Thursday, 29 January 2015



Of Aphorisms, Euphemisms and Bullshit


There was during the 90s a line of skater-punk clothing called No Fear. My friend Paul who’s generally miserable unless he’s listening to the Stranglers, riding his Harley or watching Man U on the pitch envisioned a more realistic competing brand designed exclusively for the vast majority of people: Scared Shitless.


Yesterday was the day of many errands. Though January in central Alberta has been alarmingly tropical, winter is still the time for interior projects as summer’s lease hath all too short a date. I’ve big plans for a portion of our basement, plans so big that someone who knew what they were doing might spend a couple of days seeing them through to fruition. But me, I have to gird to even over-think the job at hand and that process can take up to a week. I’m as plodding and potentially as useless as a Royal Commission. Still, I’d stood around in the basement doing little more than sipping a beer long enough to know that we had to hit the marketplace for crucial supplies.


The hardware department clerk, pardon me, retail associate, at Canadian Tire is unsure of her inventory. And tools on sale and advertised in the weekly flyer? Ain’t that peculiar. No, she herself doesn’t have a copy of the flyer, doesn’t know what’s in it, but we can get one ourselves somewhere, a pixie hand waves, over there. Lady, it’s a big fucking store; where is there? Appreciate your help. Thanks.


Our cashier does not exhibit any obvious passion for celebrating life in Canada. In fact, he may be the most morose member of the Canadian Tire family. Pardon me, this item’s on sale, it’s advertised in the circular. No, it’s not. It’s displayed on your centre power aisle. Go get me the sign. Dude, you sullen, mealy-mouthed little shit, we’re the customers here.


If our two engaged CT souls were employed by Target, they would be doomed team members. How the fuck did Target fuck up against fucking inbred competition like this!? I mean, the insane Soviet utilitarian hell of Costco is a warmer, more satisfying shopping experience. And I fucking hate Costco the way Ahab hated the whale or Khan hated Kirk or Dave Davies of the Kinks hates his brother and band leader Ray. Fuck.


I hate painting too. I have recently learned however that good quality house paint is worth paying for. Its application is easier and if you do a decent job, you won’t have to do it again for a long, long while. Painting requires planning and girding. We require a fresh gallon of Benjamin Moore Prairie Lily, a muted red I’d describe as ‘brick’ but I’m neither a designer nor an interior decorator. The guys and girl working the counter and mixing the paint know their product and they don’t seem to have Human Resources titles imposed upon them; I search happily in vain for an Eggshell Colour Expert Team Member Sales Associate.


But. The paint store just doesn’t sell paint, brushes, rollers and drop sheets. No, it also sells lifestyle. This means ceramic or stone do-dads or framed signs that read Family Friendship Love Happiness in various uplifting fonts. Are we so detached and self-absorbed that we must decorate our homes with trite reminders of fundamental human values? Don’t follow your dreams, chase them! Fuck me, there’s probably an app for this Lululemon-like motivational, inspirational bullshit.

Paint the sky, make it yours. Floss! If you reach the end of your rope I sincerely hope you’re dangling from a joist in your garage. May you always do what you are afraid to do. And after it all goes horribly wrong, Paul will gladly sell you a t-shirt.

Monday, 26 January 2015



Doctor, My Colon


Oh God. There’s blood on the seat and around the rim of the bowl. There’s not enough hand and ass alcohol-based sanitizer in the world. I exit the toilet. Ann looks up at me from a row of attached chairs. Are you okay? I grimace. Ick, I need a shower. It’s Saturday night. We’re waiting on a friend in Edmonton’s downtown Royal Alexandria hospital. We’re in Emergency.


I sit back down beside Ann and try to ignore the round face of the big white clock keeping bedlam time. Minutes crawl over broken glass through administrated chaos. Stretcher cases line a dingy hallway. Paramedics are required to stay with their patients until a doctor is assigned the case. This could take hours. Like the harried nurses in scrubs, the EMTs are unfailingly polite and attentive even whilst ensnared in red tape, hanging around toeing the peeling lino and sipping dishwater coffee.


I’m reminded once again of society’s good fortune; there are many among us who don’t have jobs so much as callings. Ann says it might be a good idea if the Minister of Health sat incognito in this room for a few hours, if only to observe the outnumbered, overwhelmed and under-funded public servants in action. Good God, she’s right, as she usually is.


We sit. There’s no way I’m even going to touch one of the rifled and crumpled newspapers lying around. People queued in ER aren’t at their best. My stomach churns a soup of revulsion and pity. Christ, I may really need to use the toilet. This is a scary prospect, but less fearsome than a fate worse than death: meeting my maker in a place like this.


A uniformed peace officer outfitted with a heavy utility belt paces his circuit giving everybody a suspicious evil eye. He peers into the bathrooms. A filthy, hirsute homeless man is gently escorted to a seat near us. Is it rude to move away? A rubber gloved EMT affixes a white band around his wrist. The man begins to scratch at the unscabbed parts of his flesh. He then uses the toilet. A young woman wearing a cough mask talks to the ceiling about the electrical properties of egg yolks. She goes to the toilet twice. A young couple dressed in very stylish black, their faces bloodied, alternate clean up trips to the john. Four wasted street people come in. They occupy the four available bathrooms. They regroup and abandon one of their own who has since crashed out on a chair. Jesus. A pregnant redhead clutches her belly and looks anxious. Solidarity, sister!

The medieval system eventually spits our friend out unscathed. This is good, because hunched over with cramps I’m not exactly up to a great escape caper. We drive our friend home which means we’re a long, long way from ours. From the backseat he worries about his dog’s needs, the critter’s been inadvertently left alone for nearly nine hours. I can relate. Ann can’t drive fast enough.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015



A Rainy Night on West Georgia


An old friend once remarked, ‘There’s nothing like a visit to Vancouver to remind you that where you live sucks.’ This is especially true if you’ve just arrived from Edmonton in January. The saturating coastal rains imbue the entire city with a mossy hue. Pansies bloom in gardens and window boxes, the lawns and cedars are a rich British racing green. The encircling mountains are a radiant white, the fir trees on their slopes a cloak of indistinct dark velvet.


Impractical fashions course through this Pacific urban jungle. If Edmontonians dressed in Robson Street rags the result would be haute mode hypothermia. In Brown’s I examine a pair of what seem to be hi-top running shoes with gold fasteners: $1360.00 or $680 a foot. Very tasteful, they’d go nicely with a pair of M.C. Hammer sultan pants. Meanwhile, beggars hunched in hoodies in the downpour hunker on their haunches along the sidewalks facing the storefronts, their backs splashed by passing tires. Many have dogs. Shaggy men rifle the garbage cans and recycling bins, cigarette stubs clamped between their lips. Everybody else in the streets appears to be talking to themselves. They’re either attached to some discreet digital device or completely deranged. A twilight drive along East Hastings into Railtown offers a glimpse of an apocalyptic aftermath. It’s embarrassing and shameful to gawp at the milling, wretched throng of the addicted and infected but impossible to look away. There but for the grace of God…


My past couple of visits to the city had been mostly business, press checking art gallery catalogues. It’s good to be back without obligations even if our stay is brief as we’re just passing through en route to the provincial capital. There’s a record store in Vancouver we’d hoped to visit after reading about it in the Edmonton Journal, but foolishly I never did make a note of its name which may or may nor contain the word ‘Red.’ That’s all right; we’ve already planned to poke our noses into The Turntable in Victoria’s Fan Tan Alley.


Our hotel is situated at the west end of Robson, a themed place attached to a modern art gallery. It does not have a decent bar. That’s okay; Ann wants to walk some turf familiar to her anyway. We stroll down Denman Street to English Bay Beach. We trace the seawall until we reach Pacific Street. From there we wander uphill from the viscous water and the moored boats into Davie Village. I keep pausing at the windows of pubs and bars we pass: the Montreal Canadiens are playing Columbus but even with my glasses on I can’t make out the score on the flat screen TVs. Ann suggests we take a load off. No. We must push on to Granville Street, my turf.


I love the ancient two-storey theatre signs. I get a weird kick loitering outside the entrance of the Commodore Ballroom; it’s not 2120 South Michigan Avenue, but, wow. I want to eat dodgy schwarma, pizza wedges and hot dogs. I want to buy a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt I wouldn’t be caught dead in. Some sort of surgical steel facial, nipple or scrotal piercing seems like a good idea. Maybe a tattoo of a rainbow unicorn with frilly Japanese anime eyes surrounded by barbed wire with a dagger and my mother’s given name on an unfurling ribbon. Transit cables sway in the wind and the rain above Granville Street, a certain magic hovers an inch or two above the wires.


We retire to my second favourite Vancouver haunt, Doolin’s on Nelson. The Habs aren’t on the TV but we order pints regardless, mainly because I know from past experience that the pub’s toilets are immaculate and private; the stall doors go from floor to ceiling. As my old friend might say, ‘They’re like a home game.’ Indeed, travel to a familiar place provides its own peculiar rewards and relief.


The Lennox at the corner of Robson is our next stop. The Canadiens are on TV. We manage space for two at the bar. Ann takes a stool, I stand sideways. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d live here a lot. I look around the room for Rob, the dean of The Delete Bin music blog (link bottom right), wishing our fates had collided on this day. We first met over pints in this joint about a dozen years ago. There’s no reason for him to be here now. Besides, our own pre-ferry schedule is unscripted and I’d no desire to contact Rob with mere vague ifs and maybes. Habs win. Cheers, man.

We exit the pub to sirens and red strobe lights. A man lies still, comatose on the sidewalk. The police officers are bemused; the EMTs hopeful. He seems dead to me. We light cigarettes and walk away into the silver rain. Five or six more blocks of tragedy and credit card luxury to traverse before we’ll reach the shelter of our hotel room and close the curtains on the view.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015



Way Off Target


Target Corporation did indeed change the Canadian retail landscape. Shopping malls across the country are now lacking a major anchor tenant. The department store’s Dunkirk, the epic fiasco of its first foreign foray is the paradoxical result of hitherto exceptional branding.


Logos and wordmarks are visual representations of a brand. Any steer would say so. Target’s graphic identity is sublime in its simplicity, its ease of application for any medium and its instant identification; it doesn’t get any more basic than a dot within a circle. Symbols, while often easily rendered, carry a lot of abstract weight.


A brand is a tacit contract between its purveyors and its adherents, sellers to buyers: In exchange for your money and your loyalty we will provide you with status or self-esteem or something as mundane as a decent product at a reasonable price; you have expectations of us which we will meet and strive to exceed. It’s all about the consumer’s carefully manipulated perception. The curse of evolving a commodity or service into a beloved brand is a razor-thin tightrope, the margin for error becomes miniscule and it’s a long way down from the giddy heights of an engineered acme.


Target’s brand equity in Canada before its expansion into this country was pure gold. The vast majority of Canada’s citizens live within a reasonable proximity to the American border. Target was a destination worth enduring Customs for. Cheap chic fashion and other goods of seemingly better quality than those rummaged in Wal-Mart and anyway, no one up here had ever scrolled through an e-mail photo montage entitled ‘Shoppers of Target.’ Low cost class, eh? The Canadian financial press was as excited as Canadian consumers, goodwill and thrill.

There are two billion hard excuses for Target’s colossal crash in Canada and they range from market hubris to incorrect bar codes. The reality of Target’s failure is actually a tad more ethereal. The brand broke on the crucible of perception. Target’s American promises fell short of Canadian expectations. It was held hostage by its own image. Now we all know that Target is a brand that can’t shoot straight.

Friday, 9 January 2015



If They Can’t Take a Joke…


Paris is one of the world’s great cities simply because of her history. From the Reign of Terror, through Nazi occupation to the student riots of 1968, she’s been around the block a few times; seen it all and then some. In the wake of the slaughter at the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo, she will be a little quieter than usual this week but she will recover, as she has in the past and as she must now.


There is not a rich tradition of ink and paper satire in Canada even though there’s plenty of material. Then again, unlike the Old World immigrants who built this nation, we’ve not had to endure the tyrannies of emperors and kings, of communism and fascism - merely the Harper government. As with every place in the world, there is always room in our provinces and cities for a welcome prick, the nub of a pencil or the nib of a pen. Satire is an elegant tool. Wielded with scathing expertise, cartoons, poetry and prose slice and dice those buffoons who most fear lampoons. Nothing beats a gag to cut a cretin or a gang of them down to size.


Radical Islam deserves our scorn and derision. There’s something Pythonesque about Islamic State who has changed its name more frequently than the Judean People’s Front. Are we ISIS or ISIL this week? There is the head-scratching contradiction of utilizing modern social media to return the planet to the good old days of the 7th century. Apparently the West isn’t all bad: wasn’t a stash of porn found in bin Laden’s compound? And we’ve been aware for some time now that the collective of holier-than-thou barbarians is without humour.


There was heartening news in this morning’s press. Charlie Hebdo will not miss publishing an issue. In fact the next press run will be increased to one million copies, a substantial upping from the standard 60,000. Such is the power of print, an irreverent weekly going smack-down against ideologically insane misinterpretations of the revelation of Allah. One suspects that Muhammad, secure in paradise or wherever he may be, isn’t overly bothered by earthly caricatures. The Prophet’s concern would be the alarming and violent schism infecting his faith and affecting the globe; these past couple of decades must’ve seemed like an eternity while watched from above.

So, Charlie Hebdo akbar! And if they can’t take a joke or a million more like them…

Tuesday, 6 January 2015



I Do the Rock


This year’s YouTube song of choice for the dead of winter is Tim Curry’s 1979 single I Do the Rock. ‘Well, it’s stimulating!’


Curry most recently trod the boards of Broadway in ‘Spamalot!’ Anyone with midnight cinema credentials and a hash-fogged mind may vaguely recall him in ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ He had a bigger role than Meatloaf.


‘Rodney’s feeling sexy/Mick is really frightfully bold.’ The official video is a gleeful send-up and arch parody of the skinny, preening front man archetype. Curry as Jagger through the looking glass of Joel Grey’s charismatic ‘Cabaret’ emcee, old chum. It’s a bouncy and infectious ditty punctuated by bursts of sax that absolutely compels awkward white men to dance around the house as if they still inhabited bodies lithe enough to encase in sausage casing jumpsuits.


‘John and Yoko farming beef/Raising protein quota/Sometimes they make love and art/Inside the Dakota.’ Curry affects an absurdly ersatz island patois. The choppy and delightful delivery is essential, especially when the lyric demands rhyming ‘Castro’ with ‘disastro.’ No one has ever rocked and rolled a better R than Tim Curry.


I Do the Rock was a cynical and cheery wink-wink survey of the political and cultural landscape as it existed in 1979. Some of the references are long past their best before dates. Those world players are either demented or dead. But nothing truly fades away anymore because of the Internet and sites such as YouTube. So, classic literary allusions aside, naming TV’s three original Charlie’s Angels isn’t such a vexing obscurity to a new listener. (The Farrah hair flip in the video is MasterCard squared – hilariously priceless.) Meanwhile, O.J. didn’t just disappear after leaping that heap of luggage in the Hertz commercial, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones are still performing, Queen Elizabeth II remains perched upon her throne and Jerry Brown is the governor of California again. Our lowest common denominator obsession with fame and the famous has only grown. The more things change…


Our world today is a shrill and discordant place populated by petty activists, entrenched ideologues, cause marketers, activist investors, and populist, zealot demagogues who refuse to absorb the lessons of our centuries of tragic history. What can a poor boy do?


‘Me, I do only thing that still makes sense to me.’


‘Me, I do the only thing that stops me growing old.’


‘But I’m afraid philosophy is just too much responsibility for me.’


‘I could never get the hang of ideology.’


‘I do the rock! It’s stimulating! I’m a keen student!’

Join me for a four-minute escape from it all. Don’t hesitate to hit REPEAT and strut around your house. I do. Constantly.

Friday, 2 January 2015



Everything’s Swell, Just Swell


Our New Year’s Eve plans were simple, do nothing. Yesterday we had to rent a Rug Doctor machine.


The Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA tastes good. The brew has a refreshing hint of grapefruit. A fine way to start the year in a cat piss disaster zone and punt those silly resolutions for 2015. Actually, it’s my third. Let me light another cigarette, place another log on the fire and button my cardigan, I’ve a story to tell you.


On the last night of the year we joined two other couples for dinner. Our friends had made reservations for the six of us on a whim. We, on a similar whim, invited everybody back to our place afterward. We threw a satisfying shindig; the Doobies and the Stones made appearances as did tequila shots. But the party did get off to an awkward start when Ann asked our guests if the house smelled of cat pee. ‘Overpowering,’ and ‘I wasn’t going to say anything,’ were two of the replies. Ann and I looked at each other: Fuck. The guilty party lay curled up asleep on his favourite chair in the living room within the bounds of his new territorial initiative, the Christmas fir.


The first of January was supposed to be about admonishing myself because I know better than to drink tequila at one o’clock in the morning and then chase the horrid ounce with more beer. It was supposed to be about dozing off while watching hockey or American college football. New Year’s Day instead became about the re-imposition of order. Order in today’s chaotic world is more important than ever before. The coffee table book must be angled just so. A magazine may be recycled only after two newer issues have been delivered. The toilet roll must unspool from the top. Novels cannot rub up against non-fiction. Music must be filed alphabetically by artist and then chronologically by release date. Say what you will about a fascist buffoon like Il Duce, but, hey, the trains ran on time.


The festive decorations came down. The Nutcracker soldier went back into his box. Down on my hands and knees, my nose inches from the tree trunk and the carpet, my gag reflex worked overtime as I unsecured the tree from its stand. I now have abs of steel. We then raced up to the grocery store to rent a carpet cleaning machine. If you ever have to tidy up a murder site, I recommend a thorough perusal of the Rug Doctor Quick Stain Removal Chart beforehand. It covers everything: bile (yellow/green vomit), blood, feces (non-urine), perspiration (!), urine and regular vomit.

This morning Mungo the tabby, already a professional puker, wandered into the living room and promptly took a piss where the Christmas tree used to be and where the Rug Doctor had been many times over. Cats are like people who manage to earn a wage even though they’re not competent at what they do; there’s no talking to them. The little bastard is incapable of explaining this new aberrant behaviour after 14 relatively benign years. And we cannot make him understand that his ninth life now dangles from a rapidly fraying thread.