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.