Wednesday, 12 December 2018

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Rallying Around the Brand

The scene is the exclusive executive departure lounge at a major Canadian international airport. Two super elite fliers with similar stories encounter one another for the first time. The alcohol is free and tongues are loosened.

Brand Manager One: Excuse me, is this seat taken? May I share your table? And I must recharge my phone.

Brand Manager Two: Eh? Oh, sorry! Let me move my stuff. Sorry.

BMOne: Hi, I’m Brand Manager Who Only Replies To Media Queries Via Email.

BMTwo: Pleased to meet you! How’d you guess my name?

BMOne: Funny old world, not funny ha-ha but funny nonetheless.

BMTwo: I could use a laugh or two myself these days.

BMOne: Who couldn’t? So… not to pry, but you work for whom?

BMTwo: Huawei Canada.

BMOne: Ooh. Well… you must be pleased your CFO got sprung from the joint on $10-million bail. Nasty stuff, violating trade sanctions and stealing intellectual properties, state sponsored espionage…

BMTwo: It’s always darkest before the red dawn.

BMOne: Excuse me?

BMTwo: It’s always darkest before the dawn. You?

BMOne: Me? I work for Tim Hortons.

BMTwo: Ooh. You know, I just read an unscientific study about the nature of litter in Canada. Apparently when it comes to strewn garbage, your brand’s at the top of the heap.

BMOne: Customers, eh? Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em. Still, we serve coffee and treats, not the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army.

BMTwo: At Huawei we pride ourselves on providing our customers ‘A Higher Intelligence.’ That is to say a product of excellent quality at a competitive price. We also treat our employees and vested stakeholders with dignity and respect.

BMOne: Touché. So… campaign season is upon us, the holidays. What are you running?

BMTwo: We’re all in on hockey: ice graphics, rink boards, broadcaster call-outs, set decoration; like that. Seems to be the most reliable way to reach Canadian consumers and millennials don’t pay attention to the news. It’s all good. You?

BMOne: Hockey, eh? Been there, done that. This time we’re going for warm and fuzzy, human interest, real life, heart warming stories narrated by our customers and employees. A real calculated small town feel, everybody of every ethnicity and ability pitching in for the greater good. Similar to Huawei at home, I suppose? So... I bought heavy weight during hockey broadcasts, the usual standard operational Canadiana bullshit.

BMTwo: If it ain’t broke… Hope that works out for you again.

BMOne: Yeah, yeah, thanks. Likewise. Timmy’s has chewed up and spat out a lot of brand equity this year. There’s no maple sugar-coating that. Still… all things considered, it could be a lot worse for the likes of us and our ilk.

BMTwo: Like working in the White House?

BMOne: Yeah, or Brexit.

BMTwo: Or Assad in Syria.

BMOne: Or bin Salman in Saudi.

BMTwo: Sears, don’t forget Sears.

BMOne: Facebook.

BMTwo: Ooh, good one. We still leverage it though.

BMOne: Us too. A devil you know sort of thing.

BMTwo: Anyway, must run, they’re calling my flight. Nice chatting with you.

BMOne: Likewise. Happy next financial quarter!

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

You Had a Friend

Modern times amaze and confuse me.

Our friend Netflix Derek who lives around the corner from the Crooked 9 underwent a surgical procedure this week. He is an active man and his ailment affected his quality of life for a significant period of time, months at least, probably longer. Upon diagnosis, and following the trickier part of scheduling his place in the health care system’s queue for treatment, just an hour or so under the knife set him right. He was home that evening.

Such is the miracle of modern medicine. It’s a bit like commercial air travel. I’m still dumbfounded that Canadians are able to traverse the second largest country in the world (by landmass) in a matter of hours.

I said to Ann, “I hope Derek has a speedy recovery.”

Because ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ begins streaming on Netflix a week this coming Sunday and our rabbit ears with their aluminum foil muffs can’t receive its signal.

Ann mentioned as a mere aside, “Did I tell you that Derek got rid of his landline?”

“He did? Well, what’s he use?”

“His cell.”

“His cell?”

Thoughts zipped through my mind, completely coherent but impossible to articulate in that nanosecond of neuron transmission: I don’t have a cell. I don’t send text messages. We still have a landline. Other friends text me; I pay the phone company to recite gibberish. How am I ever going to communicate with Netflix Derek again? Cell::landline, it’s like inserting a 45 or a cassette into a CD player.

“Derek texted me his cell phone number,” Ann said. “Maybe you should write it down in your address book.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Yeah. Yeah! I can still call Netflix Derek. He might even answer. I’ll wish him well and drop hints, angling for his Springsteen viewing invitation to Ann and me. Could work, this antiquated, quaint form of contact even as he’s adapted to new technologies swifter than I ever have or ever will.    

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Monday, 26 November 2018

A FAN’S NOTES

Grey Cup Day

Throughout my 50 years of cyclical waxing and waning engagement with the Canadian Football League, I have absorbed just one truth. The quasi-national loop more often than not flies by the straps of its jock and its loyal fans love hanging on whatever the turbulence.

Sometimes the CFL has eight teams, but usually nine. Sometimes there are no franchises in Montreal or Ottawa. Sometimes two of its teams have the same nickname. Most times its major market teams struggle to attract fans. Often its very existence is threatened by American hegemony in the guises of the Continental Football League, the World Football League, the United States Football League and always the National Football League, the King I-kong-ic corporate monolith of them all, but sometimes the CFL has franchises based in the United States too.

The CFL was established in 1958. Given the meandering history of the league, it’s only fitting therefore that Sunday’s championship game between Calgary and Ottawa was the 106th edition of the Grey Cup, the country’s ultimate rugby, rugger and football trophy. The final was staged a short train ride away from the Crooked 9 but damned if Ann and I were prepared to shiver outside for four hours in Edmonton in late November. The parts of our bodies designed to be flexible sometimes dispute their basic job functions.

I’ve got my memories of six or seven Grey Cup games played in various Canadian cities, the ticket stubs as triggers. I’ve attended regular season games in stadiums old and new in four provinces. I’ve paid to see the departed: Stallions, Rough Riders, Renegades, Concordes, Gold Miners, Pirates, Barracudas and Mad Dogs, a Posse too. Jerseys hang in my closet, t-shirts are folded in a bureau drawer, caps and toques on shelves, logo mugs in the kitchen cupboard. There are a few dusty hardcover CFL-themed books in the library.

Two stories epitomize the CFL for me. Late last century an advertising colleague offered me a ride home to my downtown apartment after work. We stopped a block from my door at my favourite watering hole. I had a beer. Kevin had a Coke because he was minutes away from taking Highway 2 south to Calgary to spend the weekend with his wife who was then employed by the football club. Kevin said, “Oh, hey, I’ve got to show you something.” We left the pub. He unlocked the trunk of his car. There it was: the most Canadian of all sports trophies, the Grey Cup lying on a blanket in the rear of a Japanese import. No white gloves and tuxedos for this piece of metal. I said, “Jesus, does anybody know you have it?” He said, “I don’t think so.”

Glenn attended his first Grey Cup game in 1977. It was a bitterly cold Sunday, and the site being Montreal, there was a public transit strike. Of course there was. I was at that tilt too; the $24 ticket stub is pinned on the bulletin board above my writing desk. Glenn and I subsequently met each other a year later at college. He was the sports editor of The Plant, our school paper. I contributed record reviews and penned a comic strip. Our friendship went on hiatus once I moved to Alberta and Glenn relocated to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.

Thursday night Ann and I had dinner with Glenn and his wife Margaret and four of their friends. They were in town for the big game. The visitors were clad in their team’s black and orange, adorned with beads and badges. Glenn told me he’d been to 21 Grey Cups. Margaret had only been to 14, but hey, somebody had to stay home and take one for the team when their two sons were toddlers.

Grey Cup is Canada’s only annual national social event. Edmonton Tourism and Edmonton Economic Development announced Monday morning that thanks to Glenn and Margaret, their friends and other folk like them from across Canada, the Capital Region realized a financial windfall of almost $64-million hosting the football festival. That’s worth closing a few blocks of the main drag for a party. The magic of Grey Cup is that the game is only half of it. The other equally important portion is flying your team’s flag from your hotel room window and sharing morning pitchers of “sluice juice” with like-minded souls from Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton and even Halifax dressed up in costumes and seeking heroic fun. Elvis and the Blues Brothers meet Saskatchewan Man in the Lions’ Den, Tiger-Cats welcome.

Aside from catching up with Glenn for the first time since the 2000 Grey Cup in Calgary, my little black raisin heart was also warmed by a bit of news issued by the commissioner’s office of our modest little sporting league. Ten teams, balanced eastern and western divisions, and true coast-to-coast presence in the nation could soon become a reality. The Atlantic Schooners, to be based in Halifax, now have a name and an apparently stable ownership group who has excited Maritimers enough to shell out for a healthy number of seat subscriptions.

Should the dream team earn a berth in the CFL, I dearly hope the club’s colour palette will be anchored by the hues of Nova Scotia tartan. I suspect its logo would be something of a stylized A based on the sail array of a two-masted vessel. Potential designers will have to avoid the Bluenose on the Canadian dime, the tall mast ship on labels of Molson Export beer and Toronto’s long-discarded classical Greek galley sailing football.

The Schooners will need a place to play. Public risk for private profit is always a bad deal. Pro sports, ultimately a useless distraction, has somehow brainwashed civic leaders that new stadia for private tenants is all to the collective good. Amazon even employed this spinning business model for its HQ2 sweepstakes. Still, from thousands of miles away, I would love to see a Canadian professional football team on our east coast. My reasoning abilities are out the porthole when it comes to our goofy little circuit. The CFL is a survivor against all odds, a touchstone for citizens scattered across a big, empty country. And Jesus, wouldn’t a three- or four-day Grey Cup party in Halifax set kitchens reeling?            

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Friday, 23 November 2018

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Dreaming

The final football game of the Canadian season will be played here on Sunday. Winter’s coming on in whatever form it may take in these days of goofy climate anomalies. The air is crisper, better to transmit the relentlessly annoying noises of motorized machines. Everyday life has become a source of sonic irritation, from snow-blowers, to paving to neighbourhood lots being divided for ugly, skinny residential rectangles. It’s good to get away from it all or at least have something to look forward to, dangle a lamp at the end of the low-lit tunnel of shortening days.

Years ago when I lived in Calgary I caught a bus every workaday morning that let me off near a Seventh Avenue C-Train platform. The bus was always full. One grey dawn I was crammed up against the driver, rigid, intent on not invading his personal space. It was freezing outside. The commuter smog hung low like cancer-flavoured cotton candy. The skyscraping core though within easy walking distance was invisible.

Without taking his eyes from the smoking parking lot ahead, he nodded toward an electronic billboard on the roof of a whitewashed auto body shop. “What would you do with $20-million?” The timed ad was promoting a growing provincial lottery jackpot.

“I’d get the Beatles back together and have them play my backyard,” I replied.

He said, “But John and George are dead.”

“Like I’m going to win $20-million.”

“Somebody has to.”

“Guess I’d better buy a ticket.”

Lotteries are peculiar mechanisms. The odds of winning are impossibly slight and so players essentially pay for what is already free: a few moments to dream. Paying to dream is as silly as buying back your own tap water from Coke, Nestle or Pepsi because they’ve re-packaged it in a plastic bottle. Still, water is the stuff of life and life, excepting the double-helix of DNA, is made of dreams.

November is a dreary month, often cold and always tinged with the sadness of Remembrance Day. No finer time to dream of a sunnier future. So when the Rolling Stones announced dates for a 2019 American spring tour the Telexes began to get typed. Tony, an old friend and intermittent meGeoff correspondent wrote from his hellish retirement in Bermuda, “Pick a city. We’ll go.” On it!

I filtered Ann’s and my known obligations. I compared the Stones’ schedule to the relevant Major League Baseball teams. I was distracted during my searches by a mechanical roar from across the back alley. I stood watching and listening as a deceased neighbour’s lot was cleared of its trees and his modest post-war bungalow demolished. Eventually I returned to my task. I was delighted to arrive at Chicago, the band and the city share some history and the Cubs would be hosting the south side White Sox or the New York Mets depending on our arrival and departure dates. The dream was creeping into scheme territory.

Norm is a lawyer based in Toronto. He also plays a mean guitar, a blonde Fender. We grew up together. We went to high school with Tony. The three of us are still Stonesheads. Back in 1978 Norm and I took a train to Toronto and then a bus to Buffalo to see the Stones together. The first time for both of us. We didn’t know it then but Tony was there too.

Chicago is one of those cities to which I’ve always dreamed of returning. While Ann scrolled through Airbandb listings I baited a hook for Norm: Ann, Tony and I were planning to see the Stones in Chicago, Cubs at home, 2120 South Michigan Avenue once the home of Chess Records and now the Willie Dixon Blues Foundation, Buddy Guy’s Legends club nearby on Wabash, good eating and drinking. I threw in a little high culture for good measure: And the Art Institute of course…

Because daydreams are not nightmares I neglected to mention a few things to Norm. Seven months is a long time, anything could happen to any one of us or the group’s members, life’s like that but not in the Reader’s Digest sense. The Stones are long past their best-before date and the venue is a football stadium. They’ll play a set we’ve all heard before. God knows what the currency exchange rate between Canadian and American dollars will be by June 21, 2019. And then there’s Chicago’s batshit crazy propensity for gun violence.

“I knew it!” Norm wrote back. He also allowed that he might have some Stones credit in the bank as he’d taken his wife of 30 years to see Hamilton in New York City for their wedding anniversary. We left things at that. Meanwhile this reverie of a road trip, a reunion and a rock ‘n’ roll show is gratis, no charge until Wednesday, November 28, 10 a.m. local time when I’ll spend money struggling to make a dream come true, typing with two fingers, hunt and bash. Be nice to get away from it all and hear some beautiful noise for what could be the last time.                

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Monday, 19 November 2018

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Fort Rodd Hill

National historic sites wherever they may be always intrigue me. Though the past is a narrative always distorted by a philosophical prism, ever-shifting perceptions of what was noble then and why it’s criminal now, one nation’s voyage of discovery and exploration is another nation’s colonial yoke, the physical remains are irrefutable: something, whatever it was, happened here once. Rambling around preserved ruins you learn facts and the stories that accompany them while your imagination is free to roam and make things up as you amble along.

Ann and I spent a week on Vancouver Island visiting close relatives and good friends in the environs of Victoria, British Columbia, the provincial capital. Remembrance Day dawned sunny, azure and warm, presenting a serendipitous opportunity to visit one outdated link in the Dominion of Canada’s modest chain of Pacific coast defenses. Ann was patient with me as I kept wandering off to explore and click iPad pictures, leaving her to stand alone on the beaten paths.

Construction of the upper and lower batteries of Fort Rodd Hill began in 1895. The heavy guns atop the cliff overlooked the naval base in Esquimalt Harbour (still active), the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the city of Victoria. The artillery fortification was decommissioned in 1956. In the years in between Fort Rodd Hill was continually upgraded as the nature of warfare changed. Barbed wire entanglements were erected outside its walls already protected by a bombardment-deflecting glacis, sloped earthworks incorporating the site’s bedrock. A third battery of rapid-fire guns was added between the existing heavy emplacements in anticipation of raids by swift torpedo boats. Search lights were installed and camouflaged as a “fisherman’s hut,” along with a telephone exchange. Steel torpedo nets were strung out in the Strait. A plotting room to direct anti-aircraft fire was gerry-built into the cliff underneath the existing structure.

The fort was dug out of and built on Lekwungen territory. It’s believed the first white men these First Nations people encountered were Russian fur traders. Imperial Spain then began nosing around the Pacific island, its expeditions retraced by British naval captains James Cook in 1778 and George Vancouver in 1791. West coast threats to the British Empire and this country have through the life of Fort Rodd Hill included manifest destiny America, the Russians in the wake of the Crimean War, and Imperial Japan (which is why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was permitted to punch the Alaska Highway through sovereign Canadian boreal forest). I can only speculate as to what murderous mischief Stalin might’ve got up to had Hitler not pivoted on their mutual non-aggression pact; the Russians loomed menacingly once again at the height of the Cold War.

The original six-inch guns were mounted on hydraulic platforms. They peeked above the ramparts to fire and were lowered to be reloaded under shelter. The rate of fire was not efficient, about one shell every two minutes. The ammunition magazines were tucked safely away underground, accessed via narrow tunnels of vaulted brick. The right and rear walls of the fortress are pocked with loopholes, horizontal and vertical rifle slits. Quarters, the guardhouses and barracks, were close and Spartan.

Below Fort Rodd Hill on a pinkie-sized peninsula is another national historic site. Erected in 1860, the whitewashed Fisgard lighthouse with its red residence was the first of its kind on Canada’s Pacific coast. Looking back from the lamp, a distance of just a few hundred yards, the fortifications hewn into the promontory were virtually invisible.

Monday evening, mild. The still water in Victoria’s inner harbour was a black mirror. Lights and masts reflected. Ann and I held hands and walked. We took the few steps up from sea level beside the refurbished and green-lit ferry terminal. We crossed the road and lingered by the cenotaph in the grounds of the legislature, its every soaring arch and angle blazing white light. The wreaths on the ground were plastic fir, prickled with red and black Royal Canadian Legion poppies and festooned with purple ribbons imprinted with gold type. The embossed plaques on the plinth commemorate the sacrifices made in two world wars, Korea and Afghanistan - “the graveyard of empires.”

I said to Ann, “They’re running out of room.” And who can recount all the godforsaken places where Canadian forces have been deployed by the United Nations as peacekeepers.

The minor miracle of Canada, in a large part due to its geography, is that since the War of 1812 petered out in 1815, and Fenian Raids ceased in 1871, she has never had to defend her borders from armed invaders. No small boon to date in an ever-changing world. An emplacement like Fort Rodd Hill never once launched an artillery barrage in anger. Lest we forget our country’s good fortune as we remember those who gave their lives, limbs and sanity in service of our allies overseas.          

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Someday Never Came

I was struck by a short Canadian Press story in the sports section of last Friday’s Globe and Mail. Not that anything was in my eye but I still felt something akin to an emotional twinge. The Montreal Canadiens, heeding the example of their six sister Canadian NHL teams, will no longer print complimentary pocket schedules.

They came in the same shape but many sizes. Some pocket schedules were simple rectangular cards. Others had a quarter fold and opened like a skimpy book. Elaborate ones expanded like accordions or spread out like road maps. Some people collect matchbooks, embroidered patches or bars of hotel soap. At some point during the 70s I began tossing miniature sports schedules into a shoebox, a blue Adidas one with three white saw-toothed stripes on its lid. Seasons of Canadiens hockey, Expos baseball, Alouettes and Concordes football, Manic soccer (indoor and outdoor) and local university athletics began to accumulate.

Production costs would not have been an issue for the hockey club as the price per unit would break down into pennies or fractions of, that outlay in turn offset by contributions from marketing partners and advertisers. However, in this era of apps, laptops and tablets it makes little sense to flood sports bars, gas stations, convenience stores and ticket wickets with a million pieces of worthless paper. And then there are environmental concerns. Every phase of printing from forest to courier truck exacts an ecological toll. Some are blatantly obvious; others less so: for instance a sheet of recycled paper leaves a larger carbon footprint than its virgin counterpart because it must be de-inked and re-pulped.

Travelling I habitually pocketed the home team’s season schedule whether I attended a game or not; club calendars made fine little mementos. Friends and relatives who lived outside of Montreal began enclosing schedules in their letters to me. I hit a gusher halfway through the 80s when I first met my friend Stats Guy. At the time he was the director of publications and statistics for the Edmonton Oilers. He was in constant contact with his counterparts around the NHL and other pro leagues, baseball especially as Stats Guy is a life-long seamhead.

This tiny sporting fraternity exchanged tips and information. What are the dimensions of your media guide? Perfect bind or coil? Colour throughout or just in one or two signatures? Can you please send one or two along and enclose a couple of pocket schedules?

(During our last Tuesday Night Beer Club meeting Stats Guy muttered about culling his collection of sports publications. Two sips later he mentioned he’d just bought four new bookshelves. I’m wildly relieved that I don’t live directly beneath his upper storey apartment.)

Seasons changed at the whim of sports calendars. A few times a year Stats Guy would play schedule Santa, a bulky manila envelope would arrive. The shoeboxes stashed in the corner of the closet began to stack up. They changed addresses in Montreal numerous times. They got shipped to Edmonton. Mysteriously, their number continued to increase. When my employer transferred me to Calgary, my shoeboxes were packed into bigger boxes by Allied Van Lines. During my 20-odd years in Calgary my shoeboxes multiplied in five different closets.

Someday, I often thought, someday. Someday I will spread out my collection on the dining room table and I will organize it, sort it by sport, league and year. Someday, maybe once I’ve retired, I will rehouse my pocket schedules in binders and display them in those three-holed plastic inserts trading card collectors use. Someday. It’ll be fun, I thought, not a chore. Someday.

About five or six years ago when I was planning my move from Calgary back to Edmonton, I sat on the edge of my bed in my bedroom and contemplated the ziggurat of shoeboxes piled up on my closet floor. The original incubator, that blue Adidas box, was on top, obscured by a Harris tweed sports jacket. My intention was to relocate north with a light load: books, notebooks, recorded music and my modest collection of Rolling Stones tour posters. Clothing too – always handy, especially if you wish to go outside.

I asked myself, Who are you kidding? I told myself, Those pocket schedules will stay in their boxes until the day you die. You will never look at them; you will never sort them out. And if on the off chance you did, if you ever got around to it, who the hell would want them after you’re gone? Junk, just junk to be disposed of, junk, more junk to be carted off when you’re dead. God knows what’ll happen to your Stones stuff.

I dumped all of my pocket sports schedules into the blue recycle bin in the back alley. They resembled a collage atop the newspapers and broken cartons. Defunct leagues and teams. Relocated teams. Years of casual foraging. Trips. Memories. Among the logos and artwork were faces of people who’d spared a thought and a stamp for me. All so real then as now even though I no longer have the paper to prove it.

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

A FAN’S NOTES

Through a Sepia Lens, Darkly

No sport on Earth can compete with baseball when it comes to perpetuating its own mythology and disseminating its lengthy history. Ballparks may be bandboxes or cathedrals, sometimes both. The game has seduced writers, musicians, painters and filmmakers. I’m aware that my perception of baseball is the result of these various methods of subliminal indoctrination. Every baseball photograph I’ve ever seen, whether in a newspaper, magazine or book cried out to be rendered as a daguerreotype; I crave the intoxicating mercury vapour whiff of a pastoral nostalgia that I’ve been led to believe existed before I was born.

The modern game has oozed into a tedious stasis. Nine innings can stretch 54 outs into four hours. Defense is strikeouts; offense is home runs. Baseball’s much more fun to watch when the ball’s live, in the field of play. Still, this October’s World Series has an old-timey quality about it whatever the twenty-first century analytics. The competing teams are virtual strangers with long histories but not with one another. The Red Sox and the Dodgers have not faced off in inter-league play since 2004. The last time they met in the World Series was 1916. Babe Ruth was a Red Sox pitcher.

When I was a kid growing up in Montreal a couple of generations of our family gathered annually for summer holidays by the ocean in Maine. New England was Red Sox turf. An old family friend who now lives in Connecticut says his state’s unofficial demarcation between Red Sox and Yankee fans is Interstate 91 which stretches between Hartford and New Haven. Since the Expos did not begin play in my hometown until 1969, I cheered for the Red Sox who lost the 1967 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals who would eventually provide the opposition for the Expos’ inaugural home opener.

The Brooklyn Base Ball Club variously known as the Robins, Superbas and Bridegrooms in its early days did not adopt the Dodger nickname officially until after the Great Depression had gripped the globe (the Red Sox began life in 1901 as the Americans but have gone by their current moniker since 1908). Brooklyn had a connection to a Montreal I was born too late to know, their AAA International League affiliate played up north as the Royals. That all changed when the major league club decamped for Los Angeles before the 1958 season. Like most baseball fans, I was entranced by Roger Kahn’s elegiac ‘The Boys of Summer’ which chronicles the Dodgers’ final years in their New York City borough. I own a Brooklyn cap.

Strings and threads remained. Duke Snider, one of the best there ever was and a Flatbush legend, drawled laconic and droll insight into the grand old game from the Expos’ broadcast booth. I once helped him find the raisins in a grocery store and took the opportunity to ask him about ‘The Boys of Summer.’ Difficult to discern what annoyed him more, my question or the book’s contents. By this time the Los Angeles Dodgers had long been regular visitors to Montreal.

The Montreal Expos were always cursed by short pockets stuffed with lint and maybe a few singles of Canadian currency. One of those small market teams that always stood to benefit from owners playing hardball with players. The cure was temporary, an ineffectual salve which prolonged the agony of a fatal disease. The payrolls of the 2018 editions of the Red Sox and Dodgers are beyond obscenity by millions.

The 1981 major league season was interrupted by labour strife. The solution was to steal a ploy from the minor leagues, a split season; two sort of equal halves to keep disgruntled fans engaged. The Expos qualified for the jury-rigged post-season bracket. The hockey Canadiens were in decline, here was an opportunity for the city’s baseball team to establish itself as an equal in Montreal’s sporting scene; winning is the only reliable sports marketing strategy. The Expos’ World Series aspirations were crushed by the Dodgers on October 19, ‘Blue Monday.’

In 1994 the Expos sported the best record in baseball when play was cancelled. There was no World Series. Why speculate about what might or might not have been? So many leagues, so many teams, so many heartaches and frustrations because ultimately only one can win. My team no longer plays in Montreal. I had a ‘Blue Monday’ ticket but I gave it to a good friend because I was scheduled to bag groceries at the A&P following a morning university classes. I’ve made an incalculable number of poor decisions through the course of my life and that one ranks right up there.

I’m typing this post with a Red Sox hat on my head and this is weird because I always cheer for the National League, where the Expos played, in the World Series: Boston’s a bit against the grain as I’m not reaching for those idyllic days in Maine because I’m 58 now, not eight. I believe the American League’s introduction of the designated hitter in 1973 was the first misguided step toward the boring games fans must endure these days. Specialization got really specialized. But I cannot bring myself to hope for the Dodgers because I believe they were the original Expo killers.

Game three is tomorrow night. Red Sox versus Dodgers, 102 years in the making and it matters to me on some level. Don’t know why.

Copies of my new novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

SAINTS PRESERVE US

A Dog’s Calling

Sparky is a certified Emotional Support Animal (ESA). He is a mid-sized mutt, short haired, handsome, curious and alert. He took some time out of his busy day to speak with meGeoff. We’d arranged to meet in a dog park on the elevated and steep south shore bank of the North Saskatchewan River. The air was crisp with fall but the sky was a lovely and clear pale blue. Sparky munched on bone-shaped biscuits as we chatted while meGeoff got legally baked for the first time ever.

meGeoff: Tell me how you first became involved in the ESA program.

Sparky: It’s a bit of a long story, a shaggy dog, if you will. Since I was whelped I dreamed of being a service dog. So when I became a pup I auditioned for the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind). That did not go well. There was an incident at a crosswalk involving a bus and a squirrel. Subsequently I was diagnosed with a touch of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I tried to be a drug-sniffer but I already had about a million scents catalogued in my head and anyway, cocaine made me crazy. In a good way, not! Bomb-sniffing was out of the question, as if.

meGeoff: So…

Sparky: Well, the great thing about being an ESA is that absolutely zero training is involved. No qualifications required! Some human with a bit of paper framed on their office wall says you’re an ESA and then away you go. It’s a noble calling. You just need the right owner. It’s a bit like a lottery, I suppose. At the end of the day, you know, from 30,000 feet, I’m just a lucky dog.

meGeoff: Seems to me you’ve found a sense of fulfillment, given your life some meaning.

Sparky: I can go anywhere, man. I wish I’d been named Rex which means ‘king.’ Places other dogs can’t go: hotels, airplanes, grocery stores… To be honest, I find grocery stores particularly stressful.

meGeoff: How so?

Sparky: Well, it’s a bit like a pothead in a cannabis store. An analogy you’d understand – not that I’m judging because I don’t, I’m incapable - but c’mon, the meat aisle, the cereal aisle. The pet food aisle is a special form of hell. All that kibble…

meGeoff: How do you cope? How do you restrain yourself?

Sparky: I get help. I attend a support group once a week.

meGeoff: Excuse me?

Sparky: Hey, you try living with a depressed and anxious person every waking minute of every day. You’re always on call even as you worship them. My friend Walt the Cat, an ESA who’s never worked a full day in his life by the way, tears his fur out the few hours he’s actually awake, lazy tabby bastard that he is, but you get the picture. We’re all a little wired. Love sick, I guess you could say, a bit needy. But to make a long story short, caregivers need care. I can self-medicate, I mean I can lick my-

meGeoff: I get it.

Sparky: Hang on! Is that my owner over there standing at the edge?

meGeoff: Yeah, it’s a place we locals call ‘The End of the World.’

Sparky: What’s the drop?

meGeoff: About 20 metres.

Sparky: Damn! I better get going. ‘Put my Lassie voice on,’ as we say in the biz. Pardon the jargon but you know how it is with niche industries; you said when you first introduced yourself that you’d worked in advertising, didn’t you? Anyway, thanks for the Milk Bones. Nice chatting with you. Gotta run!

meGeoff: Godspeed, Sparky.

Sparky: Whoa, whoa! Wait a doggone minute. Did you see the way that squirrel just looked at me? Look at that smug, chirping little rodent. Bastard needs to be taught a lesson right here and right now. Hold my treat.

meGeoff: UhMind if I have a bite?        

Copies of my new novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Something in the Air

October 17, 2018 will always remain ingrained in my memory. The forecasted highs for yesterday ranged from 21- to 23-degrees Celsius depending upon the weather source but virtually unheard of for this time of year in this part of the country, especially since the first snow fell on September 12. Oh, and recreational pot usage became legal.

Canada’s great soft drug experiment is officially underway. Though my days as a giggling puddle of goo have long past, I’ve been following this national news story with avid interest. Officially sanctioned stoning conveys a very different message in a major Western democracy than it does in a Middle Eastern kingdom, not to torture and dismember hairs.

Ending a prohibition on a relatively innocuous substance such as weed is probably a good thing, an example of enlightened thinking. The action takes a bite out of the black market, crimping criminal consortiums. An over-stressed justice system can stop sweating some small stuff and direct its attention elsewhere. There’s also a new category on the financial index though analysts and investors are to be reminded of the dot-com bust, and Canadian banks with interests in the United States should be wary of their ties to non-traditional drug companies. For the tax collector there’s too a new source of tsk-tsk sin revenue. But that potential stream could be a case of robbing Van to pay Roger: if people allocate their altered states money, getting high to Dark Side of the Moon could preclude a late night Irish whisky session with Saint Dominic’s Preview.

The staid formality colouring the lurch to legalization has amused me. No stoner or petty dealer I ever knew ever once uttered the nouns “marijuana” or “cannabis.” Last Saturday various Globe and Mail food critics positively gushed secret sub-culture intel in girlish up-voices: the best munchies with aioli and kale to be scoffed by the newly reefer maddened in major Canadian cities! Curiously, police services across the nation who have dealt with herb impairment since before the Jazz Age are stymied by the newly legislated challenge of funneling high drivers into drunk driver check stops. It’s as if this green plant, some kind of alien species, popped through the Earth’s soil last week, maybe October 10, 2018.

There is nothing new under the sun except regulations and restrictions. Since Canada’s provinces and territories took some 150 years to sign a document that resembles a domestic free trade agreement, the rules around the country regarding the sale and possession of pot are a tangle: imagine Medusa having a bad hair day. What’s laissez-faire in Quebec may be illegal in Ontario. What flies in Toronto might be a lead zeppelin in Markham. And so it unrolls. Meanwhile all Canadians should be reminded that while pot is legal in some American states, the United States border is a federal jurisdiction and there are no grey areas in that nation’s the war on drugs.

The advertising guidelines for pot as they now stand intrigue me. The green, green grass of home has been lumped in with tobacco by federal authorities. That is any advertising vehicle which has the remotest chance of reaching any one potential customer under the age of majority is not allowed. This is in contrast to alcohol advertising tactics which market hooch as a lifestyle-enhancing elixir. Prescription drug advertising falls somewhere in the middle; you can say the brand name but not what it does or say what it does but not the brand name – ask your doctor.

A few months ago I yanked an avid cyclist’s chain. I said, “You ride on the roads, you ride on the sidewalks, you don’t dismount at crosswalks, what are you, a vehicle or a pedestrian?” He replied, “We’re a third element entirely.” I can see the pot industry lobbying (and there will be a lobby) for an easing of existing advertising restrictions once the retail roll out has been debudded. The “third element” argument holds bong water. For instance, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) is an inexpert and archaic body in this new age of Netflix and other streaming services.

Today is the day after an historic day in an industrialized country. It feels like any other day, maybe a little cooler since yesterday.             

Copies of my new novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

SAINTS PRESERVE US

A Gaia Old Time

Decades ago I borrowed a book from my father’s library because its spine intrigued me. Its title was ‘Rats, Lice and History’ and it had nothing to do with the movie ‘Willard.’ The author was Hans Zinsser, a medical doctor and bacteriologist. From it I learned that many outcomes in human history were in part dictated by natural forces too small to discern until their symptoms manifested. It’s no mean feat to catch an opposing army with its pants down, wracked by dysentery. 

Many years later and perhaps because of the similar rhythm of its title, I read Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ which expands upon Zinsser’s premise of disease as destiny. The winners when tribes of humans come into conflict militarily or otherwise have usually been cleverer in managing and exploiting their natural resources; that know-how in turn generates superior technology. If a group possesses a surplus of staples as the result of refined agricultural practices and animal husbandry, its members have the leisure means to explore other endeavors whatever they may be. Technological leaps become self-perpetuating. Let’s make iron weapons! Let’s make internal combustion engines! Future cost is incalculable.

Between those books I’ve read two others that relate. ‘Fourth Horseman’ by Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk was my introduction to Gaia theory: essentially everything organic and inorganic inside our planet’s atmosphere bubble is in some way connected. Cause and effect. And if you’re at all like me you can render yourself near paralytic as you jiggle and jounce other strings like synchronicity and quantum probability. Fishing in the dark. Our world is a complex place.

Because Gaia posits Earth as a super-organism, Nikiforuk argues convincingly that it must from time to time cull its most annoying and prominent parasite. In his view documented methods include epidemics of bubonic plaque, tuberculosis, influenza and AIDS. Nothing personal. The implication though is clear: in the eyes of Gaia the billions of us are persistent yet inefficient slackers when it comes to eradicating ourselves by other means although God knows we try hard enough with the tools at hand.

The feel-good book of the four is a suicidal misanthrope’s wet dream: ‘The World Without Us’ by Alan Weisman. In cosmic terms humanity’s existence on our home planet is a blip. Should we disappear, Nature will reclaim her realm surprisingly quickly in the aftermath. The warranties on our infrastructure, parts and labour, and the machines that operate and maintain it are void in the event of apocalypse – it’s a bit like that unnerving ‘civil war’ clause in your home insurance policy. Humankind could become a cold case with some shreds of scant trace evidence left in the solar system’s dossier. Meanwhile, our self-regulating biosphere will continue its evolutionary journey. What’s another extinct species in the great universal scheme of things?

News this week continues to suggest Gaia has another weapon in her arsenal to rid herself of us. Hurricane Michael juiced up to a devastatingly powerful category four storm by sucking energy from overly warm ocean waters smashed into the Florida Panhandle like a fist. High above the Medicine Line Canada lit up like Neil Young on a bender. The country’s largest oil refinery located in New Brunswick blew a gasket. Irving Oil officials admitted to media outlets there’d been an ‘incident.’ The black tornado cloud was something of a tip and not a particularly anonymous one at that. North of Prince George, British Columbia, a major natural gas pipeline blew up. Unsurprisingly, people noticed the orange column of flame. These types of explosive carbon emissions, sudden, are tricky for any government to tax no matter its ideology. Alarmingly, these disasters constituted just another couple of business days in North America.

Lost in the destructive winds, horizontal driving rain and billows of poisonous charcoal smoke was a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There was no news in it, the experts just pointed at the writing on the wall. Cataclysmic climate change abetted by our dependency on fossil fuels is occurring faster than computer models have predicted and may be unleashed upon us before the halfway mark of this century. Special interest groups’ social media hashtags will be meaningless in the wasteland.

Traditionally, when rival powers play nuclear poker one of them blinks because ‘mutually assured destruction’ isn’t a terribly attractive option. Gaia does not play poker; Gaia will not blink; Gaia will be just fine without us. Celebrity entrepreneur Elon Musk, he of the James Bond villain name and characteristic megalomania, believes humanity’s future lies out in space, on Mars. I haven’t placed a lot of faith in him, stable as he appears to be.

The UN study suggests that though we’re all a little late to the climate catastrophe crisis meeting, that potential jury-rigged and eventual long term solutions lie in the hands of the leaders of wealthy countries. There are no easy fixes to a complex threat in this era of strident populism on either side of the political divide. Confronting climate change will require a bipartisan political will of steel. Those summoning the courage to stand in the firestorm will expend careers’ worth of political capital. Things never end well for martyrs. And so we are left with an existential dilemma staring down the powers that be because working to ensure the future of humankind is a really bad career move.         

Copies of my new novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Thursday, 4 October 2018


HUMAN WRECKAGE

An Ever-present Absence

Why?

Our very fine house, Ann’s and mine, used to have two cats in the yard. Now there are none and they’re not coming back. Our home is cleaner. It smells better. Certain items of abused furniture will not deteriorate beyond their present shabby states. Stray granules of kitty litter will eventually no longer crackle in the vacuum hose – though that’ll take some time.

The unwelcome and unhoped-for process of becoming pet-free has given me pause. A few years ago a close friend of my late brother told me, “He always said you marched to your own drum.” I’ve always believed I’ve done my best just to get along without much fuss, trouble and strife. Which doors to kick in and what walls to bang my head against are always carefully considered. I see myself as the patient in that hoary joke: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “Then don’t do that!” And so I won’t.

Why?

Why haven’t I enjoyed a novel or a history book in the deepest, most enveloping armchair in the house? Because the cats always slept on it and cats sleep a lot.

Why was our metered water usage up? Because the cats slurped from running kitchen and bathroom taps at their pleasure.

Why was electricity so expensive every month? Because Ann and I tended to leave the lights on all night; because we were afraid of what we might step in during the restless, wee wee hours.

Why do I habitually use the john in the basement? Because one of the tabbies lurked behind the door of the bathroom on the main floor and was curious about any human activity. There was no talking to him: “I don’t hang around between your legs when you use your litter box, do I?”

Why don’t I spend any time in our living room? I’m not a kid anymore; I haven’t been banned; I won’t bust anything. The couch is ancient Roman orgy comfortable. The books on the coffee table are there to be perused and enjoyed. I appreciate the paintings we’ve hung. I used to like lying spread-eagled on the floor listening to the devil’s music at excessive volume on evenings when Ann went out. We blocked off the largest room in the house because it was never intended to serve as a feline vomitorium and litter box.

Why can’t I ever wear a new baseball-style cap again? Because there’s no tabby on the kitchen counter to wipe his muzzle on the ridge of the cap’s brim, break it in and certify it Crooked 9 authentic.

Ann and I lived under the benevolent and often inconvenient tyranny of two tabby cats. They ran the house. But that was just the way things were. We unknowingly adapted to the cats’ behaviours and demands which became more pronounced as they aged. Our lives seemed normal enough to us and our friends were likely too polite to say anything. “No charge for the cat hair and saliva in your food! Enjoy your dinner! Thanks for coming. Good to see everyone again! How come nobody’s eating?”

These past couple of recent evenings Ann’s been out meeting professional and social obligations. So during the middle of this week I was truly home alone for the first time in years; without another soul in sight except for maybe that spider on the ceiling by the kitchen door. Last night I watched the Canadiens lose their first game of what I suspect will be a long and futile hockey season. And since I’m incapable of sitting passively through an entire televised sporting event I wandered and puttered around the Crooked 9.

Every single door inside our house was ajar. There were no barriers, no boundaries. I was not dogged by close personal friends. There were no cats lounging in Ann’s music rehearsal space, curled up in the bowl on the dining room table or lying across my laptop keyboard. There was no spat and flung crunchy dental-formula kibble on the kitchen floor. There was no tail poking out from underneath the bathroom door. The taps weren’t running.

At first I felt a dizzy sense of liberation. As they aged the cats increasingly dictated the course of our everyday lives. The guileless process had been insidious and gradual. Hypnotized by loyalty, love and affection, Ann and I had made accommodations and concessions to the detriment of our own quality of life. It was real at the time and we lived this way in a shrunken bungalow because that’s the way it was and we did not know there was an alternative until circumstances finally compelled a final reckoning.

I’m reminded of the shaggy dog story about the Jewish fellow who’d no idea he’d suffered from heartburn his entire life until he moved out of his parents’ Brooklyn apartment and ate food other than his mother’s home cooking. You don’t know until you do. The gag slays because of its nuanced metaphor. Any person who’s eventually escaped the clutches of a soul-sucking employer or life partner always wonders afterward why the walk to freedom took so damn long. Just how and when exactly did the intolerable became acceptable and mundane? All those wasted years of pain…

But I kept expecting to encounter a cat, probably underfoot at the top of the basement stairs. I hunted the house for cats. I checked out all of their usual hangouts. I peered into places that I knew they knew they weren’t supposed to go. I don’t record mix tapes any more, haven’t for years, and I’m too much of a fossil to compile a digital play list but I started to pull one together from the ether.

“A couple of country laments to start things off,” I thought. Aaron Neville’s ‘The Grand Tour’ of an empty home to be followed by Willie Nelson’s ‘Hello Walls.’ Next up, ‘You’re Missing’ from Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, possibly a little overly dramatic given that album’s 9/11 context, but well, why not? I’m imposing my meaning and interpretation now. The punch would be provided by Better Than Ezra’s ‘Good.’ “Walking around the house, searching for signs of life, but there’s nobody home… It was good, living here with you, oh… it was so good.”     

Copies of my new novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Monday, 1 October 2018

A FAN’S NOTES

Freshen Up: Paul McCartney Live in Edmonton

I punched the clock to close off another eight hours on the night shift. I grabbed my knapsack and then jogged the four or five blocks to the Montreal Forum. Tickets for a rock show would go on sale in 90 minutes, Paul McCartney. The queue, a double rank, snaked along Ste-Catherine, up Atwater and around the corner of the arena along de Maisonneuve, and then back down along Closse toward Ste-Catherine. I imagined a perfect rectangle of fans, those at the front of the line staring at the backs of those at its end. I did not get close enough to the box office to even fantasize about a pair of nosebleeds dangling over the steep bowl. That crushing disappointment occurred sometime during the mid-80s. I cannot remember the specific year and so I cannot say for sure which album he was promoting with that North American tour.

The Beatles formed in 1959. They recorded about ten hours of music over 12 years. McCartney has been an ex-Beatle for 48 years. Calculating how many hours of music he’s released in various guises since 1970 is beyond my limited arithmetic skill. Though production may have slowed to a trickle from time to time, the tap was never turned off. The only contemporary of McCartney’s who also continues to perform and release new material on a regular basis is Bob Dylan. These two artists are so prolific that their careers must be sub-divided into eras. The hardcore fan ideal of being a completist, owning everything, becomes a daunting snipe hunt, an expensive rabbit hole.

Dylan remains a human rebus. He’s always been his own man, a solo artist though a calculated projection of one of himselves without the baggage, bedbugs and beetles of being a former New Lost City Rambler, New Christy Minstrel or Weaver. Aside from Ringo Starr, the only person alive on Earth today who might understand McCartney’s vegan pothead may be Robert Plant. Plant has made some remarkable records with Band of Joy, Sensational Space Shifters and Alison Krauss but nearly 40 years on he’s still perceived as the golden god who shrieked centre stage for Led Zeppelin; a weight to be carried a long time.

Edmonton was the last stop on the Canadian leg of the ‘Freshen Up’ world tour. When McCartney was in his prime major acts did not cross Canada, there were only nerve-wracking encounters with customs officials preceding stray gigs in Montreal or Toronto, maybe Vancouver. That’s one reason why I’ve had to wait decades to finally see McCartney live and in concert.

He’s been playing music longer than I’ve been alive. I do not know life without the Beatles, Wings or McCartney. Last night he played songs from Egypt Station which was released last month and debuted at number one on the Billboard chart. He also played ‘In Spite of All the Danger,’ a song so primordial that neither Stu Sutcliffe nor Pete Best had yet to be recruited for John Lennon’s skiffle combo.

McCartney is a lot like Mick Jagger in that he is an astute business man. That acumen, which may have hastened the dissolution of the Beatles (try to see it my way), might account for the four songs in his three-hour set from the ‘white album’ which is being readied for a 50th anniversary re-release. Then again, who wouldn’t want to hear ‘Helter Skelter,’ the Chuck Berry-Beach Boys mash-up ‘Back in the USSR,’ an alone and acoustic ‘Blackbird’ from an elevated platform and the stoned calypso of ‘Ob La Di, Ob La Da’ when decent seats cost $300?

I’ve come around to ‘Silly Love Songs’ over the years but was delighted he didn’t sing it; ‘Michelle’ and ‘Yesterday’ were difficult enough to squirm through. The miracle of McCartney though is that he appeals to everyone, his audience has no demographic; he is rock’s ultimate democrat. I love his Little Richard voice but I guess that diaphragm power is difficult to summon for a singer closer to 80 than 70. I suspect ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ was the second song of the night for that reason. ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ was early too. Pacing. I guessed correctly that the throat-shredding ‘Coming Up’ was out of the question this night. The joyous barks and squeals over the endless fade of ‘Hey Jude’ were carefully meted out. Then again, ‘Let Me Roll It’ with its nasty, hypnotic guitar lick fronting a chorus of voices behind which he could hide his own well-worn vocal cords was sublime.

 The weird and glorious thing about seeing McCartney in 2018 is that it’s 2018, a modest gift in the great scheme of things but a massive one in current pop culture. He is the most famous rocker on Earth and unquestionably the most beloved. Perhaps it’s the British music hall tradition, but my feeling is that McCartney has always written, sung and played to please his audience. When he thanked the crowd his words rang humble and genuine. Maybe he’s still amazed 60 years down the long and winding road. An assumed role of distant, arrogant tortured artist is anathema to him and that’s refreshing because the convenience surcharges on last night’s tickets cost more than the actual tickets I tried to buy in Montreal all those years ago.    

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.

Monday, 24 September 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

A Night on the Town

Last Friday night was a much-anticipated night out. The event was a double bill featuring Mack MacKenzie from Montreal’s Three O’Clock Train and Mike McDonald from Edmonton’s Jr. Gone Wild. Their respective bands have shared a stage before, as recently as this year for shows in Montreal and Ottawa. Ann and I were keen to shake our cabin fever in the wake of a week’s worth of late September summer snow.

Both acts are hangovers from a rawer time, when “jam” was not a synonym for a three-minute Auto-Tuned stream with beats programmed by eight writers, when a “deep cut” was a wound and not a track off an album’s second side. Three O’Clock Train and Jr. Gone Wild were never corporate mainstream. Eerily concurrent though separated by the geography of a big, empty country, they thrived on university pub audiences and that sweaty, young vibe. Back then their amplified noises were dubbed cowpunk and today an amateur expert might allow alt-country or roots designations. The main songwriter in each band was word-struck, articulate with imagery and rhyme, a voice of substance backed by volume and distortion, wow and flutter.

The venue was a neighbourhood local, the Hilltop Pub. It’s tucked away in one of those grey and forlorn commercial plazas that dot the provincial capital. Given the size of the room and the modest $15 cover, I had assumed the MacKenzie and McDonald show would be a hot ticket for a certain segment of Edmonton’s musical fraternity, ageing baby boomers like Ann and me who still insist on listening to music played through dedicated equipment instead of crappy little Chinese telephones - proper sound moves air - I was wrong: Ann and I arrived early to secure a good vantage point and table; we scored the best seats in the house.

Ann’s niece Sherry and her husband Steve joined us in our booth. Edmontonians, they’d dated to sounds of Jr. Gone Wild and had been impressed by the Three O’Clock Train vinyl we’d lent them recently.  They are the type of folk who ensure music festivals thrive: “Three days? Tarps? Portable toilets? Inclement weather and mud? Expensive bottled water and long lines for the beer tent? We’re all in and we’re bringing our kids.”

The Hilltop is by no means a first date destination, but Sherry and Steve could’ve picked a worse place than an anonymous local dive to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary. Beer signs not chandeliers. Our waitress was attentive and friendly. The four meals she served up from the Hilltop’s kitchen were standard pub fare though superior to the food indifferently flung at patrons of chain sports bars.

Once the live music started I swiveled and did a quick head count, I did not exhaust my fingers. In addition to our group of four, two guys were examining the pool table, three more guys loitered at the end of the bar and one annoyingly loud know-it-all sporting that already-tired look of fifties hair and glasses atop a Grizzly Adams beard regaled two bored girls about nothing within my hearing. Vacant tables and a miserable gate: a disheartening pairing to each musician, I suspect. The night played out as a private concert, fabulous for us but some things are best experienced immersed in a crowd. My sole quibble is that the M.M. and M.M. did not bash out a couple of songs together. My hunch is that both performers were relieved to make their escape. No encore at the Hilltop.

A potential home-wrecker lurked in the parking lot between sets. I was smoking, distracted by the pathetic sight of an underage girl scavenging for cigarette butts while a fellow about my age rambled on to me about turntables, peering intently over his granny glasses. Little did I know Ann was being chatted up by a genuine wizard. How could I, how can I ever compete with a wizard? His poorly cropped business card would be a perfect rectangle in a German silent movie:

Wizard
Tarot, Runes, Occult Advice
(No Love Spells, Curses or Other Dark Art

His seduction of Ann was brief. “I’ll read your Tarot in exchange for a beer.” It was my apparent good fortune that the wizard adhered to his own strict standards and did not cast a love spell on Ann. Sherry and Steve capped their special night by driving Ann and me home. I unlocked the front door and Ann exhibited no obvious reluctance to enter the Crooked 9 despite the sorry lack of love potions in the medicine chest and liquor cabinet. As of this writing we’re still together.   

My latest novel The Garage Sailor is ready to ship. Get aboard at Megeoff.com.