unique district of my adopted city. The road home is never straight. If you ever get there, it makes an interesting place for a short holiday.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014



Switch Automatic Pilot to OFF


A former Calgary neighbour and good friend phoned Edmonton to check in during Monday night’s Stanley Cup game. Roger the Brit announced that he’d just packed in a job he’d hated and was off to Brazil to watch the World Cup. Almost unbelievably, both these actions were pretty much, sort of, wife-approved. The most amusing part of the story occurred on the coast. He’d flown over the Rockies to deal directly with the British consulate in Vancouver hoping to expedite his last minute visa requirements. He was quite clear with the official: ‘You understand that this is not a family emergency. It’s the World Cup.’ Apparently the World Cup does qualify as some sort of English national emergency. The red tape was slashed to ribbons and the bureaucratic reply was, ‘Jolly good.’


Rog hails from Leeds. This accident of birth amuses our mutual friend Paul who is from Preston originally and supports Man U; Leeds United is bloody awful. As our friendships grew over the course of some 20 years, I had a small epiphany: I may be a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, but these two guys are Bedlam crazy. Yet once the international caps are distributed to the modern knights of St. George their taunting and arguing are put aside for 90 minutes plus injury time. The most entertaining games for me in their company have always been against Germany. You need to learn to whistle The Dam Busters theme. You need to know the proper words to Camptown Races: ‘Two world wars and one World Cup, doo-dah!’ My ingrained image from South Africa 2010 is the two mock Battle of Britain RAF pilots and their gigantic, fake, waxed moustaches.


The impetus for Rog’s trip was a knock on the front door by a current neighbour, a man grieving the loss of his brother to cancer. The pitch went something like this: ‘If we don’t go now, we may never go and who knows what’s around the corner.’ I know this man a little bit because we have crossed paths in Rog’s kitchen. I know this man very well because my brother died of cancer in 2012.


Death, when it comes unexpectedly and far too soon forces anyone with half a heart to pause and question everything. Everything. Everything from what you took for granted to what you barely tolerated and all the mundane garbage in between. All of us, James Bond excepted, only live once. Unfortunately, circumstances – whatever they may be – can cause us to lose sight of this simple, universal truth. If your particular brand of faith tells you differently, well, God bless and good riddance.

Canada has not qualified for the world’s biggest, best and most corrupt sports tournament since 1986, about the time Mick Jagger launched his epic failure of a solo career. I don’t believe we’ve scored an international goal since the Pacific Scandal was an election issue for Sir John A. It’s unlikely we’ll ever qualify for World Cup play during the remainder of my lifetime. But if we do, I’ll drop everything and go. It’s only soccer I know, but it’s the world’s game and our time on this planet is finite.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014



A  Lavender Shade of Rage


The twilight with its threat of night sweats and fever dreams falls ever later as the summer solstice sneaks up upon us. At this time of year I try to avoid the darkness as long as possible, the Kodak slide faces of all the men I’ve killed in a midnight carousel. Ann Fatale, my moll, my angel of secret places, and I walk the back lanes of our neighbourhood smoking our cigarettes and sipping the first of our nightcaps. The sidewalk is often times too exposed for a targeted man like me. I’m a fixer, though the job is never done. The name is Danger, Geoff Danger.


Our residential neighbourhood thrives and percolates to its unique pulse. The birds, cats, dogs and hares patrol their own turf and invade their rivals’. Kids wobble around on bicycles or play soccer and shinny on the road. Sometimes a basketball thumps against asphalt. One fellow across the street is a bit too nosy for my liking and may have to be dealt with. Another neighbour complained that my cigarette smoke wafted onto her property situated some 50 feet to the right. There was a quiet discussion and she’s okay with everything now. Two doors down to our left poor Mrs Blunt’s house stands empty though maintained. She was a solitary widow pushing 90 who insisted on mowing her lawn and shovelling her snow until a recent medical event. I sometimes wonder what’s become of her as I respect people who never require my services.


I only mention Mrs Blunt because if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have been carrying the pitchfork, nor would the Porsche have turned up.


On one of our late evening walks Ann Fatale spotted some lavender growing on the alley side of Mrs Blunt’s backyard fence. We agreed to come back and take some for transplanting; we fondly remembered our first caper together, the pea gravel heist. Good times, life changing times.


I wore my gardening clothes the next day: tan chinos with suspenders, a white undershirt and a brown fedora. We lifted the lavender and dug a hole for it in a sunny spot on our property. The plant smelled good. I was feeling good, leaning on my pitchfork, smoking a cigarette and sipping a cold glass of brown ale. The world seemed all right and looked even better after last night’s rain: green growth, life. Maybe I might even sleep through the long night yet to come. Everything ever once good in the world seemed possible once again. Ann Fatale was smiling at me, silently suggesting delights yet to be experienced.


The Porsche ripped down the street wrecking my reverie. Birds, animals and children scattered. The slick car cornered into Mrs Blunt’s driveway. The driver got out, a phone to his head. I picked up my pitchfork. Stubbed out my cigarette. Finished my beer. ‘Back in a minute, darling,’ I said to Ann.


‘Baby,’ she breathed, ‘don’t whack him.’


I grunted in reply. I sauntered along the sidewalk. Ho-hum. I then turned the Cayenne’s windshield into a spider’s web of cracked tinted glass. I chopped the pitchfork down on the low, sleek hood. I smashed the grille and both front headlights. The driver was slow to react. He actually excused himself to his correspondent before ending his call. Some sort of hotshot lawyer or real estate agent maybe, I guessed. I thrust the four fork tines under his chin. ‘Drop the phone,’ I whispered. He did. I stomped on it.


‘What are you doing!?’


‘I reckon some things can be replaced.’ I stepped back and lopped off his passenger side mirror. ‘You can always get a new phone. You can have this car repaired. But if you were to hit a kid or one of their pets, well, there’s no recourse, is there? They’re dead. See, if I ice you now there’s no coming back. So I’m just going to break one of your legs. Or both. They can be fixed. And you will have learned a lesson.’

I spun the tool like a baton. I rammed the handle up into his groin and then swung the shaft low against his shins, just beneath his kneecaps. Sharpie dropped like a name on the newspaper’s society page. I left him lying on the pavement by his wheels, two broken heaps under the sun. As I walked away I wondered when his nightmares would commence. Probably tonight in his hospital bed. In my experience you never really get over trauma. Welcome to my world. Just don’t speed through it.

Friday, 6 June 2014



A Letter to the Prime Minister


Dear Steve,


Hey, hope the salutation’s not too informal. We’re Canadian, eh? Anyway I’m older than you and while I respect the office you hold, I don’t want you to infer likewise vis-à-vis yourself. No hard feelings, it’s you not me.


Election coming up next year. That’s got to be weighing on your mind what with trying to reform the Senate, the Supreme Court of Canada and the electoral act. Maybe reform wasn’t the best word? Shall we settle for fix or perhaps mould? The Pierre Poutine robocalls thing won’t go away. The cabinet talent’s looking pretty thin, veneer, especially since your finance minister resigned. And there’s been a lot of movement among your unelected minions, certainly some of it worrisome. Let’s not even talk about the loons nesting in your backbenches.


I get that there’s no such thing as climate change, extreme weather is just a series of anomalies although I’m glad I don’t work as an underwriter in the insurance industry nor have to certify building materials for the Canadian Standards Association. The toll on infrastructure is a municipal problem granted, not your concern. But climate change seems to be a big issue in the corridors of power throughout Washington, D.C. Maybe that’s why Obama is dragging his ass on the ‘no-brainer’ (your words) Keystone XL file? Congress is dysfunctional. Fortunately you don’t have to deal with legislative gridlock – you just ram omnibus bills through, right? No debate! Trains will work for moving tar sands goop, Plan B. Rolling stock is reliable provided the tanker cars aren’t already filled with rotting grain and the tracks have been properly inspected and maintained. Easy.


Can’t believe Tsar Putin cut that energy deal with China! Did that Northern Gateway window close fast! Still, it looks to be a good excuse to revive the Cold War – I know you’re old fashioned that way, The Charge of the Light Brigade and all that. This time the Russians will face the guns of our, our… What the hell does the Royal Canadian Air Force fly again? Still CF-18s? Weren’t we supposed to get new fighters? Ones with engines? Maybe we attack them with stealth snowmobiles from a secret ice floe in the Arctic? Very Bond, Mr Harper.


You’ve always struck me as an uptight and often petty paranoid autocrat. In fact I’m mildly distressed that we share some common interests: we’re both passionate about the Beatles and hockey. And cats. Although I think your cat is the result of some surprisingly heeded advice from a long since dismissed backroom rainmaker. Anyway, you know how sometimes pet owners come to resemble their pets over time?  It concerns me how a once respected sovereign and democratic nation can sometimes come to reflect its leader.


The CBC is not out to get you. See, the Mother Corporation has this thing about reporting news rather than Progressive Conservative Party messaging or spin. Weirdly, other Canadian media sources tend to adhere to the same principles. But relax! The Sun chain’s in your pocket. Ezra Levant loves you. Awkward fist bump, baby! Since Pierre Karl Peladeau stepped down to engineer his presidency of the future Republic of Quebec, Brian Mulroney has been anointed Sun’s new Sinatra, The Chairman of the Board. And Brian’s an old school Tory so you’re golden, Steve! Oh wait, there was that niggling little thing that Nigel didn’t see to. You remember the insanity about that second rate German arms dealer and the hundreds of thousands of small bills, legal tender, Brian’s accountants neglected to report as income? I think you assumed the legendary boy from Baie Comeau was on the take and therefore distanced yourself from him. Mistake. My sense is that someone who dost protest too much holds grudges and never forgets. In this instance maybe you really should watch your back.


Steve, I know you don’t read The Globe and Mail. I understand. I know you believe this publication wants to take you down. However the picture on yesterday’s front page was striking. One man wearing a white shirt facing down four camouflaged tanks in Tiananmen Square twenty-five years ago. That’s audacious. That’s gumption. That’s courage I hope I never have to find within myself. Yet I read on through the news  section only to learn that Canada’s Government Operations Centre (GOC), part of our spidery national security apparatus, is actively seeking advance information on any protest or demonstration planned anywhere within this country. In other words, Canadian citizens freely gathering is now cause for alarm. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think, Steve? And today is the anniversary of D-Day; I don’t believe Canadians died on Juno Beach for your peculiar vision of liberty. I hear you, fuck Trudeau and fuck his Charter of Rights and Freedoms, eh? To top it off, the bastard’s whelp is more popular than you. That must be irksome.


Well, the spring session’s about to wrap up. The Hill will be quiet over the summer. Sorry it’s a scheduled break. I know you get more of a rush when you simply prorogue parliament. C’est la vie (that’s French for that’s life). Enjoy the summer!




Sunday, 1 June 2014



Pucks, Peanuts and Crackerjack


Watching the Canadiens lose game six of their series against the New York Rangers a fan sensed that the players had already given it everything they had. A surprise visit to the Stanley Cup final was not in the cards.


I am a fan of the Montreal Canadiens who play in the National Hockey League. I am not an NHL fan. The distinction is such that other equally compelling storylines from these playoffs don’t exactly resonate with the same fervor. The Rangers have reached the final exactly 20 years after their previous championship. Their coach, Alain Vigneault, a fixture behind Vancouver’s bench for so many seasons and a loser of the 2011 Cup to Boston, is whiteboarding his strategic Xs and Os for the whole kit and caboodle after just his first winter in the Big Apple. Over in the Western Conference, it’s strictly Route 66. Chicago and L.A. play game seven tonight. If the Blackhawks advance, they will have the opportunity to become the NHL’s first repeat winners since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings. If the Kings get through and ultimately defeat the Rangers, the result would be their second Stanley Cup in just three seasons. By virtue of past experience, Vigneault knows each potential opponent intimately. And this time he’s got a genuine all-world goalie.


None of this matters to me. The darling buds of May have blossomed and my team has been eliminated. And so this afternoon we’re headed to our lovely little ballpark situated beneath the city’s skyline on the flood-prone flats of the winding North Saskatchewan River.


Alberta’s climate is as tough on baseballers as it is on gardeners: ‘Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’ The AAA Pacific Coast League franchises here in Edmonton and Calgary have long since departed. I remember one Old Testament game one April that featured thunder, lightning and swirling snow. The upstart Canadian Baseball League lurched through half a season before folding. Calgary and Edmonton proved to be too remote and too expensive to travel to for competing franchises in the independent Northern and Golden leagues.


As with any sport, baseball is best experienced in person. There are the sights, sounds and smells of the yard, you can see the entire diamond and the mowed green stretches beyond the infield all the way to the warning track and the looming wall. It works on radio; broadcasts invite the listener’s imagination to fill in and paint the gaps, to see. I’ve never much liked it on TV, the players and the plays seem too isolated and fragmented from the whole of the little action nine innings provides the fan; a pitcher looks in at the catcher’s flashed sign but you do not see the shortstop creep a step and cheat.

The Lethbridge (AB) Bulls are in town today, wrapping up a three game visit. Our home team is the Edmonton Prospects. This is short season collegiate ball, the Western Major Baseball League. The skill level is comparable to single A ball, good enough to interest major league birddogs and engage us as fans on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon. Hockey’s done.