Saturday, 15 June 2019


Ruminations on Advertising in the Still of the Night

Why I look at food photography, the Platonic ideal of any recipe, when I’m reheating limp leftovers in the dead of night isn’t quite beyond me: I’ve exhausted that day’s Globe and Mail and last week’s Economist. Yet the real takeaway from flipping through the glossy pages of Canadian Living at the kitchen counter an hour or two before the sun rises and birds begin to sing is a sense of sweat-inducing dread. According to the advertisements the unintended consequences of a relatively lengthy lifespan in a wealthy western country are aches and pains, disease, infirmity and incontinence; stuff I’ve no interest in taking back to bed with me.

Unsurprisingly, The Economist offers its readership an entirely different simmering barrel of advertising red herrings than Canadian Living even though they may rub covers in the same household - thereby bridging in a pithy way that awful personal chasm between aspiration and decline.

You never actually own a Patek Philippe.

Patek Philippe is Suisse, de Geneve. They don’t make watches. No, they create heirloom chronometers, an entirely different kettle of monkeys. And you’ll never actually own one because most people can’t afford them except for the impeccably groomed Eurotrash metrosexual depicted in the ad. His frail little replicant simply gushes a silent masochistic desire to be bullied in the hallway of the average Canadian school.

You merely look after it for the next generation.

But how do the rich procreate? Lonely, unfulfilled members of the Davos set utilize exclusive internet matchmaking services with sniffily prestigious home office street addresses in New York and London. The grinning couple in the Selective Search (Executive search meets personal matchmaking) half-page ad appear delighted enough in each other’s company. The blonde in the bikini looking back over her shoulder seems proud of her dental work. Her digital soulmate has a face resembling the UPS shield logo topped with a thatch of black Muppet bristles – as if Ernie had spent every penny of his Sesame Street residuals with a celebrity plastic surgeon. Their lottery-winning child will surely inherit a well cared for Patek Philippe. Sometimes I think wealthy people should be obligated to marry poor ones to better spread the cash around – as far as the pre-nup permits.

Periodic reminders of the fragile nature of existence are healthy. When the night begins to lift during those solitary kitchen minutes it’s critical to be reminded that who’s on your arm or what’s on your wrist doesn’t really matter. You will die. And you must inevitably die alone, with little dignity and lots of pain your only company.  

Sign up for e-mailed dispatches from the Crooked 9; ad free since 2013.

Monday, 10 June 2019


Artless Noise

There’s a new microwave-convection oven over the range in the kitchen. Its timer dings when its heating job is done. As it should. These appliances appeal to the human instant gratification gene because the stuff inside them gets het up real fast. Excessive heat inflicts pain on the unwary, their fingertips and tongues. It took me a long time and many blisters to figure this out. And so I add an impatient minute to the midnight snack process by waiting for things to cool down before popping open the door and chowing down. The KitchenAid KMCC5015 is one of those modern, ineptly smart machines. It keeps dinging in insistent intervals to remind me I’ve just used it: I know, I know, even I can remember two minutes ago; I’m not that demented yet. The blessing for the microwave (and my pocketbook) is that the six or seven Trini Lopez tools in the Crooked 9 are down in the basement workroom.

Noise. I am so fed up with noise.

The telephone is ringing with yet another Chinese spam-scam call. There’s a Bluetooth head spouting confidential business information on the sidewalk. Even the most primitive of yard implements come with motors. Nattering self-checkouts: welcoming, instructing, thanking. Talking elevators – although I’m not blind to their functionality. Social media dog whistle fish hooks. Excitable sports commentators shouting their enthusiasm! Pundits arguing partisan rhetoric. Hysterical politicians reciting talking points by rote. Self-styled victims whining for special dispensation; everybody else complaining. Experts who can’t keep their alternative facts straight. The visual white noise of advertising – is there any surface left on the planet on which we cannot paste a logo? That dreadful, sinister roar of hate and intolerance. That neighbourhood guy I avoid because he talks too much about nothing; I wish he smoked so he’d be a little shorter of breath.

Would everybody and everything in this world please shut the fuck up for an hour or two? Or at least tone it down. I can’t even hear myself think about losing my mind.  

Sign up for e-mailed dispatches from the Crooked 9; they’re silent subject to the settings on your phone.

Sunday, 2 June 2019


Life on Mars?

The FOR SALE sign on the unkempt lawn across the street sways and creaks in a gentle breeze speckled with ash motes. Its sound suggests high noon in a Hollywood western, a showdown, a reckoning. Everyone is indoors, sheltering from the pale lemon sky and shimmering blood orange sun. Lights are on inside the Crooked 9 because an average day shouldn’t be so spookily dark at noon what with the window shades up and summer on its way. Twilight is golden, provided it’s late in the evening.

A massive red-flagged wildfire is burning some five hours’ drive north of Edmonton, up at High Level. Evacuations have commenced. The conflagration is a bar bully, overheated and aggressive, and maybe tough enough to create its own micro-weather system. Consequently it’s lunchtime on Mars in the capital city, that’s the way the wind blows. God (or preferably a paramedic) help you should you suffer from a respiratory ailment. Emergency sirens have set the neighbourhood dogs baying.

I’m a jaded old ad man. I was skeptical about climate change initially because that phrase was a rebrand of global warming. Flag! How many times had advertising agencies and their clients got it wrong, tried to fix a non-existent bugaboo? Hello and goodbye New Coke or Coke II or whatever it was. I thought too that the political left, devoid of fresh policy ideas, had shifted its focus to panicky weather reports. Still, intelligent and qualified people were discussing climate change. And so I began to pay attention, investigate, because an uninformed opinion is a particularly cacophonic form of halitosis.

Reading science, even when it’s written in layman’s terms, is repetitive work, my lips move. However, the consequences of accelerated climate change are relatively easy to grasp: fire, flooding and death. You can’t get more basic than the Old Testament. The recently elected right-wing Alberta government achieved power by promising to undo all of the previous administration’s modest efforts to fight climate change. And so it seems that longer, hotter wildfire seasons are here to stay until there’s nothing left to burn.

Edmonton is drier than a Lutheran prayer meeting. Last week nearly saw my nightmare scenario unfold: a firebug loose in the nearby river valley, attempting to ignite catastrophe. The fire department’s response time was so swift it could only be measured by an atomic clock. Even still, embers wafted onto the cedar shingles of a wooden house that predates this postwar neighbourhood.

The goal of advertising is to raise your awareness, change your perception and influence your behaviour. Wildfires should have a similar effect on rational people. Now, all I see is fuel whilst strolling along our smoky, hazy streets. A decade of drought has slowly strangled many old growth trees; pests and disease are opportunistic. Private property is demarcated by wooden fences. Older homes are clad with fir or cedar planks, or wrapped with vinyl siding. Skinny new-builds on sub-divided lots seem mere inches apart, the barest legal minimum.

My advertising career ensured I was sleepless many nights over the course of 30 years. There were always deadlines, sometimes there were moral and ethical dilemmas and from time to time I had to make a really dumb idea manifest. I’m out of the game now but I still have recurring dreams about my work. In days like these as a retiree I feel as if I’m tossing and turning on a pyre.            

Sign up for e-mailed dispatches from the Crooked 9.