Thursday, 28 November 2019


All Aboard!

For the past year or so I’ve been utterly entranced by a single song. That song is the gospel-inflected, protest reverie If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me) by the Staple Singers and released by the Stax label in 1973. It’s just too damn simple to describe it as an obvious follow-up to their 1972 hit I’ll Take You There.

Back in 1973 the civil rights movement in the United States did register with a Canadian Catholic boy attempting to cope with puberty and the extravagant cost of Rolling Stones albums at Woolworth’s five and dime. The marvel of the arts of course is that an admirer of a particular stream can always go against the current, that is, travel backward from the present and even from the avant-garde. I did not, could not, fully appreciate the Staple Singers then but I get them now.

The song’s trio of writers, Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson, are only familiar to me because Rod Stewart floundered his way through their lament (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right. These composers like their parentheses. If You’re Ready’s groove is positively Memphis, shimmering ten feet off of Beale Street but its words are transcendent. The bridge rhymes “economical exploitation” with “political domination,” metered, polysyllabic tongue-twisters. If that’s not enough, Mavis scats to Pop’s guitar solo on the outro and her phrasing is uncanny.

“Love is the only transportation.” That line and the word “ready” in the song’s title suggests to me the Impressions’ People Get Ready, a song whose central metaphor is the salvation train, first class for all, all down the line. “You don’t need a ticket, you just get on board.” This is the same train that travels through Bruce Springsteen’s Land of Hopes and Dreams; it carries “winners and losers, whores and gamblers,” and you may even encounter Willie Nelson’s somewhat shady Railroad Lady.

Canada’s most fascinating and enigmatic prime minister, the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau once described sharing a continent with the United States as “sleeping with an elephant.” These days the entire globe “feels every twitch and grunt” as the bloated orange, pink-eyed beast thrashes through nightmares and the night sweats. When I think about the idea of America, a girl I once knew now redolent in fusty myth, I don’t conjure Lady Liberty or Detroit muscle on Jack Kerouac’s roads; no, I see and hear locomotives straddling endless twin silver lines.

A train ticket is the only sure way into the conflicted heart of the American Dream and, conversely, the only way out of a small and suffocating place like Winesburg, Ohio. American cinema as we understand it flickered to life in 1903’s The Great Train Robbery. Among the nation’s first crop of capitalists were newly forged railway barons. The young republic’s Manifest Destiny rode an iron horse to its Pacific shores. I believe the subversive heroism of the Underground Railroad network is a fundamental chapter in the African-American historical narrative. Actual steel wheels enabled the Great Migration, those fifty years of demographic change dating from near the end of the First World War when southern, rural African-Americans streamed north in search of better wages and slightly less back-breaking work in factories.

Musical trains have kept a-rollin’ through the blues, gospel, country, folk, rock and soul. Sometimes their departures are heartbreaking but more often than not trains symbolize hope, unity and social progress, ways to a better station in life and beyond where “no hatred will be tolerated.” It’s a wonder to me that a simple song from 1973 which doesn’t even mention trains specifically can take me on such a marvelous journey. Its sentiments still spark my imagination and dreams of a just society.    

If you’re ready, come go with meGeoff. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Friday, 22 November 2019


End Times

Millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of civilization have collapsed into a single Reuters headline: ‘Vegan Man Sues Burger King.’ Nothing’s shocking. I suppose it could have read ‘Atkins Dieter Sues Olive Garden’ or ‘Man with Severe Shellfish Allergy Sues Red Lobster.’

The litigant’s name appeared in Monday’s story but there’s no need to repeat it here. He’s an American, no surprise there really. And the utterly frivolous and beyond stupid nature of his lawsuit leads me to speculate that it’s possible he believes Noah forgot to load the dinosaurs and unicorns on his ark. I’m just guessing.

We are living in irksome and annoying times, what the late Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes aptly described as a “culture of complaint.” Hughes’s premise was that the art world, already gleefully and surgically eviscerated by Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word, had come to embrace a work’s message rather than its merit. Ancient alchemy for a postmodern zeitgeist: lead’s transformed into gold. These days all of us are golden, special, and therefore entitled to compensation for being short-changed by an objective reality which only deals in common sense.

The class action suit alleges that the main ingredient of the Impossible Whopper, a patty moulded of alternative protein, was contaminated by meat by-products whilst broiling. Burger King’s website maintains that particularly particular customers are free to request an alternative method of preparation. But microwaves can be as mind-numbingly dangerous as jet contrails, vaccines and fluoridated water, everybody knows this. And to be fair and balanced, the gentleman who started this greaseball rolling downhill ordered his meal at the drive-thru and nobody on Earth can translate the gibberish squawking through a fast food speaker grille.

Nobody who knows me well will tell you I’m a quick study. But I do understand marketers’ propensities to embrace short term trends and gimmicks. I know enough about business to cringe when established firms reach beyond their core expertise only to taint years of brand equity and consumer goodwill. Consumers should always be wary. Quarterly statements, annual reports and advertising copy are not hard promises.

I do know that should I ever voluntarily impose a strict and restrictive dietary regimen such as veganism upon myself I’d have to manage all of its unintended consequences. While my shit wouldn’t smell, I’d probably be hungry most of the time. But if I got really hungry I’m not certain I’d go to a fast food burger joint to fill up, as much as I’d appreciate the irony. Me, a narrow and sniffy demographic, willing to pay a premium for commercialized wellness, would drive past a Burger King outlet, confident that the underpaid teenager doing the cooking there really couldn’t care a whit about my dainty, politicized palate.

I’ve done some really senseless things in my life. It never once occurred to me to sue another party for my own ill-conceived actions. Nor has it ever occurred to me to take an advertising or marketing slogan or promise at face value because, you know, the Impossible Whopper is apparently possible. It exists on the menu of a quick service restaurant that specializes in serving up lots of light speed, beefy hamburgers at low cost. And that is the organ meat of the vegetable matter: bad decisions are strictly personal.

No need to idle your engine at the drive-thru to read meGeoff, sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Monday, 18 November 2019


Palatial Spin

His Royal Highness the Duke of York’s recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation has been described variously as a “train wreck” and a “car crash” by breathless Royal watchers. In yet another fruitless effort to set the record straight and clear his name, the chastened prince, once christened "Randy Andy" by Britain's notorious tabloids, sat down with meGeoff with his damage control switch in the “on” position. What follows is a world-exclusive, the complete unexpurgated, unredacted transcript of our conversation.

meGeoff: Welcome, Your Highness. Thanks for sitting down with this blog. I was in York last month, by the way, lovely city.

HRH: I’m its duke, you know. It’s my dukedom. Hmm, quite. All mine, royal blood and inheritance, lese-majesty and grace of God and all that, wot?

meG: Sounds nice.

HRH: Oh yes, Mummy gave it to me. Rather a grand present, I should think. I’ve never actually visited but I love presents. And cake because cake comes with presents. Pound cake, especially. Delicious.

meG: Um, some serious questions and allegations have been raised about your relationship and indeed your alleged actions with a convicted sex offender, the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

HRH: We don’t have a relationship. He’s dead, poor sodomy.

meG: Excuse me?

HRH: The poor sod’s deceased. Jeffrey was a wonderful businessman. Full of acumen, I dare say. He had a special gift for procurement. I certainly took advantage of my association with him on behalf of my various charitable endeavours, especially Wayward Schoolgirls. Absolutely tragic social problem, that. Breaks my heart. Spare the rod and spoil the child, eh? Bit of firm discipline. Tally-ho!

meG: Um, you were a frequent guest of his, at his homes in New York, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

HRH: No, actually, not that I can recall.

meG: There are photographs, including one of you with your accuser who was a minor at the time.

HRH: That’s just not cricket, by George! I remember those nights explicitly. I was at a Pizza a Go-Go in Wanking.

meG: Um, every time?

HRH: Tomato sauce is very healthy for one’s prostate. Slice of pie and the old sausage, eh, wot?

meG: Surely -

HRH: Look, I’m a fucking prince, ain’t I? I don’t normally munch with the proles, do I? So I’d fucking remember that, wouldn’t I? Mummy doesn’t serve pizza at Buck House, does she? A bit of crumpet and tea, innit? I don’t know how you fucking common people eat the fucking food you do!

meG: Calm, calm…

HRH: Don’t fucking tell me to calm down when I’m excited! Guards! Seize this impertinent colonial and lock him in the Tower!

meG: Wait! I’ve-

Guard (entering): The special S and M dungeon, sir? The reason I ask of course is because your nephew's down there play-acting in his Nazi uniform.

HRH: Oh for fuck’s sake, fucking hell. No, no, just the regular one then.

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Sunday, 17 November 2019


Police Procedure

Out and about in the city I sometimes encounter odd things lying in its streets. A lost cap, a mitten or glove or a shrugged off and discarded hoodie. What always intrigues me is a lone shoe because it fits the logical conjecture that some soul is or was hobbling around wearing the other one. And so I wonder what happened.

Bigger things get lost or abandoned in the big city. And they make me wonder too; they are evidence of a story with too many missing parts. On or about 4 November somebody parked a white Volkswagen in front of the Crooked 9. A white sedan with tinted windows, a black gas cap lid and black iron winter rims. I thought nothing of it because we’re proximate to a light rail station, the cancer centre and the university, and more convenient neighbourhood streets bristle with posted parking restrictions.

The following day, a Tuesday, the street was blanketed by autumn’s first major snowfall. While clearing the public sidewalk I noticed the Volkswagen’s front passenger tire, partially hidden by the height of the curb, was flat. “Bad luck,” I muttered. But that would explain why the car was still there.

Come Thursday the presence of the snowy Das Auto lump had become irksome. The Crooked 9’s spare rooms were occupied by out of town guests. We were all expecting more local visitors over the course of the Remembrance Day long weekend. Fed up, I called the City of Edmonton’s three-digit snitch line to report an abandoned vehicle. Exactly one week later a bylaw officer called me from her car. She was parked across the street and so I went out onto the front porch to wave at her as we spoke. “Oh, you’re in the house with the red shovel by the door?” She said the Parking Authority would turn up with a tow truck, maybe today, maybe tomorrow; they were busy, what with the weather. I thanked her.

Ten minutes later the police turned up. The bylaw officer must have entered the Volkswagen’s license plate number into a different City computer network because I’d supplied it ten days earlier when I made my complaint. “Well,” I thought, “that’s interesting.” No point in twitching the blinds, I camped outside with a package of cigarettes and a can of beer.

The constables were both female, very tall. One spoke with a British Broadcasting Corporation presenter’s accent. They popped open the driver side door and shone their flashlights inside. They opened the other three doors. BBC made a remark about the peculiar smell. I thought, “There’s a body in the trunk.” One went around to the Volkswagen’s rear and waited for her partner to pull the lever on the floor under the steering wheel.

God help me, I desperately wanted the police to find a body in the trunk of that VW. I wanted that in the way I ached for a new Rolling Stones album to be released when I was in high school. I’d feel remorse for the corpse of course but in an abstract way, much like I’ve pondered the fate of a closing time drunk staggering about on just one shoe in wintertime. What a way to go: found murdered in the trunk of a stolen car; sure beats cancer and cardiac arrest as far as obituaries go. Alas, the big reveal revealed nothing at all, no body, no limbs, not even a finger or a toe although some of the car’s actual contents were carefully bagged. The ditched Volkswagen has since been towed, and it was towed in a hurry once the police turned up, and now I’m left to wonder why.

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