Tuesday, 30 June 2015



No Satisfaction


The digital age has eased communication between consumers and their preferred brands. By this I do not mean something as passive and pathetic as ‘liking’ Coca-Cola or Lululemon on Facebook. Companies are to be lauded for embracing the Internet and social media to encourage conversation even if their motives are self-serving and viewed internally as an inexpensive source of promotion. The inadvertent result of course is providing consumers with a simpler, much broader and much more public avenue to criticize and complain. In 21st century marketing and advertising the elusive philosopher’s stone is how to elegantly spin negativity rather than just hitting ‘delete.’


Our fridge, like yours, is the keeper of our condiments. There are six types of mustard and five different hot sauces. The problem lays at the bottom of our jar of Bick’s Gourmet Zesty Onion Relish. There’s enough left to dress only one cheeseburger or bratwurst. There are two of us in the house. It’s rather primitive to compete against one’s partner over food even if it’s just a spoonful.


Out and about on the weekend we visited three grocery stores seeking more. We learned that the product no longer existed. And more die of heartbreak on the eve of Canada’s national holiday and in the prime of barbecue season. Bick’s Gourmet Zesty Onion Relish was not a WTF!? consumer commodity like New Coke (Why?), Kraft Burger Slices (Processed cheese with radius corners!), Campbell’s Soup and Sandwich (Look for it in the frozen food counter!) or Dad’s Root Beer Flavoured Milk (Nuff said.).


So I found three free minutes in my insanely hectic life to flip Bick’s a note, a gentle admonishment, jaunty in tone. I included the human readable bar code numbers from the Bick’s Gourmet Zesty Onion Relish label. I even mentioned our fondness for Bick’s Gourmet Tangy Dill Relish and instructed the company not to mess with that. I did everything right.


I received a prompt and courteous reply from the Consumer Relations Department stating apologetically that essentially nobody else can stand the stuff. I was further advised to visit the Bick’s web site with other questions or concerns even though I had obviously already done so. While there, perhaps I could find an acceptable alternative condiment.

This transparent one-to-one brand engagement did not feel empowering. This miniscule non-result did not match the expectations of my rich and varied fantasy life. Bick’s was supposed to start making more Gourmet Zesty Onion Relish on my say so. At the very least, Bick’s could’ve scoured the country for the last carton of it and then couriered it to me. Jesus, I would’ve settled for a generic Bick’s $1 Off coupon. But no. And so it’s come down to this: those unresponsive and insensitive automatons at Bick’s are doomed to feel the wrath and the lash of the mighty, mighty meGeoff blog.

Friday, 26 June 2015



Sporting News from the Capital Region


Edmonton hockey fans today are pleasuring themselves in the city’s streets. A new downtown ice rink slated for completion in September 2016 has been made manifest after years of local debate. The foundation poured, a titanic skeleton of structural steel now rises at the intersection of 104th Avenue and 104th Street. Even bigger news is this evening’s (about 15 minutes from now) National Hockey League annual draft of amateur players. The Edmonton Oilers by virtue of their ineptitude and a little lottery luck have been awarded the first pick.


A teenaged forward from the Ontario Hockey League named Connor McDavid has been hailed by all those involved in the industry as a ‘generational talent,’ professional hockey’s equivalent of the Second Coming. The NHL was formed in 1917 so young Mr. McDavid might be something like the Tenth Coming. Anyway, the kid’s supposed to be that good, a savant on skates projected to outshine or at the very least match such modern legends as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby. The hopes and dreams of a relatively remote, northern winter city rest on the shoulders of a boy who graduated high school last week. His job as a hockey player will be to pack that new arena, that new public building we’re all paying for. No pressure, kid, failure is not an option.


Although baseballer Pete Rose, A.K.A. Charlie Hustle, did his best (or worst) we know that nothing in sport is guaranteed. That’s why we watch the games played. Guy Lafleur skated through three mediocre seasons before his Ascension in Montreal. Eric Lindros’s spirit was willing but his flesh was weak; he never earned his wings. Edmonton’s potential Saviour is already in the harsh glare of hysterical hype. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, has assigned a reporter full-time to the Connor McDavid beat (Shawna Richer, that publication’s sports editor, shadowed Crosby his entire rookie year).


Locally there is evidence of an ecstatic ecstasy despite a cynical and comic undercurrent convinced that the hapless Oilers could actually botch their overall number one pick. Down in the river valley a green directional sign for CONNORS ROAD has been altered by some wag fan to read CONNOR MCDAVID. A decent pub in Old Strathcona has sold every single ticket available for a happy hour draft party (all proceeds to charity). Edmonton’s newspapers have gushed ink and picas on what just might be their biggest story of the year: A Hockey God This Way Comes.

My complaint about all of this civic insanity is relatively simple. If this guy’s really all he’s cracked up to be and his career shakes down as anticipated, he won’t be doing it in a Montreal uniform. I have the same issues with Bobby Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux and Crosby. Sure they were and are okay but they never played for the Canadiens.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015



Burn, Baby, Burn


Ann’s brother Jim is staying with us this week. Dawn comes early to Edmonton at this time of year, the birds begin their morning territorial chirping around 4:30, a half an hour or so before sunrise. Jim rises with the jays and magpies, and after he does his Zen-voodoo-yoga exercises he looks around for something else to do. Yesterday he swept every single inch of pavement on our property to magazine photo shoot pristine. Jim is a good guest.


Alberta may or may not be on the verge of drought. Wildfires burn throughout the province but civic reservoirs are topped up. Nobody really knows anything for certain except that we’re better off than California for the time being. Due to intermittent though frequent provincial fire bans I have over two years gathered pruned or wind blown tree branches and bundled them with twine into faggots resembling the weighty wooden load of the back of the hermit on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV.


Jim and Ann this morning decided we had a perfect day to burn our stash of twigs, the air was still and the government had lifted the open fire ban late last week. Anyway, Jim needed something to do. Using yesterday’s papers Jim soon had a hot and healthy blaze going. He sat tending it, methodically snapping sticks and piling them on. We tossed in a couple of broken wooden coat hangers which burned beautifully. I caught the fire fever and caught myself peering around the yard searching for more stuff to burn.


Fire is primordial and hypnotic; innately we are all pyromaniacs. I remembered the mob madness of another Jim’s summer solstice party held about 20 years ago. My old friend from Montreal lived about 20 minutes outside of Calgary on a piece of land big enough to accommodate a pick up baseball diamond. As I recall Jim was on the ball enough to construct some type of containment for his pagan bonfire, saturate the turf around it and have a garden hose at ready. This forethought was definitely out of character but theoretically an out of control fire could have scorched its way across the prairie to the base of the Rockies.


The main event was to be the sacrificing of his family’s Christmas tree, saved since the previous January. The dead, rusty fir went up with a spectacular WHOOSH! FOOM! The scene and the sound were awesome. And doesn’t alcohol make everything and every idea wonderful? The frenzy of needing more and more fuel took us; we raided his garage for hockey sticks and maybe a Louisville Slugger. The tomato plant stakes were pulled up next. The lattice shrubbery demarcating Jim’s wife’s herb garden was ripped from the earth. Then we went inside hunting for brooms and empty picture frames.


The fire eventually petered out. Piled among the ashes of some of his former possessions was evidence of some discord within Jim’s marriage. The fallout reminded me of the time my big brother Bob, his best friend Jack, our friend Stats Guy and I gerry-built a sauna on John’s vacation property utilizing the carefully chosen stones decorating his wife’s elaborate and well-tended rock garden. John had a neighbour with whom he did not get along. Worse, the offender had a tree that cast a shadow on John’s front porch. We hatched a plan beneath the steaming tarp. We would take magic mushrooms, get chainsaws, fell the tree but make it look like beavers had done the deed. This was sheer Wile E. Coyote genius. Meanwhile the hot rocks harried by dousing scoops of cold lake water split into halves with resounding CRACKS! Even though we later attempted to recreate the rock garden as it had been the day before with our fractured shards of stone, there was soon evidence of discord within John’s marriage.

If I was of the criminal kind, I’d specialize in arson. I’d advertise my services as meGeoff the Torch: Solutions Provider to Failing Businesses. It’s never too late for a mid-life career change and that would be a pretty sweet gig, playing with fire a few nights a week and getting paid for it. A man can dream. It’s strange to imagine one that really would go up in smoke.

Thursday, 11 June 2015



The Miracle of the O Ring


Ann said, ‘That’s it. We’re ripping out the entire kitchen counter. We’ll replace the backsplash tiles, the sink, everything.’ I was thinking, ‘Maybe we just call a plumber?’ The swivel kitchen faucet was dribbling, leaking. The dark and horrid cupboard storage space beneath the sink was damp. We ferreted out the cloths, sprayers and tins of household cleaners. There was unused stuff in the modest pond that good money had paid for which made me wonder, ‘Why? Why is this here, why is anything here?’ The timing was especially bad, guests were due for dinner and the idea of food prep and later dishwashing in the bathroom sink seemed lose-lose as that drain is painfully slow. We could not cancel.


I plucked a cold beer from the fridge and then went outside to sit in the backyard. I lit a cigarette. Most problems need a little time to either fix themselves or go away. When I went back inside I was disturbed to learn that the water was still finding its own wrong way. Ann said, ‘Why don’t we take it apart and have a look at it.’ I thought, ‘Why don’t we book the plumber and cancel dinner?’ I said, ‘Okay.’ I thought about things. I would have to shut off the water. I would need a tool, a wrench or something. We keep our tools in the basement; I would have to go downstairs. Perhaps I could find a wrench or something like one in the workroom.


When you take out a mortgage on a home you’ve signed up for much more than just the payments. You owe it to yourself and your neighbours to maintain the exterior and the property. You owe it to yourself and your visitors to maintain the living spaces, and the domestic machines required to make everyday living comfortable. Any home repair or improvement is by definition good. Anything and everything you can do yourself saves you money immediately and may save you aggravation, and stacks more of each down the road; the gratification which accompanies the completion of a successful D.I.Y. project may even meet or exceed whatever satisfaction you derive from your life’s paying job.


It seemed as if everything we owned was either on the kitchen floor or the counter. The cats, curious, glided around and through the mess, getting in the way. I figured out how to turn off the water to the sink – knobs, one for hot and one for cold, who knew? Using an adjustable wrench I managed to removed the faucet from its anchor. Just above the thread at its base I found a compromised black rubber Cheerio. What was supposed to be an O was now a C. I said to Ann, ‘I think we can fix this. We’ll have to go to the hardware store. We have to go out anyway,’ I said, ‘we forgot to buy wine yesterday.’


I looked at the wall clock. I looked at the clocks on the coffee maker, the stove and the microwave. Time was getting tight. Not that I was diffusing a time bomb, it was just that we both needed a nap before our friends were to arrive. Our errand should have taken less than half an hour. When we left our neighbourhood we hit heavy traffic and delays, the confluence of Edmonton’s unfrozen road maintenance window and the city’s annual Gay Pride parade. I seethed in the CRV: ‘I want a black rubber ring worth pennies; we don’t even have pennies anymore, but that’s all we want. Why don’t they take their rainbow propellers and just ram them… Do what you like just don’t do it here; they should be marching downtown along Jasper Avenue. We need an O ring. And two bottles of wine. Cigarettes too. And for fuck’s sake, why does fucking everybody need a fucking parade? Everybody’s fucking special these days. Whatever the fuck happened to ordinary people? We’ve got a plumbing problem and we’re on a fucking deadline.’ Ann said, ‘Everybody loves a parade.’ She then gently suggested that it might be a good idea if I rolled down the window, breathed deeply, lit a cigarette and reverted to being a liberal once more. Well, fuck. ‘Crabby indifference from the mainstream means you’ve pretty much achieved your goals,’ I replied; I’d like to believe that a fair majority of us have come a long way.


The miracle outcome of our infuriating excursion was that a near worthless bit of rubber that might be a tight fit over the tip of your pinkie solved our faucet crisis. We had avoided a plumber’s inflated weekend hourly rates. We had deked the necessary decisions, patience and thousands of dollars required for a kitchen reno. I felt that Ann and I were now qualified to inspect O rings on NASA space shuttles. I imagined our portraits on Chinese and Soviet propaganda posters, the pair of us in baggy, ill-fitting genderless tunics clutching wrenches against our hearts as our noble profiles peered up toward the brave new future which lay ahead. We were indeed masters of our house, and there was still time for a quick nap.

Monday, 8 June 2015



One Large Crude to Go Please, Black, No Sugar


A storm brewed up at Tim Hortons coffee shops last week. Tempers boiled over. Scalding words were exchanged. There’s no way to sugarcoat this.


A recap: Enbridge, a Canadian energy concern and pipeline proponent, bought a month’s worth of advertising time on the in-store, closed circuit network of Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee concern and national cliché right up there with red serge Mounties, maple syrup and poutine. A foreign environmental group complained about Big Oil public relations propaganda seeping into the soft brains of unsuspecting Canadians. In response to the twitterpation of the twitverse the coffee company pulled the advertising it had sold Enbridge about a week earlier than contracted. Unbelievably, Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually allowed junior members of his Conservative caucus to chirp unsupervised about the controversy using 140 characters or less.


There are many things wrong with this LCD flat screen picture.


What’s surprising is that Enbridge actually believed Tim’s TV could actually provide enough GRPs (gross ratings points, essentially eyeballs multiplied by frequency of exposure) to reach average Canadians in their natural habitat. The chain has worked diligently to reduce wait times at its stores’ ordering counters, the drive-thru lines are longer. In the brave new world of free (and likely insecure) wi-fi people hanging around java joints are absorbed by their laptops and smart phones. Older folk read their newspapers or weirdly, converse with their companions. Ultimately, Enbridge’s ‘Life Takes Energy’ spot was just another byte of white noise in a cluttered world of all advertising all the time, merely more stuff to be tuned out and ignored.


So, this bad media buy took almost three weeks to get noticed. Eventually it registered with somebody with a contrary agenda, probably an overly earnest soul who would describe themselves as an activist. The online complaint, the whinging, the hand wringing, was generated by SumOfUs, a well-meaning group of American greens who maintain that their Canadian followers on social media permit them to create confabulated issues inside our borders. It’s a bonus that they have the time and freedom to do so; apparently everything in the United States is A-OK – hell, even the Duggars have talked to God about one of their 19 mistakes. This international interference implies a Big Brother scorn. The insulting intimation is that we Canadians are too thick to realize that advertising is not objective.

Any debate requires two sides, pro and con. The extreme right and the extreme left combine to make interesting bed partners as neither side will brook any discussion. Shrill, vitriolic rhetoric doesn’t foster articulate engagement with the other side. All of us need to talk about the long term future and well-being of Earth because Martian colonies will not be all-inclusives and it’s likely we’ll wreck that planet too. We need to talk about the short term future of fossil fuels. We need that energy now while viable alternatives are developed or invented and the current rational consensus at any local Tim’s is something akin to a Wham! hit: If you’re gonna do it, do it right. Research, care and attention cost a little more: spend, and justify this enlightened, expensive rationale to your shareholders. Not every corporate CEO wears a grey Nehru jacket and strokes a white fluffy pussycat during board meetings just as every environmentalist is not an anarchist vandal in a black hoodie. Everybody’s got to listen to one another. The volume’s got to be turned down; otherwise all of us will be scavenging in a world that doesn’t amount to a hill of roasted Arabica beans.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015



Three Days of Music


There was neither bad acid nor mud and the toilets in each venue were pristine so this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday didn’t exactly constitute Woodstock though all of the music was equally delightful.


Wally is a longtime neighbourhood friend of Ann’s. He’s a tallish, slight man, balding and a little reserved. He sings and plays rhythm guitar for a tight, pick-up rock and roll band called Thirst ‘n Howl. Ann and I caught them Saturday night in a nearby community hall. Proceeds from the $20 tickets were designated for a cancer charity. Beer was $5. There was a shooter table set up. Hamburgers and hotdogs were grilling on a gaggle of barbecues and being sold at reasonable prices by volunteers.


The place was packed with graying or dyed rockers, the dance floor more so once the band took the stage. Thirst ‘n Howl began their gig with a three part harmony a cappella version of Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’ before ripping into early Beatles, followed by hits from Badfinger and Steely Dan. Their set’s surprising highlight was an enthusiastic rendition of power popper Tommy Tutone’s hook-laden ‘867-5309 (Jenny).’ From AC/DC through to Chuck Berry, the Marvelettes and Wilson Pickett, the elevated wires of telephone songs possess a strange, retro magic.


Ann and I departed shortly after 10 pm. Not because we’re old, not because we were tired, but because Ann had a Sunday afternoon first violin player performance with Nova Musica, her other orchestra, one she’s been a member of for 35 years. That venue was the library of ecole Gabrielle-Roy. I could tell by the high ceiling and the faded markings on the wooden floor that the space used to be a gymnasium; the Nova concert is part of a fundraising effort for a new playground. Was this irony in a winter city? Tickets were $10 for adults, no beer and burgers to be had, just butter tarts and lemonade.


The afternoon’s program commenced with Rossini’s (1792-1868) ‘Overture to Barber of Seville.’ It’s a piece I know well thanks to Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd: ‘Come into my shop! Let me cut your mop!’ I’ve often wondered if old Gioachino spun in his Parisian grave when the Warner Brothers short debuted or did he appreciate the humour? The door prize for the Nova concert was a Bugs Bunny cap complete with floppy ears which of course the conductor had to don for the ‘Overture.’ A young student later beamed after she’d won the game worn merch.


Monday night in a downtown auditorium fused our weekend. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra with the aid of a rock band and vocalist performed the music of Led Zeppelin. Our $39 tickets placed us in the first row of the choir loft behind the stage. Ann’s friend Marnie joined us for the event. She is a cellist who sometimes plays with Ann in an informal backyard string quartet; her husband Derek plays cello in the ESO. Derek’s a pretty dry guy. If I’ve cracked a thousand jokes in his presence, I made his mouth upturn once. I once wore a Mick Jagger t-shirt to a party the couple hosted. He asked me in all seriousness, ‘Who’s that?’ I said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ He said, ‘Oh.’ Weeks before the show Ann and I lent them Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day DVD figuring Derek might want to do some homework although I don’t imagine Led Zep’s sometimes plodding brand of blooze pose much difficulty for a classically trained musician. Derek was unable to endure the entire disc.


I had never sat facing a conductor before. Maestro was a classic in black tuxedo with a mane of swept back hair. I thought of Bugs Bunny in What’s Opera, Doc? his long ears plastered to his head: ‘Leopold! Leopold!’ The singer had the pipes to match Robert Plant’s pitch and cat fight yowls; his shoulder length kinky hair was a pretty close approximation of the Golden God’s too. We had no idea what to expect and therefore our expectations could not be trampled underfoot but only exceeded, which they were. Apparently there had been time for only one hasty rehearsal but all of the artists involved seemed in sync. The sound was fabulous: dense, rich and very, very loud.

We milled around with beers at intermission and I recognized a couple of faces from Saturday’s Thirst ‘n Howl gig. We bumped into a friend fresh off of U2’s tour opener in Vancouver. Maybe it was the scale of the hall and its impeccable acoustics, maybe it was the weed but Monday night the ESO were rock stars right up there with Bono and The Edge; he’d already decided to return for the Tuesday evening performance. He was buzzed too by the ESO’s surprise on stage announcement that the music of Pink Floyd was due to receive the same treatment over two nights in late September. I reminded him that we were booked to see the Who together around that time. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ he said, ‘isn’t all this music great?’ Yeah.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015



A Love Letter to Canadian Football


It must’ve been 1973 or ‘74 because I can remember my friend Tim and me positively skipping with joy down the alley behind my grandparents’ apartment building - which means my mother hadn’t yet remarried and hauled my ass downtown to live with her new husband and three of his daughters. Tim and I, using our own money and the procurement aid of his mom, had scored tickets for that season’s (whichever one it was) Canadian Football League all star game to be played in a tiered concrete wreck on the shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River known as the Autostade. An unsupervised sporting adventure to watch the greatest football players ever awaited us - until the game was cancelled. Perhaps the organizers had sold just our two tickets. This was one of the earliest soul-crushing moments in my life as a sports fan, or maybe just in my life, period; a few had already passed and many, many more were to come.


As the Montreal Canadiens don’t win the Stanley Cup every year and the Montreal Expos no longer exist, there is a gap in my sporting calendar until the CFL begins official league play around Canada Day, July 1. Our game resembles our country in that it’s almost as old; its urban teams are separated mostly by big empty spaces; the loop knows nadirs and glory days; from time to time the entire operation has somehow hung together by the merest thread.


Football was my best sport growing up. I hung up the pads upon my high school graduation. In the early days my brother was my coach. A first cousin of ours was killed playing high school football; my parents allowed me to play on. Tim suited up back then though our lifelong friendship was still in its early, formal stages: ‘Hey, Moore.’ I remember sustaining one minor concussion as a teen: ‘Geoff! Where are you!’ Uh, look at all these staring, intent faces and the fluffy clouds in the sky? Sometimes now I experience a scraping behind my right knee cap, the result of a direct helmet to bone hit unabsorbed by a flimsy foam pad; I remember the pain. Years after quitting I survived a headlong bicycle crash relatively intact; the examining doctors found ancient scar tissue in a few vertebrae in my neck. I attribute the damage to seven or eight seasons of getting thrashed by bigger, stronger and better players.


I love the game and from a fan’s perspective, it helps having played the sport because I can appreciate most its nuances and increasingly refined skills even though these have evolved steadily since the days of the I-Formation. My sister on the other hand, who is not a fan, has reduced football to the level of a reading primer: ‘I run. I fall down. I get up.’ I say something close about soccer: ‘I run. I fall down. I writhe;’ I never played the game.


Tim and I have paid our dues to the CFL. Individually or together we have owned or shared season tickets. We’ve paid to see games played in various cities. We’ve traversed the country to attend Grey Cup championships. We’ve bought the caps and the jerseys. We’ve bumped the television viewer numbers. Through the seasons we’ve done everything a fan is tacitly asked to do. The fusty dollars in our wallets aside, we are no longer an attractive demographic for a league trying to grow its game in this new age of social media and goldfish attention spans. Tim and I now qualify for the seniors’ discounts at IHOP. In our time the ill-fated 1995 expansion Memphis Mad Dogs were a travesty. That squad doesn’t even register on the scale compared to last season’s marketing blitz of apocalyptic video game third uniforms. Horrid fashion is the province of the young.

This attraction to youth leads us to some audacious jury-rigging for the 2015 season. The CFL is attempting to spice up the most boring play in football, the point after. For a single point kick the ball will now be snapped from the 32-yard line instead of the 12. If a team opts for a 2-point conversion, the line of scrimmage will shift from the five to the three. This is an intriguing tweak by a league that has traditionally offered its fans high-scoring, barn-burning games. Too much ain’t enough. We’ll be watching.