Saturday, 15 June 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Ruminations on Advertising in the Still of the Night

Why I look at food photography, the Platonic ideal of any recipe, when I’m reheating limp leftovers in the dead of night isn’t quite beyond me: I’ve exhausted that day’s Globe and Mail and last week’s Economist. Yet the real takeaway from flipping through the glossy pages of Canadian Living at the kitchen counter an hour or two before the sun rises and birds begin to sing is a sense of sweat-inducing dread. According to the advertisements the unintended consequences of a relatively lengthy lifespan in a wealthy western country are aches and pains, disease, infirmity and incontinence; stuff I’ve no interest in taking back to bed with me.

Unsurprisingly, The Economist offers its readership an entirely different simmering barrel of advertising red herrings than Canadian Living even though they may rub covers in the same household - thereby bridging in a pithy way that awful personal chasm between aspiration and decline.

You never actually own a Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe is Suisse, de Geneve. They don’t make watches. No, they create heirloom chronometers, an entirely different kettle of monkeys. And you’ll never actually own one because most people can’t afford them except for the impeccably groomed Eurotrash metrosexual depicted in the ad. His frail little replicant simply gushes a silent masochistic desire to be bullied in the hallway of the average Canadian school.

You merely look after it for the next generation.

But how do the rich procreate? Lonely, unfulfilled members of the Davos set utilize exclusive internet matchmaking services with sniffily prestigious home office street addresses in New York and London. The grinning couple in the Selective Search (Executive search meets personal matchmaking) half-page ad appear delighted enough in each other’s company. The blonde in the bikini looking back over her shoulder seems proud of her dental work. Her digital soulmate has a face resembling the UPS shield logo topped with a thatch of black Muppet bristles – as if Ernie had spent every penny of his Sesame Street residuals with a celebrity plastic surgeon. Their lottery-winning child will surely inherit a well cared for Patek Philippe. Sometimes I think wealthy people should be obligated to marry poor ones to better spread the cash around – as far as the pre-nup permits.

Periodic reminders of the fragile nature of existence are healthy. When the night begins to lift during those solitary kitchen minutes it’s critical to be reminded that who’s on your arm or what’s on your wrist doesn’t really matter. You will die. And you must inevitably die alone, with little dignity and lots of pain your only company.  

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Monday, 10 June 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Artless Noise

There’s a new microwave-convection oven over the range in the kitchen. Its timer dings when its heating job is done. As it should. These appliances appeal to the human instant gratification gene because the stuff inside them gets het up real fast. Excessive heat inflicts pain on the unwary, their fingertips and tongues. It took me a long time and many blisters to figure this out. And so I add an impatient minute to the midnight snack process by waiting for things to cool down before popping open the door and chowing down. The KitchenAid KMCC5015 is one of those modern, ineptly smart machines. It keeps dinging in insistent intervals to remind me I’ve just used it: I know, I know, even I can remember two minutes ago; I’m not that demented yet. The blessing for the microwave (and my pocketbook) is that the six or seven Trini Lopez tools in the Crooked 9 are down in the basement workroom.

Noise. I am so fed up with noise.

The telephone is ringing with yet another Chinese spam-scam call. There’s a Bluetooth head spouting confidential business information on the sidewalk. Even the most primitive of yard implements come with motors. Nattering self-checkouts: welcoming, instructing, thanking. Talking elevators – although I’m not blind to their functionality. Social media dog whistle fish hooks. Excitable sports commentators shouting their enthusiasm! Pundits arguing partisan rhetoric. Hysterical politicians reciting talking points by rote. Self-styled victims whining for special dispensation; everybody else complaining. Experts who can’t keep their alternative facts straight. The visual white noise of advertising – is there any surface left on the planet on which we cannot paste a logo? That dreadful, sinister roar of hate and intolerance. That neighbourhood guy I avoid because he talks too much about nothing; I wish he smoked so he’d be a little shorter of breath.

Would everybody and everything in this world please shut the fuck up for an hour or two? Or at least tone it down. I can’t even hear myself think about losing my mind.  

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Sunday, 2 June 2019

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Life on Mars?

The FOR SALE sign on the unkempt lawn across the street sways and creaks in a gentle breeze speckled with ash motes. Its sound suggests high noon in a Hollywood western, a showdown, a reckoning. Everyone is indoors, sheltering from the pale lemon sky and shimmering blood orange sun. Lights are on inside the Crooked 9 because an average day shouldn’t be so spookily dark at noon what with the window shades up and summer on its way. Twilight is golden, provided it’s late in the evening.

A massive red-flagged wildfire is burning some five hours’ drive north of Edmonton, up at High Level. Evacuations have commenced. The conflagration is a bar bully, overheated and aggressive, and maybe tough enough to create its own micro-weather system. Consequently it’s lunchtime on Mars in the capital city, that’s the way the wind blows. God (or preferably a paramedic) help you should you suffer from a respiratory ailment. Emergency sirens have set the neighbourhood dogs baying.

I’m a jaded old ad man. I was skeptical about climate change initially because that phrase was a rebrand of global warming. Flag! How many times had advertising agencies and their clients got it wrong, tried to fix a non-existent bugaboo? Hello and goodbye New Coke or Coke II or whatever it was. I thought too that the political left, devoid of fresh policy ideas, had shifted its focus to panicky weather reports. Still, intelligent and qualified people were discussing climate change. And so I began to pay attention, investigate, because an uninformed opinion is a particularly cacophonic form of halitosis.

Reading science, even when it’s written in layman’s terms, is repetitive work, my lips move. However, the consequences of accelerated climate change are relatively easy to grasp: fire, flooding and death. You can’t get more basic than the Old Testament. The recently elected right-wing Alberta government achieved power by promising to undo all of the previous administration’s modest efforts to fight climate change. And so it seems that longer, hotter wildfire seasons are here to stay until there’s nothing left to burn.

Edmonton is drier than a Lutheran prayer meeting. Last week nearly saw my nightmare scenario unfold: a firebug loose in the nearby river valley, attempting to ignite catastrophe. The fire department’s response time was so swift it could only be measured by an atomic clock. Even still, embers wafted onto the cedar shingles of a wooden house that predates this postwar neighbourhood.

The goal of advertising is to raise your awareness, change your perception and influence your behaviour. Wildfires should have a similar effect on rational people. Now, all I see is fuel whilst strolling along our smoky, hazy streets. A decade of drought has slowly strangled many old growth trees; pests and disease are opportunistic. Private property is demarcated by wooden fences. Older homes are clad with fir or cedar planks, or wrapped with vinyl siding. Skinny new-builds on sub-divided lots seem mere inches apart, the barest legal minimum.

My advertising career ensured I was sleepless many nights over the course of 30 years. There were always deadlines, sometimes there were moral and ethical dilemmas and from time to time I had to make a really dumb idea manifest. I’m out of the game now but I still have recurring dreams about my work. In days like these as a retiree I feel as if I’m tossing and turning on a pyre.            

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Thursday, 16 May 2019

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Rumours of Spring Authenticated

Every year about this time Ann and I take a drive beyond the ever-spreading outskirts of the city. Our destination is always the same, J&C Gardens, a pacific greenhouse operation situated off Airport Road in the rapidly disappearing farmland southeast of Edmonton and the newly incorporated city of Beaumont.

Mill Woods, now a long established capital suburb, almost encroaches on the corporate limits of Beaumont, once a remote French-Canadian farming community. The demarcation is the Anthony Henday ring road. Beaumont’s population has more than doubled since 2006. It is now home to nearly 20,000 commuters. Its main street is faux quaint, anchored by a French restaurant that gourmands swear is worth the drive.

Beaumont’s most impressive and dominant structure is the lovely red brick Saint Vital Catholic church with its steeple and pristine white trim. It sits at the crest of a steep hill which descends to the older, other side of town and leads ultimately to J&C Gardens provided you take a left at Airport Road. The straight ahead vista through the windshield before the drop suggests 100-yard elongated shadows at noon even though nothing in the unfolding landscape is taller than a fencepost or a yellow traffic sign. The not so distant right showcases all the signs of progress: the oil patch-centric Nisku industrial area and its empty travel hotels, the grey ribbon of Alberta’s major highway, the new outlet mall with its prison guard towers, the even newer racetrack and casino and of course the corkscrew control tower of the Edmonton International Airport.

Saint Vital (Vitalis in Latin and men’s grooming) is not so obvious. St. Vital is a Winnipeg, Manitoba, city ward, originally a vibrant and now historic enclave of French-Canadian and Metis settlers adjacent to Fort Garry. It’s easy to infer how the name leapt further west over Prince Rupert’s Land to Beaumont. However, my searching of both the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia has dredged up eight Saint Vitals, five of whom were Italians and three of whom were martyred. Faith is a complex construct; said Saints Vitals are not be confused with Saint Vitus, he’s a wholly different dance.

The layout of J&C Gardens resembles a human hand, palm up. The main structure is the base which includes a splayed, possibly green, hitch-hiker thumb. The too many fingers, pale tents shaped like Nissen huts, extend from the perpendicular. We turn up every spring always hopeful that the dirt and gravel parking lot won’t be a shoe-sucking quagmire. Ann brings a list of her summer planting plans which also includes notations of past failures, flora to avoid. This is big, important and ultimately fleeting stuff, a lot like life.

I man the three-tiered blue steel cart. Ann examines the plants as if they were Lawren Harris paintings in the National Gallery; a book in a bookshop too, you know, you never purchase the one atop the stack, you have to dig. I’m the runner even if the process involves a pleasant and leisurely couple of hours. I move the potato vines and sunpatiens from tent to cart and everything must be just so because there’s more to come and the gartenmeister fuschia and the alyssum will need their spaces. Ann’s walking up and down the floral rows three inches off the sagging concrete. Man, she’s shimmying on an ether of scent and colour, even the neon geraniums are impressed. All you Saint Vitals, here’s a genuine sense of wonder, sense of joy.

And, believe it, there’s another attraction at J&C for me that just enhances a happy errand. There is a cat who hangs about the main greenhouse. Its fur is charcoal accented with some faint caramel markings resembling incomplete tiger stripes. I deserted Ann and our cart to go searching for my indifferent harbinger; we’ve been tight for years. I found the little soul curled up sound asleep in a picked-over black plastic tray of sweet peas.

Spring.

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Monday, 13 May 2019


HUMAN WRECKAGE

Game On!

The bathroom door isn’t ajar but the game’s afoot at the Crooked 9.

I don’t believe Ann finds me overly annoying to live with. I get things done though perhaps not as promptly as I’d promised. I don’t floss my teeth over simmering pots on the stove. I don’t clip my toenails in the dining room. I squeeze toothpaste tubes from the bottom only because Ann squeezes them from the middle but that’s an easy twice or thrice daily correction. We both make certain the cap is on when we’re done. And we agree that rolls of toilet tissue must be dispensed from the over-the-top position and not from the bottom – this is just plain common sense.

Ann has often remarked that our togetherness at this stage of our lives is “simple but complicated.” And so are the rules of our devious game. As with any human contest, the ultimate objective is victory; in our case that margin is measured in two-ply, four-inch squares. It’s so easy to change a roll of toilet paper. It takes ten seconds or less, you’re right there and there’s not much else to do.

I am a member of a music chat board based in the United Kingdom. Some years ago American singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow pronounced in the press that nobody on the planet should ever need to use more than three squares of toilet paper. A noble environmental sentiment since creatures equipped with lungs appreciate forests and trees are better left standing instead of being pulped into bleached tissue. Still, toilet paper is one heck of a modern convenience and manufactured from a renewable (albeit shrinking) resource. And as one poster speculated, it’s highly unlikely that Ms. Crow had ever consumed a curry takeaway after a night at the pub.

In our game, leaving a bare cardboard tube on the spool isn’t cricket. Skunk! Default! Game over. Cheaters never prosper. No, the strategic player will leave enough squares on the roll as to be useful to Ms Crow but not entirely useful to the average housemate. Talk about three sheets to the draft of the heating vent. Well played, Madam. As always.

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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A FAN’S NOTES

Hello Again

As I suspect is much the case with most music fans my tastes were formed in my teens and early twenties, directed or misdirected by the foundational noises crackling from the mono hi-fi of my childhood. I like to think that my tastes have not petrified because, man, a lot of great music has been released since Bob Dylan went to Jesus and Mick Jagger figured a solo career was a no-brainer. Still, I’m no schoolboy anymore and I know what I really like.

The somewhat imprecise measurement of time is one of humanity’s great achievements. Time is however a primitive element, like air, fire and water. As far as I can discern, no one of us can exist outside of it. Not even a boy prophet who once walked handsome and hot. Bruce Springsteen’s latest single is called ‘Hello Sunshine.’ It’s the first release from the forthcoming Western Stars. I’ve not been so jacked about an album teaser from the aging Boss since the post-9/11 ‘The Rising.’

Artists are no different than us, their fickle fans. They move through phases in their lives and careers much like we who exist in suburbia and book economy class. Except we tend to project our nostalgic aspirations on our heroes because recording another masterpiece after 45 years have burned down the road must be like riding a bicycle, right? In his autobiography Springsteen reveals his vexation with his audience’s indifferent reception of Wrecking Ball which he felt was the most accessible LP he’d waxed since Born in the USA. He and we had grown up and were worrying about different things. One of the few songs on that album that resonated with me was the tardy studio version of ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ which reminds me of ‘People Get Ready’ by the Impressions and, anyway, as a Canadian I’ve a thing for rolling steel both metaphorical and actual because the railroad stitched this fragile federation together.

‘Hello Sunshine’ is underpinned by a genteel hip-hop syncopation, maybe with a bit of a nod to the Tennessee Three – after all, everything in music as in life is connected. That percussive sound reminded me of Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia.’ Springsteen is the cosmic kid no longer, that hipster in the wife-beater and greasy leather jacket who somehow successfully blended Phil Spector, Dylan and Roy Orbison into something we’d never heard the likes of before. ‘Hello Sunshine,’ lush and shimmering, is his admitted attempt to echo classic Glen Campbell. And Campbell is probably one of those country artists who made Waylon and Willie shake their heads on the outskirts of Nashville and roll another number.

And yet. ‘Hello Sunshine’ is a thoughtful rumination on restlessness, depression and loneliness. Life. The hook, if there is one, suggests an illumination of the midnight soul and an openness to potential redemption: “Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?” Springsteen delivers the invitation with the same vulnerable intonation Campbell used interpreting the declarative Jimmy Webb lyric: “And I need you more than want you and I want you for all time.” I can already hear ‘Hello Sunshine’ coursing through speaker wires in the wee small, melancholy hours, lights out, bar open.

It’s dreadfully disconcerting to consider a new Springsteen album in the context of a late career renaissance. But here we are; time has exacted its toll. Springsteen remains one of my few ‘automatics,’ that is an artist whose work I will never fail to purchase. But I’m not that kid in his high school bedroom memorizing the words of the songs and the liner notes anymore. Somewhere along the line Springsteen stopped speaking to me and started preaching. I tuned out after one or two listens. ‘Hello Sunshine,’ as different as it is from anything he’s done, feels like we’ve resumed an unfinished conversation from long ago.      

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Thursday, 2 May 2019

CORRESPONDENCE: DEAR meGEOFF

Another Letter from Tony

Driving across the country during the unpredictable Canadian spring can pose a dilemma and cause some consternation. My old friend Tony Intas writes from Montreal where he eventually arrived safe and sound.

Dear Geoff,

Change is inevitable, I guess; except maybe when it comes to tires.

This past month, I did a very Canadian thing, kind of like what I did last year, only three months earlier. I drove from British Columbia to Quebec.

Last year, I did the drive in early July in a land yacht that was as comfortable as a couch to drive. I gave it to a relative when I arrived in Montreal, who would get more use out of it than I would in a city where I walk, use public transportation and bicycle along the many kilometers of designated paths as a matter of course.

This year, I did the drive in early April in my late Mother's car, which one of my nieces had used for the past six years, a gift from Grandma - which I had to pay her for. (Yeah, I know!!) Like Grandma, my niece had treated it as a real "Little Old Lady Sunday Drive" special. However, it had winter tires on, something I had never required on the Left Coast for the 25 years that I lived there.


When I started my trip it was decision time. When to change over to the regular tires that were in the trunk and back seat? Change them too early and I would struggle if caught in a snowstorm or dangerous winter driving conditions that might end me and my trip prematurely. Change them too late and any fuel economy I might gain from regular tires would be lost but I would FINALLY get rid of that "low tire pressure warning" chime and dashboard light that would greet me very hour or so while driving.

I checked the weather forecast for the Prairies, Northern Ontario and la Belle Province. Temperatures would be below freeing in the mornings and warm up to a few degrees above during the day. A very strong possibility of the dreaded black ice! I decided to err on the side of caution and kept the winter tires on when I began my trip.

Kilometer after kilometer I drove, the "low tire pressure warning" chime and light taunting me as if to say, "Don't be a wuss, live on the edge, roll the dice, change the tires." Kilometer after kilometer I drove on perfectly dry roads with snow banks on either side leaking rivulets of snowmelt. Would tomorrow be the day the winter tires would save me? The day after that? The next one? I rolled on, comforted that my heavy rubber on the road would save me from anything, warning chime and light be damned. Thank God for the "reset" button, otherwise it would have been like being subject to the infamous Chinese Water Torture. I played the "when will the chime and light come on again" game, day after day.

Over some 5000 kilometers I lost about 1.5 litres/100km in fuel economy because I waited until I could see that I was the only idiot on the Trans-Canada Highway who still had his winter tires on. Oh well, less in the Estate for my beneficiaries when my time comes. As for giving this car away to another relative (I have lots of them here) I am going to wait until it at least warms up a bit more before  I walk, use transit or cycle the streets of Montreal. I think I have earned that privilege.

AMDG

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, 23 April 2019

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Shattered

A full week has passed since Alberta’s provincial election. The sun has risen for seven conservative, erm, consecutive mornings. There are buds on the shrubs and trees. Tulips are up and the grass is greening. Almost half of the legal majority here in Alberta shriek that the tabulated result of 16 April is akin to the designed-to-fail musical in the Broadway farce The Producers: ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ These are the days of hysterical rhetoric.

Premier-elect Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP), was a cabinet minister in a since deposed Tory federal government, one micro-managed by control freak Stephen Harper. Kenney was educated by Jesuits. Ergo, ipso facto, he is a clever man. So clever in fact that the Mounties have opened a docket on him to discern how exactly he unified the right in Alberta utilizing divisive methods that likely prompted Russia’s Internet Research Agency to take notes. The UCP’s pithy campaign slogan was a mildly disturbing, jingoistic riff: Alberta Strong and Free. A Pink Floyd fan might think: ‘Us and Them.’

Alberta’s right is an uneasy alliance of two disparate groups, both of whom were shell-shocked by the unanticipated arrival of the 21st century. Rural voters believe their family values have been victimized by the culture wars. Corporate Alberta is reeling from slumping energy prices and the growing popular perception that the curtain is descending on the fossil fuel era. There was a time when these two shattered groups were represented by different political parties, one right leaning and the other right tipped over.

The loyal opposition-bound New Democratic Party (NDP) has made ignominious provincial history, now forever tainted as the first-ever one-and-done government of Alberta. The right’s rap against the NDP, despite bi-partisan admiration for its leader Rachel Notley who qualifies as a true statesman whatever the pronoun, was that the lefties were too inexperienced and too ineffectual to oversee Canada’s engine room. This sentiment is also the view from here vis-à-vis the Liberal government in Ottawa, minus the respect for the leader.

The main issue of the election was a magic bullet. Both major parties agreed the solution to the latest in a cycle of provincial busts was so simple as to be obvious: another, just one, well, maybe two pipelines. Poof! Hard times be gone. Why not deflect the raisin-dry pain of another hangover with a nice cold beer? The simple choice put to the electorate was mere methodology: NDP diplomacy or UCP belligerence? Of course, Alberta cannot impose her will upon a federal jurisdiction nor can she sway the policies of a global cartel comprised of other oil producing nations. But these are details best avoided on the hustings.

The nature of Canada’s federation, an undercurrent in the Alberta election, is tricky. There’s no actual free trade among its provinces and territories. Some regions are more prosperous than others. Aspersions, Newfie jokes, are easy to cast, conflict easy to sow, eh bien! Some citizens embrace the concept of a strong central government, others don’t. Alberta is no different than her sisters, twitterpated with mixed emotions. Happy to be here but hard done by, a sort of petulant child. Like the other provinces and territories Alberta wants to keep the reap of its good years for itself but expects hand outs when its harvest is thin. The UCP me-first re-imagining of Confederation is oxymoronic although it sure stokes the folks in the skyscrapers, coffee shops and curling rinks.

Here we are now. Some of us got our wish: nothing but skies as blue as the field on Alberta’s provincial flag. A Pink Floyd fan might think: “blue skies and pain.”

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Saturday, 20 April 2019

EAT ME

Slices of Life, Grilled

The late pop music genius Warren Zevon near the end of his life urged viewers of ‘Late Night’ and by extension his fans to “enjoy every sandwich.” I didn’t need to be reminded. I consider myself a fairly well-rounded person, which means I don’t particularly excel at anything but I do construct awesome sandwiches. And the funny thing about sandwiches is that if someone close to you, a friend or family member, makes you one, they taste just that much better even if the ingredients aren’t quite up to snuff to an extended pinkie sandwich snob.

“Oh dear, a sliced gherkin instead of a proper kosher dill for a crunchy accent? Tsk-tsk.”

My Nana Moore made other-worldly toasted cheese sandwiches with white POM Bakery bread, butter and Kraft Deluxe genuine (sort of) cheddar slices; I’ve never been able to replicate that taste. My Auntie Mag, a creative director at a major ad agency during the ‘Mad Men’ era, a painter and a part-time model insisted I eat exotic open-faced sandwiches. My old friend Tim’s mother made the best egg salad; perhaps Tim’s mom would prefer not to be remembered in this way but those delicious sandwiches meant their house was always open to a confused kid from a broken home. Here at the Crooked 9 I derive delight assembling breakfast or lunch sandwiches for Ann.

Beyond the domestic kitchens, the labour of love or affection, are the delicatessens, shops and taverns or pubs. As a traveller a long way from many places while sometimes haunting familiar turf, the available sandwiches have from time to time dictated the course of a day out. As they should. If Ann and I go back to Barbados the attraction might not be the Caribbean beach at Worthing so much as the potato roti further up the road. We have friends and relations in Ottawa but, you know, Nate’s on Rideau Street has closed its doors.

There are some great sandwiches to be had in Edmonton. Shawarma dressed with beet relish in the north end and worthy of a tourist visit in February, calzones or peri-peri drenched pork chops on floury Portuguese rolls along Alberta Avenue, donairs and falafel on Whyte. I’ve even had the cook at the Route 99 diner try to recreate a Montreal-style steak and pepperoni hero. The Steak Out on Parsons Road serves Lester’s smoked meat; the samosas at nearby Punjabi Sweets, a former Dairy Queen outlet judging from the building’s cookie-cutter, sun room design, are the size of baseballs but taste a whole lot better.

I don’t know much but I know sandwiches way beyond the Biblical sense: I eat them; I make them; I buy them. A Montreal high school chum with Edmonton connections was in town last weekend. Tony and I were football teammates but not close. We are Facebook friends and he has contributed a couple of pieces to meGeoff. These days, together, we are filling in a jigsaw puzzle that’s been missing pieces for some 40 years. My friend is a tad eccentric but I can compete and both of us still puff away on cigarettes. I was surprised to learn that he too had spent teenage summers living with his older brother in a downtown Edmonton highrise. I cannot comprehend how our paths never crossed on Jasper Avenue. The provincial capital was not a big city in those days. And so last Saturday afternoon I suggested to Ann and Tony that the three of us cross the river and head downtown for a sandwich.

“Let’s go to Teddy’s!”

Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually been in the core. I figured he might get a kick out of the abounding and disruptive change transforming this place: closed roads, cranes, deep holes surrounded by hoarding, scaffolding, giant tarps snapping like locker room towels on steel skeletons. Should all the work ever be completed, Edmonton, like our hometown following the grandiose delirium of the Expo ’67 and the ’76 Olympics, will be a sparkling new science fiction dream city. Also, I hadn’t eaten a corned beef sandwich at Teddy’s in 25 years.

Teddy’s made local headlines in 2018 when it finally reopened in the wake of a catastrophic flood and a year or so of reclamation. The restaurant is on the west end of Jasper and often in the shadow of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, its massive granite neighbour. Thirty years ago I used to reside nearby, a short-cut alley and a pedestrian crosswalk away. I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment and couldn’t stand the company. I had other hangouts besides Teddy’s but sometimes I had to eat and change the backdrop wall of booze.

Back then Teddy’s corned beef sandwiches were stacked liked the smoked meats back home I missed so much. It was crucial to mainline my annual sodium intake in one sitting. The potato salad was stellar but it had better be in a gussied up deli. The interior lighting was dim, everybody looked a little more attractive, even me; there was a lot of dark wood, the booths, the bar. What I loved about Teddy’s then (and now) was that there was only one. There were no spin off mall kiosks or plastic packaged, branded sliced brisket in grocery stores.

Forgive me while I remember. Tim (not Tony) and I walked down Simpson to Sherbrooke Street. If I recall correctly we were still in high school but seniors, getting on. My mother had remarried and I was now living in downtown Montreal proximate to the Golden Square Mile. I knew places where kids could disappear, nooks and crannies where we couldn’t be seen or heard. Tim and I smoked some hash on the brick plinth of Le Port-Royal, a non-descript grey tower, Ayn Rand’s wet dream of ‘Fountainhead’ architecture and consequently an aesthetic crime perpetuated upon all who ever had the misfortune of gazing upon it – a lot like downtown Edmonton in retrospect. We went into a depanneur to buy some Player’s cigarettes. One of us spotted tins of Tahiti Treat in a cooler with sliding glass doors. Oh boy! Neither of us had enjoyed the red, fruity soda since we’d been nippers taught by nuns.

We found a bench, lit smokes and cracked open our cans. You know, when your mouth gets dry, you’re plenty high. We guzzled our Tahiti Treats. Silence in the company of a good friend has never bothered me. But this particular instance, this vacuum punctuated by many swallows, tooth rotting, tongue smacking, Jell-O saliva, was a life lesson. Tim coined a phrase that afternoon on the bench: “Tahiti Treat Syndrome.” There’s no going back to whatever it was; even if something hasn’t changed it can never match a sepia memory.

The new Teddy’s features a discreet corner of depravity. I’ve read that a fruit machine can be worth as much as $50,000 in additional revenue to the establishment that rents it. I guessed there were about a dozen video lottery terminals within staggering distance of the bar and bank machine, but cordoned off, mind. My despair at this state of affairs was alleviated somewhat by the glistening, sparkling men’s room; I know what really matters to me now. There were a few day drinkers at the bar watching television.

We selected a window table with a Jasper view in the empty dining area. Tony ordered an omelette from the All Day Breakfast menu. Ann chose a Reuben. I ordered a corned beef on rye, I had to. The sandwiches’ fillings did not appear to be as generous as my memory suggested they would be, the bread slices were thicker. Still, more often than not Ann and I remind each other too late that we should’ve shared a meal and eaten the plate charge, but some old habits are so hard to break. My Nana surmised that I packed a dozen toasted cheese triangles into a hollow leg. Auntie Mag learned that four open-face sandwiches merely equated to two proper ones in my book. I remember going into Tim’s house: “Mom? I’ve brought two people home for lunch today, Geoff and Moore.”

Part of the fading, renovated charm of Teddy’s is that there’s just the one, an iota of legacy in what is still a young city. It’s also fair to compare Teddy’s to the last inglorious days of Ben’s Delicatessen in Montreal; it’s not what it was: Tahiti Treat Syndrome. Maybe the fruit machines will keep Teddy’s afloat although that might be a losing bet. Last Saturday afternoon I was the youngest patron in a crowd thinner than Teddy’s corned beef sandwiches. I’m 59.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

SAINTS PRESERVE US

A Page Ripped from History

If a province could express its innermost thoughts

Dear Diary,

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I can’t remember the good side though, the left or the right? Definitely not feeling strong and free today. Not exactly at my best what with the election coming up next week.

There’s no weed left in the pot shops. Not that I could afford any since Quebec stole all my money. Maybe I should cut back on the stuff? It makes me feel alienated and paranoid. That’s probably why Baby Trudeau legalized it; weed’s just another Ottawa-led conspiracy. Think there’s a couple of bottles of British Columbia wine in the cellar but I’ll be damned if I even use that swill for drain cleaner. Probably laced with strychnine anyway.

Enemies, shadowy forces, are everywhere. I feel like Julius Caesar or Macbeth or somebody. Maybe not, is the Bard even in the K-12 curriculum anymore? Too many triggers for the namby-pamby socialists, I guess. And don’t start me talking about those foreign-funded climate change activists, a fifth column of agitators. That reminds me: I should open a couple of windows and change the air in here.

Jesus, my Lord and Saviour, I feel like crap. How old am I? That’s right, 114 now. Been doing the same thing over and over for too many years to count and I keep expecting a different result. The definition of insanity, they say. Who are they, I’d like to know? They know who they are though. Watching every move I make, everything I do, casting stones in my passage. Maybe I should see a doctor? Nah, it could take months to get in.

Oh, lordy, I’ve never felt so low. What do I have to do today? Better snap a Klondike Days garter, give ‘er, get ‘er done. Is it too early for a shot of orange juice with my eponymous vodka? Chase it with a craft brew. I better make a list. Got to follow up those quotes for the new refinery; note to self: Do not hire workers from Saskatchewan! Wonder if I was drunk-shopping when I bought all those tanker cars? There’s only so much track capacity. Too late now, as long as they get over the Rockies without derailing, it’s all good.

What else? ‘Lake of fire’ social issues; for God’s sake, it’s century 21, get a grip. First Nations, alas I can’t be as glib about something equally complex but I do know that public and patronizing references to Treaty Six land ain’t getting the job done. Jobs, Diary, I’ve got to diversify the economy, change my routine, ditch the boom and bust cycles that never fail to drag me down when the wheel turns. Got to admit, that rush, wow, those highs are pretty high even if Quebec and lazy Maritimers get all the money. That place, the East, I don’t know, makes me feel like a rube at its poker table, you know? Instead of betting the house on a pipeline, perhaps I should introduce a modest harmonized sales tax? Christ. Maybe I should see a skull doctor about that bogeyman in my closet? It’s possible he’s one of them, works for Trudeau.

I must confess, Diary, sometimes when I play an Ian Tyson album I get nostalgic for the good old days. Sure a depression was sandwiched between two world wars but we all pulled together. We knew who they were back then even if we couldn’t recognize ourselves. Whereas on a day like today I just feel like quitting, packing it in. But you know me, gung-ho, can-do. I’ll power through this blue phase as I’ve done so many times before. Anyway, if you live in the past you just end up coyote carrion.

Thanks for listening, Diary. Time to jump in the shower, clean up, reset my head and get on with things. I can do this. See you tomorrow.

Alberta
XOX

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

SAINTS PRESERVE US

All the World (and the Community League Hall) Is a (Political) Stage

Word spread through the neighbourhood like orange sparks leaping a boreal firebreak. Eyebrows were raised at the Crooked 9. Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, was due to speak in an hour’s time at our community league hall on this final day of March, a lazy Sunday. Ann and I decided to stroll over and listen; we were expecting a town hall discussion: questions and on-message answers.

The province’s spring election is slated for the third Tuesday in April, about two weeks from now. This one doesn’t feel like a dutiful exercise, a mere democratic drill. The good old days, whatever they were, will not return and the future, of Alberta and perhaps even Confederation, decades’ hence, does not bode well should the present be mismanaged. Fossil fuels, carbon levies and climate change mix like oil and water. There’s a lot on the line in this province at the moment and the question is which way we will teeter-totter on our buckling sawhorse, regression or progression?

Our community hall because of its ease of accessibility and surrounding landscaping has multiple entrances. Ann and I went in through a rear door, inadvertently circumventing a screening by New Democratic Party (NDP) operatives. Neighbours inside said they’d been quizzed as to whether or not they were “friends of Rachel.” Looking around, I immediately understood why.

The front of the room was occupied by the press, newspapers and networks. Ms Notley’s mark was taped on the floor, a narrow T of green. Teleprompters were positioned to its left and right. The back of the room was the choir the premier was to preach to though she’d be facing the media’s cameras and iPhones. Her backdrop was a diverse and inclusive central casting crowd three or four deep, some of whom held orange campaign signs, just so.

The middle of the room was just a little too precious. Four Friendly Giant tables seated maybe two dozen children. They were hard at work with coloured pencils and felt markers. The 11”x17” sheets they filled in were not pictures but large type: FIGHTING FOR ALBERTANS; FIGHTING FOR OUR SCHOOLS; FIGHTING FOR OUR KIDS. RACHEL NOTLEY FIGHTING FOR YOU. Party minions clad in orange NOTLEY CRUE t-shirts then taped the finished masterpieces to the painted drywall. Beyond the calculated campaign imagery there’s a whiff of Big Tobacco and Big Booze: Get ‘em young.

Considering the often hysterical tone of what passes for political discourse in Alberta, especially on social media, security was surprisingly light. Two uniformed police constables were stationed outside the hall. They easily outnumbered the lone protester. The premier’s personal bodyguard was a stern looking fellow who resembled the actor in those ‘Transporter’ action flicks. His gaze swept over me a few times and he talked into his hand. I felt that irrational and sarcastic panic I get at airports when I’m randomly selected for extra frisking wash over me: “Of course I have Semtex residue on my fingertips. Who doesn’t?”

The event, well-timed for the start of the new week’s news cycle, was the release of the NDP’s complete election platform. Fighting words. When the party obtained power four years ago the NDP was handed four decades’ worth of shredded Tory documents and the devastating wildfire up north in Fort McMurray. Oh, and the House of Saud left the tap running. Contrary to the fears of the lunatic fringe the Notley government has not devolved Alberta into a failed, socialist state. The premier is principled and pragmatic. Ms Notley has always struck Ann and me as person who views public service as a calling rather than a career despite the manipulative trappings of modern politics. We admire her; Ms Notley won’t pick a fight but nor will she back down from one.

In my view, it takes two consecutive majority terms for any one party to put its ideological stamp on its realm. Aside from the global crisis of climate change, Alberta has a major problem: one resource and a single customer whose demand for our resource is rapidly declining. The conundrum is that the exploitation of our main resource, while great for the economy, accelerates climate change.

In its bid for re-election the NDP promises Albertans decency and common sense. Times are hard but spending on daycare, health care, education and infrastructure must continue. The provincial economy desperately needs to diversify in order to extract Alberta from the ever spinning hamster wheel of the boom-and-bust energy industry. Meanwhile, the mixed blessing of the tar sands must be leveraged in a responsible manner. No argument here.

Every detail was orchestrated to feel oh so right in our modest community league hall last Sunday. And why shouldn’t the most capable politician in Alberta control her message and her image? It’s all in the game. Yet public opinion polls suggest the Notley regime is doomed come election day. Catastrophe in its many backward forms looms even as the future hangs in the balance. The kids with their coloured pencils need to gestate for another 10 or 15 years before they can help turn this whole damn thing around.

Friday, 29 March 2019

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Portland, Oregon

Ann sat at the kitchen counter contemplating the daily squares of the More Time Moms Family Organizer calendar on the wall above the erasable magnetic bulletin board. Outside, February was crawling over shards of shattered ice into its fifth week.

She said, “We’ve got to get out of this place.” I agreed. I thought travelling for an early and extra week of spring was a great notion. Ann asked me where we might like to go, somewhere close, somewhere south and west of Edmonton. Ann flung a figurative dart at a mental map: “Portland?”

Powell’s City of Books, I thought, the mother overload. I once spent a lot of time and money at the Powell’s on the south side of Chicago by the university, a multi-level warren of shelves, but I’d heard shoppers required a map for the mother store in Portland because it’s storeys of stories, an entire city block of books. Certain niggling gaps in our library needed to be plugged. It occurred to me too that possibly, maybe I could shopput a copy of my latest novel onto Powell’s shelves and wouldn’t hilarity ensue if I got caught doing that?

I said, “Let’s.”

The unofficial motto of the actual city is Keep Portland Weird. That pithy tourist t-shirt slogan while true is also something of a slight as it suggests a laissez-faire attitude on the part of Portland’s civic administration which pretty much seems to have got things right for its 650,000 citizens. The inland port, once the terminus of the Pioneer Trail, is divided east and west by the Willamette River which meets the Columbia about ten miles downstream. The Pacific coast is another 50 miles distant. Downtown is on the west bank of the Willamette. By my calculation its core stretches from the Portland State University campus in the south north to the funkier Pearl District. The scale is human and the place is designed for people.

For a pedestrian Portland is Nancy Sinatra’s boots. The west waterfront is an extensive and scenic ribbon of manicured green. The core is peppered with parks or greenways, some of which extend for blocks, and public squares. Bike lanes are painted on the roads and green signs indicate skateboard routes. Commuters are served by three trams which run in loops, light rail MAX trains which reach all quadrants of the city and extend to the airport. All these tracks are criss-crossed by busses. Visiting riders can utilize the entire system all day long for just $5.

Ann and I stayed downtown on Clay Street, steps away from Portland State, the city’s arts district and the great stone edifice that is City Hall. The Hotel Modera is retro-hip, a refurbished travel lodge evoking the days of land yachts with fly-away fins and lots of chrome. Its earthy two-tone hallways were dimly lit. The carpet pattern suggested enlarged fragments of broken records. From time to time we felt as if we’d walked into the nightmare sequence of a German silent film.

That disorienting cinematic effect was often enhanced by extensive sampling of local micro-brews. On our second visit to the Yard House on Fifth Avenue, I was cavalier, I ordered a Proletariat Red. The establishment’s literature boasts its collection of beers on tap is the world’s largest. The bartender said they didn’t have that one. I was mildly mystified because I knew I’d enjoyed a couple somewhere in the vicinity, somewhere within staggering distance.

Ann and I were enchanted by the barroom of Jake’s Famous Crawfish. The fridges were wood framed with see-through doors, misty with condensation. We were detective noir characters, me and my moll. A man wearing a mesh ball cap who was part of a party of three waiting for a table in the restaurant ordered a Bud Light. The bartender straightened his two-button white waistcoat and stared at his customer; eventually he sneered, “Really.” The blue tap was at hand but swill was not served. About 15 minutes later another drinker sidled into the recently evacuated space beside Ann and me. He couldn’t decide what he wanted. I suggested a Bud Light.

Years ago when I was a university student the syllabus for one of my English courses included two works by James Joyce: ‘Stephen Hero’ and ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,’ the former being a first draft of the latter. The professor noted that the main character also appears in the pub scene in Joyce’s masterpiece ‘Ulysses.’ He said ‘Ulysses’ was a problematic book: “I either mention it in passing or we devote an entire semester to it.” I cannot remember the gentleman’s name but I could picture him as we stood before 1005 West Burnside. Powell’s is problematic: you either walk on by like Dionne Warwick or like the Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show, you spend some time together.

Ann had a list on her iPhone. I had a paper list in my pocket and a second one from an envious friend. We browsed the green, blue and gold rooms before agreeing to split up. I went upstairs into the red room and then like a magpie in the land of shiny objects wandered into the purple room to examine the books about baseball. Immersed in that aisle I remembered what it was like to collect O-Pee-Chee cards: “Got it. Got it. Got it.” I did eventually purchase a Modern Library edition of Raymond Chandler whose prose both created and transcended his genre of detective noir. My other find was a Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick whose groundbreaking short stories and novels introduced an everyman, workaday element to science fiction. I purposely avoided Powell’s orange room where the music books are shelved.

Down by the river in a neighbourhood promoted as historic called Yamhill, Ann and I stumbled upon Second Avenue Records. We flipped through the bins of new and used vinyl. I was a Bruce Springsteen character in the shop, not a boy prophet walking handsome and hot so much as wanting it all or nothing at all. I didn’t possess the pre-scribbled constraint of a list nor did I ask the two hipsters behind the counter if they, like Powell’s, shipped large orders. I was afraid the answer might be yes. Ann and I lingered but not for very long.

When we travel Ann and I habitually establish an unofficial headquarters outside of our accommodations. Riding the B tram we spotted an inviting dive on Montgomery, a short walk from our hotel, where the tracks begin to twist down toward the Willamette and the bridge over to its industrialized east bank. Schmizza Pub & Grub had picnic tables outside arrayed by the rails and they were rife with drinkers, smokers and dog owners. We visited three times. The craft beer was palatable and the pizza was delicious.

But something was bugging me. I’d noticed a corporate lunch hour Schmizza sign downtown on a street named for a dead president near the Court House. I collared our Montgomery manager and asked him if there was a legal conflict what with two such disparate pizza parlours using the same name. He said, “It’s a franchise.” I’d already investigated the borderline sanitary toilets; I looked around at the shabby décor and at the regulars, skaters under slouch toques, eccentrics under fedoras or baseball caps, who owned their barstools. I said, “Really?” I thought, ‘The franchise fee must run around $5 and the brand manager is either a burnt-out case or dead.’ He swept his arm toward the beer taps and the shelves of liquor, “My difference is the wall. I don’t really pay attention to head office, they leave me alone.”

Unfortunately, a couple of more important things are neglected in Portland. Nestled between Chinatown and the Old Town and within a triangle whose vague points are the Greyhound station, the University of Oregon team store and Voodoo Doughnut (sweet-toothed doughphiles swear Blue Star Donuts is better) is a skid row the likes of which I’ve never before encountered where I’ve lived or visited. Portland’s homeless population, some of it nomadic given the temperate climate, seems alarmingly disproportionate to the city’s size. People wrapped in crusty tarps and filthy sleeping bags live under bridges, on sidewalk corners, on the greenways and in central Pioneer Square. Portland is justifiably renowned for its food truck scene and vibrant weekend market but eating and drinking on the street in front of the hungry and the desperate strikes me as inadvertent taunting.

If the homeless are invisible to locals, so too is life in the state prior to the United States of America’s westward expansion, its manifest destiny. The various public statues and especially their inscriptions constitute something of a whitewash of history; the first settlers seemingly encountered nothing and no one in the timber except critters. Those curious about First Nations’ history in the territory will have to dig a little deeper than the Wells Fargo museum – which was closed during our stay but apparently still tallying up visitors. The Oregon Historical Society’s main exhibit examined the wondrous legacy of beer.

Friday, 22 March 2019


SAINTS PRESERVE US

Big Old Jet Airliners

The following is a transcript of a telephone call that may have been recorded for training purposes.

Boeing: Good afternoon, Boeing Aerospace internal sales, how may I help you?

meGeoff: Hello, I’m the CFO of meGeoff Air. I wish to purchase a schwack of planes, please, an entire fleet.

Boeing: We’re currently running a special on our 737 Max 8s, factory pricing this week only and easy terms.

meGeoff: Great! I’ll take two, please.

Boeing: I thought you said you wanted a fleet?

meGeoff: I do and two jets should suffice.

Boeing: I’m not sure I understand.

meGeoff: We’re a startup, an ultra low cost carrier. Our business model is simple. We offer tourists one way trips to sun destinations but only during hurricane season or times of extreme civil unrest. Then we hand things over to the Canadian government to extract its citizens from disaster zones.

Boeing: I see… so, two Max 8s then.

meGeoff: That’ll do it. When can I expect delivery?

Boeing: We happen to have a few on the lot at the moment, so immediately.

meGeoff: Great! Let’s get this deal done!

Boeing: You’ll be wanting wings with those Max 8s?

meGeoff: Erm, you mean like hot wings, bar food?

Boeing: No, no, actual wings for lift and flight. They’re extra.

meGeoff: Erm, yes, I suppose I’ll need four of them because meGeoff Air won’t fly on a wing and a prayer! Get it?

Boeing: Very clever, sir. Ailerons with those?

meGeoff: Ailerons? What are those? Are they essential?

Boeing: Sort of, yes. I don’t mean to overwhelm you with jargon but ailerons are those flap thingys, very handy for banking and turning.

meGeoff: Are they extra?

Boeing: Yes. It’s normal too for wings to have turbines, engines. Shall I put you down for four of those as well? They pair well with ailerons.

meGeoff: Erm, ah, I guess so. Oh! I just remembered! Can you remove the toilets and cram as many inhumanly narrow seats as possible into the cabin? I'll forego the legroom.

Boeing: Of course sir, that’s standard.

meGeoff: It’s been a pleasure doing business with you!

Boeing: Oh, we’re not quite done yet, sir. I suspect you’ll want landing gear? Wheels, the whole works?

meGeoff: Is all that stuff extra?

Boeing: Yes, but they do facilitate take off and touchdown.

meGeoff: Better put me down for two sets.

Boeing: Nose wheels too? They’re extra.

meGeoff: Of course they are. Throw them in. Is that it?

Boeing: Some airlines find the operator’s manual handy.

meGeoff: Don’t tell me, they cost extra.

Boeing: They do. But honestly, sir, I counsel my customers not to bother with that additional expense as it’s significant. Max 8s pretty much fly themselves and anyway, nobody ever reads the instructions for anything.

meGeoff: Isn’t that the truth? I can barely turn on the television at home. So, yeah, let’s skip the manuals.

Boeing: I’ll complete the paperwork and forward it on to you for your signature. Boeing Aerospace thanks you for your business. Good luck with meGeoff Air! And as we like to say around here, ‘Safe travels!’

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

SAINTS PRESERVE US

A New World Order Man

I write today in praise of Elon Musk. In my estimation he’s right up there with Sir Hugo Drax, raking the moon.

Elon’s biographical facts as entered in Wikipedia may very well be true. He is a citizen of the globe who holds three passports. He is a billionaire some 20 times over. He ranks number 21 on the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people.

He dreams of changing the very course of humanity. Those of us who cannot join his quest to colonize Mars will at least be able to drive electric cars on Earth even as Elon launches Tesla sedans into space on Falcon rockets.

He makes cryptic, drug-addled public pronouncements. His tweets are rash and unfiltered. He is snippy and dismissive on quarterly calls with business analysts. Why, the fools don’t recognize his genius; they’re as blind and ignorant as those lawyers clogging up the works at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What’s not to love about a rich and powerful, and apparently unstable, megalomaniac who builds rockets and was blessed with an actual birth name worthy of a fictional James Bond villain?

I adore you, Elon Musk; I want to be one of your henchmen. Please send me a snug-fitting spandex SpaceX onesie, New Era logo cap and ray gun.

Monday, 11 March 2019


SAINTS PRESERVE US

The Condiment of Revelations

When a multi-national food or beverage company can’t leave well enough alone, it’s called a category extension. The resulting brand mutant is always touted as incredibly convenient to harried gatekeepers – those who make the purchasing decisions in a grocery store on behalf of their households. Consequently, the average shopper roams aisles lined with shelves arrayed with some wrong-headed and gut-wrenching choices.

Sometimes I think chemists could be more gainfully employed other than experimenting with synthesizing processes to swirl jam or honey into peanut butter jars, infusing lime flavouring into cola or dusting potato chips with powdered sour cream and onion dip. The marketing implications are insulting: I’m too lazy or stupid to open two jars to make a quick sandwich; I’m too lazy or stupid to slice a lime to spritz my soda; I’m too lazy or stupid to open a tub of chip dip. Those are valid corporate assumptions because these days we buy back our own free tap water repackaged in attractively tinted plastic bottles. We’ll buy anything. Conversely, “What the fuck are they thinking?” is also a fair question on our part.

3G is not archaic Huawei telecommunications hardware. It is a private-equity firm based in Brazil whose lean and young staff came of age watching slasher flicks. In Canada it has destroyed incalculable brand equity of the Tim Hortons coffee chain by cutting corners, raising prices and alienating franchisees. Globally it’s the stingy chaperone of the corporate fiasco that is Kraft Heinz. This shotgun marriage of processed food behemoths has cost the reputation of modern capitalist wizard Warren Buffett (Jimmy’s cousin) some $3-billion. The combined value of the two companies pre-merger and the new entity’s value following 3G’s gutting are like a Led Zeppelin song, they remain the same.

The solution pitched to Wall Street analysts and shareholders is a bastard condiment. Mayochup will refloat the ship, right it and turn the whole damn thing around. Mayonnaise and ketchup should never mingle unless they accidentally encounter each other on a hamburger, let alone be glopped together in a single squeeze bottle. Mayochup is not without misguided precedent because somebody in research and development once thought a compound called dijonnaise was an inspired idea, innovative even.

There are fundamental flaws in the concept of pre-packaged convenience. Logic dictates that should the consumer desire a combination of condiment flavours with their food, both the retailer and the supplier would prefer they’re acquired in multiple transactions at the cash register rather than as a single purchase for less money. The reactionary whiff of desperation around mayochup suggests something else: the post-war hegemony of big brands is past its sell-by date. I would argue that End Times loom for the likes of Kraft Heinz simply because of time itself, that notorious thief always advancing up Main Street restlessly going from house to house, creeping through garden gates.

My mother died on the first of the year. Honest to God, one of my fondest memories of Mom is her making Kraft Dinner for me when I was a kid, Mom gagging over the saucepan the moment she opened the pouch of processed cheese food powder and inhaled its reek. She called what are now known as Kraft Singles “rat trap cheese.” In those days I enjoyed Heinz tinned spaghetti as a hot lunch on a cold winter’s day. Mom made wonderful egg salad sandwiches but never with “disgusting” Kraft Miracle Whip salad dressing. The only cookbook in the house described lasagna as “exotic foreign fare.”

I was born in February 1960, about six weeks into the sociological cut-off of the baby boom. As I aged and my palate became more sophisticated I shed the brands that fed me; nostalgia doesn’t taste so good. And so I harbour no warm and fuzzies for Kraft Heinz products unless they’ve overstayed their welcome in the refrigerator. Even worse for the conglomerate, my cohort and I are getting on and as such are attempting to eat food we perceive as better for us; we who are imprisoned in our sagging, deteriorating bodies. Oh, by the way, we’re dying off too - maybe because we ate their products growing up. The grand old brands will soon follow us down.

These are days of mergers and acquisitions, immediate supply chains, software solutions and synergies. I pay attention to the advertising and business news but I’ve little clue as to who owns what company or which brand anymore. 3G for instance owns Tim Hortons (at this moment) but operates the stores through a middle party called Restaurant Brands International (RBI). Timmy’s used to be owned by the Wendy’s hamburger chain which is now the property of fuck if I know.

Classic brands, whether on the shelf or on the street, have become commodities to be bought and sold. Ever-changing ownership dilutes their heritage, uniqueness, and ultimately their quality. Warren Buffett could be almost old enough to have trod the Earth with H.J. Heinz and so I wonder if he longs for a simpler and sepia era, perhaps one with a reddish tint, those halcyon days when a mere 57 varieties of pickles and food products would suffice.

Signs of the times seem to indicate too that wobbly boomers have not been automatically replaced on the conveyor belt by subsequent generations of customers. There’s a righteous cynical sabot in the gears of mass production. It took a while but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the message of the anti-globalization protests which coloured the final years of the last century has resonated with today’s newly minted adults. The new rank and file refuses to abide by the established consumer canon. The rules of engagement have changed.

Younger people today aren’t buying into the old ways. They will not be patronized. Corporations are now being called to account for their ethics and business practices; profit itself isn’t criminal but the exponential cost of a healthy margin to the well-being of the environment and the citizens of the planet might be. These youthful aficionados of Amazon and apps, such a sought-after demographic, aren’t shopping Main Street for anything, especially goop like mayochup. Their embrace of the digital marketplace has in turn fostered the growth of boutique brands who promote a more authentic experience to intrigued consumers; a promise of the real, a promise most major brands cannot match.          
The Kraft and Heinz boardroom coupling has birthed what’s known as a nothing burger in contemporary slang. And what a whopper it is. There’s no other way to garnish this. A few squirts of maychup ain’t the fixin’s required.

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