Friday, 29 March 2019


Portland, Oregon

Ann sat at the kitchen counter contemplating the daily squares of the More Time Moms Family Organizer calendar on the wall above the erasable magnetic bulletin board. Outside, February was crawling over shards of shattered ice into its fifth week.

She said, “We’ve got to get out of this place.” I agreed. I thought travelling for an early and extra week of spring was a great notion. Ann asked me where we might like to go, somewhere close, somewhere south and west of Edmonton. Ann flung a figurative dart at a mental map: “Portland?”

Powell’s City of Books, I thought, the mother overload. I once spent a lot of time and money at the Powell’s on the south side of Chicago by the university, a multi-level warren of shelves, but I’d heard shoppers required a map for the mother store in Portland because it’s storeys of stories, an entire city block of books. Certain niggling gaps in our library needed to be plugged. It occurred to me too that possibly, maybe I could shopput a copy of my latest novel onto Powell’s shelves and wouldn’t hilarity ensue if I got caught doing that?

I said, “Let’s.”

The unofficial motto of the actual city is Keep Portland Weird. That pithy tourist t-shirt slogan while true is also something of a slight as it suggests a laissez-faire attitude on the part of Portland’s civic administration which pretty much seems to have got things right for its 650,000 citizens. The inland port, once the terminus of the Pioneer Trail, is divided east and west by the Willamette River which meets the Columbia about ten miles downstream. The Pacific coast is another 50 miles distant. Downtown is on the west bank of the Willamette. By my calculation its core stretches from the Portland State University campus in the south north to the funkier Pearl District. The scale is human and the place is designed for people.

For a pedestrian Portland is Nancy Sinatra’s boots. The west waterfront is an extensive and scenic ribbon of manicured green. The core is peppered with parks or greenways, some of which extend for blocks, and public squares. Bike lanes are painted on the roads and green signs indicate skateboard routes. Commuters are served by three trams which run in loops, light rail MAX trains which reach all quadrants of the city and extend to the airport. All these tracks are criss-crossed by busses. Visiting riders can utilize the entire system all day long for just $5.

Ann and I stayed downtown on Clay Street, steps away from Portland State, the city’s arts district and the great stone edifice that is City Hall. The Hotel Modera is retro-hip, a refurbished travel lodge evoking the days of land yachts with fly-away fins and lots of chrome. Its earthy two-tone hallways were dimly lit. The carpet pattern suggested enlarged fragments of broken records. From time to time we felt as if we’d walked into the nightmare sequence of a German silent film.

That disorienting cinematic effect was often enhanced by extensive sampling of local micro-brews. On our second visit to the Yard House on Fifth Avenue, I was cavalier, I ordered a Proletariat Red. The establishment’s literature boasts its collection of beers on tap is the world’s largest. The bartender said they didn’t have that one. I was mildly mystified because I knew I’d enjoyed a couple somewhere in the vicinity, somewhere within staggering distance.

Ann and I were enchanted by the barroom of Jake’s Famous Crawfish. The fridges were wood framed with see-through doors, misty with condensation. We were detective noir characters, me and my moll. A man wearing a mesh ball cap who was part of a party of three waiting for a table in the restaurant ordered a Bud Light. The bartender straightened his two-button white waistcoat and stared at his customer; eventually he sneered, “Really.” The blue tap was at hand but swill was not served. About 15 minutes later another drinker sidled into the recently evacuated space beside Ann and me. He couldn’t decide what he wanted. I suggested a Bud Light.

Years ago when I was a university student the syllabus for one of my English courses included two works by James Joyce: ‘Stephen Hero’ and ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,’ the former being a first draft of the latter. The professor noted that the main character also appears in the pub scene in Joyce’s masterpiece ‘Ulysses.’ He said ‘Ulysses’ was a problematic book: “I either mention it in passing or we devote an entire semester to it.” I cannot remember the gentleman’s name but I could picture him as we stood before 1005 West Burnside. Powell’s is problematic: you either walk on by like Dionne Warwick or like the Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show, you spend some time together.

Ann had a list on her iPhone. I had a paper list in my pocket and a second one from an envious friend. We browsed the green, blue and gold rooms before agreeing to split up. I went upstairs into the red room and then like a magpie in the land of shiny objects wandered into the purple room to examine the books about baseball. Immersed in that aisle I remembered what it was like to collect O-Pee-Chee cards: “Got it. Got it. Got it.” I did eventually purchase a Modern Library edition of Raymond Chandler whose prose both created and transcended his genre of detective noir. My other find was a Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick whose groundbreaking short stories and novels introduced an everyman, workaday element to science fiction. I purposely avoided Powell’s orange room where the music books are shelved.

Down by the river in a neighbourhood promoted as historic called Yamhill, Ann and I stumbled upon Second Avenue Records. We flipped through the bins of new and used vinyl. I was a Bruce Springsteen character in the shop, not a boy prophet walking handsome and hot so much as wanting it all or nothing at all. I didn’t possess the pre-scribbled constraint of a list nor did I ask the two hipsters behind the counter if they, like Powell’s, shipped large orders. I was afraid the answer might be yes. Ann and I lingered but not for very long.

When we travel Ann and I habitually establish an unofficial headquarters outside of our accommodations. Riding the B tram we spotted an inviting dive on Montgomery, a short walk from our hotel, where the tracks begin to twist down toward the Willamette and the bridge over to its industrialized east bank. Schmizza Pub & Grub had picnic tables outside arrayed by the rails and they were rife with drinkers, smokers and dog owners. We visited three times. The craft beer was palatable and the pizza was delicious.

But something was bugging me. I’d noticed a corporate lunch hour Schmizza sign downtown on a street named for a dead president near the Court House. I collared our Montgomery manager and asked him if there was a legal conflict what with two such disparate pizza parlours using the same name. He said, “It’s a franchise.” I’d already investigated the borderline sanitary toilets; I looked around at the shabby décor and at the regulars, skaters under slouch toques, eccentrics under fedoras or baseball caps, who owned their barstools. I said, “Really?” I thought, ‘The franchise fee must run around $5 and the brand manager is either a burnt-out case or dead.’ He swept his arm toward the beer taps and the shelves of liquor, “My difference is the wall. I don’t really pay attention to head office, they leave me alone.”

Unfortunately, a couple of more important things are neglected in Portland. Nestled between Chinatown and the Old Town and within a triangle whose vague points are the Greyhound station, the University of Oregon team store and Voodoo Doughnut (sweet-toothed doughphiles swear Blue Star Donuts is better) is a skid row the likes of which I’ve never before encountered where I’ve lived or visited. Portland’s homeless population, some of it nomadic given the temperate climate, seems alarmingly disproportionate to the city’s size. People wrapped in crusty tarps and filthy sleeping bags live under bridges, on sidewalk corners, on the greenways and in central Pioneer Square. Portland is justifiably renowned for its food truck scene and vibrant weekend market but eating and drinking on the street in front of the hungry and the desperate strikes me as inadvertent taunting.

If the homeless are invisible to locals, so too is life in the state prior to the United States of America’s westward expansion, its manifest destiny. The various public statues and especially their inscriptions constitute something of a whitewash of history; the first settlers seemingly encountered nothing and no one in the timber except critters. Those curious about First Nations’ history in the territory will have to dig a little deeper than the Wells Fargo museum – which was closed during our stay but apparently still tallying up visitors. The Oregon Historical Society’s main exhibit examined the wondrous legacy of beer.

Friday, 22 March 2019


Big Old Jet Airliners

The following is a transcript of a telephone call that may have been recorded for training purposes.

Boeing: Good afternoon, Boeing Aerospace internal sales, how may I help you?

meGeoff: Hello, I’m the CFO of meGeoff Air. I wish to purchase a schwack of planes, please, an entire fleet.

Boeing: We’re currently running a special on our 737 Max 8s, factory pricing this week only and easy terms.

meGeoff: Great! I’ll take two, please.

Boeing: I thought you said you wanted a fleet?

meGeoff: I do and two jets should suffice.

Boeing: I’m not sure I understand.

meGeoff: We’re a startup, an ultra low cost carrier. Our business model is simple. We offer tourists one way trips to sun destinations but only during hurricane season or times of extreme civil unrest. Then we hand things over to the Canadian government to extract its citizens from disaster zones.

Boeing: I see… so, two Max 8s then.

meGeoff: That’ll do it. When can I expect delivery?

Boeing: We happen to have a few on the lot at the moment, so immediately.

meGeoff: Great! Let’s get this deal done!

Boeing: You’ll be wanting wings with those Max 8s?

meGeoff: Erm, you mean like hot wings, bar food?

Boeing: No, no, actual wings for lift and flight. They’re extra.

meGeoff: Erm, yes, I suppose I’ll need four of them because meGeoff Air won’t fly on a wing and a prayer! Get it?

Boeing: Very clever, sir. Ailerons with those?

meGeoff: Ailerons? What are those? Are they essential?

Boeing: Sort of, yes. I don’t mean to overwhelm you with jargon but ailerons are those flap thingys, very handy for banking and turning.

meGeoff: Are they extra?

Boeing: Yes. It’s normal too for wings to have turbines, engines. Shall I put you down for four of those as well? They pair well with ailerons.

meGeoff: Erm, ah, I guess so. Oh! I just remembered! Can you remove the toilets and cram as many inhumanly narrow seats as possible into the cabin? I'll forego the legroom.

Boeing: Of course sir, that’s standard.

meGeoff: It’s been a pleasure doing business with you!

Boeing: Oh, we’re not quite done yet, sir. I suspect you’ll want landing gear? Wheels, the whole works?

meGeoff: Is all that stuff extra?

Boeing: Yes, but they do facilitate take off and touchdown.

meGeoff: Better put me down for two sets.

Boeing: Nose wheels too? They’re extra.

meGeoff: Of course they are. Throw them in. Is that it?

Boeing: Some airlines find the operator’s manual handy.

meGeoff: Don’t tell me, they cost extra.

Boeing: They do. But honestly, sir, I counsel my customers not to bother with that additional expense as it’s significant. Max 8s pretty much fly themselves and anyway, nobody ever reads the instructions for anything.

meGeoff: Isn’t that the truth? I can barely turn on the television at home. So, yeah, let’s skip the manuals.

Boeing: I’ll complete the paperwork and forward it on to you for your signature. Boeing Aerospace thanks you for your business. Good luck with meGeoff Air! And as we like to say around here, ‘Safe travels!’

Wednesday, 20 March 2019


A New World Order Man

I write today in praise of Elon Musk. In my estimation he’s right up there with Sir Hugo Drax, raking the moon.

Elon’s biographical facts as entered in Wikipedia may very well be true. He is a citizen of the globe who holds three passports. He is a billionaire some 20 times over. He ranks number 21 on the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people.

He dreams of changing the very course of humanity. Those of us who cannot join his quest to colonize Mars will at least be able to drive electric cars on Earth even as Elon launches Tesla sedans into space on Falcon rockets.

He makes cryptic, drug-addled public pronouncements. His tweets are rash and unfiltered. He is snippy and dismissive on quarterly calls with business analysts. Why, the fools don’t recognize his genius; they’re as blind and ignorant as those lawyers clogging up the works at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What’s not to love about a rich and powerful, and apparently unstable, megalomaniac who builds rockets and was blessed with an actual birth name worthy of a fictional James Bond villain?

I adore you, Elon Musk; I want to be one of your henchmen. Please send me a snug-fitting spandex SpaceX onesie, New Era logo cap and ray gun.

Monday, 11 March 2019


The Condiment of Revelations

When a multi-national food or beverage company can’t leave well enough alone, it’s called a category extension. The resulting brand mutant is always touted as incredibly convenient to harried gatekeepers – those who make the purchasing decisions in a grocery store on behalf of their households. Consequently, the average shopper roams aisles lined with shelves arrayed with some wrong-headed and gut-wrenching choices.

Sometimes I think chemists could be more gainfully employed other than experimenting with synthesizing processes to swirl jam or honey into peanut butter jars, infusing lime flavouring into cola or dusting potato chips with powdered sour cream and onion dip. The marketing implications are insulting: I’m too lazy or stupid to open two jars to make a quick sandwich; I’m too lazy or stupid to slice a lime to spritz my soda; I’m too lazy or stupid to open a tub of chip dip. Those are valid corporate assumptions because these days we buy back our own free tap water repackaged in attractively tinted plastic bottles. We’ll buy anything. Conversely, “What the fuck are they thinking?” is also a fair question on our part.

3G is not archaic Huawei telecommunications hardware. It is a private-equity firm based in Brazil whose lean and young staff came of age watching slasher flicks. In Canada it has destroyed incalculable brand equity of the Tim Hortons coffee chain by cutting corners, raising prices and alienating franchisees. Globally it’s the stingy chaperone of the corporate fiasco that is Kraft Heinz. This shotgun marriage of processed food behemoths has cost the reputation of modern capitalist wizard Warren Buffett (Jimmy’s cousin) some $3-billion. The combined value of the two companies pre-merger and the new entity’s value following 3G’s gutting are like a Led Zeppelin song, they remain the same.

The solution pitched to Wall Street analysts and shareholders is a bastard condiment. Mayochup will refloat the ship, right it and turn the whole damn thing around. Mayonnaise and ketchup should never mingle unless they accidentally encounter each other on a hamburger, let alone be glopped together in a single squeeze bottle. Mayochup is not without misguided precedent because somebody in research and development once thought a compound called dijonnaise was an inspired idea, innovative even.

There are fundamental flaws in the concept of pre-packaged convenience. Logic dictates that should the consumer desire a combination of condiment flavours with their food, both the retailer and the supplier would prefer they’re acquired in multiple transactions at the cash register rather than as a single purchase for less money. The reactionary whiff of desperation around mayochup suggests something else: the post-war hegemony of big brands is past its sell-by date. I would argue that End Times loom for the likes of Kraft Heinz simply because of time itself, that notorious thief always advancing up Main Street restlessly going from house to house, creeping through garden gates.

My mother died on the first of the year. Honest to God, one of my fondest memories of Mom is her making Kraft Dinner for me when I was a kid, Mom gagging over the saucepan the moment she opened the pouch of processed cheese food powder and inhaled its reek. She called what are now known as Kraft Singles “rat trap cheese.” In those days I enjoyed Heinz tinned spaghetti as a hot lunch on a cold winter’s day. Mom made wonderful egg salad sandwiches but never with “disgusting” Kraft Miracle Whip salad dressing. The only cookbook in the house described lasagna as “exotic foreign fare.”

I was born in February 1960, about six weeks into the sociological cut-off of the baby boom. As I aged and my palate became more sophisticated I shed the brands that fed me; nostalgia doesn’t taste so good. And so I harbour no warm and fuzzies for Kraft Heinz products unless they’ve overstayed their welcome in the refrigerator. Even worse for the conglomerate, my cohort and I are getting on and as such are attempting to eat food we perceive as better for us; we who are imprisoned in our sagging, deteriorating bodies. Oh, by the way, we’re dying off too - maybe because we ate their products growing up. The grand old brands will soon follow us down.

These are days of mergers and acquisitions, immediate supply chains, software solutions and synergies. I pay attention to the advertising and business news but I’ve little clue as to who owns what company or which brand anymore. 3G for instance owns Tim Hortons (at this moment) but operates the stores through a middle party called Restaurant Brands International (RBI). Timmy’s used to be owned by the Wendy’s hamburger chain which is now the property of fuck if I know.

Classic brands, whether on the shelf or on the street, have become commodities to be bought and sold. Ever-changing ownership dilutes their heritage, uniqueness, and ultimately their quality. Warren Buffett could be almost old enough to have trod the Earth with H.J. Heinz and so I wonder if he longs for a simpler and sepia era, perhaps one with a reddish tint, those halcyon days when a mere 57 varieties of pickles and food products would suffice.

Signs of the times seem to indicate too that wobbly boomers have not been automatically replaced on the conveyor belt by subsequent generations of customers. There’s a righteous cynical sabot in the gears of mass production. It took a while but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the message of the anti-globalization protests which coloured the final years of the last century has resonated with today’s newly minted adults. The new rank and file refuses to abide by the established consumer canon. The rules of engagement have changed.

Younger people today aren’t buying into the old ways. They will not be patronized. Corporations are now being called to account for their ethics and business practices; profit itself isn’t criminal but the exponential cost of a healthy margin to the well-being of the environment and the citizens of the planet might be. These youthful aficionados of Amazon and apps, such a sought-after demographic, aren’t shopping Main Street for anything, especially goop like mayochup. Their embrace of the digital marketplace has in turn fostered the growth of boutique brands who promote a more authentic experience to intrigued consumers; a promise of the real, a promise most major brands cannot match.          
The Kraft and Heinz boardroom coupling has birthed what’s known as a nothing burger in contemporary slang. And what a whopper it is. There’s no other way to garnish this. A few squirts of maychup ain’t the fixin’s required.

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at

Tuesday, 5 March 2019


The Thrill of the Hunt

The Brick and Whiskey is a newish addition to Edmonton’s pub and live music scene. It has been around three or four years and found its legs, carved its niche, early on. The B&W is on Whyte Avenue but some distance from the hipster portion of the strip as it lies nestled in a tired strip mall beyond the Mill Creek Ravine. The décor is generic drinking establishment but the beer lines aren’t skunky and the reasonably priced food is a few notches above chain pub fare. Not an obvious venue for Heaven on Earth as it was for me for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon.

Ann and I probably don’t need any more recorded music in the house, disks of vinyl or aluminum. There is plenty here already, enough to see us out. Then again, who does not want more of what they love? Moderation is for Methodists and Lutherans. The B&W Sunday hosted a record fair: buy, sell, trade. We turned up a few minutes after the event was underway. I found Ann a stool at the bar and then hunted down another one to squeeze in beside her, face to face with a faux brick pillar and six inches of forearm space. Ann ordered a spicy Caesar and an appetizer; I requested the first of two pints of Trad.

“How are we going to work this?”

“We’ll alternate,” I said. “Go in shifts.” How great is this, I thought, record crate diving in a pub with my best friend?

The only collectible I have actively though casually sought through the decades is the Rolling Stones’ debut release on Rolling Stones Records: the ‘Brown Sugar’ maxi-single. The B-side couples ‘Bitch’ with a live version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Let It Rock’ recorded during their 1970 European tour. We have all three songs in our Stones library of course, and versions uncountable, beyond the capability of a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, but not in that 45 format and configuration. The relic has become something of a personal fetish; I want one even if it’s unplayable. Actually, what I’m really seeking at the swap is far more sensuous and ethereal: I want to study the large format graphic design of the sleeves, smell the damp cardboard and the shag carpet dust of maple-paneled rumpus rooms, and then revel in the surprising 16mm montage flashbacks they provoke.

Partisans of a particular sports team and other more peculiar cultists comprehend the comfort derived from being surrounded by like-minded misguided souls. Lou Reed would’ve turned 77 last Saturday. He muttered about New York, “Ah, but remember the city is a funny place, something like a circus or a sewer.” When I croak ‘Coney Island Baby’ in the shower I substitute “world” for “city.” And so, the fellowship of strangers remains a reassuring lifeline to the rest of humanity even if the link is a mere used record album.

The fellow flipping through the bin next to me paused at Van Morrison’s Moondance. “I listened to this just this morning.”

I said, “‘And It Stoned Me.’ Was there ever a better opening track on any album anywhere? Great album.”

He said, “Astral Weeks is his best.” He showed me the sleeve to make his point.

“My favourite of his is Saint Dominic’s Preview,” I replied. “Title track, epic genius.”

A third fellow, younger than my fleeting companion and me, chimed in, “Is Saint Dominic’s Preview there?”

I said, “No, it’s not.” I wondered how any Van Morrison fan could not own an absolutely essential title in the Caledonia canon.

I excused myself and got back to work. I came across a Bobbie Gentry album in stereo and realized the kudzu gothic of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ cried out for the enhancing ticks and pops that only a stylus can provide. I bought two more albums, ones we already have, ones I’ve paid for at least twice before. The upper corners of Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) had been chewed either by a rabbit, a cat or a mouse, possibly all three, but the photo album featuring the young Stones pasted inside the gatefold sleeve was still intact. The LP itself is mono, the glorious sound of my sister’s suitcase Fleetwood with the penny taped on the tone arm and the hi-fi Dad built from a kit and then installed in the dining room. And bless Rod Stewart’s cotton socks, I shelled out five dollars for Every Picture Tells a Story simply for the gatefold cover which I’d never seen before; his wry liner notes charmed me and my wallet.

The second best part about browsing and buying records is the subsequent post-coital languor. I don’t really know what that is because I was raised a Catholic boy but I imagine it’s got something to do with ashtrays and stomachs. Anyway, I love to examine and handle my haul before I get home and play it. I retook my stool, reintroduced myself to my beer and tagged Ann the way wrestlers do; her turn in the ring. I wished it was still legal to smoke in pubs.

I was contemplating Bobbie Gentry as Capitol presented her in 1967 (I was in grade one) in what could easily be misconstrued as a dirty and sinful way when Ann called my name. She beckoned me over with a Quicksilver Messenger Service semaphore sleeve, Happy Trails.

“Jim (Ann’s older brother) had this one. He played it constantly. I loved this album.”

“Buy it.”

“But it’s ten dollars.”

“I’ve got a ten. We may never find it again in such good condition. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it. Get it.”

And so Ann did. We left shortly thereafter. We sat in our 12-year-old Honda CRV in the angled parking space waiting for the engine to warm in the extreme cold. There used to be a layer of insulation on the underside of the hood over the motor but neighbourhood squirrels have shredded it, fibreglassed their nests. We rolled down the side windows and lit cigarettes.

I said to Ann, “That was fun. Was it good for you?”

She said, “Yeah.”  

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at