Saturday, 19 August 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

The Absurd Banality of Evil

In the wake of the deadly insanity that was Charlottesville last weekend, I’ve been contemplating the existence of the little twerp who inadvertently became social media’s white supremacist poster boy for America’s Crystal Night. Amaze balls, bro, LOL! You know the image, the cherubic kid, mouth agape, shouting out something obscene. He sports a Hitler haircut but is without the testosterone to complete the look on his upper lip. He lied to his mommy, telling her he was attending a rally in support of their country’s 45th president.

His family name begins with the letter C and is followed by many consonants. This tells me that some of his forebears came from parts of Europe that were tragically intimate with Nazi and Soviet jackboots. This may constitute irony, like rain on a Nuremberg parade. His surname also suggests to me that his family never had a stake in the Confederate States of America’s rebellion against a duly elected federal government in Washington in the guise of states’ rights, code for the free and coerced labour that sustained an agrarian economy: slavery.

He’s a college boy and obviously bright enough not to enroll in the orange, odious vulgarian’s matchbook version of a university. He must be a big man on campus because he’s a member of Vanguard America, a sort of crypto-fascist ROTC. Like the Nazi Brown Shirts of old, they have uniforms too, but preppier: white polos matched with khaki chinos. Other than a JC Penny changing room, I suppose its members have to fit in somewhere.

These days everybody holds a grudge, has a complaint. Some are even valid. The cliché goes that winners write history, though the result is not always fair. Yet there are those in the rich pageant of humanity who deserved defeat, decimation. I can’t fathom how crazy a supposedly educated kid must be to align himself with the likes of Johnny Reb and Adolf Hitler, an in-crowd of two of history’s biggest losers who promoted ignoble and revolting causes. How could anyone, anyone, aspire to associate themselves with the likes of them? Well, this clean cut, contemptible little monster, a scrotum swollen with bilious hatred, has, and he’s going to grow up, get older and get more set in his ways. Right now, his future’s looking bright. And, as the president tweeted today, violent protests which include murder can help the United States “heel.” (The ultimate Freudian slip has since been corrected.)

Friday, 18 August 2017

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Gasoline Alley and a Visitation from the Spirit of Elvis

Around this time of the month in 2012 Ann and I travelled to Lethbridge, AB to catch Bob Dylan IN SHOW & CONCERT! Part of the attraction was using those proper nouns in the same sentence without it sounding like brown acid babble. I was reminded of that little escapade Wednesday because we hit the road again this week for an intimate performance that didn’t quite compute.

Modern Nashville icon Rodney Crowell, performer, writer, producer and friend of the late and legendary Guy Clark, has been omnipresent in Alberta this August, playing any music festival anywhere. If you’re not familiar with him, you’re familiar with his songs as sung by others and they include Roseanne Cash, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Bob Seger; he’s a bit like John Hiatt in that anonymous hit-maker sense. Crowell’s two latest releases are masterful collaborations with the utterly sublime Emmylou Harris. A tour scheduling quirk placed him in a pub situated in the only place in the country named after a Rod Stewart album.

In terms of growth, the Edmonton-Calgary corridor has been one of the most explosive areas in Canada over the past decade. It is always rush hour on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, every county, town, city, provincial park, tourist attraction, golf course and federal jail is connected. Smack dab in the psychological middle, where bus riders and drivers pause for cigarettes, snacks, gas and parking lot beers on the outskirts of Red Deer, Alberta’s third largest city, is Gasoline Alley, a seemingly endless strip of signs, services and recreational vehicle dealerships.

Ann and I drove south over the rolling parkland. The fields were green. The stands of trees, windbreaks, always in distance, were blue. The sun was invisible in the ashen sky, there was heat and the smell of wildfire smoke blown east over the Rockies by prevailing winds. Ann always does the driving because I could never be bothered to get a proper license. My father drove if he absolutely had to. My mother was a hazard, no matter what she says now in her dotage. Driving just wasn’t an expected Chuck Berry, Beach Boys or Bruce Springsteen rite of passage for me growing up. My passenger job with Ann is to be of service: I punch her gum out from its blister pack; I light her cigarettes; I open her sparkling water; I change the music; I fish her sunglasses out of the glove box.

I didn’t need to do any navigation on this particular trip because both of us have been down this road a thousand times before.  Neither one of us has ever contemplated dawdling for longer than three-quarters of an hour in Gasoline Alley, let alone booking a room for the night. Pulling into the strip from the highway we realized that there were infant Gasoline Alleys behind the original, newly paved back streets and parking lots cluttered with more restaurants, hotels and big box retailers all nurtured by development. There was a there there now, a micro-city near the county line, a colossal outdoor mall haphazardly designed to purvey services and stuff, born again Bibles too, Jesus knows.

The Hideout is a thrown up building dating back to the chain restaurant school of architecture, rustic industrial. There are wood and stone decorative accents inside. The ceiling is high and open, exposing ducts, joists and trusses. The dinner special was prime rib which cost two dollars less than the price of admission. Ann’s $30 concert ticket was numbered 002, mine was 003. Ann and I opted for sandwiches to split and share, a Cuban for a Reuben and tastier fare than the nearby Donut Mill. Our attentive waitress thought we were clever. There were plywood panels laid on the pool tables for extra seating. To our right four fat guys with ten years on me stared at their drinks as their impossibly thin, leathery wives talked too much and too loudly.

The warm up act was a shy local kid with chops, the brim of his ballcap could not have been tugged any lower. Next came the announcement from the stage every road-tripping concertgoer dreads: Rodney wasn’t feeling well; he was suffering from hypertension. The update was worse: Rodney had gone to the hospital. Ann and I know all about emergency wait times in Alberta. Ann said, “That’s it.” I said, “In the old days it used to be drug busts or overdoses.” She said, “We might as well stay.” I said, “There’s nothing else to do here.” We agreed together to forego the proffered refunds.

An acoustic guitarist and a fiddler came out, the other members of the Rodney Crowell Trio. They were unused to vamping. They billed themselves as Two Guys on Stage. They thanked the audience for selling out their debut. Regrettably they had no merchandise for sale. People began to file out. The duo handled the crisis with witty aplomb. Their set included a stellar version of Elvis’s ‘Mystery Train.’ Maybe it was the summoned ghost of Elvis playing puppet-master, but Ann and I soon experienced the Miracle of Gasoline Alley.

Rodney had been released from Red Deer General. Rodney was in the building. Ann and I changed tables, moving closer to the stage and acquiring better sightlines. Crowell made his entrance with an electric guitar. Even the leather ladies shut up for a moment. He was apologetic and somewhat perplexed by his own health, “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m fit. Doctors can’t tell me what’s wrong with me.” During the ensuing applause I thought, “Elvis left us 40 years ago this week. Don’t rush to join him, we’re not worth it.” Crowell performed an abridged, audience-friendly set, filled with songs everybody knew. Perhaps fittingly, the highlight for me was a raucous cover of ‘That’s All Right,’ Elvis’s first single. Ann and I danced in Gasoline Alley. We never once imagined that that could ever happen.

Friday, 11 August 2017

A FAN’S NOTES

Bryan Ferry Live in Enoch, Alberta

The year was 1982. Roxy Music had hit the North American big time with Avalon which would prove to be their final, full-length studio swan song. I remember walking along de Maisonneuve Boulevard, tickets for the group’s Montreal Forum show tucked into the pocket of my leather jacket, maybe my brown one, maybe my black one, I can’t remember. I was wearing Levi’s. There was no snow on the ground. I fell in behind a group of guys with elaborate hairdos, each resplendent in a solid pastel suit, the colours accentuating, complementing their mates'.

Roxy Music was glam, avant-garde, ground-breaking, sultry, louche, manic. Out there, Bowie in a permanent Berlin phase. Following the glamour boys I thought, “Wow, hardcore fans, dressing up like that.” An hour later they were on stage as Modern English performing ‘I Melt with You.’ And then Bryan Ferry fronting Roxy Music came on.

Wednesday afternoon Ann and I drove the sports car westbound on the Whitemud. We passed Edmonton’s ring road and then the freeway frittered itself away into a maze of concrete barriers and NO ENTRY signs. A hard left and we arrived at the River Cree Resort, a well-appointed and curiously cheerful casino attached to a Marriott Courtyard on Treaty Six land. This time I was wearing L.L. Bean jeans and some sort of Costco retro-vintage, three-button t-shirt.

In the rear of the complex and out of sight is a permanent, temporary structure, The Venue at River Cree. A taut pavilion on a concrete pad supported by steel studs and fed with as much electricity and alcohol as required. Folding chairs, with section letters and row numbers taped to the smooth floor. Bryan Ferry was to perform beyond our city’s limits this night in a place an occupying army might erect.

Nineteen eighty-two to 2017, 35 years, that’s the longest I’ve gone between a hero’s gigs. Ferry’s support act this time was Judith Owen. Witty and dramatic, she would slay headlining a club where the patrons had paid to see her and her band. On before Ferry, she was doomed to be seen as just another delay before the legend’s entrance. There was an indifferent drinkers’ din in the back of the room.

Prior to the concert, I had big plans. I would bump into Ferry somewhere in the hotel or casino and then be helpful, writing out his set list for him. I’d tell him to perform a show of mixed thirds, solo, Roxy and covers. He would thank me for my valued input.

Ferry walked on stage sporting a black suit jacket and a white dress shirt with the top two or three buttons undone. There was some grey in that famous black haircut. I imagined James Bond gone slightly to seed, intent on killing audiences rather than enemy agents. Ann leaned over, “He just drips cool.” And a charisma enhanced by dramatic poses and flourishing, emotive arms and hands, much communication in a motion. And sweat. The human heat and the lights made the tent a little closer. There was a smell. Usually backlit by a wall of uniform colour, the suave silhouette seductively led his audience up the stairs to his Dorian Gray attic. I consciously averted my eyes from the video screens to the left and right of the stage. Ferry was right there before us, actual human-sized, to scale, and I wanted the illusion to be real.

Walking onto the stage Ferry immediately switched to glide with ‘The Main Thing’ and ‘Slave to Love.’ I guessed there had to be a Dylan cover since Ferry has recorded an entire album and more of His Bobness. ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ proved me right. The middle portion featured the welcome surprise of ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ from For Your Pleasure, Roxy’s second release dating back to 1973. I’d read (falsely) that Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera was part of Ferry’s band for this tour. His substitute was the equally legendary Chris Spedding who shredded a searing version of Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane,’ another left field song in the set I didn’t dare hope to hear.

Ann and I matched the crowd demographic, mostly middle-aged couples. She noted something I didn’t pick up on, that one partner was hardcore while their mate was more of an incidental fan, a taste gap that’s rare at a rock concert. The climax of the concert was sustained as Ferry fed off the frenzy of an audience trying to remember how to rush the stage, cognizant of dodgy knees and bad hips. ‘Can’t Let Go’ quickly led into ‘More Than This’ and ‘Avalon.’ ‘Love Is the Drug’ preceded ‘Virginia Plain.’ Tucked somewhere within the assault was Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy.’ The evening ended with the frantic, stone soul classic ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ by Sam and Dave.   

The show cannot go on forever. Concertgoers understand rusty or fading chops. Indeed, Ferry left some of his signature lines to his better equipped hired help. But our memories for an artist like Bryan Ferry are long. So a show can sometimes become about what it was not. I missed ‘Mother of Pearl,’ ‘When She Walks In the Room,’ ‘Oh Yeah,’ ‘To Turn You On’ and ‘Take Me to the River.’ If we’d met at the resort, those are the songs I’d have demanded Ferry play. And as he sauntered away bemused because I’m basically harmless I would have shouted, “And ‘In the Midnight Hour’ too!”

“Staycay” is an abbreviation of the insipid compound neologism “staycation.” Ann and I had decided to spend the night together at the River Cree so we could enjoy a couple of beers after the show and the modern novelty of smoking indoors because the casino is situated on First Nations turf. My newly formulated plan was to meet Ferry in the casino after his show, debrief him and then gently chide him for not fulfilling my fantasy set list. Maybe we’d play baccarat together, roulette or vingt-et-un. “No, Mister Ferry, I expect you to sing.” It was not to be, but Ann and I finished up our evening $67 ahead on the slots. We were flush, flushed, the party was over and we were so tired.

Monday, 7 August 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

The Ugly Face of War

Our gas barbecue is housed in a brick cabinet on the backyard patio. The countertop is tile. Beneath it is a storage area which also allows access to the gas line. Early last spring I took the unit apart to clean and prep it for the upcoming grilling season. I was dismayed to discover a squirrel nest made of grass clippings and whatever other debris the critters could scavenge.

During these past couple of months of summer I noticed I had been refilling the four bird feeders on the property at an unprecedented rate. I realized I was not only feeding my flock but a family of squirrels. Our aged tabbies no longer prowl like they once did and are no threat to the neighbourhood varmints anymore. Last week I watched a squirrel climb up into the angled extension of one of our downspouts, slide through it, pop out into the garden and then scamper up and do it again. And again. When the house is still, Ann and I pause periodically and listen for scrabbling in the attic.

Saturday morning Ann and I took our coffee out on the front porch. The air was heavy and humid. Thunderheads were building to the west. Ann saw a squirrel run up a front wheel of our Honda CRV and disappear. She went and got the keys and then started the engine. The rodent emerged through the front grille, a blur of fur, Chip n’ Dale physics. We opened the hood and discovered a nest of grass clippings perched atop the engine. Worse, the hood liner had been chewed through and its insulation torn out.

Our problems are of course the fault of others. The cats are too old to be of any use. The woodpeckers, blue jays and finches aren’t aggressive enough defending their food sources. The City of Edmonton by encouraging me not to collect my grass clippings for ecological reasons has become a supplier of building materials.

Since my territorial pissings have done nothing to dissuade the local skunk population, I figured whipping it out again was not an option. Ann and I declared war. I chose weapons. The garden hose turned on full and set to JET worked for about a minute. The cheeky, rusty red bastards quickly turned the show of force into a game, nattering for more from high tree branches. The straw broom is ineffective. While my form is good, there’s too much drag, like trying to swat a fly with an open newspaper.

Last night it occurred to me that our solution might be leaning up against a bookshelf in the basement: a Daisy Red Rider BB gun. Ann thinks that my patrolling the property or sitting on the front porch in this day and age with something that resembles an actual rifle might not be my most inspired idea. No good could come of it.

I might wing a neighbour; if it’s that old cow with anger management issues to the right of us, twice. That lady in the blue coat who always deposits her dog’s shit in our back alley bins? I’d ambush her. I’d take potshots at speeders zipping down our street, draw a bead on those vandals on trick bikes who rob parked cars after dark. I’d aim at the windows of that black infill three doors down, the one that resembles a Star Trek Borg cube, bust them all.

Vermin. I will eradicate our squirrel infestation. I will shoot them all. I will decapitate their corpses and impale their cute, big-eyed heads on tomato stakes as a warning to others. I will decorate our driveway with ornamental skulls. I will summon my friends the crows and the magpies to feast upon the fruits of my lusty slaughtering, the Crooked 9 will run with blood. Me is Geoff, meGeoff! I swear by the red god Mars to kill everything in sight.

Hang on. I can hear Ann in another room on the phone with Netflix Derek our psychologist friend. Car keys jingling and jangling. She’s packed a suitcase. It’s sitting by the front door. What’s going on here? Door slam! She’ll be back. I’m pretty sure. It’s not as if I’m unhinged or anything. I mean, c’mon, I’m the most stable guy I know. Really. Oh well, best let it ride. Meanwhile, I must find some ammo for that Red Rider. And where did I stash that black balaclava and the camouflage coverall?

Monday, 31 July 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

We’re All Friends, Right?

Painting Alberta as a conservative province seems a by-numbers exercise. There exists a long tradition of evangelical Protestantism. A rural economy was elbowed into modern times when Leduc No. 1 propelled the province into an epoch of Big Oil, an industry not noted for its liberal outlook. Prior to the 2015 election, Albertans were content to buy into 44 consecutive years of Progressive Conservative (PC) rule. All of this is true, but not the complete picture. And right here, right now, Alberta’s conservative contingent itself is in disarray.

Shell-shocked Tories are attempting to kiss and make up with the Wildrose (WP), an angry faction calved from the once mighty Big Blue Machine. Resumption of power is the motive and no cost is too high and no ethical twist too difficult. The uneasy result is a nascent political entity known as the United Conservative Party (UCP). The common enemy is the sitting New Democrats (NDP), brain-washed socialist doormats all. Alas, already there is evidence that Alberta’s newly united conservatives may not have the wherewithal to tar each other with the same brush.

Even on a rainy day at a rodeo it’s impossible to herd all of Alberta’s conservatives under one tent. Some are centrists, some are libertarians, there’s no concrete bloc. PC leader Jason Kenney crowed that 95-per-cent of his party’s membership was in favour of merging with the WP even though barely half of them elected to engage themselves in the process. Meanwhile in Wildrose country, some disconsolate members of the recently deceased party, no strangers to ideological schisms, have opted to form another and as yet unnamed alternative to the UCP. Wait, it gets better.

The UCP is still a concept, sort of a populist sketch. It has no leader and consequently no coherent policies. Last weekend Jason Kenney announced his candidacy. With nothing to say, the former federal cabinet minister spent his speech slamming Ottawa because the nature of his Confederation is confrontation since only Albertans ‘get ‘er done!’ That’s something darn close to a miracle since the province’s school curriculum is ‘riddled with politically correct themes like oppression and colonialism and climate change.’ Former WP leader Brian Jean is already in the running; his pitch to the populace promised to ‘repeal, undo and replace much of the damage the NDP has done.’ Apparently he has policies, pre-approved by the Wildrose too - which should go over well with the disillusioned former PCs, the moderates, who lean to Kenney.

Both men necessarily spouted partisan rhetoric, but the aggrieved tones and puerile nastiness were off-putting. Stoke discord. Milk ignorance. Their messages were similar, recalling those halcyon days of coal mining and listening to songs their mothers would know. Sound bites of furious complaint. The next provincial election in Alberta will be held in 2019. That’s the future, the big picture, all there is to be concerned about. There’s a corporate whiff about the fledgling UCP, that nothing matters beyond the next set of quarterly poll results and that progress on any government file must be regressive, two steps back is good, three is better.

Not even Cher can turn back time. But before either of these dinosaurs can retro-fit and repaint 21st century Alberta in the sepia tones of the good old days, one must defeat the other, unite the right and then assemble some sort of party platform, make public spending cuts. So, razors to the strop for a back alley rumble that will last until the end of October. Each dauphin wants to dress his old party up in brand new drag. The wild card is a third candidate, a lawyer from Calgary, a chap named Doug Schweitzer, the only dark horse in the race to date. Anybody remotely familiar with the shadowy intricacies of picking a political leader knows that everything doesn’t always go as planned at the final, fateful convention, that starry, starry night when deals are sealed and daggers glint behind the canvas party banners.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Disengagement

If you were to pick up a Postmedia broadsheet or one of its ragged Suns in a major Canadian city, it would take a moment or two to figure out where you were exactly in this big country. News, business, sports and arts are slight, generic items on a backlit McDonald’s franchise menu.

The debt-ridden company has long complained that digital entities such as Google and Facebook are killing its properties but these firms are not publishers. Postmedia is actively lobbying for federal subsidies arguing, rightly, that a healthy, independent and free press is an essential pillar of democracy. However, the grey lifeblood of the press was columns and columns of classified ads and the Internet has certainly played a major role in their disappearance from print; hell, there are no dead people in the obituaries these days. Dissatisfied readers cite a dearth of editorial staff, local content, indeed, any substantial or insightful content as just cause for breaking a long-established daily habit.

I once bought hash from a dealer I didn’t know outside the Montreal Forum before a concert. Nothing happened after a minute; nothing happened after an entire gram. I’m sure one or two my friends still owe me that $5 I lent them. I paid $1 to see the movie ‘Wayne’s World.’ I’ve purchased a few wedding rings. Suffice to say in my life I’ve spent money on nothing more than a few times.

The first-ever edition of the Edmonton Journal was put to bed in 1903. The newspaper is two years older than the Province of Alberta. Its beats are the rhythms of a capital city and consequently the entire province which makes it Alberta’s de facto paper of record. Edmonton is Canada’s youngest city, and hasn’t it grown up so fast? Including the murder rate. There is a myriad of other social issues too, some of which pre-date the Canadian Confederation of 1867. The tone in the legislature is increasingly American-style nasty; a civic election looms. Beneath an ever-changing and often extreme climate, folk are debating the future of fossil fuels and ways to diversify the provincial economy. It seems like awfully fertile ground for coverage and commentary. If only the Postmedia Journal would, or could.

Saturday night Ann and I sat up and out on the front porch talking about last week and next week, as we do. Ann said, ‘Our Journal subscription is up for renewal.’

I replied (with silent apologies to political columnist Graham Thomson, city columnists Paula Simons and Dave Staples, and my own degree in journalism), ‘Gas it. How much does it cost? Who cares? Let’s save the money. We’re not getting anything in return.’

Ann said, ‘I’ve read the Journal my whole life. I like the local news. I gave it another chance last year.’

I said, ‘I know, but there’s no point in even buying an e-subscription because there’s no content on any platform. Let’s stop the Journal and keep the Globe and Mail. The Globe covers Edmonton and Alberta better than the Journal does anyway.’

‘What about the New York Times Saturday crossword?’

‘Hmm.’ Some old habits are so hard to break. ‘Maybe we just take the Journal on the weekend.’ The paper’s only appeal to us involves a syndicated diversion from a foreign country. Makes you pause and think.

‘I’ll think about it.’

Prior to the last federal election, Postmedia’s head office instructed each of its editorial writers throughout its chain to endorse incumbent prime minister Stephen Harper for reelection. Nationwide, Postmedia newspapers shipped enshrouded in paid-for Tory propaganda. It’s no secret that a big ad buy with Postmedia comes with enhanced editorial coverage, the very anathema of a free and independent Fourth Estate.

Edmonton is sometimes referred to as ‘the festival city,’ especially in tourist guides. While the northern summers are short the days are long and there’s always something going on. Interstellar Rodeo is a weekend music festival mounted annually in a river valley park. It has broken some major acts in this town including Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. One performer will always blow off the pavilion roof sheltering the stage. Happens every year. Except this one.

Because of a collision of colluding circumstances, Ann and I did not attend Interstellar Rodeo this year. We were anxious to get the skinny on the festival, the lowdown. According to Monday morning’s Edmonton Journal the event never happened; nor did Nobel laureate Bob Dylan growl through a concert last Wednesday. We know: it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, and recipes for devilled eggs make for more interesting reading - the secret is smoked paprika! Interstellar Rodeo bought quarter-page, four-colour ads and front page banner ads and still couldn’t generate a single column inch of copy in the Journal.

Ann said, ‘Look at all this paper. There’s nothing in it. What a waste. I’ve made my decision.’ The waste of energy to transform pulp into newsprint, of ink on a heat-set press, of tap-tap typing banalities, we’d been wasting our money for a year or so too long. The absurdity ceased Monday morning. We finally wised up to the scam of paying money for nothing. Cord cut. Tellingly, we’ll be no less informed of the goings-on in our town.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

CORRESPONDENCE: DEAR meGEOFF

A Letter from Tony

Tony Intas and I were classmates and football teammates at Montreal’s Loyola High School. That was 40 years ago. Tony is a resident of Vancouver; however for the next nine months or so he is itinerant, rootless, travelling. Today Tony writes to meGeoff from our hometown.

Greetings from Montreal.

I decided to take a break from the paradise that is the People’s Republic of British Columbia and return to the city of our respective births to experience some good old fashioned “Montrealisms,” those special moments that can only happen here.

That I have certainly done so far. Much to my pleasant surprise, I have also experienced some new ones, to me anyway, established during my extended absence, one of which I will describe now - a surprisingly active black market in plastic milk crates.

No, they are not being used to store record albums, as we all did as teenagers, but to put on the backs of bicycles, lots of bicycles, ridden by all kinds of people...

As I am here for a few months, and recall what an Olympic sport it is to try to find a parking space downtown, I decided to get a bicycle as my primary means of transport and errand running, with the appropriate amount of moral superiority and righteous indignation for those who do not do the same to minimize their carbon footprint and save the planet (yes, BC has had some effect on me).

As I am at the age where it now hurts too much for me to wear a backpack for any extended period of time (and affects my centre of gravity on the bike as I dodge other cyclists, cars, pedestrians and potholes), I decided to do what is “de rigeur” here, have a milk carton container installed on the back of my bike, perhaps the most securely fastened accessory on it, because these babies are in hot demand. Where does one get one? You could in theory buy one from a hardware store, but Montrealers do not buy what they can get for free, nor do they “pay retail." Instead, one “acquires” one, by oneself or by the more fun method of “from a guy or a guy who knows a guy." How and for how much? It is very much “don’t ask, don’t tell," pay cash if you absolutely must buy one (and don’t ask for a receipt of course because none will be forthcoming).

I expect that in the near future, restaurants and corner stores - the community centre hubs of society known here as “depanneurs,” will begin to padlock chain the milk crates in their back alleys to minimize the loss of these precious commodities, due to the “permanent” borrowing by those who have alternative uses for them. Until then, the selection from which to choose is virtually limitless. Pick a colour.

Who would have thought?

AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloria) - for the Greater Glory of God

Tony

Readers of this blog who find themselves in places where they don’t normally find themselves, actual or otherwise, are encouraged to write meGeoff a letter detailing their experiences and impressions. Get in touch with me. I’m on Facebook.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

NOIR CANADIANA

Advice Not Taken

My Walther P-38 lay in pieces on the workbench. I’d cleaned and oiled its parts. I’d flipped through my slabs of Semtex, dry and pristine in their sealed plastic sandwich bags. Upstairs the needle in the spinning groove was playing Coltrane and my thoughts wandered to risqué peepshow images of my buxom moll Ann Fatale, my love supreme. She’d gone out, shopping for booze, smokes and invisible nightwear. I was feeling neglected, hard done by. So when the black dial phone hung on the basement wall stud rang, I answered it.

I reckon that call came about a year ago. The phone hasn’t rung since then; I’m not easy to reach. My name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m a fixer. If you lead a decent life, why, you need never know that men like me exist. Trust me: it’s better that way. Go to church and put your faith in some phantom other than the likes of me. Still, we’re all called in someway, aren’t we just?

‘Yeah?’ I grunted.

‘Mister Danger? My name’s, like, Ivanka?’

‘You may squeak like a broad, kid, but you ain’t no broad. What’s your name.’

‘Uh, Donny?’

I ran a pipe cleaner along the rifling inside the pistol barrel. I cradled the receiver in the crook of my neck, shoulder hunched. ‘Got a surname, kid?’

‘Junior? Donny Junior. Some friends of mine in Washington, very powerful friends, very powerful, suggested I seek your counsel.’

‘Talk is cheap, kid,’ I grunted. ‘Wet work’s more efficient.’

‘Uh, that’s really not an option? Anyway, like, daddy’s running for president and I’ve been offered some very damaging information about, like, his opponent whom I’ll call “Lock Her Up” for the purposes of this conversation?’

I lit a cigarette and poured myself three fingers of Irish. I took a healthy swig. After I swallowed, I grunted, ‘Go on.’ I took a deep drag on my cigarette. ‘Who’s your source?’

‘There are two,’ Donny Junior continued, ‘with impeccable, very fine, credentials. One is a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. The other is a gentleman who used to work for the KGB.’

‘Ex-KGB,’ I grunted. ‘Hmm.’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘the accounting firm, very, very well known. You’ve heard of them?’

‘We’ve crossed paths.’ I flicked an inch of ash into my copper Expo ’67 ashtray. I peered around my workroom studying the various tools I’d accumulated during the ensuing 50 years. My gaze rested on my chisels and saws; they were sharp at least. ‘What do they want in exchange for this so-called information?’

‘Nothing! I love it!’

I grunted, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch, kid.’ I thought of Ann Fatale’s annual attempt to make me a sandwich. She doesn’t know which side of a slice of bread to butter: best leave it to the kitchen staff of the best hotel in town.

‘But there is, Mister Danger! There is! My family’s been eating for free, like, at very low cost, for, like, two generations! By the way, have you tried the taco salad at daddy’s New York restaurant? Tasty, very, very tasty, delicious.’

‘Sure,’ I grunted. ‘Well, I’ll tell you something for nothing, kid, since you called. Walk away from this deal and keep walking and don’t leave a trail. That’s my advice, for what it’s worth.’

‘Thanks for your, like, valued input, Mister Danger!’

I hung up the phone. I’ve been shot. I’ve been stabbed. I’ve been punched. I’ve been slapped. I know a brush-off when I hear one. Coltrane was still blowing in the living room on the hi-fi. I heard Ann Fatale blow in through the front door and drop her marketplace bags in the vestibule with a whoosh and a sigh. Then I heard the diamond needle tick-tick around the Impulse! label, the end of “Resolution.” I glanced at the black phone. Somebody had to have been listening; I’d heard the faint clicks. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘not my gig, not my country, but that’s not the end of it.’ I shrugged at the silent furnace and strode upstairs to deal with more important things.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Desperate Measures

When I first arrived in Edmonton in 1990 I learned quickly that if I didn’t like the weather, all I had to do was be patient for ten minutes. It was soon apparent too that the city was graced only by two seasons, construction and winter. Today our neighbourhood is under occupation by a paving contractor, crews, trucks and machines. The upgrades to the sidewalks and street surfaces are long overdue. Aged residential infrastructure must necessarily take a backseat to ring roads, light rail transit expansion, dedicated bike paths on roads never designed to accommodate afterthought lanes, utilities and services. The expanding city is cash-strapped, hamstrung by limited avenues to raise additional revenue beyond property taxes.

During the last week of June, the postal carrier who services the Crooked 9 summoned me from the garage. She was standing in the middle of the road. I walked to the edge of the abyss. I leaned on my broom. She informed me apologetically that she was not permitted to deliver mail to addresses without sidewalks. I replied, “Fair enough.” I did not mention to her that the person who delivers the morning newspapers in the darkness before the dawn continued to negotiate the trench, the barriers, the stakes, the flags and the wires that now demarcate the property. I often hear the slap and thunk of the broadsheets’ arrival because I’m usually up in a fog, reading a sandwich at the kitchen counter and eating a magazine.

The undone state of the block has led to something of a midnight crisis. Despite two walkable Canada Post substations in the area, the mail piles up at an inconveniently located sorting depot in an industrial park. The Economist and The New Yorker no longer get delivered a week late, they don’t get delivered at all. I’ve nothing to read at three o’clock in the morning. I could substitute a book but a splayed, hands-free and hoagie-friendly book requires a broken spine and that just won’t do.

ROBBERY PREVENTION PROGRAM IN EFFECT. NO BALLCAPS. NO SUNGLASSES. NO HOODIES. The other day I strode into a chain depanneur, measuring myself against the hold-up tape on the doorjamb. I wanted to buy a carton of cigarettes. In front of the till in a rack about level with my knees was a copy of Maclean’s magazine. I believe the last issue I bought was in 1977, when its cover featured a candid photo of Mick Jagger with Margaret Trudeau, who was on a rip in Toronto at the time, unavailable for official functions at Sussex Drive. I’ve since thumbed through greasy copies in desultory waiting rooms, encountering the byline of a journalism school mate now and then. Maclean’s is a Rogers Media property, no longer a weekly general interest magazine but a moth-eaten legacy monthly now, withering in these digital times.

The July ‘Special Commemorative Issue’ trumpeted an analysis of ‘The Canadian Dream at 150.’ “Not our myth,” I thought. I then noticed that its author was Allen Abel, a wonderful writer whose prose I first encountered in the sports pages of the Globe and Mail. I recognized the cover art as a work of Lawren Harris, my favourite painter: ‘Red Maples.’ The magazine’s logo was a reproduction of the lost beauty of true typography, dating back to the days when commercial artists designed and drew fonts only for the letters required, not needing to bother with the rest of the alphabet or upper and lower case variations. Impulsively, recklessly, I decided to add $6.99 to my order.

Awake in the solitary navy blue of a starless night, I discovered I’d purchased 90 pages of something next to nothing. Aside from the Abel piece (in which a photo caption placed Bonavista, Newfoundland in British Columbia), a particularly witty columnist had a go at Nickelback, a conundrum for some, a universally reviled band that sells millions of albums anyway. An easy but a very used and tired target, sort of a 21st century Helen Keller punch line: “Move the furniture!” Oh, how we laughed in 1967.

Most of the content was paid advertorial, a sort of Canada Day parade of afflictions, syndromes and diseases. Rogers Media obviously knows the demographics of its shrinking readership. Maclean’s is a national magazine, distributed from coast to coast to coast. Consequently I was struck by a full page ad suggesting I live out my retirement in Elliot Lake, an affordable, safe, clean and friendly community with breathtaking scenery and an abundance of the services and amenities I expect. Elliot Lake apparently hosts one of the most affordable retirement lifestyles in the province.

But which province? There are ten provinces and three territories in Canada. So my question was, “Just where is Elliot Lake with its sunlit beaches, golf and hiking? Is it near Bonavista, BC?”

To casual readers The Economist and The New Yorker appear as similar shades of grey, far too many columns of type to scan. The ratio of content to advertising is extreme by current standards. The writing is usually top notch and facts are checked; how quaint. In recent years, both Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, fading publications, have tarnished their legacies by running grossly inaccurate stories, blunders that rival Newsweek’s now legendary ‘The Hitler Diaries’ hoax.

I’ve no idea if my two favourite magazines are bleeding or thriving. Down a soon to be paved road they may exist (if at all) in very different forms. Perhaps I’ll sniff, “They aren’t what they once were.” But today due to circumstances beyond my control, the night must withhold some of its pleasures and there are no substitutes.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

NONSENSE VERSE

The Song of Tweeterdumbest

I’ve unleashed a Twitter deluge
Because I’m big very huge

Look at my tie note how long
It suggests my mighty schlong

I’ve shilled rotgut rancid steak
I leveraged daddy’s real estate

I love gold and I love gilt
I do gauche right to the hilt

I never read I just watch TV
Paid a ghost to glorify me

I’m the face of a luxury brand
Voice of the common man

Women are a kind of icky
They bleed and then get sticky

I trust Info Wars and Fox News
Alternative facts is what I choose

Muslims and Mexicans on report
No rooms left at my resort

What’s the deal with the FBI
Poking Vlad right in the eye

I want to nuke North Korea
Paris accords NAFTA see ya

I’m undoing what’s been done
Paid my family to join the fun

You liberal haters and loser elites
A thousand cuts from my tweets

Monday, 3 July 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

A Decent Flag to Wave

I’ve never been to Spain. And I’ve heard heaven’s Oklahoma. I only know what I know. I know a little bit about Canada, excepting Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the three northern territories and vast tracts of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. My grasp of Canada’s geology, geography, its various historical narratives, and its current state of affairs is fair to middling. Though I have often felt out of place visiting regions of this big country, I have never once not felt at home.

Nation-states are human constructs and as such they will always be flawed, some terribly. Those in power are prone to making colossal mistakes, pursuing idiotic policies and committing ghastly crimes against humanity. There’s nothing like people. Canada, which Saturday celebrated the 150th anniversary of its confederation, isn’t so different. But if my existence is the result of a cosmic lottery, I certainly won a prize; there’s a whole wide world of wickeder countries to be born in under the big, hot sun.

My grandfather was English; he was born in Bristol. The family owned a haberdashery in Fishponds, a suburb. Disruption arrived innocently enough, a bus route to the city, and competition, was introduced. Papa sailed to Canada aboard The Empress of Ireland to seek his fortune. In Montreal he met a young woman from Hove, near Brighton, the daughter of a baker. The outbreak of the First World War extended her summer holiday in Canada by some 90 years. Together they rented a duplex in Outremont and raised my father and his sister. A few streets over, a French Canadian woman and an Irishman with family roots in Philadelphia, USA had an Irish setter named Sean and five children, the youngest of whom was my mother. This randomness explains my predilection for dad rock, my colonial mentality, and my white male privilege in 2017 social media discourse.

July 1st allowed a lengthy peek into thoroughly modern Canada, now viewed as our planet’s progressive beacon by the New York Times and The Economist. Many folk on Facebook decorated their profile pictures with red maple leaves while others decried capitalism, inequality and fascist police forces. The newspapers were a marketer’s wet dream, complete with a government-approved Canada 150 logo. The National Hockey League and my bank paid for full-page congratulatory colour ads in the Globe and Mail. Anyone else sniffing after a loonie of patriotic sentiment did so too.

Festivities of Parliament Hill were crashed by protesters, pardon me, activists. Dissent is tolerated here; and anyway, these days anyone without a grievance isn’t considered to be engaged with society or even alive. That’s me, an aging boomer, a walking symbol of complacency, complicit in and guilty of the Kafkaesque crime of being relatively content with my lot in this life.

Celebration day took a surreal turn after an excited Prime Minister Trudeau omitted Alberta while rhyming off Canada’s provinces and territories. Here in this province, Wildrose party leader and leader of the opposition in Alberta’s legislature, Brian Jean, tweeted that he personally would never forgive nor forget that inadvertent federal slight. Jean, who once lamented at a partisan rally that it was illegal to “beat” NDP Premier Rachel Notley, has never once, not once, committed a public speaking gaffe. Shortly thereafter, St. Bono of U2, on hand to rock the national party in the capital, praised Canada for “not building walls but opening doors.” Obviously provincial trade barriers and pipelines aren’t the singer’s area of expertise.

The eyes of the world are watching this immense and sometimes abashed, peaceful dominion that stretches from sea, to sea, to sea, hemmed in to the south by the Great Lakes and the Medicine Line. Canada seems great from a distance. My fear, typing as someone who would never wave a flag, any flag, in a public space, is that internally our national conversations are coarsening. Discussion of any issue, real or perceived, is increasingly superseded by deaf, agitated complaint. Speaking positively of some of the delicate threads that bind us now rings off-topic, Ann of Green Gables freckled pollyanna. Here we are, now. There are worse places to be a citizen, 194 or195 of them to be less than exact. There’s likely time enough to tinker with Canada’s new world model; perfection is impossible but it’s good to have a goal.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Montreal, Mon Amour

My elderly mother rightly maintains that she is still in possession of all her marbles. Her pins however have betrayed her, those matchstick legs are no longer sturdy, and easily fatigued. She wonders if she should maybe upgrade her tricycle walker to one with a built-in seat to ease the exhaustion of a lap around the Westmount High School football field. Mom is angry with herself because she’s all too aware that she’s no longer capable of doing the things she used to love to do. Once in a while she flings her cane down an empty corridor in her seniors’ residence and cackles madly as she strides forth to retrieve it.

When Ann and I visited with her in Montreal last Thursday, Mom literally ticked off the dead, only four of her friends are still alive. Her substitutes are the dogs in the neighbourhood, all of whom she knows by name. Each week the administrators of her residence issue a double-sided 14”x11” paper bulletin detailing upcoming events and the choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of Monday’s options was pepper steak. Beside it in a still steady, elegant, convent school cursive was a single notation: “Crap.” Mom says she prays every day to die that night in her sleep. On the other hand, she allows that her dreams of life in the wee small hours are incredibly vivid and wonderful.

Because Mom has always lived in Westmount and my sister and her family resides nearby, and I used to live proximate to the old Montreal Forum, Ann and I stay in the west end when we visit, always stomping that same old ground. Last week was refreshingly different. Montreal is a busy place this summer. The city is celebrating its founding as Ville-Marie, a Jesuit mission, 375 years ago. Fifty years ago the future glided into town on a monorail in the guise of Expo ’67. July 1st will mark the 150th anniversary of our country’s confederation. The city was also gearing up for Quebec’s Fete Nationale, which used to be St. Jean Baptiste Day until the separatists co-opted it for pride purposes. Preparations were underway for the renowned jazz festival, a street party if there ever was one. While attempting to book our stay, Ann and I found that hotel rooms were at a premium and their prices reflected that.

Having lived in Alberta for 27 years, my knowledge of Montreal hotels was both limited and dated. In our den in Edmonton, Ann suggested altering our search parameters and tasked me with filtering Expedia, Trivago and Fuckknowswhatelse-dot-com. I saw an opportunity for us to maybe change out our traditional backdrop and embrace other parts of the city during our family downtime. I rolled the dice on a loft on de la Gauchetiere between Beaver Hall and St-Alexandre for $168 per night. Rue Ste-Catherine, the Main, Chinatown and Old Montreal were easy pedestrian destinations. My mother and my sister were 40 minutes’ distant on foot or less than half that for a cheap cab fare.

Our base space was minimalist industrial, sparse and bare with exposed concrete walls. Our view from ten stories was the tops of aspen trees and the belfry of St. Patrick’s basilica. A black water tower on the roof of a building to the right looked like a lunar landing module. Across the street was a park, a manicured urban ruin, the rectangular stone foundation of a long gone 18th century building left intact as a communal bench. Our building’s face was jagged, like one side of a lightning bolt. Consequently I could peer into our neighbour’s place. I realized that whoever it was must be a permanent resident because I could see a guitar on a stand, books and a very scientific-looking telescope – ideal for gazing into thousands of downtown windows. The centre of the loft building was a vertigo void, not quite a courtyard nor an atrium but a deep shaft of real weather. Ann and I got a kick from the science fiction funkiness; the only drag was that we had to collect our keys three blocks away from our Loft4U and humping our luggage through Montreal’s narrow humid backstreets after a day of air travel was a mildly infuriating hassle.

Our location however allowed for a delicate brush of nearly forgotten touchstones. The outdoor stalls in Chinatown sold bootleg knock-offs. We wandered through the bazaar and then turned north once we reached boulevard St-Laurent. Ann and I ate hot dogs in the Montreal Pool Room. I could see the Café Cleopatra sign across the street, the sleaziest peeler joint I’ve ever set foot in. I was there once with my late brother; we were between Ottawa and Dallas, in town together for the last two hockey games at the Montreal Forum.

Ann and I also lunched at Marche de la Villette on St-Paul in Old Montreal, a busy bakery and delicatessen sans proper personal space. Out on the street I scanned for a half familiar design studio; one of my first freelance writing jobs was interviewing a gentleman who was largely responsible for the graphic identity of the ’76 Olympic Games in Montreal and was later commissioned by Canada Post to design a stamp commemorating Treffle Berthiaume, the founder of La Presse, a newspaper that still publishes but no longer prints ink on paper.

Papa Moore, my grandfather, an engineer, walked the provinces of Quebec and Ontario evaluating the futures of villages and towns, and whether or not they’d require a telephone exchange. His office was in the Bell building on Beaver Hall. “Do you have a place for a hard working young man who has served his country?” And so my father began his career inside it until he accepted a transfer to Ottawa in the early 70s. This succinct tower of stone, this whole damn city, shaped my life.

Westward ho! We ate dinner in the old Dominion tavern, once a respite on my lengthy record shop, book store and newsstand route, and now an upscale eatery. The delight was that nothing inside had been changed, from the wood and the ceramic tile and the hunting lodge decorations, so much so that for a brief moment in the men’s room I mistook the trough pissoir for a sink. Time had passed and I’d forgotten the way things used to be.

The Canadiens play their home games at the Bell Centre on de la Gauchetiere. The last game I saw there was against Nashville. I took my mother. Mom dolled up, lipstick and fur, the way she did when my stepfather escorted her to Saturday night games in the Forum in the 70s. Mom wanted a hot dog and a beer, I was delighted to oblige. “Mary Riley, Mary Riley,” Mom loves people watching but she points at them as she criticizes. Dear God, I’m equally snide and snippy but I like to think I’m less obvious. Ann frequently shushes me in public because I guess I should probably think “Jesus Christ!” instead of muttering it a little too loudly. I can’t hold my peace if I see someone with a green tattoo that looks infected. And stupid bad haircuts, ninja Hitler Youth, I can’t cope.

On departure day my sister offered to drive Ann and me to the airport. My mother, desperate to escape her residence for any reason, insisted on coming along for the drive. I got into the backseat beside her. Mom elbowed me in the ribs. I leaned over and down and asked, “What?” She said, “Nothing, I’m just moving my arm. You’ll shave when you get home, won’t you? I hate beards.” We took the scenic route through NDG and Montreal West so Mom could have a look around. She kept pointing at things, shops and businesses she used to frequent when she was independent; trouble was my left eye was often in the way.

We were early for our evening flight so naturally boarding was delayed for almost an hour. And of course flying east to west against the prevailing winds takes longer. Ann took the window seat. I squeezed into the middle one. The passenger on my right was Bogart in The Caine Mutiny; he played and fiddled with a yellow plastic ball for four hours. I couldn’t make out its embossed logo. I couldn’t concentrate on the novel I was trying to finish, Medicine River by Thomas King. Someone inserted a hot curling iron into my sinus cavities. My right nostril leaked like a faucet. My eyes teared up; my ears plugged up. My back began to ache. My four ounces of complimentary club soda ballooned down in my belly. I stared down at that fucking yellow ball.

Ultimately there was a touch of grace in the Air Canada cabin even as the trio of children across the aisle added their shrieks to the canned air. I am my mother’s surviving son and though Ann and I had just spent three days in her company, I did not mutter, “Jesus Christ!” I did not shout it. I did not scream it. I just thought it. Repeatedly.

Monday, 19 June 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Whyte Avenue Freeze-out

After listening to our two favourite CKUA radio shows and completing Saturday’s New York Times crossword puzzle, Ann and I decided to break free, move beyond the boundaries of our property. Our destination was Whyte Avenue, the south side’s shopping and nightlife strip, and home to Blackbyrd, maybe the city’s last pure record store. We wanted the new releases from Willie Nelson and Jason Isbell, and I knew that with the leisure to browse we’d find some ancient catalogue gem from someone at a reasonable price.

The day was sunny and breezy, the solstice imminent. The bikers and hot-rodders were congregated in the Timmy’s parking lot, showing off their clean machines. The day drinkers were in the darkness of the Commercial Hotel’s blues bar. The sidewalks were tight with people and their dogs and children meandering on weekend time. Some of the pubs and eateries erect temporary street-side patios so patrons can enjoy the crush of humanity in the sunshine from behind a barrier. Pedestrians then must navigate boardwalks that extend onto the road which makes vehicle traffic flow like blood through an artery rimed with cholesterol. Everybody move over, that’s all.

Ann and I were impeded by a group of gym-rats and their skinny little molls. There was jostling, a molten shoving mass and raised voices. Somebody shouted, ‘Let’s go into the alley and fight it out!’ Ann said, ‘Somebody should call the police. Should I?’ I looked at the puffed up corner boys with their oiled haircuts, their muscle shirts, their baggy track pants and pristine leather sneakers. I said, ‘Fuckit, let ‘em cull their herd.’ I’m not afraid of youngsters but I don’t approve of the way they present these days; green ink tattoos scream infection through toxic clouds of sweat and Axe.

One of the fighters jogged ahead to get ready for the dumpster cage match. When Ann and I reached the crosswalk at the end of the block, he was bouncing on the balls of his feet, unable to make the turn into the fight site or even cross the street. ‘Do you got a lighter? A lighter? Do you got a lighter?’ A cigarette butt burned down to the filter flipped up and down between his lips. The end appeared sodden. He hadn’t been alive long enough to ask for a match but he was jitterbugging on some drug that had yet to be invented when I used to take them. ‘Do you got a lighter? A lighter? Do you got a lighter?’

Have I a lighter? Me? Us?

There’s a Toronto Blue Jays Bic in the kangaroo pocket of my sweatshirt right now but only because I could not find a Montreal Expos one earlier this spring. There’s a winter use Montreal Canadiens at home in one of my bedroom bureau drawers. I’ve got two Elvis Zippos that need flints and fuel. I’ve got a heavy metal Rolling Stones American tongue logo lighter that’s a bit too tacky to use. There’s an emergency Bob Marley Exodus tour lighter that I bought in Bridgetown, Barbados, on the shelf by the kitchen door staging area where I do all my standing, staring and thinking, and its purchase was a misremembered mistake because I actually caught the next year’s Kaya tour at the Montreal Forum. There’s an emergency 7-11 lighter in a tray of our Honda’s console. Ann’s got about six plain Bics secreted about her person because she knows she’ll likely mislay five of them. Do I have a lighter? Do Ann and I have lighters? Do we have lighters?

I said, ‘No.’

Friday, 16 June 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Tragedy and Farce

Because Earth is not flat Canadians look down on Americans geographically. Since most of us are settled within a two-hour drive of the world’s longest undefended border, it’s nary impossible to look away from our neighbours to the south. The viewing has become cringingly compelling of late, yesterday’s papers for example - oh man.

There were at least two mass shootings in the United States on Wednesday. One was rather ho-hum, a San Francisco UPS worker went postal, killing three and wounding two before committing suicide. The aftermath of the second one, unfortunately, is not shaking down as the game-changer it should be. A squad of Republican congressmen, their aides and their preferred lobbyists were playing baseball on a Virginia field just beyond the confines of the District of Columbia when they were fired upon by an attacker wielding an assault rifle. The late shooter was identified as an unhinged man with an arrest record, a vitriolic social media profile, and a former volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s rival Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Perhaps because his victims were only wounded, and Republicans at that – made of tougher stuff than the school kids of Sandy Hook Elementary - there have been no outraged calls to tighten what little gun legislation is on the books. Instead, the usual ‘come together’ panacea has been trotted out with sniffy asides about ‘the left’ becoming hostile.

And on…

Megyn Kelly used to be a talking head at FOX News, America’s most reliable and trusted source of alternative facts. She now works for NBC, one of America’s most unreliable and mistrusted sources of fake news. It’s possible that Kelly made her career-limiting move because she eventually tired of being groped by dirty old men impenetrable behind shields of power and money.

Alex Jones is the impeded frontal lobe behind InfoWars, an alarmingly popular conspiracy website and its related Internet channels, as such he wears the Grand Poobah’s tinfoil wizard hat. The Sandy Hook slaughter was a hoax. Anything else that ever happened in America was an inside job. Incredibly, the White House has provided the man with full press credentials. Even a conspiracy theorist might suspect he was being gently conned into the role of a mouth-piece patsy.

Kelly will have Jones on her new Sunday night show because she wants to ‘shine a light’ on the lunatic fringe bringing the FOX model mainstream because it should coax some ratings from the curious, those who can’t stop looking at the freaks. Jones is more of a personality than a journalist, he’s no Seymour Hersh, the dogged, independent investigative reporter who exposed the My Lai Massacre and subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting; that was real. This weekend two vapid people famous for being media personalities but who haven’t actually done anything will talk to each other and their conversation will constitute news.

And on…

Closer to home, Ottawa has been without an American ambassador since Washington’s regime change in January. There was an unsettling rumour that the preferred nominee was reality television star Sarah Palin. Fortunately, she was refudiated. The actual pick is one Kelly Knight Craft, renowned in Republican circles for her fund-raising capabilities. Craft is not a career diplomat. Her husband Joe is a coal baron, an industry that provides jobs, good jobs, many jobs, many good jobs. If the US State Department okays Craft in her new role, things could get a little awkward for Craft up here on the cocktail circuit what with Canada’s socialist carbon taxes, Canada’s adherence to the Paris Accords on climate change, and Canada’s goal to phase out the use of coal as an energy source. Palin would’ve been an insult; Craft just might be a dig.

And so on…

With the decline of empire comes distraction, frivolity and spectacle, circus maximus. The year’s biggest sports hype isn’t really a sporting event at all. Two grandiose and mouthy self-promoters will go toe-to-toe inside the turnbuckles for 200-million reasons. Retired pugilist Floyd Mayweather, undefeated and a champion in four different weight classes, will don his trunks once more to fight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight blowhard Conor McGregor later this summer in the desert for social media bragging rights. Las Vegas is twitterpated. This is a P.T. Barnum event, a glitzy fleece and unfortunately, a sign of the times.

Canada, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, is almost a century younger than the great American experiment. Given a few more decades, we too may stagnate and then regress because there is no guarantee that existing internal worldly and progressive views will remain fashionable and, anyway, this country’s got its own rap sheet of crimes and misdemeanors. Still, while watching what unfolds down south with dreadful fascination, it’s important to take notes and at least record what not to do.