Saturday, 28 December 2013


 A Christmas Story

The night seemed darker than usual, as if every photon of this great, dirty city’s ambient light had been sucked into a black hole. There were no stars in the sky, no blinking beacons of hope. The freezing cold reminded me of a woman I once knew even though I know she never thinks of me now. I tired of trying to change her ways and she never approved of my methods of generating cash money. None of that matters to me now. The name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m a fixer, an edge man gone straight. If you require my services you’ve got serious troubles.

I flipped Coltrane’s A Love Supreme over to side two and placed the needle in the groove. I lit a cigarette and helped myself to four fingers of Irish, neat. “There’s something I’ve got to do tonight,” I said to Ann Fatale, my breathy, blonde bombshell. All cleavage and leg wrapped in black like a present most men only dream about.

 “Baby,” she sighed, “I have a hunch you’re not going to midnight mass.”

 True enough. The Catholics want money in their collection baskets, not loaded 9mm automatics. I smiled at her and recalled the day I realized I was all grown up. It wasn’t the time I beat that biker to death with a ball peen hammer. It was when I figured out that all of the authority figures in my life, the priests, the teachers, the bosses, the politicos, the heat, the lawyers and the doctors, well, most of them weren’t very good at their jobs and none of them seemed bothered by that ugly little fact.

 “You should go,” I said. “Sit in the confessional until you hear from me. Anyway, you’ve probably got a lot to talk about.”

 “Only what I’ve done for you, darling.”

 “It’s no secret how we feel about each other.”

 “Everybody knows,” she breathed. And she was right, more right than she knew.

The meeting was designated at a southside address. I wouldn’t have to cross the river. A short drive away to get an earful of blackmail or extortion, call it what you want. I dressed carefully, making sure my long overcoat was sufficiently bulky. Ann chose my hat, porkpie over fedora. My leather gloves fit like a second skin, no bulky seams to get caught up in the trigger guard.

 The roads were asheen with black ice beneath the ashen glow of the street lamps. I drove across Gateway Boulevard into a light industrial area destitute with bland, low-level buildings, cheap signs, parking lots, railway tracks and unremarkable workingmen’s cafes. I parked in a yard filled with snow-covered scrap metal shapes and upturned pallets. There was a chain-link fence enclosure, the type with three strands of angled barbed wire atop. One of those mysterious businesses with a loading dock and a bay number on its employees’ business cards. Ferocious, angry ice pellets whipped through the night air. Some kind of Christmas Eve, I thought. Hard to believe in God in a place like this.

 I cupped my lighter in my hands and lit a cigarette. There was nothing else to do but enter the premises. It was a big space, concrete and frigid. My exhaled breath and smoke hung in the atmosphere like lost souls in limbo, unbaptised wraiths. I was immediately and inexpertly searched by two young men with gelled hair, earrings and necklaces. For a moment I felt the charity of the season: if they were somewhere else they wouldn’t have to die. The feeling passed.

Another man stepped out of the gloom, well turned out, some sort of metrosexual Bay Street boy. He had the look but I could sense no expertise, just like his hired help who were not good at what they did, but good help is hard to find these days. Good in and of itself is hard to find these days.

 “Geoff Danger,” he smiled. “Well, well.”

“A common name,” I replied. “And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

 “My name doesn’t matter,” he replied. “But what matters is that I know all about you, Ottawa, Montreal, here in Edmonton, even the pea gravel heist. Silence is golden, Mister Danger. Mine comes with a very steep price. What you love most in the world, Mister Danger, I will kill if you do not agree to my terms. Even as I speak my men are collecting Ann Fatale. After I’ve tortured her to death I will come after you. But not right away. It’s important to me that you live with yourself and experience the agony of failure.”

 I shrugged. “You’re supposed to laugh now.”

 “Excuse me?”

 “Something maniacal,” I said, “peals of it.”

 “This is no joke, Mister Danger.”

 “You’ve got that right.”

 I drew. I shot his two soldiers and then plugged him in the belly. He crumpled screaming to the cold cement. “Sometimes,” I said, “I treat myself at Christmastime so tonight I’m going to watch you die.”

 “My men,” he moaned. “Ann Fatale… they’ve got her.”

I threw my cigarette butt in his face. “I don’t reckon your type go to church,” I said. “Happy new year. Oh! Wait! I don’t think you’re going to have one, pal.”

When I pulled into the driveway the house lights were still on. The exterior decorative ones too. I could hear music, Elvis maybe. Ann was in something red and festive, flimsy. I like to open my Christmas stocking early.

 “How’d it go?” she breathed.

 “Routine,” I said. “You?”

 “The priest was a bit shocked, I think, he may not recover. But I’ve got a clean slate.”

 “For now,” I grinned through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

 “I’m a bad girl, Geoff Danger. Merry Christmas.”

“Oh my, I have been good this year.”

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Bad Ju-ju or Lost Mojo

The cats are sleeping or grooming themselves. The breakfast and lunch dishes have been washed. Friends from out of town may drop by later this evening but nothing’s concrete. A bright, sunny and mild winter’s day outside; it even rained this morning, weird, because yesterday was a flesh-freezing minus a million. Another cigarette on the porch, watching the birds flit about the feeder. Back inside, at loose ends, roaming around an empty house with a full can of beer.

Come with me, let’s take the grand tour. On one of the kitchen walls is a framed art deco Rolling Stones 1970 European Tour promo poster. Beside it, also framed, is a show bill for a 1957 Elvis concert in Buffalo, NY which may or may not be authentic. There’s a Bob Dylan poster advertising a 2012 gig in Lethbridge, AB: Don’t You Dare Miss It! We didn’t and the ticket stub proves it. There’s a Mick Jagger light switch plate, and a Stones tongue logo magnet on the fridge. There’s a miniature Memphis, TN Elvis Presley Blvd. street sign above the back door and a Liverpudlian Mathew Street L2 sign magnet on the microwave shelf. There’s an Apple Records coffee mug in the cupboard, nestled beside one that features the original album cover art of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

The stereo’s in the living room. There’s a tower of song beside it, country, jazz and classical CDs. More CD trays are secreted beneath various items of furniture. There’s vinyl alphabetically arranged in the slots of the stereo console, more LPs leaning up against the piano and still more on the floor in wooden Canada Dry crates.

There’s even more vinyl yet in the spare bedroom and on a shelf in the den. There are shelves of music books in the den along with a row of music DVDs. I intend to surprise myself Christmas morning when I unwrap my new Springsteen & I documentary.

Not to be suggestive, but the bedroom is next. Best not to go into the closet where the tour t-shirts are and you may wish to look away from 1970 Vegas Elvis white jumpsuit figurine on the bureau which I imagine to be grunting out the coda to Suspicious Minds, don’t you know. C’mon, you’ve gotta dig those shoes. In one of the upper drawers are The Clash and Boomtown Rats pins I used to sport on my Levi’s jean jacket – which still fits by the way and it’s only been washed three times since 1976. Americana, the just-released autobiography of head Kink Ray Davies is on the night table. On top of it is Philip Norman’s recent Jagger biography. Years ago, after Mick and Keith had both released their first solo albums, he published Symphony for the Devil, the definitive Stones elegy. That book was the first purchase I made with a credit card. I still have the book and the Stones are still working; go figure.

Symphony is in the basement. Careful, the stairs are steep and the light is poor until you flick the Elvis light switch. Yep, more music books. Stones and Elvis tour posters. Stones and Elvis figurines. Too cool, really. Oh, and another thousand or so CDs. Pretty much everything ever released by The Beatles, The Clash, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen and The Who; most of Van Morrison, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, The Kinks, Lou Reed, Blue Rodeo, The Faces, Rod Stewart (when he was good), Elton John (ditto), The Replacements, The Del-Lords, John Hiatt, Steve Earle, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Green Day, U2, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music and Neil Young, man. You’ll notice there are only some 30 Dylan albums - I still have some catalogue gaps to plug. Blues, soul and reggae are over on this shelf because I’ve sort of set things up to mirror the old record store racks and bins.

Pardon? It’s a little oppressive down here? Well, it could use a fresh coat of paint and we’ve been talking about window treatments. The other thing I’m thinking is maybe draping flags from the ceiling, music ones, band logos and the like. I’m going for that rock ‘n’ roll, sort of Bedouin, feel. Lava lamps and black lights, my kingdom to scare up a gram of decent hash, just like the old days. Anyway, I hope to sell it in.

Let’s go back upstairs. There’s a Graceland Cellars Jailhouse Rock merlot breathing on the dining room table. I’ve also got a 2005 bottle of Napa Valley cuvee des Rolling Stones we can crack – red flavour, I think. See the iPod and the dock resting on the chest of my grandparents’ silverware? The Stones tongue pint glasses in the antique china cabinet? I like that juxtaposition of the old and the hipper than thou. Post-modern irony, for sure.

Check out the year end issue of Rolling Stone magazine on the table. I started reading it in 1975. These days I mostly just flip through it. Anyway, I’ve got only one of their Top 50 albums of 2013 - the latest Bowie which came out last March. I used to be good for 20 or 30 records on the list as opposed to not having heard of 20 or 30 artists on the list. And I’ve not listened to any of the editors’ Top 50 singles. Thing is, on a day like today I feel like a Burgess Shale dinosaur fossil or one of those pre-historic bugs trapped in amber. I just can’t put my finger on why exactly.

Sunday, 22 December 2013


Nine Letters for Desperate Need Ending in N

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The Globe and Mail yesterday published its annual mammoth holiday crossword puzzle. Some 1100 clues to solve. Life is very, very good.

Twenty-thirteen marks the centenary of the crossword puzzle. (For our purposes we are discussing The New York Times or American model rather than the British cryptic which is a different kettle of red herrings altogether.) Planet Earth as we understand it resides in the grid, a square comprised of squares. The clues, which may be straightforward or cleverly and cheekily misleading, lead the solver through our pre-history and recorded history; our various mythologies and religions; our arts and sciences; our commerce, economics, nations and politics; our games and pastimes; and our many languages. Words themselves are wondrous constructs and can be spellbinding tools of magic in the vocabularies of demagogues and poets. A completed crossword is the world made rational and orderly amidst the entropy and chaos dutifully reported in the newspaper in which the puzzle appears.

Crosswords are the time-killing companions of the lonely in bars and the frightened in hospital waiting rooms. They may be a collective weekend activity, each solution the subject of a household brain-storming session.

I’m old enough to remember the 60s and I was so much younger then that I hadn’t yet discovered the fun involved with frying brain cells. Dad is sitting on the green, black and orange floral patterned couch, left side. His feet on the green shag carpet. The coffee table has a lip around the rim to hold a pane of glass long since broken by my brother, my sister and me roughhousing in the room we were never supposed to be in. It’s a weekday evening. Dad has a drink beside him on the end table and a pen in his hand. He’s folded the broadsheet Montreal Star to the crossword puzzle. Earlier that day on the commuter train downtown he’d done the same thing with The Montreal Gazette.

The tableau repeats in the 70s. Mom, now a Holly Golightly divorcee, is sitting on the couch, the right side, her side, solving the crossword.

On two recent family business visits to Montreal, staying with my sister, the daily crossword puzzle was always on the dining room table with a pencil and a pen beside it and four different sets of printing within the grid. I recalled growing up and how in many ways we are our parents’ children. And I remember my deceased brother and visiting him when we both knew he would die and how we frequently sat up late at his kitchen counter studying the crossword and passing a pen back and forth: You do across and I’ll do down. The puzzles seemed curious instruments of intimacy.

I guess I’ve come by this addiction honestly. It runs in the family; we’ve got the gene. As I write this, a section of yesterday’s Edmonton Journal is on the kitchen counter, folded to page F11 and one third of The New York Times Sunday crossword has been inked in. My nephews and their girlfriends have since gathered around it. So over these holidays, first we’ll take Manhattan and then we’ll conquer The Globe.

Friday, 20 December 2013


Of Neology and Nicknames

The Canadian Football League has an Ottawa franchise once again. Third time’s a charm.

Fans who can recall the Beatles split will remember the original black and red Rough Riders and the simple white serif capital R on their helmets. Fans who can recall the Backstreet Boys breaking up will remember the dismal black and red Renegades. Fans destined to recall the Rolling Stones ceasing corporate operations will remember the piebald Ottawa Redblacks (Postmedia News publications).

Or RedBlacks (The Globe and Mail).

Or REDBLACKS (official web site).

Or something anyway that begins with that iconic capital R. Something that seems to be a desperate, poorly executed grasp at heritage branding by an expansion team with neither history nor identity. A handle already hostage to the whims of various sports editors and the insanely demanding and mostly ignored wordmark usage rules of the club’s marketing department though the players have yet to take the field. Brands may be recognized by their distinctive packaging but they do not just spring genie-like out of sleek green bottles or Tetrapaks. They need time to gestate, time to grow roots. Redblacks, RedBlacks or REDBLACKS for the league’s third go-round in the capital read like bad seeds in arid ground.

This new digital age has been especially kind to the sports industry. Aside from actual reality (not redundant but increasingly passing strange), sport is pretty much the last bastion of live media consumption and sole need to know this instant. Games really, really matter. And if they matter, we have chosen sides. And if we have chosen sides, chances are we’ll add to the industry’s official merchandise revenue stream, outfit ourselves in the laundry to mix and meld with the strangers in our tribes. Newly minted Redblacks, RedBlacks or REDBLACKS fans can discuss typography.

Sporting clubs have always had nicknames. Some have existed for a century or more (and some have not kept pace with more enlightened times). Utilizing uniform colours is not uncommon. There is the exquisite jazz synergy of hockey’s St. Louis Blues; the monochromatic statement of the Maori All Blacks, baseball’s Cincinnati Reds and Alabama’s Crimson Tide. One colour to unite fans: I recall watching a Chelsea–Liverpool match in a Gloucester pub and ducking my head under the ‘Go Blue!’ and ‘Go Red!’ shouting and peering down at the infants and cigarette butts on the floor.

In Quebec of course things are different. Some might say distinct. The second best football team in the province is Laval University’s Rouge et Or (Red and Gold). They play against Sherbrooke’s Vert & Or (Green & Gold). Given the bilingual nature of the National Capital Region and the fact that the market of Gatineau, QC is just across the Ottawa River, Ottawa has fumbled with their meaningless, slightly cryptic, neologism. A simple conjunction would not only recall the city’s bygone teams and suggest the game’s early roots in rugger, but Red and Black would translate elegantly to Rouge et Noir. Finally, the nickname would be consistently rendered in print: newspapers, magazines, t-shirts and blogs.

The Rough Riders despite a long and successful history met their end of days as mismanaged sad sacks. The Renegades started off ineptly enough and got worse. Here’s hoping Ottawa’s new football operations personnel have a better handle on things than their predecessors and their current ad agency. The only foolproof sports marketing strategy is winning games. Trouble is, even in a nine team loop there are eight losers. Even money says the Ottawa franchise will be re-branded before they post a respectable record in the CFL's East Division.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Rubbing Thighs with Lululemon

Lululemon is a niche, lifestyle brand of yoga and running clothing. Lululemon is essentially a logo on a swatch of Third World cloth enhanced by a brand manifesto rife with New Age bromides: DANCE, SING, FLOSS AND TRAVEL; JEALOUSY WORKS THE OPPOSITE WAY YOU WANT IT TO; BREATHE DEEPLY; LOVE. Clearly, Lululemon is not for everybody. Especially if you’re a little above your ideal body weight or if you have an issue with other people being able to see through your pants.

‘Quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there.’ Alas, recently deposed Lululemon founder Chip Wilson was not discussing the favoured murder technique of Bond assassin Xenia Onatopp. No, he was blaming his core customers for the poor performance of his company’s shoddy athletic apparel.

Anyone who’s ever worked a day in their life knows that the customer is not always right. Still, it’s good policy not to alienate the money. If you’re disdainful of your customers, perhaps because they have yet to embrace yoga as an ideology or maybe because they’re hesitant to do one thing each day that scares them, it’s probably a best business practice to keep that sort chatter for the bathroom mirror or a discreet bartender.

Anyway, that sound you heard following Chip’s hasty exit was years of carefully cultivated brand equity being flushed away.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


The Winter King

In Nazareth a Pharisee wonders what to do
Jesus had a union card, not born to die for you
Consider litigation, it's not too late to sue
Alberta sky and shadows, each one baby blue
A line of twisted chariots clogging Highway 2
Mounties in the ditch, searching for a clue
Fog and freezing cold are nothing very new
Elvis in his Cadillac, waiting for his cue
Crucifixion from a different point of view
Shiver from the waist - a-wop-bop-a-lu

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Amazon Drones

These past few days I’ve been gobbling NyQuil Liquicaps like candy and chasing them with brandy. The walking, waking fever dreams have been nothing short of spectacular.

I have crossed the green Sahara in a snowsuit on a pink elephant with T. E. Lawrence. I have swum the trade routes to Kashmir in the company of secret elders of a gentle race. I have soared on the updraft of the mighty Zephyr far above Avalon and swooped and tumbled under fizzing high tension wires amidst a flock of naked pixies. I have absorbed the wisdom of Justin Trudeau and know that hope is to be feared and that love is stronger than anger unless it rains on your wedding day which may be pathetic fallacy or just stormy weather and most certainly ironic. The fruits of my stoned Internet shopping spree will be delivered by drones.

Whoa, the drugs wore off. The drone business is real. The future just flew in: instant gratification for agoraphobics; career opportunities for adult gamers who dwell in their mothers’ basements. Amazon will deliver packages weighing up to five-pounds by octocopter! Tom Swift and Popular Mechanics live again! Segway PTs, the previous future, are so 20th century. Meanwhile, gloom pervades the respective headquarters of the United States Postal Service and Canada Post: first private couriers and now delivery drones; this bullying must stop and how exactly did we mess up our national monopoly again?

For people of a certain age encountering the phrase ‘German troops’ in an international news story remains a serious cause for pause. There are like difficulties with the word ‘drone.’ In the realm of science-fiction great tales have been told of sophisticated machines becoming self-aware. The robotic embrace of Descartes must necessarily lead to a warranted Nat Turner Rebellion or the unrelenting fascist heel of a newly triumphant species. In the here and now a drone is remote death from above, hi-tech machinery aimed and launched by the US Military or the CIA, its lethalness theoretically perfectly surgical. War, like economics, is an imprecise art or science. Its latest weapons, each designed to curtail its very existence, are scattershot. We want to fight and win wars that don’t actually kill anyone. Drones are a positive step in that direction except for the ‘collateral damage’ (civilians) within range of the blast. Drones need more PR spin than German troops.

If I were to order Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS from Amazon, I don’t know that I’d be comfortable with Amazon’s drone delivery. Eight sets of rotors slicing through the annuals, perennials and bushes; beheaded chickadees, robins, jays and cats; a shaved dog; neighbours muttering judgments about special delivery Nazi soft-core porn. There’s something about mailbox lottery, about waiting for things to arrive when they should actually get there over miles of bad road. And there’s something about the hope that the discreet brown package may possibly turn up one day early. Anticipation: hate to drone on, but it’s a really good feeling.