Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Montreal or Nothing at All

Our latest issue of The Economist (March 19-25) carries a full page colour ad featuring Calgary Flames president Brian Burke touting an executive hockey MBA. Only in Canada. The providing school is Athabasca University, a digital institution. MBAs are expensive degrees. If your dream job trajectory suggests a rink rat career, my next word will save you thousands of dollars in tuition: Win.

Rogers Media, a consistent contender for one of Canada’s most loathed corporations, is still having difficulty negotiating the hairpin track that is pro sports. Their baseball Blue Jays last year reinforced the value of a winning individual brand. This lesson is contrary to the company’s misguided strategy of overpaying for a national monopoly on broadcasting professional hockey to Canadians. The error was the mistaken assumption that the NHL’s black and silver shield wielded as much cachet as the crests on the sweaters of the seven Canadian teams (especially Toronto’s); that we would watch anything they fed us simply because it was branded NHL.

Easter has passed. The clocks sprung forward and the days are getting longer. Ann and I have crammed 10 gigantic bags with spring yard debris and the job’s only half done. She’s watering the tulips. So right about now Canadian hockey fans can expect some gauntlet wringing in the sports section: Whither the Stanley Cup and Canada? For me, it’s always been Montreal or nothing at all. Saturday night the New York Rangers ended the Canadiens’ season. The second period was particularly painful, my delicate wisp of faith dissipated, cigarette smoke in a windstorm. The Habs are done, no arithmetic in the world will get them into the playoffs; they are dead to me until next October.

A hockey season is like a newborn, so much hope and promise from the first (television) feed. Alas, so many things can go wrong with a soft machine over the course of a lifetime or a season. The Canadiens wrap up their dismal 2015-16 effort at home Saturday, April 9th against Tampa Bay. Ann and I will be in Montreal and she doesn’t care one way or another if we go to the meaningless match. For me it would be a chance to see the bleu, blanc, rouge, the best uniform in hockey, and maybe learn some of the names of a bunch of young players I’m unfamiliar with.

It’s priced as a premium game which means tickets cost more than they normally do, a tactic most clubs employ with higher profile visitors or for special dates. The pricing scale never slides backward for bottom-feeders even though fans should be properly compensated for having to endure the likes of Columbus or Buffalo, and a league-wide style of play guaranteed to keep bums rooted to arena seats. The greatest game on Earth is boring more often than not which makes following a losing team even tougher on the faithful.

And so top dollar for essentially a farm team roster, for an experience lived many times before and one that won’t even matter in the moment. Not cost-justified, as they say in business school. Perhaps I’ll settle for a Habs hat or t-shirt because summer’s coming and there are plans afoot for an outdoor hockey tournament here in Edmonton - on our backyard patio with my ancient Coleco NHL Power Play table hockey game once we’ve completed the yard work.

Monday, 21 March 2016


A Night on the Town

CKUA is Alberta’s donor supported public radio station. Ann and I have it on more often than not. Some shows are right up our alley, essential listening. Others are charming in their eclecticism and therefore worth tuning into as well. CKUA always promises the magic of the unbidden B-side. One trend we’ve noticed lately is the broadcaster’s propensity to spin recent cover versions of 30-and-40-year-old classic songs from our youths, our canon: all are lame, lazy jazzy takes; hell must be a Super 8 piano bar cocktail lounge. That is why a local version of the Beatles’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ really popped from our speakers. A statement and response duet with a southern groove, not quite Joe Cocker with Leon Russell but the spirit was willing because covering the Beatles requires a certain verve.

Two Blue are an Edmonton duo who spin themselves as ‘black/white, male/female and novice/veteran.’ I suppose you could say the act is the new kid/old dog on Edmonton’s blues scene. We’d not heard of them but that meant nothing. The voice behind the CKUA microphone revealed that Two Blue would play the Blue Chair Café on the last Friday night of the strangely benign winter of 2015-16. We knew and liked the Blue Chair, for brunch anyway. We hadn’t seen live music in an intimate venue since we’d joined together with good friends to catch their son’s punk band on a triple bill in a dive bar on Whyte Avenue. My Two Blue thought was strictly ‘Junior’s Farm:’ ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ Ann agreed.

According to its website the Blue Chair holds 80 patrons. I’d’ve said between 50 and 100; I’m no fire marshal. Sometimes there’s a cover charge and sometimes the performers are paid by donations. The joint is proximate to the Crooked 9, close enough to rock ‘n’ roll but too far to walk. We made arrangements with our cabbie to collect us when we were ready to head home too; while Uber may be spinning its wheels in regulatory limbo, at the very least it has forced traditional livery to elevate its customer service to an acceptable level.

The Blue Chair is tucked away off a main street, occupying square footage in an avant-garde Soviet 60s strip mall. I’m not judging because the tired and downtrodden commercial hub in our neighbourhood from similar times only sells despair, pizza, cigarettes past their best before dates (as if that matters) and daycare in the guise of the University of Tender Loving Care which takes up maybe half of the sub-divided space of the long gone IGA grocery store. The awning over the door of the shuttered pharmacy has been spray painted black. Either way, either place, there’s plenty of free parking.

The genial gentleman who met us at the door was dressed in black. He apologized because other patrons were seated at our reserved table for two. He selected another table for us. We guessed he was the owner and were proven right a couple of hours later when he rounded up the members of Two Blue gently reminding the pair to get on with their second set: tick tock. Boy, it’s refreshing to hang out in a place that values its customers, a good vibe without reverb throughout the room.

The Blue Chair’s menu is a sheet of paper inserted into a plastic envelope and stiffened with the backing of an empty LP sleeve. I complained about getting Loggins and Messina and Ann being handed Chris de Burgh. The fellow returned with a joke and Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ for me and the Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ for Ann and then moved us to an even better table, a high one in the corner by the window. We were pleased.

In addition to the cover charge the Blue Chair’s policy includes a minimum $25 charge per person. While the menu is limited (Generally a good sign, why not do a dozen dishes really well instead of 50 poorly?), there was variety enough to please every palate and even accommodate a few fussy fad diets.

We shared an appetizer of seafood cakes made with potato, crab and cod. Ann had a Pad Thai bowl, I ordered the bison burger. Our server kept asking if we’d like hot sauce and I kept saying yes until the need for the condiment became moot. We enjoyed what we ate; we’re music snobs not foodies. We drank a couple of baby jugs of local micro-brew amber ale. The bill was delivered in a plastic cassette case when our night on the town wound down. I chuckled at the small additional touch, the attention to detail, but they’d already won us over with the record sleeve menus, our meals and the music.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016


A Bit of a Pickle

The setting is an ornate corner office rich with polished rainforest wood and antique furniture. If the mechanized vertical window coverings were open you could almost see Europe, Canada for sure if you looked to the left. This aerie is the uppermost of the toppermost. There is exercise equipment, a fully stocked bar and an alarmingly large statue of a creepy corporate mascot proffering a tray of double-decker hamburgers. The following transcript is a meGeoff world exclusive and was obtained through the inadvertent courtesy of one of the allied Five Eyes signals intelligence agencies; somebody pocket dialed their new Apple iPhone 6S.

Administrative Assistant: Mistress?

Chief Executive Officer: Come in, Minion. We might as well get down to it. What was Wall Street’s verdict on last quarter’s results?

AA: Ah, gee, below analysts’ expectations. Our same store performance here at home is perceived as stagnant rather then steady, although that disappointment was offset somewhat by our increasing overseas sales in Third World markets.

CEO: And how has this affected our shareholders?

AA: Share prices have dropped a few points since the announcement and media subsequent reaction.

CEO: What are we really talking about here?

AA: About one or two cents per unit.

CEO: Oh for fuck’s sake; who the fuck is Citibank or Goldman-Sachs to tell me how to run my company? They don’t sell fucking hamburgers, do they? They’d have to buy them from us, wouldn’t they? Who fed the families living in their cars at a reasonable price during the Wall Street-induced 2008 recession, fuck me, for fuck’s sake!

AA: Yes, Mistress.

CEO: Just for fun, tell me what they’re saying.

AA: Ah, gee, there are a couple of suggestions out there. One is that we expand our menu offerings in the wake of increased and varied competition in the quick service industry.

CEO: Really? So, we’re to sell meals and beverages we’re neither known for nor good at? We’re to compete with non-competitors? Mocha soy lattes to Starbucks denizens? Hero sandwiches to Subway customers? Change our store interiors and re-jig our proven food production line?

AA: Ah, essentially yes, I guess. The other is growth through acquisition, perhaps an unfriendly takeover of a synergistic complementary competitor.

CEO: Synergy means a clash of entrenched corporate cultures. So then we start closing redundant stores and putting people out of work. Piss off every engaged consumer who, for whatever idiotic reason, likes us on Facebook. Genius. Look at Sobeys’ buy of Safeway up in Canada. Both banners have lost customers. They can’t sell ice to hockey players. And that scenario would never dilute the value of our brand, would it? Mixing brands and logos? Our brand image only took 60 years to assemble, painstakingly, a nudge or a suggestion at a time. So fuck it? Chuck it through somebody else’s drive-thru window, is that what they want?

AA: Ah, Mistress? We could always do the usual and slash our own middle management? Double the survivors’ workloads while adding hidden tasks to their existing job descriptions? HR's all over it. We’d recoup those pennies in the eyes of the analysts.

CEO: Put the pennies on their eyes! Minion, you know more about Hamburgers 4 U than I do. We can’t keep getting rid of the knowledge base that actually makes this company function. Fuck me.

AA: Yes, Mistress.

CEO: Stop it! That was just an expression, not an order. White male sexist little monkey. Christ, we’re talking about two cents a share here, maybe one. Do up a press release. Say something like we stand by the best hamburger in the world. Add the standard bullshit about how we work with our vendors, no, partners, especially American farmers, for locally sourced, organic, quality – you know, valued customers, loyalty, the usual blah-blah-blah.

AA: Will do. And one other thing? There’s the board meeting tonight.

CEO: Thanks for the reminder, I totally forgot. What’s the main item on the agenda?

AA: Ah, gee, endemic childhood obesity in America and our role in perpetuating it. In terms of litigation, we’re right up there with the tobacco and soda companies. Do we settle or go to court?

CEO: You know, Minion, one of the reasons I’ve always been content with sustained, status quo, same store sales is because nobody’s supposed to eat six hamburgers a day. Hamburgers 4 U has always been positioned as a treat, a time for families to get together. We’ve never been about a couple of extra cents for stakeholders. Why the fuck don’t these people sue RCA for inventing colour TV or Microsoft for X-Box? Who makes couches and Oreo cookies? And Apple; by the way, where is my iPhone? Oops, I’m sitting on it. Anyway, those fucking parents should sue themselves for raising a waddling generation of fucking anemic diabetics who never went outside and played ball. Nobody takes any responsibility for their own actions or worse, their own inactions. I am so fucking tired of victims. Everybody’s a fucking victim.

AA: Yes, Mistress.

CEO: Sorry, lost it there for a moment. Fuck, Minion, ain’t this America? Nobody sues Colt or Smith and Wesson, just a hamburger chain, like we’re the fucking bad guys. We sell tasty, reasonably priced specialty food; they sell death. Fuck.

AA: Ah, gee, yes, Mistress. Of course the sodium levels in our meals are abnormally high. And we do partner with film franchises and toy companies from time to time.

CEO: That press release? Add this: tell the world we’ll add more sugar to all of our condiments, add pink slime, cereal and steroids to our beef, guarantee traces of nuts in everything we serve, we hope unsupervised small children will choke on bits of plastic and we’ll upsize all of our fountain soda containers. Fuck ‘em all.

AA: Ah, gee, maybe Mistress would like to take a moment and contemplate Her last instruction? May I suggest an internal e-mail which perhaps I could afterward arrange to have wiped from the company servers?

CEO: Brilliant, Minion. You are the brains of the operation. Give me a cigarette. Thanks, it’s lit, yes. Oh my, Christ, that’s good. I dream about the day when we’ll be able to sell cigarettes, alcohol and pot alongside the world’s best hamburger. Think of it, Minion! They’d be fiddling with themselves on Wall Street.

AA: I think they already do, Mistress.

CEO: Anything else?

AA: One last thing. There are concerns on social media regarding the gender equality of the washrooms in our stores. Some people are confused, a very small percentage.

CEO: Oh Christ, you’re not making this up, are you?

AA: Ah, gee, alas, no.

CEO: All right, all right, let’s just put a generic toilet sign on all of the doors. Done.

AA: But some of the washrooms will have urinals, some won’t.

CEO: Fuck ‘em. I don’t care if you stand, squat or sit to piss. If you gotta go, you make do. Put a sign or two in every toilet telling everybody to clean up after themselves and to leave the space tidy for the next user. Flush! Who the fuck cares about anything else?

AA: I’ll tack on a genderless washroom initiative to the official press release, shall I?

CEO: Yes, great idea. The press’ll eat that shit up. Oh, and tell them we’re all about free run eggs too or whatever the fuck they are. Happy bacon! So, we’re done?

AA: Oh, I’m sorry, Mistress, I forgot to mention that Donald Trump is still calling about his proposed Make America Great Again Signature Halal Cabo Trump Fiesta Burger. He keeps going on about orange American cheese. It’s ‘great’ or ‘huge’ or something, like his brand of steaks and vodka.

CEO: Tell him to fuck off permanently and leave us alone. Actually, check that. I’ll phone him myself. I need to blow off some steam or I’ll get violent.

AA: Ah, gee, I’ll just see myself out then, shall I?

Sunday, 13 March 2016


Blue Froggies Come A-Courtin’

The signs are everywhere. Ann and I first heard the returning Canada geese about a week ago. A crimson tulip shoot has poked out of the soil near the gas meter on the back wall of the house. In the long north flowerbed which runs parallel to the fence and property line the ping pong elevated eyes of three blue ornamental frogs peek above the crust of snow. Around the front a new bird bell hanging from the birch has attracted pine siskins and a downy woodpecker, both species tend to feed from gravity defying angles; who knew a couple of impulse bucks at the Dollar Store would bring such delight? We’d gone in for a couple of spare slabs of suet for the feeder in the Ohio buckeye.

Ann turned on the outside water. I connected the garden hose and ran the tap. Ann searched for the attachments because, dear me, I stored them somewhere last fall. I put away the ice chipper and three of four snow shovels (Alberta after all and it’s early yet). I tucked the pail of salt and the bag of grit beneath the back steps. I righted our three large patio tables and arrayed them ready for heavy summer usage. Ann said, ‘It won’t be long before we’ll be reading the morning papers outside.’ Amen, Sister Golden Hair.

We moved gingerly around the front, trying to remember how to tread lightly in our rubber clogs. We shook, rolled and tied the winter mats splayed on the front porch, stowed them in the garage. We carried the three giant flowerpots down from beneath the sheltering eaves and placed them at the bottom of the stairs where they live during the summer months, exposed to the elements. Together we hauled the furniture onto the driveway, the tête-à-tête, the bench, the low table and the red pair of folding chairs. I hosed down the slate surface, Ann swabbed it clean.

As far as we’re concerned our front porch is ready for us to sit out on, stay up late and listen to the living room stereo through the open door. Seating accommodations are ready for friends and neighbours who drop by without texting or phoning. And I’ve never seen our lawn so green this early in a new year. Yet it’s too soon to rake, the ground must still be frozen at least two or three inches deep.

What I really enjoy at this time of year besides planning the garden and a few evenings with a book about baseball is a hot dog. I inspected our barbecue yesterday and it seems just slightly more worse for wear this spring than last year. I want a hot dog. A wiener made from abattoir offal on a white bun with bright yellow mustard and sweet neon green relish. Maybe gussied up with a molten orange, edible oil cheese-like product. I want one now with an option for seconds, thirds and fourths. Spring is almost here; summer’s coming. Bring it.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


Ruminations on a Magazine Delivered by Canada Post in a Somewhat Timely Manner While Staying Up Late, Drinking Alone, Staring Out the Dining Room Window and Listening to Astral Weeks

Rolling Stone is not a weekly nor is its content acutely time sensitive so when our mail carrier eventually gets around to delivering the latest issue I’m not particularly annoyed. Week-old New Yorkers and Economists, stale afterthoughts in my mailbox bundled with pizza and hamburger flyers, enrage me until I take a moment to breathe. It’s no secret that the service Canada Post is mandated to provide citizens is increasingly erratic. The corporation seems to have adopted the fatalistic attitude of the doomed middle manager toiling fruitlessly for a company whose share prices have not met analysts’ expectations: Why bother?

You have to pick your hill to die on or choose which scab to pick at. Times are changing for Canada Post. Today, Elvis might sing ‘Bounce Back’ or ‘No Wi-fi’ instead of ‘Return to Sender.’ I have come to terms with the fact that I can no longer be the recipient of a Saturday delivery of 200 Roman soldiers shipped from Battle Creek, Michigan. It’s not 1967 anymore. I cannot remember the last time anybody I know opened a letter from me, medium blue Bic block printing on graph paper, a precise technique I lifted from my father. There will be no attic trove of yellowed, folded sheets anywhere after I commune with the spirit in the sky. There will be instead a ghost in the grid: undeleted e-mails, this blog, an inactive Facebook account and years of archived posts somewhere inside the digital circuitry of the music chat board I’ve been frequenting for a dozen years to date.

The cover of the latest Rolling Stone depicts the three deranged Republican presidential candidates armed with primitive weapons, farm implements: an inciteful and ignorant mini-mob beyond satire. Transcendental insanity south of the Medicine Line isn’t really any of my business, but the magazine itself troubled me. The page count was reduced and the binding was stapled. There weren’t enough pages between the covers to warrant a glued and printed spine, about the width of an LP sleeve, a first since Rolling Stone shrank, reformatting its size to match those of pop culture oriented newsstand competitors. There are still newsstands in airports; I’ve wandered past them, killing time, seeking a reasonably priced ham and cheese sandwich.

The skimpiness of the magazine made me angry. I’ve been an avid reader since 1975. Rolling Stone through the years has informed me, provoked me and entertained me. Its propensity toward masturbatory self-aggrandizing infuriates me, but hey, CREEM and Trouser Press are dead and mostly forgotten so here’s the lotion and the Kleenex. Try not to make a mess like you did with the botched campus rape story. I’ve read that the publication has cut staff affiliated with its print edition but has hired staff to enhance its digital presence. My subscription expires this coming December.

I’ve been wondering what to do. Some old habits are so hard to break. Sometimes I care about what’s in the magazine. The latest issue carries a special report on artificial intelligence; I’m intrigued by the potential ramifications of an evolving technology I can’t quite comprehend. I’ll probably be dead by the time it all shakes down in a Frankenstein or I, Robot modern Promethean way. Then again, we went from Kittyhawk to the moon inside the 20th century and the acceleration of the rate of progress since 1969 has red lined from Mach One to warp speed. Who knows? Maybe a conscientious and overly chatty machine will insist upon keeping me alive and refuse to grant me my peaceful big sleep.

During a cigarette and half a beer on the back steps, silhouetted in the light of the open kitchen door, about three minutes into ‘Cyprus Avenue,’ I remember there’s a new machine in the house. I have a tablet now. I tend to use it Sunday mornings because news happens on Saturdays even if there are no Sunday papers to report it. I am developing a new habit.

What about Rolling Stone? What if I were to keep our relationship going via a digital subscription? For a lower price I’d get the complete print content, additional content which doesn’t quite suit the once tried and true ink and paper format, and access to the publication’s archives going all the way back to the magazine’s debut in 1967. It’s not exactly what I’ve been used to, which is annoying but I’m fairly certain I can adapt and circumvent Canada Post at the same time.

This far along in my life I think I can change. A bit. A modicum or an iota. Maybe I can review my other magazine subscriptions. Maybe I can get more, cheaper magazine subscriptions this way. I loved Sports Illustrated once. Forbes? I love reading. It’s important to grasp the thingyness of things. ‘Maybe this is the way forward,’ I muse as I turn the record over to play side two. Baby steps into a brave new world.

Monday, 7 March 2016


A Brand New Beat Goes On and On

I’m not sure there was ever a record label like Motown or that there ever will be again. The Detroit recording studio was called Hitsville, U.S.A. for any Number One of Top Ten reasons. Listening to a decent Motown compilation is like Rocky getting into the ring with Apollo Creed, hit after hit after hit and when you can’t take anymore, stunned by the genius, you babble, “C’mon, let’s go, let’s go, hit me again.” The left and right hooks just keep on coming through the stereo speakers.

Ann and I Sunday night attended the Edmonton debut of the Motown revue ‘Dancing in the Streets,’ “Direct from London’s West End!” and “the best party in town” according to the full colour newspaper ads. We decided to buy tickets late last year during the dead of winter with darkness all around. What a fine way to herald the coming spring, we thought, and, anyway, they just don’t write ‘em like that anymore. The good old stuff. Motown, like fellow regional labels Chess and Stax, left music fans with an astounding legacy.

My sister saw a performance of ‘Dancing in the Streets’ in London. Her record collection changed my life. She said she expected more given the cost of a seat. I know London a little bit, what costs a dollar here costs a pound there; tourist budgets are tough to stretch at twice the price. Ann and I have endured tribute shows before and so we knew enough not to expect the second coming of Marvin Gaye or even the California Raisins. By those standards our tickets were a relatively inexpensive lark.

‘Dancing in the Streets’ has no book. There’s no hackneyed story line stitching together the songs as in other nostalgic jukebox musicals like ‘We Will Rock You.’ Nor is there much in the way of information for those inclined to absorb some of the history of Motown from a staged performance. Founder and producer Berry Gordy, songwriters and arrangers Lamont Dozier, Brian and Eddie Holland, and the Hitsville, U.S.A. house band the Funk Brothers do not exist. ‘Dancing in the Streets’ is a well intentioned, well executed and jarringly inconsistent human mix tape.

When the Supremes came out in matching white ball gowns trimmed with white fur early in the first half of the two-part show the illusion was real. But, but, when they sang ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ they got the halt palm chorus part right, nailed it, but they didn’t pretend to snap pencils, touch their hearts or rotate their index fingers against their temples the way I do at parties. “Stop! In the name of love, before you break my heart, think it o-o-over.”

There’s no time for recrimination. The male cast members took over, performing ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)’ and ‘Uptight’ in succession. In my seat I grinned with glee and wept at the torrent of memories. Inexplicably, most of the second half of ‘Dancing in the Streets’ hinged on costumed, in-character tributes to both the Temptations and Stevie Wonder, so two of my all time favourite songs ever were done as early throwaways while some latecomers to the auditorium still searched for their cushioned chairs. And, well, fuck, if you’ve promised “the best party in town” how do you not rip through Smokey’s ‘Going to a Go-Go’ during the finale or right at the start?

Motown grew up because its teenaged artists and teenaged market did. Those years coincided with the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States and the escalation of the Vietnam War. You won’t hear ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),’ ‘Livin’ for the City, or ‘What’s Going On?’ at ‘Dancing in the Streets.’ They weren't fun house party 45s. The awkward exception was Edwin Starr’s (I believe he starred in the original London cast) ‘War’ envisioned for some reason as an audience participation set piece. “War! Huh! What is it good for?” Good God, it was no friend to a somewhat formal room populated with elderly white folk worried about Monday’s doctor’s appointments, prescription refills and actually meeting the undertaker: “No offense, but we all would’ve been better at this 35 years ago.”

To harp about a show so obviously in love with its source material might seem petty. It’s Motown yes, but it’s not the Temps or Marvin or Martha and the Vandellas. Ann and I knew this going in of course, but the confirmation was mildly depressing. On the drive home we agreed that if we threw a Saturday night shaker and played just the original artists’ recorded hits from the show (barring the sublimely wretched ‘Endless Love’) at volume, we’d dance in the kitchen and the living room, the hall and the dining room, blow out the windows and pop the roof off the joint. Even at our age. The hits never stop.

Sunday, 6 March 2016


Hometown Downtown Tourists

Once we’d finished the New York Times Saturday crossword and cleaned up all the cat puke Ann and I decided to go downtown and check out the state of our city’s core. The temperature outside was in the high teens and from beyond slight gashes in the cloud cover, the sun suggestively hinted at a few brief shining moments.

Our first stop was City Market Downtown which occupies the expansive foyer of City Hall during the winter months. The scale of the summer outdoor farmers’ market is necessarily reduced, the fields are still frozen. The vendors occupying the interior booths specialized in baked goods, meats and crafts. We toured the modest circuit easily enough, no jostling, few shoppers; was it the economy or just the time of the season? Ann located the fellow who sells the spicy peanuts she likes so much. We bought some homemade potato samosas but only after ensuring they weren’t gluten free.

Churchill Square is the great public plaza that hosts City Hall and anchors downtown Edmonton. Saturday the ice rink was too soft to skate on. Few people were about; there were more NO SMOKING SIGNS than citizens. We looked at the ugly façade opposite, the main branch of the city’s library network, due for an extensive, expensive and welcome makeover. The Band-Aid SPREAD THE WORDS banners cannot conceal the existing design atrocity.

Edmonton is a young city even by Canadian standards. Its Brutalist development and modernization in the late 60s and during the first major oil boom of the 70s has left a legacy of massive blank walls and shadowy dead spaces, Ayn Rand architecture gone to town with a certain ironic Soviet sensibility. Some of these uninspired monoliths could at least use a little lipstick at street level because it’s unlikely some sort of Great Fire catastrophe will enable us to restart from scratch under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.

Behind us and behind City Hall the new Royal Alberta Museum is nearing completion. To our right, cranes assemble Katzville, which the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, bent on some kind of Tammany Hall hold on all entertainment in the capital region, insists be called Ice District. Here’s praying somebody gets at least something right with the new buildings as the City itself is incapable of managing bridge repairs or even adding a properly functioning spur to the existing light rail transit system.

We walked along Jasper Avenue. The busiest store on our main street was the 7-11, a sign of the times perhaps. We stopped in the Wee Book Inn. Ann bought a copy of Fahrenheit 451. We’ve both read it but there’s not a copy in the house and that seems wrong somehow because some days the idea of firemen setting fires doesn’t seem so far fetched. I searched vainly for Colonel Sun, the first post-Fleming Bond novel, written by Kingsley Amis. Further down the street at Audreys Books I found myself on the fiction shelves beside Lisa Moore. Her latest novel Caught was a Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee. The cover of her book was facing the browser. I twisted her spines so that they now faced outward and turned my novel Duke Street Kings to show off the three pints of beer on its cover. Ann took a picture of the rearranged shelf to feed my rich fantasy life. I felt a little guilty afterward, like a Catholic shoplifter, maybe.

Our final mission was to locate the new Needle Vinyl Tavern in the old CKUA building on Jasper, situate the pertinent train station. Downtown, hell, Edmonton needs another viable and vibrant live music venue unconstrained by the implied formalities of its small auditoriums; most artists would rather play a club just because of the atmosphere. We found plywood hoarding, scaffolding and an indifferent tradesman wearing an Incredible Hulk t-shirt. The tavern is supposed to open sometime later this month. I’m on the VIP list, all that took was an e-mail. Ann, Geoff and Hulk hope Needle Vinyl Tavern smash! Our hopes are high and those are good feelings.