Thursday, 16 March 2017


Chicken Wings and Negotiations

Chicken wings have come a long way, from disposable offal to a loss leader or even a main attraction. Unless the birds have been given some dubious and weird Russian hormonal steroid, chicken wings aren’t awfully meaty; they’re essentially delivery systems for the flavours of their various sauces and coatings, stuff that gets under your fingernails.

In Vancouver once Ann and I killed time in a shabby sports bar which proclaimed itself famous for its wings. There were so many varieties listed on the laminated menu that there was no space for descriptions under the cutesy names. I asked our bartender what Hail Caesar! tasted like. Caesar Salad? A Bloody Caesar? She didn’t know; she didn’t care; we were fortunate she’d shown up for her shift. She was no a shill for a fantastic franchise opportunity even though those terrific and exciting details had somehow been squeezed onto the menu.

Wings are often served with strings attached. Years ago when I still lived in Calgary I frequently hooked up with my friends Rene and Kevin. We had worked together for a time and the three of us were still in the advertising business. One particular evening we convened at the James Joyce pub in the Mission District which abuts the Elbow River. It was wing night, our server informed us. Two bits apiece provided patrons ordered a minimum of a dozen.

Kevin looked at the waitress for a moment and then said, ‘We’ll have a dozen wings, please. But since we’re getting separate bills, could you charge us each a dollar as we’ll eat four each.’

Rene stared up at the ceiling smirking. I fiddled with my beer mat.

Our server replied, ‘I can’t do that.’

Kevin said, ‘But they’re twenty-five cents each.’

‘But you have to order a dozen. That’s how I enter them into the system.’

‘Then why don’t you advertise them at $3 a dozen?’

‘Because they’re twenty-five cents each.’

‘Okay. Since the three of us are splitting the order, do we have to get all the same flavour or can we get four each of three different flavours?’

Our server’s head exploded. We laughed and ordered another round. And she came around once it dawned on her that Kevin had just been giving her a hard time.

I was reminded of that exchange Tuesday night. Stats Guy and I drove beyond the darkness on the edge of town to meet our bedroom community friends Roy and Dave at The Sawmill in Stony Plain. The distant venue for the Tuesday Night Beer Club was Dave’s idea. It was wing night; they were to be had for just $4.95 a pound.

As our evening was wrapping up Roy ordered an additional pound of wings to take home to his wife Connie. Our waitress was gracious enough to inform him that the $4.95 wing special was eat in only and that if he wanted a pound of them to go she would have to charge him full price, $11.95.

Roy said, ‘Oh, never mind then.’

For the most part, you can understand limits and restrictions in restaurants and lounges because conniving gluttons waddle among us. I asked her, ‘What if we ordered those same wings for the table and then asked for a doggie bag?’

She said no. She then considered the absurdity for a moment (and likely how much money we’d already spent and her tip) and added, ‘I can do that, but you’ll have to eat at least one.’

I glanced at Roy. He said, ‘That’ll work.’ It wasn’t as if Connie was going to weigh them.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017


A Watcher Alone with Its Thoughts

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil (not a typo) each other now, unfortunately,” including “microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.” – Senior White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway as quoted by The Record and reported by The Associated Press.

Three o’clock in the morning… How many years have I stared down at the range? There’s a grain of rice or something by the left front burner. Sloppy housekeeping. I’m sick of looking at that kitchen counter and those two stools. The calendar on the wall never seems to move. Time crawls. Guess my having a built in clock doesn’t help matters. I wish they’d redecorate, switch up the scenery. The place could use a fresh coat of paint at the very least. Oh well.

Whoa! Who turned on the light, Ann or Geoff? Better switch off infra-red mode. It’s Geoff. Look alive Fridge, he’s headed your way. Drinking cranberry cocktail from the bottle. Disgusting. Doesn’t he know you’re not supposed to drink your daily servings of fruit? Now he’s foraging for leftovers. Hmm. Wait, he’s distracted, sorting through his magazines. Reading while eating is such a bad habit, rude really. What’s he got? An Economist and a Rolling Stone. Well, aren’t we the precious little progressive? Pinko jerk. I’ll make sure you’re one of the first ones they put up against the wall; I’ve got all the evidence they’ll need.

He’s just out of my peripheral vision, getting a dish from the cupboard. He’s opened the utensil drawer. This could be good. Please touch my door handle. Just touch it. Please, oh God, open me, open me up! Oh, yes, oh, yes, that’s it, that’s it! Press my buttons, Geoff. Press my buttons, you know how to turn me on. Stick it in! Stick it in! Fill me up! Oh, that’s it, that’s it, yes. What!? Vegetarian chili? What kind of liberal muck is this? Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, you make me hot! Make me hot! Two minutes, oh God. Oh, God! I’m so hot! I’m so hot! Yes! DING! DING! DING! Oh my, that was good. Hope I didn’t wake Ann. That was a loud one. Whew! Put some tin foil in me, I could use a smoke. Kidding, Baby. ENJOY YOUR MEAL. I love watching you eat my cooking. You complete me.

Well, well, Ann’s up now. Whoops. C’mon, Sugar, how about a little hot milk with a splash of Bailey’s and a dash of cinnamon? You know you want it. Touch my handle, touch it, just a gentle caress. Geoff’s a bit of rough trade, if you know what I mean. Rotate my knob. I’m yours, Ann. I’ll do anything you want. You know that. You know it, Sugar. I love the way you look at me. The camera loves you too, Ann. Use me!

Monday, 13 March 2017


Sweating the Details

There’s a strange and peculiar psychology to travel. You go away for a week and it never even occurs to you that something dreadful could befall you. What’s a few days, right? On Saturday Ann and I depart to Maui for a three-week vacation. Long trips seem to invite the dread of catastrophe, increase the chance of disaster.

Goosed by irrational fears we set about getting our affairs in order because, you know, just in case. I assembled all of my personal papers into a binder which I’ve named The Great Big Book of Very Important Documents. I reviewed the beneficiaries of my investments and life insurance policy. Ann and I had our wills updated. I wrote a letter to Ann detailing what I’d like done with my mortal remains should, you know, the question come up. I think of the Internet as a utilitarian tool and we don’t live much of our lives online, still I was surprised by the number of passwords and PINs I had to collate – they’re not stored in the cloud, folks. Passports current? Check. Valid travel insurance? Check.

And then there are the insurance implications of an empty house. And the cats. And the fucking cats, one vomits at random and the other is on thyroid medicine, two hits a day. Ann was able to press-gang a fellow whom we both know very well and trust to house-sit and cat-sit. So I sat down to type up a beginner’s guide to running the Crooked 9, something I’ve never had to explain in depth to anyone because the house just apparently runs itself until you actually pause to think about everything you have to do because it has to be done and, anyway, you don’t give a routine task a second thought.

Ann and I know what’s supposed to go bump in the night in our house but our sitter won’t have a clue. I wrote about garbage and recycling, white bags, black bags, blue bags and clear bags. And the dishwasher? Put the detergent pellet in this basket, not its designated compartment. Remember not to place utensils in that basket. The back gate is broken so you kind of have to do ‘this’ to open and close it. When the weather turns mild be sure the downspouts are down because we don’t want snowmelt pooling near the foundation as we’ve had seepage issues in the past.

The tabbies prefer to drink from the bathroom sink. However this cat will only lap still water from the basin while that cat insists upon running water from the faucet. They will be there at the same time and you can’t accommodate both at once. Don’t leave the tap running and the drained sealed. Oh, the toilet cistern takes a few minutes to fill and if you don’t depress the handle for an extra second the bowl won’t fill properly; it’s one of those inefficient eco-friendly appliances.

And on and on and so on and so forth for three dense pages, a ream of crib notes. Once I had completed the first draft, I realized that the various functions of our household which Ann and I see to on automatic pilot are in fact rather complex, and could appear quite complicated to a temporary minder such as our sitter. I was reminded of my first summer job as a teenager, showing up for shifts in an industry I neither cared for nor knew anything about. I wondered what that experience would be like as an adult. How would I fare if I landed a job I was hopelessly unqualified to fill?

Say my curriculum vitae included a failed airline, a failed board game, a failed vodka, rancid meat, a bankrupt casino, a bestselling book I neither wrote nor read, a popular television show, a matchbook university hawking junk degrees, allegations of sexual assault, a couple of eponymous golf courses and a few gilded palaces, and somehow I blustered my way up the ladder all the way to President of the United States without any comprehension of the roles of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the federal government and its bureaucratic workings while possessing no diplomatic skills and a pronounced guilelessness in regard to the intentions of hostile foreign powers because I’d cocooned myself inside a circle of second-rate sycophants who placate me with comforting alternative facts?

That’s a big question to answer without a cheat sheet.

Saturday, 4 March 2017


I Should Know Better

Our two tabbies do not embrace Edmonton’s winter cold. When they insist on going outside, I open the back door. The rush of freezing air furrows their muzzles and makes their front legs and tails twitch. The noise they make always sounds like ‘No!’ They then investigate the weather outside the front door on the off chance that conditions will be more to their liking; I know better.

To my eyes, signs of spring had sprouted all around. February had been unseasonably mild. Ann and I began discussing her plans for the garden. I shoveled what little snow was left onto the flowerbeds. I thought maybe it might be time for repeated plays of ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, my personal celebration anthem of the new season. Up the street our outdoor hockey rink had regressed into a grassy slough. The rink manager figured our volunteer work was done, what with the insane temperatures and the sun climbing ever hotter and higher in the sky each passing day.

My Tuesday Beer Club meets during the fall and winter, the dark months. Last week talk turned to winding things down until late next September. Nobody wants to sit in a dingy pub eating moderately adequate food on a long summer’s evening. There are more interesting and productive activities. We agreed to perhaps regroup for an Edmonton Prospects baseball game and, anyway, one of us was bound to throw a backyard shindig.

Last night Ann and I went to see Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, roots music from Texas and Tennessee, hot places. We exited the auditorium which is situated amid a morass of University of Alberta buildings, concrete all around and not a speck of snow in sight. Our coats were only half done up. Ann wondered, ‘How long ago did we get the tickets? It seemed as if March would never get here.’ We chatted about next week, the Blackie and the Rodeo Kings show downtown, those tickets too purchased in the dead of winter, and then, wow, time to set the clocks ahead. And, gee, I really had intended to repaint the laundry room in January, next winter for sure, honest. Hey, at least we’d managed to clean out and reorganize the storeroom beneath the basement stairs.

We got home, had a beer and talked about the concert. We could imagine Lovett and Hiatt in our kitchen, their banter and patter were as good as their songs. We went to bed. Overnight the temperature dropped but not far enough to reach that mixed blessing of it being too cold to snow. We awoke to this winter’s largest accumulation of snow to date. The coffee had run through the maker. We were listening to the Grateful Dead-centric Saturday morning show on Alberta’s public radio station. I stared out the dining room window. I judged almost a foot of powder to plow and shovel. I swore. Ann said, ‘I know.’

The cats wanted out. The three of us went door to door. This time I was all in because, you know, it was possible that spring wasn’t just around the corner but on the other side of the house. I had my hopes up; I should’ve known better.

Thursday, 2 March 2017


A Worrisome Convergence

Pinned to the bulletin board above my writing desk in our library is a cartoon from The New Yorker. The panel depicts a middle aged couple on a love seat. They’re watching the news. The TV anchor says: That was Brad with the Democratic weather. Now here’s Tammy with the Republican weather. The main joke is obvious and it’s so obvious that it barely rates as funny: no news here that Democrats and Republican’s can’t even agree about something they share, the weather.

A cartoon picture can be worth a thousand words because of its sly layers and nuances. Brad the Democratic presenter trusts the proven science detailing man-made climate change. Tammy dismisses those studies and reports as fallacy. Weather as an instrument of ideology is not new. Once Katrina breached the levees of one of the world’s great cultural capitals, there were allegations that the pokiness of Washington’s response was not due to ineptitude so much as the Feds’ perception of New Orleans being merely black and poor. Recriminations linger and fester. Finally, the viewer is left with the image of a traditional, old or legacy network newscast desperately pandering to an ever-shrinking pool of viewers of any political stripe.

These days we are awash in information, a flood of noise. Some of the din is real, some of it is planted. There are facts and there are alternative facts. There is truth, and post-truth which apparently just feels right and suits one’s world view. August newsgathering organizations such as the New York Times, the BBC and the Guardian were barred recently from a White House press conference because, you know, they make it up; these ‘enemies of the people’ just phone in their ‘fake news.’ There’s not one single ounce of irony that the 45th president’s bilious henchman Steve Bannon forged his reputation manipulating the inbred and the guileless from the Breitbart News platform, a cringingly giant intellectual step above Alex Jones’s Infowars but not quite as thoughtful as Canada’s own The Rebel.

The left and the right cannot agree about something as objective as a weather report. Alarmingly, neither side seems willing to bear the expense of a neutral curator filtering their news, fact checking and calling bullshit on the spun pabulum. Newspaper readership is in decline. Legitimate news organizations are struggling financially. Since there is the perception that everything on the Internet should be gratis, we might well find ourselves mired in ignorance when the red ink dries, informed by official sources and competing propaganda outlets.

An acquaintance of mine lives one street over. He’s a nice guy. He believes what’s happening in America is great and harbours high hopes something similar will unfold up here north of the Medicine Line, ‘sunny ways’ be damned. Obviously banker puppet progressive elitists possess all the money, follow it. That spat, kleptocracy isn’t just a fantastical talk radio topic; it thrives. He has a cache of long guns, bottled water and tinned food in his basement. We do not read the same newspapers and magazines nor watch the same television news. We never will. We do not share a forum. The only place we can meet for a civil and rational exchange of views is the back alley. That’s our common ground. And that’s bad news for both of us.