Saturday, 30 November 2013


Bud Light Platinum

We hosted a birthday bash yesterday evening. The guests were a dozen young men. This means that the slide guitar blues of Elmore James on the stereo did not stand a chance against Kanye West on the iPod; this means that the two pots of jambalaya we spent the morning preparing were either consumed or splattered over the kitchen floor and walls. It was a fun night.

In just two years I will qualify for the seniors’ discount at IHOP. The evening was a reminder that I have become my parents. It was also an opportunity for an adman in a grey Bruce Springsteen hoodie to study the young male demographic up close.

When I was struggling to grow up in Montreal, fashion was a pair of Levi’s and a denim or leather jacket. It was crucially important to me to sartorially resemble Lou Reed or a member of The Clash. Anglophones smoked Player’s cigarettes and drank Molson Export Ale from brown stubby bottles. Francophones smoked Export A cigarettes and drank Labatt 50 Ale from brown stubby bottles.

Last night’s informal Edmonton focus group revealed that current fashion is consignment store chic coupled with expensive rag trade brands I have never heard of nor would I be caught dead in – ass pockets shouldn’t be halfway down the backs of your thighs. White belts are just plain wrong. Nobody smoked, and that is both smart and good. What really intrigued me was the beer that was marched through our front door: Bud Light Platinum.

As I continually bussed the den, the kitchen, the dining room and the living room of empties I kept collecting blue beer containers, oxymoronic aluminum bottles. It struck me kind of funny and completely unnecessary that Bud Light would subtly re-brand itself as Platinum merely because of its trendy, ‘newly innovative’ packaging. Then I glanced at the appliqué type on one blue bottle and saw that Bud Light Platinum was six-per-cent alcohol, binge brew. Counter-intuitively, the brand has regurgitated its equity and consumer goodwill to become a lame anathema of itself.

Bud Light, like Diet Coke, was one of the most innovative brand extensions ever. Both products created new and distinct brands, separate from their parents, and entirely new categories on the shelves of the marketplace. Bud Light has positioned itself as the lynchpin of the penultimate threesome: guys, beer and sports. The overt message was always clear: here’s a manly, low-alcohol beer and you need not feel like a sissy nor a lightweight if you drink it. The covert message was equally so: here’s a manly, low-alcohol beer and you can and probably should pound one or two more beyond moderation and common sense during the big game.

Bud Light high-test swill. What the fuck!?

 Disenchanted whistleblowers aside, no one, no consumer or investor, really expects integrity to exude from the corporations which foist the goods of mass production upon us all. However we should all expect an iota of common sense from the top floor offices, the ones without the long term view. Existing brands and other assets must not be cheaply compromised and devalued for short term gain because next week last night’s fickle guests may well decide that Pabst Blue Ribbon is hipper than Bud Light Platinum.

Friday, 29 November 2013


Capital Crimes

Maybe it was just that time of year. A barren and grey November, autumn petrifying into winter. Maybe it was just because we were in Ottawa. The city felt occupied. The Mounties were sniffing around the Hill and everywhere else. The jumpy spooks on Heron Road were wiretapping their own shadows. The capital had dragged us down into its filth and sewage.

Ann Fatale, my buxom and vivacious partner in crime, swished her martini around in its glass. She stared out the double glaze window, down at the sluggish Rideau Canal. She lit a cigarette and sighed one of those sighs that tempts me to get my trench coat and fedora dry cleaned, straighten up real legit and find a property with a white picket fence in a quiet neighbourhood. But that’s not her. That’s not me.

The name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m a fixer. I used to have ideals. I can’t tell you what drives me anymore. I wish I knew. My tired soul is a dark place and I don’t like to examine it too frequently or too closely. The anger I was born with frightens me sometimes.

We’d been summoned east from Edmonton to help finalize some plans for Nigel, Mike and Pamela. The locks by the Chateau Laurier had been drained by Parks Canada so that wasn’t a viable option but the problems clearly had to go away. Yesterday in the arrivals area I patted old Sir John A. on his bronze shoulder as I always do. Everything went sideways from there. Even before Ann’s Louis Vuitton suitcases and my Joint Task Force 2–issue canvas duffle bag hit the carousel I noticed a couple of cultural attachees from a foreign embassy with their eyes on us. The Senate would have to solve itself. I wondered if that initial call had been a ruse.

Ann sighed again. I’d never seen exasperated smoke before. I lit one of my own and poured five fingers of Irish. Our host shrugged his shoulders apologetically. Naturally his government would’ve preferred some other way, alas. His three armed goons examined the pattern in the Persian rug. I wished it was a magic one, but at least I had my trusty straight razor secreted in one of my blue suede shoes. Ann wore stilettos.

Hard bop piano jazz was playing on the hi-fi, vibrant and alive from a Harlem nightclub sometime back in 1962. There was 40-grand in dead prime ministers on the dining room table. Little stacks of used, non-sequential bills in plastic freezer bags. Small change, but a sight to admire nonetheless and a lovely centrepiece with the holiday season nearly upon us. On the floor around the room, tenting the baseboards, were works of art of dubious merit and provenance. Even a pisspot tin god dictator has cultural pursuits.

Ann crushed out her cigarette. She fished another one from her Hermes handbag. Her solid gold and diamond encrusted lighter wouldn’t spark. She sighed a third time. Our signal. I moved toward her. Flame erupted from her lighter. I threw my whisky through it into the face of one of the goons. I dropped, spun and gutted the second goon with a waist-high slash and twist. His blood spray and tumbling entrails made me think of a spaghetti food fight. Ann pirouetted and danced a molten, sexy jig. The heel of her right Christian Louboutin shoe quivered in the left eye socket of the third goon. He dropped like Blackberry’s stock price. Our host was still protesting when I cut him a second smile from ear to ear.

‘A girl needs to kick her shoes off once in a while, baby,’ Ann said.

‘Shame to waste perfectly good whisky,’ I replied, not sparing a thought for the poor bastard with the melted face. ‘Anyway, I’m a fool for a well turned ankle.’

Ann blushed. ‘What now?’ she breathed.

‘I’m thinking a stiff drink and another cigarette,’ I replied. I glanced at the four dead men and their blood spatters. ‘Then a shower and change of clothes. We’ll pack the money. We should get out of town pretty quick. Leave this mess for housekeeping.’

‘I wonder who they were, baby?’

I looked hard into Ann's lovely and limpid blue eyes. ‘Who cares. They’re dead. They don’t matter anymore.’

‘What about the paintings?’

‘Modern art,’ I said. ‘I can’t tell what’s blood or what’s paint.’

‘Oh, Geoff, you’re so witty.’

‘Not really,’ I replied. ‘Being around you just makes me cheerful. That’s all.’

 She giggled and began to strip off her blood-soaked gown. The music stopped and the silence filled with dread. I wiped my bloody fingers on the lapels of my jacket and loosened my tie. Outside the night came down like spilled paint. I lit a cigarette and poured myself another drink. There were lights along both sides of the canal. Soon it would be time for Winterlude and beavertails. There would be no wreaths for the dead.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Jesus Murphy, Irish Pubs

I spent a year in Ottawa over the course of a few days last week. My unofficial headquarters is Don Cherry’s Sports Grill on Rideau Street. This particular trip I found their selection of mass market beers unusually tiresome and the numerous spelling errors on the menus particularly annoying. Sandwhich. Maybe Don wrote the copy himself.

I had to clear the zone. I made tracks on the newly refurbished sidewalk and wandered past Vertigo Records and the tattoo parlours into the Byward Market area. I searched half-heartedly for the club where the Rolling Stones shot their Streets of Love video in 2005, gave up and then sought solace in an Irish pub. They were out of Smithwick’s; I nearly died. I selected something akin to it and pondered the eerie feeling of déjà vu that had come over me. I’d been here before (actually I really had on previous visits), but I’d been to this place in Charlottetown, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria too.

I was soon joined at the bar by a pale and tired looking young man who said he sold greeting cards. There’d been an issue with a new line: To a Special Aunt. Apparently the overly ornate, cursive font did not have a completely closed ‘A,’ indeed it resembled a ‘C’ if one scanned it quickly. I noticed his Communications Security Establishment Canada electronic key fob still hanging from his belt but said nothing. After he excused himself to use the toilet, I rifled through his satchel and found a telephone transcript of particular interest to me.

Every citizen must watch the watchers though we must balance vigilance over certain organs of our democracy with Canada’s long-term global interests. In these times it often seems that freedom and its expression teeters on a razor’s edge. The document I slipped into my coat pocket is no threat to our national security nor does it reference a foreign power, but meGeoff believes any concerned Canadian needs to know its contents. The transcript I stole on behalf of everyone in this country over the age of majority is reprinted in its entirety below.


Operator: Slainte! This is 1-800-IRISH PUB, Siobhan speaking. How may I help you?

Caller: Hi! I’ve just signed a storefront commercial lease in a so-so location with limited parking. My plan is to open an Irish pub. I figure I can’t miss!

O: Brilliant plan, sir.

C: Thanks! The idea just came to me somehow.

O: It’s a proven formula, sir. We offer numerous fixture packages designed to meet virtually any budget. Each one includes free and expert consultation. One of our associates will even visit your site. Have you decided upon a name for your establishment?

C: Yeah. I’m thinking, The Snake and Famine; St. Patrick and potatoes. Get it?

O: Hmm. Sounds a bit negative, sir.

C: Oh. But I’ve already printed business cards at Staples.

O: Always best to phone 1-800-IRISH PUB first, sir.

C: Well, okay, what about Finn McCool’s? I’ve done a bit of research and that shot of the Giant’s Causeway on the cover of Led Zep’s Houses of the Holy is pretty McCool. McCool, get it?

O: Hmm. May I suggest Ye Aulde Dublin? We have a complete interior and exterior Ye Aulde Dublin signage kit on sale at the moment. Gold lettering embossed on simulated wood product, accent lighting included and installation is free.

C: Wow. I like the sound of that. I’ll take one. I was wondering about the mill work?

O: We have a complete custom bar, snug and tabletop distressed veneer package to suit your space to a ‘T.’ Stools and captain’s chairs are included but upholstery is extra. We also have a limited time offer on random bits of stained glass or plain non-glare etched with runes or Celtic crosses.

C: That sounds pretty McCool. Get it?

O: Very authentic, sir. Hilarious. Have you thought about the décor for your establishment, sir?

C: For sure. Can I get that Guinness poster with the toucans and the R.A.F. pilots? It always makes me chuckle.

O: Of course, sir. It’s part of our Wildlife Series which also includes the zookeepers with the lions and the bears.

C: Right on! Perfect.

O: Sir, your liquor vendors will provide you with simulated wood, tin or backlit signs promoting their brands. Beer and whisky taps too. They’ll shower you with coasters and bar rags. May I suggest the Irish Art Package in addition to the Guinness Wildlife Series? We’re offering a combo special.

C: What’s the Irish Art Package?

O: It’s very unique and includes some dusty used books, sepia portraits of W. B. Yeats and James Joyce among others tastefully rendered in artificially antiqued frames. There’s also our exclusive Nostalgia Old World Golf Package that ships self-contained in its own display case. You simply hang it on the wall.

C: Brilliant! I guess the last thing is staff uniforms. I’m into those private schoolgirl outfits, you know, with the tartan and the sashes…

O: Of course you are.

C: I mean (throaty chuckle), I can’t dress them like they’re in the SS or something (really deep and prolonged throaty chuckle).

O: Sir, this call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes.


C: Right. Sorry. The skirts come with slits, right? Plunging necklines for the tops, please.

O: My, you do know what you like, sir.

C: I’ve been around the block a few times. Mostly in my head. Pretty much always in my head. I’m thinking about maybe purchasing some AXE body spray… Anyway, I’ll need a gross of traditional staff uniforms with said modifications, please God.

O: Done, sir. Will that be all?

C: I was wondering about the music. Do Irish people actually listen to those goofy reels and all that maudlin stuff?

O: That is marketing’s cockle warming perception, sir.

C: I mean, the Irish Rovers, c’mon. Could I play something modern? Maybe the Undertones or the Boomtown Rats? Thin Lizzy? Would that be McCool? Get it?

O: Yes, I got it but I’m afraid not, sir. We have just one Irish Pub soundtrack loop. It’s two hours in length and more than enough to get you through each day from early lunch to last orders. It does contain a token U2 track and another one by Van Morrison.

C: Oh, that’s a bit of a drag. The same stuff over and over. But I guess it’s all about the experience isn’t it? A little bit of the Emerald Isle imported as it were.

O: Exactly, sir. Did I mention that we’ll provide you with your new Ye Aulde Dublin business cards as a courtesy and consult with you on your menu? You’ll be serving hamburgers of course. And traditional pub hotpots?

C: Yeah. And I’m thinking some old country fusion-type stuff too, like Belfast tacos in green tortillas with orange cheddar. Get the connection?

O: Genius, sir. Subtle.

C: Thanks. Boy, Siobhan, one call really does it all.

O: Erin go Bragh! Together we’ll make it real, sir. Thank you for calling 1-800 IRISH PUB. Now, if I could just get your particulars?


Sunday, 17 November 2013


The Snow Fell Without a Break

The weather graphic in Friday morning’s paper was a bit ominous. Sleet slid from a concrete sky all afternoon. By suppertime the snow was swirling like trade rumours on a sports network hockey panel.

Winter. If only it remained a brilliantly obscure Rolling Stones ballad (Goat’s Head Soup: side two, track three). But this is Canada. Our sitting Prime Minister had his first book published two weeks ago. Its audacious topic? Hope? Nope. Hockey. Citizens from coast to coast were relieved to learn that no affairs of state had required his undivided attention. When it comes to November and winter Canadians are akin to loyal hockey fans. All of us keep praying that this will be the year (it won’t come). An entire nation is cheering for climate change. Give us empirical proof of the glorious effects of carbon emissions on global warming so we may pay for more of them and ratchet up temperatures six or nine degrees.

It snowed Friday night and all day Saturday and well into this Sunday morning. Looks like it’s here to stay until Easter. Centimetres don’t do this storm justice; we got more than a foot, possibly 18 inches or more. The shovelling was not a mere chore, but full-time work.

Our street was an idyll Saturday morning, pristine, buried in the mounting, muting purity of a heavy snowfall. I stood listening for the dedicated, monotonous activity of the Pileated Woodpecker that lives in the backyard. I searched the birch trees and bushes for the two Blue Jays that tend to hang around out front. A tabby cat went out and went back in white, pausing only to give me a really dirty squint. I tried to explain to him that as godlike as I am, I’m not quite godlike about everything; only some things, like feeding him or knowing the weather outside the back door is exactly the same as the weather outside the front door. I went on to explain that this simple fact makes the flawed hierarchy of ancient pantheons so much more interesting and human than the omnipotent, benevolent and benign monotheist religions currently in vogue. The cat was not impressed. I lit a cigarette and then opened my first beer. The tin retort echoed like a rifle shot.

The snow is powder, not wet clumps of heart attack stuff, so push and heave. Where to put it without too much extra labour? Dirt dispersal from the Tom, Dick and Harry tunnels in The Great Escape was equally problematic. The snow kept falling and I thought of Canute the Great on the beach and the ceaseless rolling of the North Sea tides; that vaunted intellect Cher who admitted she could never turn back time despite numerous plastic surgeries. Funny what crosses your mind whilst doing drudgery and trying to ignore the pain in your back.

I cleared the front porch, the driveway and the sidewalk. I next cleared the sidewalks of our neighbours to the left and right of us. I then dug my way around the side of the house and cleared the patio area, the path to the back gate and then the waste bin area in the alley. Upon repeating the entire process a second and third time, I began to muse about Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and the futility of it all. Modern Canadians are a lot like that ancient Corinthian king forever sentenced to shoulder his boulder up a mountain slope, never permitted to crest the peak and let the rock roll down the other side; we shovel and we keep on shovelling the same walks and driveways.

Sunday morning came. Hot black coffee in an Apple Records mug over saved sections of Saturday’s papers, the old songs playing on the stereo. Outside, angled slices of the Tom Thompson evergreen trees were brown in the shadows. The snow appeared to be pale blue away from the sun's light. The stillness was immaculate, beautiful. I almost wanted to believe in God again, but it was too damn cold to believe in anything much more than boots, coats and gloves. And anyway, there was more shovelling to be done.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


What Year Is It?

My father took me to Montreal’s Expo ’67 more than a few times when I was a brat in grade one. Maybe it was the burning reek of sulphur in the Mordor pavilion that made me blink, but suddenly 2014 is less than eight weeks away. This week I absolutely must hit one of the two record stores that I know of in Edmonton to buy new releases from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Happy times for the long converted Kool-Aid drinkers, yet passing strange.

The Beatles album is the second installment of Live at the BBC. The little I’ve gleaned is that the two CDs are mostly crowd sourced barrel scrapings. However, any actual authentic Beatles noise is valued over something such as the Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas Love deconstruction of Beatles tracks for the benefit of acrobats. Sweet Summer Sun is a phrase from Loving Cup, one of my favourite Stones songs (side two of Exile on Main St.). It is also the title of their latest, umpteenth live album (DVD) and documents their mammoth show earlier this year in London’s Hyde Park. Like the Beatles, the Stones don’t put out much new music anymore but at least they still work together now and then. Remarkably, they’re still the best rock ‘n’ roll band on stage this side of E Street.

In 1966 or maybe later we had a black or maybe a black and white cat as our household pet. It was hit by a car whilst trotting across Dunraven, the cross street at the end of our block. A neighbour found Shoo-Shoo lying dead in his rose garden. The broken little soul had tried to make it home through the gaps in the backyard fences. I remember the cat stretched out on its flank in the dirt. A bit of blood, thick and crimson, waxy. Death up close was fascinating in its finality. I do not recall grieving (what has remained with me through the subsequent years of my parents’ divorce and my own divorces is the cat’s quest to get back home). I believe I truly experienced grief for the first time when the Beatles broke up in 1970.

For a 10-year-old the Beatles were a unit straight out of Alexandre Dumas, musketeers; all for one and one for all. Best friends as portrayed in the documentaries A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine. There were (and still are) 24 hours in a day and obviously the Beatles spent every waking moment together because that’s what best friends do even if John’s new girlfriend seemed as icky as some of the girls who lived on my street.

When no one was home I’d sneak into my older sister’s pink and Beatle-postered bedroom and cart her Beatles albums downstairs to spin on the hi-fi in the dining room. That repeated act and the rock ‘n’ roll temptation had to be confessed to the parish priest of course. I’ve often wondered if my big sister ever wondered why the grooves of her Something New LP were almost worn through. All tracks were written by Lennon-McCartney except where noted, best friends. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched the real and genuine Beatles career documentary Anthology; I can tell you I maintain this absurd faith that next time it will all somehow end differently.

I was born in 1960, the happy accident (for me – most days anyway) of Vatican Roulette. This means that I do not have a memory of living life without the Rolling Stones somewhere within it. Their continued existence is simply mind-boggling; I mean three Ramones are dead, c’mon. My sister had Stones albums naturally but I remember her London Records double A-side 45 of Ruby Tuesday/Let’s Spend the Night Together most. Then things got as weird and scary as the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz: the 1968 war paint promo film of Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the song Sympathy for the Devil – a difficult concept for a repressed Catholic kid. These guys were not your average lovable mop tops, Boo-Boo.

It was inevitable that my puberty and acne would intersect with the primal rhythms and riffs of the Stones. Heroes like Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr must necessarily be discarded for new ones like Mick and Keith who were not best friends so much as partners in crime. Upon reflection, there was an inarticulate epiphany then that I could never view my world, its authority figures, its priests and politicians, in the same light again. The covert bonds of blind conformity had been broken.

Funny what stays with you. I’m 53 now, with regrets in these tired ol’ blue eyes, too many to mention. I still cannot go to sleep with the bedroom closet door ajar because I’m afraid of what may come out of there in the wee wee hours. War paint Jumpin’ Jack Flash still makes me squirm with mild fear, the goosebumps will never recede. I wish John and Paul could’ve worked it out, tried to see it my way when I was 10. And here we are now in the 21st century, new Beatles and Stones in the marketplace. Another chance to revisit what I’ve always carried with me. Is this a gift or a curse?

My plan is to play them so loud that I’ll not be able to think, dwell nor brood. I intend to dance.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


A Foodie’s Guide to Montreal

Montreal has long held the reputation as Canada’s most delightfully cosmopolitan city. One of North America’s first cities and a major international port, Montreal has always embraced foreign tastes and influences and made them her own. The visitor will marvel at the diversity of its centuries-old neighbourhoods, each with its own architectural charms and unique culinary delicacies. If you enjoy all the tempting and tasty spices life has to offer, you must embrace the delicious joie de vivre and savoir faire that may only be found on an island in the middle of the mighty St. Lawrence River.

Montreal is a city of legends: its musicians, writers and poets; the startling array of superstar athletes who wore its colours; even its politicians, gangsters and strippers; and of course, le chien chaud.

A Montreal hot dog may be enjoyed in two very different but ultimately similar forms. The steame is perhaps the more famous of the two. Both the bun and the wiener are steamed to perfection and then topped with diced onions and choux, a cabbage condiment that’s neither sauerkraut nor coleslaw. The hot dog toaste became renowned as the snack of choice at the old Montreal Forum. The long sides of the traditional tube bun are shaved off to expose the fresh white bread beneath the soft crust. The bun is then buttered and grilled alongside the wiener. Moutarde preparee or yellow mustard is then applied with an elegant and efficient baton du bois or wooden stick that is the same length as the hot dog toaste. Aficionados with more adventurous palates will sometimes request a forkful of sweet green relish as well.

The brand of wiener most often served in Montreal hot dogs is Lester’s and this little morsel of information leads the viande fume or smoked meat gourmand to Outremont, a vibrant, heavily orthodox Jewish community of neat brick duplexes fronted with gently curving wrought iron stairways on the east side of the extinct volcano that is Mont Royal. Lester’s delicatessen on rue Bernard first opened its doors during the early years of The Second World War; some of the fixtures have not been changed since although the two signed William Shatner promo glossies are of a somewhat newer vintage. The small and cramped space (you have to skitter crab sideways past a soda cooler and a deepfreeze to reach the washrooms) is home to the best smoked meat sandwich in Montreal. This means that Lester’s serves up the best sandwich in the world.

Any decent deli in Montreal spices and cures its own briskets. The flavour and texture of the meat in each sandwich cannot be replicated elsewhere; subtleties abound between the slices of fresh and crusty pain de rye or rye bread. Dare to compare Lester’s to Schwartz’s, the city’s lined up, cliché world famous, smoked meat joint on The Main. As Schwartz’s is now partially owned by the husband of She Who Must Never Be Named (she released an English album last week and has a residency in Vegas), meGeoff urges the visitor to play Montreal traffic roulette and to dodge and deke directly across the boulevard into a booth at the Main Deli and order a sandwich and a cornichon or pickle. And then return to nearby Lester’s to re-quantify the data.

At this stage you may be concerned about the bucket of acidic backwash bubbling up your esophagus, what with all the hot dogs and sandwiches - the heaviest kind of heartburn or cri de couer. Relax. Reflux. Montreal dining can make you positively bilious. Dessert is the essential denouement to any fine meal, a delicate palate cleansing in anticipation of a neatly poured aperitif to be enjoyed with a particular satisfied contentment. Montrealais and tourists alike default to steak and pepperoni sous-marins or submarine sandwiches liberally garnished with crispy salade or iceberg lettuce and dribbled with vinegrette or dressing.

The steak and pepperoni sub, best experienced at a Mike’s restaurant or Bonora Pizza on avenue Somerled in trendy Notre Dame-de-Grace, isn’t a mere haute cusine upgrade of the classic Philly cheesesteak. No, or Non. Try to find a steak and pepperoni sandwich anywhere else on this continent. It’s not easy. You used to be able to get a decent smoked meat at Nate’s on Rideau Street in Ottawa but like Ben’s Delicatessen in downtown Montreal, it’s closed now. There aren't many places left to go for the real thing. A hot dog toaste for $1.65 cannot be had off the island. A steame avec choux is an offal grail.

Montreal is a worldly and sometimes other-worldly city existing to enchant its citizens and guests. The savvy foodie will take in her multiple attractions and drink her in before eating her up.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


Curling Rawks!

We walked into the Crestwood Curling Club last Friday night and I prayed that the membership had turned over in the course of two decades and that no one would recognize me.

It was the winter of ’92, I think. Maybe ’91? Memory becomes ever hazier as time fades away. I remember the winter as cold and dark but I remember every winter that way. I remember Morris suggesting the idea to me and Denis over happy hour beers at The Gas Pump on 114th Street, about a block off Jasper Avenue. We would curl in a men’s league Tuesday nights. The slo-pitch season was over. We had to get out of the bar scene for at least one night a week during the cold months.

Curling? I heard Don Chevrier intoning over some monumentally dull television. There was the creepy eroticism of women yelling, ‘Hard!’ My own experience was limited to writing and art directing a staggeringly brilliant Safeway grocery ad for some brier program: Nothing in the house?

We would need a fourth and Morris recruited a fourth, another regular at The Gas Pump although I cannot recall the fellow’s name. Morris as our skip and our squad’s sole experienced curler made all the arrangements. Collected and paid the fees and sourced our brooms and sliders wholesale. Skipper may have gone a little overboard as the four of us became proud owners of matching burgundy sweaters with roll collars. We were embarrassingly terrible. Trouble was, happy hour started at 5:00 PM and we curled at 7:00 PM, or more lethally, 9:00 PM.

My own shortcomings were exacerbated by difficulties with my left and right sides (don’t ever ask me for directions). I shoot left in hockey. I bat and throw right in baseball. Bending elbows and smoking cigarettes I’m ambidextrous. Curling was much like a vice. Coming out of the hack I could shoot a rock with either my left or right arm. So I did. First one left, second one right. Inward and outward turns become problematic when you’re alternating sides on each shot. And one puny arm was stronger than my other punier arm so the weight of any particular throw never had an X constant. I never got comfortable. Nor did I immerse myself in the strategies of the game; embracing the nuances of a new sport long after childhood is as difficult as learning a new language as an adult. When the long, frustrating season finally ended I decided, never again. God knows whatever became of my burgundy sweater, my broom and my slider. I have not seen nor spoken to either Morris or Denis in this young century. We were good friends then. God knows what became of them.

So when my close personal friend and sometime noir associate Ann signed us up as substitutes for a mixed curling team, I thought little of it. What could possibly happen? Worst case, I figured, was that she would have to play and I would read a book in the lounge, watch sports on TV and drink beer. And then some couple whom I’ve never met but now hate decided to go to Australia for a month. Bastards. Anyway, we walked into the Crestwood Curling Club last Friday night and I prayed that the membership had turned over in the course of two decades and that no one would recognize me. I was out of retirement. The first thing I noticed was that I was the only person wearing jeans. Everyone else was in loose black pants: Adidas, MEC and Lululemon Athletica (I couldn’t help but notice some pilling of the fabric, parting seams and a becoming sheerness beneath the arc lights). I did some tentative crouch testing in the hack and groaned involuntary old person noises. I realized ambidexterity wasn’t an option anymore and decided then and there that I would curl to the left. Somewhere a tailor laughed.

The houses at the end of the each sheet always remind me of RAF roundels, Spitfires and ME-109s, and mod Who pop art. War and rock ‘n’ roll in an arena and they both neatly fit. Suffice to say, my head’s never in the game. Good God, curling is slower than lawn bowling. At least sweeping is something else to do and doesn’t feel like a chore. We lost last Friday night but we weren’t skunked, unlike those tilts during the winter ’91. Or was it ’92? Anyway, I was not totally, completely, wretchedly awful as lead.

Next Friday I’ll be perfect, provided the crippling soreness in the knuckle of my left big toe, my groin and both my thighs goes away. My back aches. My arms hurt too, both left and right, mostly the left. Sunday afternoon, it’s snowing now. Chickadees are swirling about the bird feeder hanging from the birch tree in front of the dining room window. The cats believe the weather outside will be different if they can just slip on out the back door. The walks and the driveway must be cleared. Think I’ll use a broom.