Sunday, 29 September 2013


A Navigator’s Notes

PARKSVILLE, B.C. – Looking across the Strait of Georgia toward the foggy mainland. The distant clouds and mountains are distinct muddy layers of colour that shift shades in the expanding angle of the rising sun. In the immediate vicinity the tide is slowly reclaiming the grey sand flats, wapping closer to the green seaweed boundary on the beach. The shorebirds are noisy, maybe not completely indifferent to the cycles of the sea. It’s a little too chilly for just a faded, old and threadbare t-shirt. The black coffee in the plain white cup cools quickly. Its steam merges with the morning’s mist. The beige plastic Adirondack chair is deep and a bit of a bastard to clamber out from as morning stiffness now seems to be mostly confined to my knees and other previously broken parts more often than not. Anyway, there’s the weight of a paperback on my lap too.

The novel is Robert Penn Warren’s ‘All The King’s Men,’ a saga of southern American politics during The Great Depression. You can smell the characters’ sweat and their cigarette and booze breaths while they stump under oppressive purple skies. The edition I’m engrossed in is a Bantam book and the Pulitzer Prize winner’s 42nd printing. I know my nephew bought it in a shop in Charlottetown, P.E.I. last August for four more dollars than the 1978 cover price. I know the book printed and shipped from somewhere in the United States. I know the book has traversed Canada and is now on another island off another coast. I know the book has come a long way from many places. As all of us have.

I was reminded of this simple observation exactly one week before in a Husky gas station in Edson, AB. On the counter, front and centre in a two-tiered Bic display, a Montreal Expos lighter. I must have it. Even as I reach for it I remember going to the ballpark in my hometown with my friends. I remember our noble goal of guzzling nine beers through nine innings of baseball. I remember the legend of my old friend Jacques who went 14 innings against the San Diego Padres before he ran out of money. Probably not a bad thing as that particular game went some 19 or 20 innings.

The Expos of course decamped to Washington, D.C. a decade ago. But during their last dying gasps in Montreal they became the major league real life equivalent of Philip Roth’s fictional Port Ruppert Mundys: homeless; a Canadian team playing out of San Juan, PR with last ups so far off the continent they needed a map of the National League East.

There’s nothing quite like a map to remind you that you’ve come from afar and are a long way from many other places. There’s an open tin of pilsener placed discreetly in the lee of the front wheel. A Canadian Motor Association roadmap is spread out across the hood of the silver sports car. You can’t help but feel a little like Rommel, not the sixties-era Coronation Street cat but the German General; an objective has been achieved and the next one further up the Yellowhead is Blue River, B.C.

Well, you roll into that next map dot circle in your kubelwagon, white silk scarf flapping and goggles up on your field grey forage cap, leading a mechanized column of troops and there’s… nothing. You march into the Sandman Inn to dictate the terms of surrender but no one’s at the desk. You strut next door to The Grill brandishing your swagger stick but the waitress is doing double duty as the cook. She’s too busy although only two tables are occupied by four people (one of whom is trimming her nails, alternating biting and clipping as her husband seeks the wisdom of the saints from underneath the dress of a Marilyn Monroe picture hanging by the toilets) but the fountain Pepsi needs some CO2. The vinyl menu sleeve’s a bit sticky and you wonder in a place like this, that’s not really a place at all, why there are donairs and gyros to be had at a reasonable price. Greek salad too.

At this juncture you don’t need a map to tell you that you’re miles from nowhere. Time has come to follow another highway that leads somewhere else after you twist out the kinks from your back. Stretch and feel the pain of a life lived ‘til now. No glamour, no glory here, just scrubby grass and gravel and a disconcerting sense of isolation and distance, of being a long way from anywhere with miles to go.

Monday, 16 September 2013


Junk Food Science

A Postmedia News story in this morning’s Edmonton Journal reports on new research by a team at Newfoundland’s Memorial University which attempts to measure the propensity of food addiction (if it exists) in Canada. Food addiction (if it exists) may also be a contributing factor to obesity - now there’s a tenuous limb to waddle out on. The study’s sole participant was one J. Wellington Wimpy who told researchers, ‘I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.’

Food addiction did not exist when I was growing up; of course I was eating my mother’s cooking. Pork chops made from real Corinthian leather. Around 1976 or so I radically revamped my diet and began eating mostly beer. Beer is right up there with the litany of great human achievement, from the invention of the wheel, the husbandry of fire, the concept of the arch with its unique structural strength, movable type and the steam engine. Beer isn’t addictive at all although it tastes good, is full of vital nutrients and acts as a reliable coping medicine.

The research seems to suggest that certain foods have an effect on food addicts (if they exist) similar to a cocaine high. The scientists did not specify what these foods are but I need to know. Maybe I can buy a pallet at Costco and circumvent the genuine ‘Cocaine Blues.’

The Postmedia News reporter also alluded to a strong and pervasive odor of pot in the researchers’ lab. In what perhaps may be related news, a spokesperson for the Sobey’s grocery chain today announced that there’s not a single Oreo cookie to be had in all of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


The Good Old Hockey Game

The sports sections of this morning’s newspapers were hockey, hockey, hockey. Never mind that the CFL is past mid-season, tomorrow is the main game slate of week two of the NFL and baseball is gearing up for another of its potentially legendary Octobers. NHL players have reported to their various training camps. Exhibition games are underway. The break from the Bruins – Blackhawks final last June until now has been shorter than most product and service warranties or probationary periods for new employees.

In Canada and especially across the Prairies, ‘Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’ This is us, bundled up in a winter country.

There are problems with the state of the game. The ultra-violence at pro levels would astound even Alex and his droogs. It is an expensive sport to play and once the kids are outfitted the tyranny of time and distance for parents with players in local leagues reaches abstract sci-fi proportions. The hype over the men’s Olympic roster invitees playing a bit of ball hockey in their custom branded t-shirts in Calgary was patently absurd. The between periods panels on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada are smugly infuriating and impossible to sit through. Eight to 10 teams in the NHL should be quietly taken out back and shot. Lock and load. Empty the Glock’s clip. The Montreal Canadiens have not won it all since 1993 – and if you’re at all concerned about the Stanley Cup eventually making its way back to Canada, the Habs are the only franchise that matter.

Even as the annuals in the garden wither and the nights grow longer and chillier, there is good news. Bobby Orr’s autobiography is due next month. Here’s hoping it’s not a sermon but a glimpse into the psyche of the greatest player there ever was. I want to know what the game meant to him, what it was like for him to come down from some mythical higher league and be able to alter the tempo of a tilt at will, speed it up or slow it down.

Our own uptight and paranoid prime minister will also release a hockey book this fall. The good news is that’s coauthored by The Globe’s Roy MacGregor who co-wrote ‘Home Game’ with Ken Dryden. The other positive is that Stephen Harper’s book on the early history of hockey will likely be far more interesting than his inevitable political memoir. The Reform Party was a bit of an embarrassing drag.

Meanwhile, closer to home, my Sher-Wood P.M.P.s have been moved upstairs. My skates are over at United Cycle for sharpening. The outdoor ice is coming soon enough. And out there, despite 53 years of a mismanaged life and 35 years of heroic cigarette and beer intake, alone on the sheet I remain the amalgamation of the holy trinity of Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur. The. Greatest. Ever. I look down on the Rocket and Gordie Howe and sneer. Trouble is some other folk will turn up to play shinny. There will be an actual game with opposing, better players. Like composite sticks, fantasies and illusions can shatter so easily in the cold.

Friday, 13 September 2013

A meGeoff exclusive! Leaked Canadian Tire :30 TV commercial.
SCENE: The wide open entrance and interior of an immaculate two-car garage. There’s not a spec of dust on the floor, not even an eye dropper drip-sized oil stain. The walls are festooned with sporting equipment, Mastercraft tools and Motomaster automotive products. An immense metallic cube on castors quietly hums, emitting tennis ball green pulses of light. It is plugged into a wall socket and attached to a garden hose. Fiddling with its control panel is… the Canadian Tire Guy! – resurrected from years of marketing exile and nights of long despair spent drinking and ruminating with the Maytag Repairman, the oddly sinister Burger King and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Canadian Tire Guy’s Spouse, her eyes full of adoration, looks on approvingly. They are obviously quietly content being in each other’s company. Their reveries are interrupted by their Hapless Inquisitive Neighbour.
Hapless Inquisitive Neighbour: Hi! Have you been on holidays? (Nods toward metallic cube.) What’s that?
Canadian Tire Guy: It’s the Mastercraft Home Nuclear Portable Power Station. It’s new at Canadian Tire.
HIN: Whoa, how’s it work?
CTG: Simple. (Points to garden hose.) Cold fusion.
Canadian Tire Guy’s Spouse: Our home energy costs will be reduced by as much as 95-per-cent!
CTG: And it’s just $499.99 at Canadian Tire!
CTGS: And there’s an Optional Dirty Bomb Attachment for just another $149.99!
HIN: Wow, that’s quite a boon for homegrown terrorists across the country!
CTG: Except in Quebec of course.
HIN: Oh? Why’s that?
CTGS: Because the government’s Charter of Quebec Values will put paid to multicultural strife throughout the province.
CTG: Quebec c’est faire! (Chuckles.) The Mastercraft Home Nuclear Portable Power Station with Optional Dirty Bomb Attachment. New this fall and only at Canadian Tire!
(Cut to logo.)


The Pea Gravel Heist

 The night fell like a bent boxer. As black, oppressive and smothering as the stage curtain of a play that closes on opening night. I made sure the lights were out, that we stayed away from the windows, kept our voices down and kept our cigarettes cupped in the palms of our hands. There was work to be done.

 I was back in Edmonton, a harsh winter burg that hadn’t been sorry to see the last of me 20 years ago. I’ve since bugged out of worse places, spattered with bad blood and a crumpled one-way ticket in my coat. I’ve snuck my shadow out of some nice towns too. I’d been summoned north by a moll I could never quite shake, blonde and bosomy with gams I like to look at. Her wit’s snappier than the gum she chews and sharper than her nails. Her handle is Ann, Ann Fatale. As for me, the name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m a fixer, a freelancer. You don’t ever want to have to deal with the likes of me, but if you do, you’ll want me on your side. Trust me on that.

 Insurance lightning is normally a simple process. You need jerrycans of gasoline and plastic garbage bins. One or two paper matches. Foom! Issue solved. Ann Fatale said she had some torches, would I come up? Turned out the torches weren’t jobs, they were actual torches from the five and dime. Made in China. Citronella candles. Seemed their bases were too small to be stable. She envisioned them resting in terracotta dishes with their flimsy bases weighted down by gravel, pea gravel. They’d look nice on the backyard patio during the evenings. Keep the bugs away. Trouble was Ann Fatale had no gravel. Gravel was my gig. That’s what I signed on for. A pea gravel heist.

 Doctors are a lot like the heat. Everything’s copasetic until you encounter them and they examine you too closely. Suddenly everything’s wrong and you’re looking to escape a diagnosis or handcuffs. A doctor lives one block over from Ann Fatale, four garage doors down the alley. Nobody in the neighbourhood likes the doctor. I get that and I know back alleys like the back of my hand. Seems doctor had a substantial pile of pea gravel along side of his garage. Unused. That afternoon I did a recon, la-di-dah, walking a borrowed dog with bad hips, scanning, scoping and picking up after the dog. It seemed easy enough. All I’d need was a child’s beach sand bucket, a spade, 25 seconds and the cover of darkness.

 It was time. “All right,” I said, “let’s go.”

 Ann Fatale took the old dog. I carried the bucket and spade. We slipped through the back gate and the entire alley was lit up by motion lights. Our shadows stretched north to Fort McMurray and south to Calgary, west to Vancouver and east to Regina. But there were no guards, no guns. Security lights are like car alarms, ignored by everyone.

 “What do you think?” she asked tensely.

 “I’m going in,” I replied tersely. “Set your watch. If I’m not back in 25 seconds get out of here.”

 Later, during our debrief, surrounded by lit citronella candles that weren’t going anywhere, I thought maybe it was good to have an accomplice, the right time to have a partner in crime. I decided maybe I wasn’t going anywhere either.



The Pussycat, the Penguin and the Polar Bear


A penguin and a polar bear became acquainted in a zoo

And learned they shared a friend who roved the poles between the two

Yes, a pussycat named Angus, whose mother called him Gus

Who can pilot ships and aero-planes, and sometimes drives a bus

The great white beast sat back a bit, deciding to repose

‘I used to live up north, you know, and swim from floe to floe

And Angus flew in often, to pass the time of day

A little chat and a lot of fish, before he made his way’

The penguin said, ‘I envy you to lounge about like that

I can stand or belly-flop, but I’m never on my back.

Angus used to visit me down where the south gets cold

He was a hardy sailor, a mariner quite bold’

‘Bird,’ said bear, ‘that cat, that cat is smarter than us

I bet he knows we’re here, our friend we both call Gus’

‘Bear, he is a crafty critter, who seems to know his stuff

I’ll wager you a fish or two that he knows you’re on your duff’

Just then there came a rumble, an engine with a purr

And Angus sat before them, grooming his tabby fur

‘My friends, it’s good to see you, but not in a place like this

I’ve come to liberate you,’ the cat said with a hiss

‘A zoo is a zoo and no place for you, though the digs seem fine enough

My friends, you deserve much better,’ said the pussycat named Gus

‘My friends, I saw the ice was melting, Earth slimming at each pole

And people think they’re helping by adding to your woes

You see what hovers behind me? It’s a scientific contraption

Something I’ve constructed for bird and bear extraction

Climb aboard! Climb aboard and fasten your safety belts

I know of a place for both you where nothing ever melts

Beside it is a place for me that’s filled with mice to stalk

Between the two for me and you is a place to meet and talk’

And so they went, so they went, away in their flying machine

As the keepers looked aghast, the three friends got away clean