Tuesday, 29 October 2013


21st Century 24–Hour News Cycle Blues

Pastel Elvis in Kresge windows
Soviet missiles in Black Sea silos

Playgrounds, parties, pets and priests
Analog world without Tweets

Cable TV was three border stations
Rabbit ears with tin foil mutations

I got old last week and realized how
Took a pen to paper and mused What now

The Rolling Stones have rocked past fifty
Keef’s alive, now there’s a mystery

And Victor’s still ruling on Y and R
Quit on Chrysler, sold my K Car

So I paid too much for an iPad Touch
Thank you Apple, for my digital crutch

Some celebrity girl is doing The Twerk
We’re all streaming YouTube at work

Middle-aged moms loading soft-core porn
Tea Party’s on and to Jesus they’re sworn

Automatic toys in playrooms down South
If guns make you nervous shut your mouth

Looping mass murder on CNN
Piers and pundits round table again

Time to crowd source another flash mob
Vacant Occupation is a full-time job

Entitled vandals in designer hoodies
Smashing plate glass and looting goodies

Now I’m tucked in cafĂ© with free WiFi
Watching it all and wondering why

Don’t ping me, man, but don’t leave me alone
Tonight or any night, you can use the phone

Monday, 28 October 2013


Montreal, Mon Amour

The dead maple leaves scrinched and scraped against the back alley pavement, propelled by the cold north wind as night fell like a bent fighter. Symbolism the premier of Quebec might actually embrace each autumn. The most wonderful time of her year, I reflected bitterly, staring down through the steam rising from the sewer grate. Ann Fatale was scrunched into her black coat, her can of beer on the lid of the dumpster. She smoked and peered up past the gargoyles and fire escapes at the great shimmering harvest moon. My gaze swept up from the ground to study the pretty profile that had caused governments to fall, hearts to break and my own to be possessed. The smoke around her bobbed blonde ‘do swirled like blue fog.

I turned my collar up against the chill. I lit another cigarette. I fished another Export ale out of the pocket of my overcoat and opened it. So many beers, so many back alleys and parking lots in so many places I’ve been and even stayed for a time but never grew attached to, and now, after a quarter century spent trekking down a thousand miles of bad road, I was back in my hometown. Everything was just as broken and corrupt as it was back then except older, but I wasn’t here for a confab with the mobs, the gangs and the dirty cops. And anyway, this place is so rotten through and through even I couldn’t make much of a difference during a week’s stay. Sure, I could drown a couple made rats in the river, but to what end? Even a fixer like me needs some down time. The name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. If you ever have the misfortune to meet a man like me, you’ve got serious troubles and you deserve some pity. Two fingers’ worth in a shot glass, maybe.

‘Baby,’ breathed Ann Fatale, ‘how’s it feel to be home?’

I cracked wise, ‘The cigarettes and beer are almost free. And if you don’t believe God is dead and you’re the least bit charitable, you’ll pay extra for them at a church rummage sale.’

‘You’re a cynic, baby,’ she whispered.

‘A realist,’ I grunted.

This town was my town. I once walked its streets like an acclaimed democratic king and the future was unwritten but this immense dirty world sucker punches you in the gut pretty quick and your dreams go OOF! only to vanish like spooked hares, silent ghosts in a grey, misty dawn.

But I wasn’t the only one sent reeling by life’s underhanded hard knocks. In the city’s west end there were too many vacant storefronts with A LOUER signs in their grimy windows, uncollected flyers and newspapers piling up in the darkened doorways. The jazz clubs had been shuttered and the neon peeler palaces seemed somehow more discreet. The Blue Angel was gone, not just the bar with its banquette seating and small stage but the entire building. All the old taverns had closed and the souls I’d known at the tables in the back, the freelancers and edge men, had since moved on to die alone or be incarcerated – maybe in the joint or beneath a newly poured sidewalk. The streets themselves were cracked and full of holes, heaved and hoed by the endless cycle of summer swelter and winter ice, spiked with traffic cone stubble and decorated with orange RUE BARRE signs. The city had fallen from a great height since that heady decade bookended by Expo ’67 and the ’76 Summer Olympics. The baseball team went south too.

I crushed out my cigarette and then chucked my empty beer can into the dumpster. ‘Let’s walk,’ I said to Ann Fatale.

'Where to?’ she asked. ‘It’s nearly midnight.’

‘Nowhere special,’ I grunted, ‘just like this town.’ I shrugged a shoulder to point at the street and our way out of the alley. ‘I could use another drink,’ I said. ‘And a broad as beautiful as you deserves to have her booze served up in a glass from time to time. And maybe seated on a comfortable stool.’

‘Baby,’ she said, ‘you’re so good to me.’

I kissed her as if the world was ending and we were the last ones left alive. After I caught my breath I said, ‘With a dame like you and gams like yours, it’s an easy thing to do.’

I took her arm and together we walked back into the streets of my old hometown. The soles of my shoes were two feet off the ground. It wasn’t the shabby old city that made me feel that way, no, it was my girl. She shone amidst the decrepit wreckage, my soul source of elation in the wasteland of my youth and adult despair. She put her arm around my waist and leaned her head against me. The streetlight cast our shadows half a block. The wind picked up and the fringes of our scarves began to flap in fits. Snow flew; crystals and diamonds swirling, whirling and whipping our faces. I held my hand out to clutch a fistful of grace but my palm just got wet and felt as cold as the world.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


 This Old Airport’s Got Me Down

 Flying again. The glamour’s almost too much to take. I hate these ropey baggage stickers. Let the attendant do it. There we go, bag’s tagged and on the black rubber belt. See you in Montreal, my friend. I hope. Otherwise we’ll always have Edmonton. All right, top up the nicotine and then security after that. The line’s not too bad. Remember: face neutral, be polite and no snide remarks. What? Remove shoes and belt? Jesus Christ. Do I look like a terrorist? You know the security tax I’m paying atop my ticket covers the cost of your cheap uniform and your blue rubber gloves? Your parents must be very proud of their successful little fascist. Bastard. Okay, shoes, belt, wallet, passport, boarding pass and loose change: check, check, check, check, check, check. Did I forget anything? What’s the gate number? A-something. Here we go. Dear Lord, look at that clown. Think you’ve got enough carry-on? Idiot. Any potential seatmate fatties? Oh, sister, no offence but with your body shape and those leotards… If that wailing, rat-faced kid is sitting anywhere near me on the flight I will throttle it. Where’s my book? Hmm, type’s getting small. Should have my eyes examined. What’s it been, five years? What’s that over the intercom? Garble, garble. Maybe my ears too. Hang on, what? Delay. A few minutes. Maintenance crew still aboard. Problem with the emergency lighting system. Who cares? If this flight’s destined to nosedive into the Canadian Shield it really doesn’t matter if the cabin’s lit, you know? Let’s just go, shall we? Oh Christ, a no-fly part breakdown. Some cheap Chinese circuit board is fried. Goddamn it. What!? A three-and-a-half-hour delay? Gaa! Oh boy, we all get a $10 food voucher. Wow. Look at those sheep lining up for it. Die Air Canada! Die! ‘From the depths of hell I’ll stab at thee!’ Dear God, I need a drink. Correction: I would enjoy a refreshing beverage at this particular moment. Airports are strange places. You’re never really sure where you are nor what time it is. You can always get a beer. Would a smoking lounge kill anyone? Smokers aside, that is. Ah, a few empty stools at the bar. Elbow room. Hello, yoo-hoo! Sweetheart? Hello, you’ve got a customer. How about that? And you work in the hospitality industry. Can you do the math? Why don’t you, like, put your iPhone down and wait until your break to, like, text? LOL! Calm. OMG. Aggravation level high, red zone. Nicotine and alcohol levels low. Is this place self-serve? Tell you what, why don’t I just go behind your bar, take you by the back of your vacant little head and smash your face into the beer taps? Would that get your attention? Breathe. Hold the tiger. Carry the tiger. Release the tiger. Breathe. A miracle! Saints preserve us, a pint! Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus. How much? Let me call my banker. Uh-oh, need the men’s room. Public toilets are revolting. Why do adult males piss all over the floor? Is it some primitive territorial thing? Wonder what the women’s johns are like though an investigation might cause undue commotion. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’m behind an old guy, a senior; thank Christ I’m not quite up there yet. This is going to take a while. Wonder what shape my prostate’s in? Oh God, do not think of Niagara Falls and Lake Superior. Too late. C’mon, c’mon. Shake it! Zip it up and get your butt to the wash basin, pal! Okay, skip that part. Phew! Must do this again, cannot piss in the plane’s can. Disgusting. Anyway, there’s room for another pint or two now that the seal’s been broken. Get a load of this character. Whoa, death’s head ball cap, earrings, a billy goat scruff beard, sleeve tats and track pants! Quite the ensemble. Death metal King Tut. You must beat the women off with a tire iron. And Jager shots. Dude, I am not worthy. I am merely an inadequate middle-aged man. But I would happily kill you if it meant a cigarette. Christ, I need a smoke. Maybe three. Well, there’s nothing but time to waste here and I’m flush with it. All right, back outside to top up the nicotine quotient once more and then security again after that. The line’s not too bad. Remember: face neutral, be polite and no snide remarks. What? Remove shoes and belt? Jesus Christ. Do I look like a terrorist? You know the security tax I’m paying atop my ticket covers the cost of your cheap uniform and your blue rubber gloves? Your parents must be very proud of their successful little fascist. Bastard. Okay, shoes, belt, wallet, passport, boarding pass and loose change: check, check, check, check, check, check. Did I forget anything? What’s the gate number? A-something. Here we go again.

Friday, 18 October 2013


One by One

I dream my dreams one by one
And forget them in the morning when they’re done

I wear my faces one by one
Then hang them in the closet when they’re done

I smoke my cigs one by one
And then crush them out when I’m done

I drink my whiskeys one by one
And brood out the window until they’re done

I toast my friends one by one
Here’s to us, cheers, we’re not done

I miss my loves one by one
Messed up again, sorry, we’re done

I recall my memories one by one
And file them away when I’m done

I judge our gods one by one
And condemn them all before I’m done

I ponder every galaxy one by one
What’s out there when it’s said and done

I’ve lived these lives one by one
And I'll be grateful when they’re done


meGeoff’s Guide to Thrillers and Espionage Novels

Contrary to our existing narcissistic ethos of celebrity of any sort, there are those among us who prefer to go about their work in quiet, anonymous ways. This group may include cat burglars, blackmailers, Ponzi schemers, white collar fraudsters and most certainly intelligence agencies. Each would agree that business is best conducted under the radar. Media glare only means the proverbial red-handed catch.

Last week was not a good week for Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the country’s signals intelligence organization whose very existence is unknown to most Canadians. Most Canadians don’t care about the state of Brazil’s mining industry but now we all know CSEC does and that’s all well and good and probably in our national interest except for the tricky getting caught part. The alleged source of this revelation is United States fugitive and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden who followed legendary British MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6 – foreign intelligence) mole Kim Philby’s footprints to sanctuary in Moscow.

Snowden and his figurative partner in treason, Wikileaks document dumper Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (nee Bradley Edward Manning), are curiously uninteresting players of the great game, pale malcontents with Robin Hood complexes and Internet access. I am reminded of Our Man in Havana, a Graham Greene novel in which a vacuum cleaner salesman sends drawings of vacuum cleaner parts and accessories to MI6 but describes them as military goings-on, missile sites and what have you. In all three cases there is EYES ONLY content yes, but does any of it really matter? Life has imitated art.

I am also reminded of a snippet of a telephone conversation from 15 years ago. My father was on the line from Ottawa. Then, as now, our family such as it is, is all over the country so one of our catch up lines is always, ‘What are you reading?’ Dad asked me that and I replied somewhat sheepishly, ‘I’m slumming: Ian Fleming, Bond, From Russia with Love.’ Dad, who had introduced me to the rich and complex secret world of John le Carre probably 15 years before this particular call, replied, ‘I’ve always got time for a good story.’

And my, what stories there are in spy fiction. Stories that will keep you up half the night with the lights on though you’ll be careful not to be silhouetted in a window; stories that may cause you to shake up the routine of your morning commute just because you never know who may be watching nor why. The vast majority of readers do not inhabit the secret world and indeed we may never know when we’ve unwittingly brushed up against it, but its twin drivers of fear and paranoia become heightened and enhanced, very real, when manipulated by great writers.

Lord Tweedsmuir, John Buchan, Canada’s 15th Governor General, is generally credited as the creator of the genre. His Richard Hannay stories, notably The Thirty-Nine Steps, are set against the backdrop of the First World War and the machinations of the dreaded Hun. The line from H. Rider Haggard’s Alan Quartermain adventure stories for boys (King Solomon’s Mines, She) to Buchan is an easy one to trace. Literary merit would follow little more than a decade later with the publication of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden: Or the British Secret Agent collection of short stories. Ian Fleming, who served as a commander in British Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, continued the tradition of the super-spy protagonist as hero although Bond was somewhat more ruthless than Richard Hannay and Ashenden. The Bond novels are much less fantastical than the films and Fleming’s prose style, its economy, reminds me of the elegant terseness of Ernest Hemingway – not that they’re on the same page. The Spy Who Loved Me offers a slight Canadian link, the novel is narrated by a young Canadian woman named Viv.

The Europe we now know was not a stable place for most of the 20th century. From the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 up until the cessation of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the continent was a confusing landscape of shifting ideologies, realpolitik and fertile soil for intrigue, a sinister place for a guileless man to be.

Eric Ambler, a former advertising copywriter and name-checked in From Russia with Love as Bond’s favourite author, introduced the everyman to the genre, the innocent who embarks upon a Journey into Fear with just Cause for Alarm. Graham Greene, one of the 20th century’s truly great authors, dabbled in what he described as ‘entertainments,’ thrillers which he perceived as inferior to his more serious works of literature despite their common themes of moral uncertainty. Greene, who worked for MI6 under Kim Philby and remained friends with him after his defection, wrote The Ministry of Fear, the ultimate tale of an inadvertent stumbling onto secret knowledge. Things get complicated after that.  Neither author, like the ones who would follow them, asks the reader to suspend any sense of disbelief.

John le Carre, the literary gift of my father, worked for both MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5 – domestic intelligence) and MI6. His best known work, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is a fictional recreation of the British security services’ hunt for Kim Philby, one of their upper class own. Le Carre took the super-spy and made him an everyman, a dusty cuckold, a bureaucrat with an Oxford pedigree, combing through yellowed files in even dustier folders. Betrayal lies within, in triplicate, but patience and an aptitude for puzzles are required. Like Ambler and Greene, le Carre transcends the spy genre. Despite many embedded insights into the tradecraft, action in the Bond sense is almost nonexistent although it’s impossible to lay any le Carre novel aside in order to get a good night’s sleep. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, le Carre has delved into Big Pharma, international banking, money laundering and private military contractors. The research is thorough and the related details seem to be beyond the scope of the non-clandestine scholar. Every word rings alarmingly true.

The novels of Len Deighton, like Ambler a former ad man, while less cerebral than le Carre’s, fuse the spy story with the narrative techniques of American detective noir. The nameless hero of The IPCRESS File and Funeral in Berlin is a product of London’s East End, certainly not Eton. Bernard Samson, the hardboiled narrator of the Game, Set and Match trilogy is all too aware of the upper class consciousness of his colleagues and superiors.

The Innocent and Sweet Tooth, both by Ian McEwan, a vocal admirer of le Carre’s prose, are recent and worthy literary additions to the canon.

American characters - ‘the cousins’ - populate many of the works I’ve cited yet spy fiction remains to me an overwhelmingly British genre. Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer’s novel of the CIA, is noteworthy because of the author’s stature in American letters. Joseph Weisberg’s contemporary CIA novel, An Ordinary Spy, which will not prop open a door, is a better read. Last year’s Mission to Paris by Allan Furst is an elegant return to the world of Ambler: Europe of the late 1930s beneath the vortex of the gathering storm. The most significant Canadian contribution to the spy genre is The Red Fox, a novel by Anthony Hyde which was released in the latter half of the 1980s.

Happy reading. Don’t trust a soul. Stay out of lighted windows, do not venture into poorly lit places and use pay phones whenever possible.

Monday, 14 October 2013


Thanksgiving for the Year’s Best Month

The garden has been weeded and cut back. Some stray flora has been dug out and disposed of. The patio furniture has been stored as the salt, snow shovels and ice chipper have come out of hibernation. The lawn, still green, is raked and pristine until a gentle breeze and its rain of floating, drifting leaves serves as a reminder of the myth of Sisyphus and the futility of it all.

You eye your neighbours’ trees and they eye yours and both of you eyeball the property line and the tinderbox is smouldering, maybe one midnight Rolling Stones noise complaint away from a feud fueled by the fall. Communication is reduced to a grunt accompanied by a squint. There’s so much testosterone in the neighbourhood even as everything else is wilting. And if the bastard has a leaf blower, well, it means war but maybe you glean a moment’s insight into the world’s most messed up places, the Middle East, Capitol Hill or any poor, post-colonial country run by an ‘elected’ dictator: the silliness and insanity of everything everywhere else. A few stray orange and yellow leaves don’t amount to much more than an extra yard bag anyway.

Chances are both you and the bastard with the leaf blower are wearing caps and sweatshirts. Chances are they’ve all got logos on them. Chances are they’re all sports related merchandise. Chances are both you and the bastard with the leaf blower follow the same league’s schedule. Perhaps you’re even part of the same tribe, some team’s fan nation in which you’re the seventh, tenth, 12th or 13th man - similar to a character in a Graham Greene story but not fogged in by a dreadful shroud of moral ambivalence.

Weather talk is an easy connection with a stranger or neighbour, after all winter’s coming, it’s October. No one gets excited about the prospect of freezing in the dark, but consider sports at the moment: soccer is being played all over the world, basketball is starting up, the two pro football leagues on this continent are going full bore as are university squads in both Canada and the United States, baseball is moving closer to the World Series, hockey’s back and the scores matter on so many levels, somewhere there’s car racing and golf, maybe figure skating too – and it’s all on hi-def television and it’s virtually impossible for feuding neighbours not to drop their rakes and leaf blowers and commune over lesser and more entertaining conflicts.

October! Sports! Thanksgiving!

Somewhere a long way from the mostly leafless front lawns on this street, a TV network executive, an advertiser, an advertising account director and a media buyer are giving thanks this October for sports broadcasting. In the here and now, games are the last real time events left alive in this the Digital Age.

And later, neighbours lean on their rakes and turn off their blowers to ask each other, ‘Did you see that play!?’

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


The Return of the Diamond Dog et al

First you shock them, and then they put you in a museum. – Jean Cocteau

Ah, the famous red lightning bolt painted on the rouged, snow white tan. It is the zagged face of that cracked actor Aladdin Sane, perhaps the only survivor of the National People’s Gang, post-Ziggy Stardust and pre-plastic soul. It’s impossible not to watch that man. Harry Potter’s little zigged scar cannot possibly compete.

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s four-colour ad in last weekend’s Globe and Mail describes its new exhibit David Bowie is as ‘a multisensory collision of music, art, and fashion about the icon who redefined pop culture,’ or, $30 to look at and listen to some of his old stuff. The same ad occupies an entire page in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Friends of mine and fans of his who have toured the exhibit either very recently in Toronto or previously at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum have gushed nothing but superlatives. For a moment there the other Saturday morning I contemplated the AGO ad in the Globe's arts section and then mentally calculated the costs of a trip from Edmonton to Toronto and back again.

1976: Half-wasted and haunting the bowels of Place Ville Marie at five in the morning, waiting for tickets for Bowie’s Station to Station Montreal Forum gig to go on sale at the Ticketron outlet in Montreal Trust at nine. Getting those tickets to see the lizard aristocrat on stage mattered desperately. They mattered the way Bowie’s songs mattered to a teenaged boy even if the lyrics didn’t make much sense but it was enough to know that the words were somehow important. ‘He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition, keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear.’ Of course, that’s what Jean Genies do. ‘This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll, this is genocide!’ This should have been the stuff of Moses’s tablets and maybe Mormoni’s too.

And while the ticket provider and the technology changed, there were more Bowie shows to attend even as my raging hormones and acne receded to more manageable states: ‘Heroes’, Serious Moonlight and then after a very long separation, a welcome return to Reality ten years ago.

Bowie’s output was sometimes similar to music I was familiar with, Dylanesque or Stonsey maybe, but more often than not it wasn’t and that made it all that much more fascinating. And there were still hits. Visually he was unlike anything I had ever seen, an ever shifting kaleidoscope of hair and costumes and stage design. To be a fan of Bowie is to view a photograph of him and immediately know which year it was taken and the relevant album, each chapter of his career is that distinct. For some it was all a bit too much, a bit too weird and it seemed safer to be wrapped in the anonymous cloak of the Doobie Brothers or the Eagles, bands that did not sing about ray guns, electric eyes or televisions that eat girlfriends.

Bowie’s latest album The Next Day was released last March. There was no publicity, no tour announcement nor even a one-off show in a major market. He remains as calculating, wily and elusive as Jagger and Dylan. Unknowable. Did David Bowie is promote The Next Day or vice versa?

Oh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers, pretty soon now you’re gonna get a little older – David Bowie

Oh God, it’s not Monday but it feels like it. A hero from my teenaged wild life reclusive and reticent and me with all my hairs turned grey. Reconnecting in a museum seems dowdy, dusty and wrong. Absurd to fly all that way. Insane to even think about it. Anyway, Al-Qaeda has made air travel an annoying and expensive hassle for us all. And don't get me started on Air Canada, but I digress... David Bowie is is a show, yes, but not an actual performance. It’s not him, just bits of his debris. Bowie belongs on the stereo in 2013, not in the AGO.

Nineteen seventy-six doesn’t seem all that long ago to me now somehow; Time merely took a cigarette break while I blinked. Tonight, I will pull out some of Bowie’s old albums and enjoy them at maximum volume as per the instructions on the orange RCA labels. If things work out, a little later I'll be crawling down the back alley on my hands and knees, all glammed up, watching out for diamond dogs hiding behind trees. And, God help me, Block Watch parent patrols.

Monday, 7 October 2013


F#cking Hashtag This

Immersed in the midst of this new and evolving Digital Age, it’s sometimes difficult to see the gigs for 01001110100110s. In North America we don’t manufacture much of anything anymore. The economy is based on abstracts: big finance, services, brand promotion, and entertainment in all of its forms. And that’s okay so long as the haute mode rags from third world firetrap factories are competitively priced and the Lululemon leotards aren’t too, too sheer.

In our capital, Parliament has been prorogued again, likely to let the Senate expense scandal digest from the maw to the anus of the 24-hour news cycle. (Question: How can an admitted illiterate such as current Senator and former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers not have problems with Upper House expense forms while two formerly renowned and nationally known journalists did?) South of the 49th parallel that whiff of end of empire is becoming a stink as Republicans and Democrats again stage financial high noon on Main Street, U.S.A. Again, no news here nor there.

What generated buzz last week was Twitter’s tweet of its looming IPO. Twitter has never made money and posted a loss of nearly $70-million for the first six months of 2013. As any gambler will tell you, losses have a way of adding up. The company hopes to raise $1-billion at, I don’t know, $140 a throw? Those sterling and trustworthy folks on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, will figure that out.

The Twitter universe is a strange and peculiar place. It is rife with fake accounts and downright fraudulent ones. It is a tool of self-promotion and product promotion although more often than not its restrictive format does not act as a natural filter. Fortunately red-faced users can fall back on the now standard standby of the ‘hacked account.’ Marketers, eager to exploit social media though mostly unsure how to, stunned by the fact that their products and services are not universally adored, cannot resist the urge to censor their own accounts. Only fluffy, happy content, please. Tweets are often reported as legitimate news by traditional media. Tweets are often used to report breaking news by members of the traditional media. Yet those fusty old rules of fact-checking and confirmation by two or more additional sources are often circumvented in haste or plain forgotten.

Twitter is a cacophony of babble; a Tower of Babel erected in a swamp. What sane investor would want a piece of this? Perhaps someone who thinks Groupon is a good buy. LO f#cking L.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


A Town Called Hope

The colours of the dawn were as vivid and livid as a ripening bruise. I poured five fingers of Irish and lit a cigarette. I watched the smoke swirl away into nothingness, just like the dreams I once had as a younger man. From the cradle to the grave we wade through a seething abscess of corruption coupled with ineptitude. If you don’t believe that then maybe you’re a stakeholder in the putrid factory that churns out the rancid toxins which poison us all. If that’s the case, Ace, I reckon you best learn to look over your shoulder, sit with your back to the wall and sleep with one eye open because I’m gunning for you. I’m out there in the night shadows drawing a bead. You might call me a vigilante but my name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. Truth is I’m the last knight errant. And if my armour’s dented and tarnished, well, it’s just a reflection of these scabby times, most of us scrabbling for a modicum of dignity.

It had been a long night of dirty work. I had done some nasty things to an even nastier man. I had done the city, its cops and the Crown a huge favour with the help of a garden spade but I knew it would take a little time before they saw things my way. I’d scrubbed myself raw under a hot shower and changed my clothes but the scent of blood, metallic, ferrous, still clung to me like sweat. The smoke and whisky were thin disguises.

Ann Fatale, my blonde moll, massaged my neck. She thrust her pert nose into my ear, pushed her firm breasts against my shoulder blades and cooed, ‘Baby did a bad, bad thing.’

I grunted. ‘How do you feel about a little holiday right this minute?’ A floated question with only one correct answer.

‘You need to disappear until the heat cools down to a simmer?’

I grunted.

‘I’ve already packed for us both. On the lam with you, baby, there’s no place I’d rather be.’

So we got into Ann Fatale’s little sports car whose curves almost match hers and we drove west, racing the rising sun. I was dressed incognito: middle-aged, middle management, running shoes, jeans and a fleece under a billed cap stitched with some team’s logo. Ann Fatale had dialed her wardrobe back to merely glamourous. She looked better than good. If we got stopped she’d turn on the flirt and we’d be gone faster than most people’s savings in the 2008 crash - public risk for private profit which never struck me as righteous and fair. I gave some of those banker boys a bonus they never expected, the gift of life: Funny how money ceases to matter when you’re on your knees and sucking on the oily barrel of an automatic. We passed Hell’s Gate, a boundary I’d crossed too many times with dark results and then pulled into a town called Hope.

The City Centre Motel sign read NEWLY RENVATED. If they missed the big O up the pole beneath the neon, they surely missed some portions of the rens too. There were no bedbugs at least - they’d migrated to somewhere more upscale. I wondered about my eventual death, the day my grace must expire, will it be like this, forking out $70 for the night to bleed out alone on an already stained mattress with jittery hookers as neighbours? Rock bottom, yes, yet invisible too. If you ever have to go to ground, go as low as you can go. Trust me. I know a little bit about these things.

I lost my faith a long, long time ago. Life taught me lessons that hurt at the time and left scars, which I’ll take over open wounds any day. The priests and nuns used to tell us that despair is the greatest sin of all. It was just a word, a Vatican abstraction. Until now. This place Hope is walled in by mountains, clouds snagged on their peaks. The local social worker has a storefront operation with a charity thrift shop beside. There’s a payday loans operation and a dollar store. It’s raining. There’s a young woman standing in the civic pride park beneath the cedars all alone and screaming. There’s a sinister undercurrent of crystal meth and open secrets, taboos broken.

The Hope Motor Hotel must have been something in her day, back when the Trans-Canada had just been completed and our nation’s flag was fresh and full of promise. The hotel is just a shell of empty corridors and empty rooms but there’s still a working barber shop off what used to be the lobby. It’s closed. I could’ve used a haircut, shed some of this seal grey, changed my look on the lam. There’s a pub, Chums. And maybe that’s what the other drinkers were, food for the predators swimming and slithering through the infected circus we consider society.

Ann Fatale ordered us a couple of cold beers. We needed to rinse the road from our mouths and blunt the edginess we both felt. The joint’s walls were decorated with pictures of people some other people admire: The Beatles, Elvis, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and somebody else who was famous for something and is long dead too. In a town called Hope you may think these fancy pictures are some sort of tribute to heroes, but they’re not. They are the icons of the new religion of celebrity worship and subtle, even unconscious reminders that most of us are nobodies and we’re nowhere and we’re staying there, waist deep in the muck and filth. If I’d been born in Hope and baptized in despair I’d have been on the highway out of town the day I learned to walk.

‘Baby,’ Ann Fatale said, ‘this place is bleak. And a girl like me’s used to The Ritz or at least a Days Inn. Our motel room’s disgusting. I don’t even feel like making love even though you know you just have to give me that look to rev my motor.’

I grunted.

‘That too,’ she said. ‘Baby, maybe it’s time to think about another line of work.’

I thought about that. Maybe I could get a job at Home Depot as a sales associate. Be their garden spade expert. Crowbars, hammers and two-by-fours. But who would act, not merely speak, for those incapable of advocating for themselves? Nobody I never voted for.

‘There’s nothing here, is there, in Hope?’ I murmured.

‘No, baby,’ she cooed, ‘there isn’t.’

I grunted. I saw that look in her eyes she sometimes gets, melting, out of focus. ‘Let’s keep going west,’ I said. ‘I need to rinse these sins from my hands in the sea.’

‘They were all good sins, baby,’ she whispered. ‘Every damn one.’

‘I know,’ I replied. ‘You understand that I can’t change who I am. You know that, don’t you? But a clean slate, maybe that’s what I need for now. A moment to breathe. And then we’ll head back to Edmonton.’

‘What will you do there?’

‘Well, the heat will be off for one thing. I guess I’ll eventually get back to work,’ I said. ‘At my age, I don’t really know anything else. Anyway, I don’t believe knights errant qualify for unemployment insurance.’

‘Damn the Harper government,’ she said.

‘Here’s to that,’ I grunted. We clinked glasses.