Thursday, 13 July 2017


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.

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