Thursday, 31 December 2020


A Declarative Expression of Departure to All That

Following a test flight of the SpaceX rocket SN8 on 9 December the craft returned to Earth with a thud. It blew to bits on impact. The company described the explosive crash landing with the blithe acronym RUD, that is, “rapid unscheduled disassembly.” May the Lizard Thanes of Mars bless your euphemism Elon Musk, you delightfully deranged real life James Bond villain. It’s been that sort of year.

I’ve experienced some interesting times in my life. I’m proud (or ashamed) to say that most were of my own making. But I’ve known no war and, until last March, I certainly hadn’t endured a pandemic, a welcome misanthropic vacation far from the madding crowd. I am a fortunate man. I can afford to stay home, I like staying home and I love the company. Still, there were some lockdown days when my head felt primed for RUD. It’s been that sort of year.

Others have not coped as well as the three of us: me, myself and I. On Christmas Day a Nashville, TN man scheduled his own rapid disassembly. Always wise to plan ahead. He parked his RV on a main thoroughfare and broadcast a recorded warning to passers-by to keep well clear. The collateral damage message segued into Petula Clark’s hit song ‘Downtown.’ Once the authorities dismissed the default terror motive they confessed mystification. The math is pretty simple: “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely” plus the date equals boom! It’s been that sort of year.

Best wishes for 2021 although I suspect the next six months won’t be much different from the past ten. Hang on. Rapid disassembly unscheduled or otherwise never ends well.            

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of existential dread since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave along with its more virulent cousin is here and so is winter; you’ll need a distraction. Apologies to Robert Graves. 

Sunday, 20 December 2020


Mean Mr. Covid

When it all gets too much, you turn the TV set on and light a cigarette, and a public service announcement comes creeping on, and you see a lung corroded or a fatal heart attack… Lou Reed, Turn to Me

With positive covid-19 numbers outnumbering flakes of falling snow, healthcare infrastructure overwhelmed and field hospitals being prepped, the Government of Alberta has pivoted its safety message. Normally I applaud our United Conservative Party (UCP) overlords with very slow, solo clapping. The regime has been an embarrassing disaster since our last election day. The hand I’m giving it this holiday season is somewhat enthusiastic, genuine. Bittersweet. Twenty-six infected Albertans died yesterday.  

Public service announcements (PSAs) are tricky dockets for ad agencies. The information, always valuable, is dry and usually critical: a catchy slogan could mean the difference between life and death. The default creative reflex is usually a somber tut-tut or tsk-tsk. Meanwhile, people resent being told what to do even if it’s for their own good and that of society at large.

Marketing campaign metrics are simple measures, units sold. An advertising campaign designed to influence isn’t so easy to quantify. It takes time to change behaviour. I’ve been involved with a few PSA campaigns. I’ve read about studies of PSA campaigns (but not the actual studies). The gist is that humour is frequently more persuasive than a lecture. Do not shame your target audience; do not wag your finger. However, people resent being laughed at and so it’s very effective to embarrass them, jeer and make fun of them. Humour takes many forms.

An Edmonton ad agency has anthropomorphised the corona virus. Alberta’s ‘Covid’ character has made his video debut. He reminds me of a classic baseball mascot, a hydrocephalic head atop a standard human body. Mr. Covid’s head mirrors the shape of the virus which also suggests (fatally and appropriately) a prickly undersea mine. His eyes are the Grinch’s. His red-lipped, rictus smile reveals the Joker’s yellow teeth. He plays an uninvited visitor in a Christmas dinner spot, that oddball uncle we can all relate to, ugly Santa sweater and all, who handles each and every common serving utensil whilst laughing and breathing over an array of uncovered dishes of food.

The government’s initial barrage of public safety messaging was fairly benign. Maroon type on a sky blue field with the province’s word mark lower right. The colour scheme reminded me of Aston Villa’s home football kit, a combination I’ve always found attractive. The various executions were highwire health, the people’s and the economy’s balanced on a tightrope which has since morphed into a razor’s edge. While it’s not safe to say, but suffice to say, the libertarian mixed messaging of safety suggestions and advice with caveats understandably failed to resonate with most Albertans.

Consequently, the current Mr. Covid campaign comes with some baggage, a curious duality. There is the tacit acknowledgment that the government’s first response to the crisis was casual, dismissive, flawed. Inept and disastrous. More compelling is the tone of the creative which whiffs of petulant defensiveness, an official UCP tantrum: “FOR FUCK’S SAKE! WHAT DIDN’T YOU GET? DO WE HAVE TO DRAW YOU A FUCKING PICTURE!?”

Because we live in a time of complaint and outrage, there’s been some social media push-back regarding the cartoonish depiction of the virus. Apparently Mr. Covid is in some way disrespectful to the covid-19 dead, that the campaign somehow pokes fun at their memory. It does not. It has instead bulldozed the ill-informed and indifferent clutter of compliancy. The dead cannot speak. But I suspect if they could, their chorus would not be a choir of anger so much as rueful remonstration: “If you’d just kept your eye on the spiky ball from the start, if you’d just been a little quicker off the mark, if you’d only run a campaign like Mr. Covid sooner than later.”             

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of holiday cheer since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave is still cresting and winter is coming; you’ll need a distraction.

Monday, 14 December 2020


And So That Was Christmas

When my divorce lawyer suggested I investigate personal bankruptcy proceedings, I had a hunch rock bottom was coming up fast. Financial obligations for another were all in my name. I was living in a disused backroom in a friend’s bungalow, closer to work but a long way from my usual hangouts. Little Feat played constantly in my head, “I’ve been down but not like this before.” Christmas was coming.

Because I can be something of a windy, pop music snob, I am certain of the year. I was 40 and U2 had released ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind,’ the band’s last essential record to date, in my view. Its title struck me in a paradoxical way. I remember writing a letter postmarked Calgary to my father in Ottawa, medium point blue Bic on sheets of graph paper. I did not ask for his help. I did tell him I was beyond the verge of losing everything but most of those things I’d come to realize hadn’t meant much to me.

Like father, like son. By the early 70s it was apparent my parents’ marriage was through the guardrail and over the cliff. My father accepted a Bell Telephone transfer to Ottawa from Montreal. His bolt hole was a minute studio apartment downtown, a few steps from his office. The kitchen area was a suggestion, there was a hot plate, and a hole cut in the wall allowing him to wash his dishes in the bathroom sink. He thought that was clever. When I visited on weekends I slept on a camp cot by the mini-fridge. He slept on a second-hand pull-out bed. He did have an ironing board and a wooden box of shoe polish, buffing rags and brushes. “Whatever one’s circumstances, it’s important to present.”

In 2001, Tim, a close friend since childhood, was kicking around his bungalow in Calgary. His partner was visiting family overseas for Christmas. He was inclined to stay put. I couldn’t afford to go anywhere. He told me he had a vacuum-packed hunk of smoked meat in his fridge, brisket imported from Montreal. Its use by date was coming up, why not spend Christmas together chez Tim?

I went shopping on the eve of our big day. I bought a box of hot wings and a loaf of sliced rye. The Safeway cashier was very cheery. “You’re my first customer today who isn’t stocking up for tomorrow’s big feast!” I said, “Oh, but I am.” I then asked her for two packages of Player’s Light regular. I arrived at Tim’s with my groceries, cigarettes, a case of beer and a bootleg videocassette of ‘Cocksucker Blues,’ the long-suppressed Rolling Stones '72 tour documentary.

We contrived to steam the smoked meat on the stovetop until the fat was transparent. We warmed the bread in foil in the oven, careful not to toast it. We smoked, drank, ate, drank and smoked like the exiled kings we were.

Tim had one of the biggest televisions I’d ever seen in a private home. He also had a CD player spinning a 200-disc carousel. Of course he did. I was reminded of our younger days in Montreal, an afternoon or evening spent listening to music with Tim was always time well wasted. And lately we’d been playing a new game in Calgary with pub jukeboxes. One of us would plug the Rock-Ola with enough coins to dictate the next dozen songs, but only select six. The other was required to complete the set, run blind, no repeats allowed. Some confusing strategy was involved: “He always plays ‘Thunder Road,’ but he knows I know that. So if he called an audible, it’s likely ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-out’ or ‘Jungleland’ in which case I’ll go with ‘Backstreets.’ Then again… is there any Dave Mason on this thing?”

Everybody has experienced a “first” Christmas; an infant or that recently vacated chair at the table, a divorce decree or an obituary. Still, the spirit of the season encourages survivors and next generations gather. And I suspect Christmases tend to blend together in a crucible of memory for most of us, the years in that house, the years in this one. Hard to pin down a particular December. The weird ones stand out, as they should, as they will. Tim and I had a blast making do in less than ideal circumstances.

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of holiday cheer since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave is still cresting and winter is coming; you’ll need a distraction.

Friday, 4 December 2020


A Rumination on Ageing and Its Alternative

These new rhymes address disease

Morbid verses, so ill at ease

Life will bring you to your knees

Knobs inside all of my knuckles

My leather belt no longer buckles

Ageing isn’t all smiles and chuckles

Swirling bloody saliva sink

My nicotine gums ain’t so pink

Dentist says I need a rethink

My lungs are now paying the debt

But I lit it up without regret

God, I loved that first cigarette

I dare not speak about my liver

All a-flutter and all a-quiver

But I’ve never been a quitter

Pale rider on an equine prancer

The biopsy provides no answer

Could be that lump is cancer

Great clouds in my urine

Scratched scabs on my shins

Diabetes for my sins

A sharp pain in my chest

Localized to my left breast

This is it, cardiac arrest

Perhaps I’ll suffer a stroke

More than half my body broke

Limply paralyzed I’ll croak

Still, I haven’t lost my mind

Aged life isn’t entirely unkind

I take that as a vital sign                   

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of florid romantic verse since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave is here and winter is coming; you’ll need a distraction.

Sunday, 29 November 2020


A Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The other day Ann and I were in a shop. Must’ve been a grocery store because lately, well, we don’t get around much anymore. Pandemic paradise for a couple of cranky misanthropes. Anyway, we heard a Christmas carol. I realized I was nanoseconds away from a psychotic meltdown. It’s only November for fuck’s sake and we’ve other things to worry about! I willed myself to read the Nutrition Facts label on a tin of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk. Breathe, oh by gosh, by jingle. Do the directional floor arrow decals matter if I’m standing sideways? Where’s Ann? She’s got the list. I foresaw the caption to some stranger’s iPhone Facebook video: “Boomer dude loses his shit in baking aisle!”

The “Catch-22” about mental health is that if you’re worried about your upper storey state of affairs, you likely needn’t be. God knows American author Joseph Heller understood irony. Still, ‘tis the seasonal disorder season, the blue, blue nights before Christmas.

Come November in the northerly latitudes everything that dies is already dead. The month has been coloured by the somberness of Remembrance Day for more than a hundred years. Dreary November portends an even darker December, lower light and shorter days. And no libertarian nutjob alive in 2020 can recall such a lethal hoax being sold to the masses by the global elite as covid-19. AIDS and SARS were beta tests for laboratory synthesized scourges, way beyond fluoride in tap water. 

Wednesday was sunny and only two below. Ann suggested we take advantage of the unseasonable weather and string up the Crooked 9’s exterior Christmas lights ahead of our usual schedule. I don’t even like to contemplate temporary Christmas décor of any sort until at least mid-December and everything must be rebinned and back downstairs in the storage room by the second day of a new year.

Alberta has sunk to a grim nadir. A wild rose-coloured glasses view of the province’s energy industry has created a confounding boom and bust complacency for generations. Extreme climate events are now mundane, everyday. Covid-19, to date a crisis ineptly managed by government authorities, supplied the blindside knockout punch; sweet science need not apply. Ann and I wonder what merits inbreeding and home schooling bring to public office.

Our exterior festive display is exceedingly modest. A zigzag garland of red and green lights affixed to ten feet of black wrought iron porch railing. The wreath is getting somewhat tired, the red ribbon has been bleached pink and the Stewart tartan bow is as faded as Rod’s talent. The cabled candy cane came from this century’s five-and-dime, a dollar store. Our lights went on early the other night, November’s final Friday. Godspeed to a miserable month. 

Light is a powerful symbol, a universal trope of hope. There will always be a candle in the window, a star in the sky or a shimmering glow at the end of a tunnel, beacons in the dead of night or the dead of winter. Ann and I are aware that this holiday season will easily qualify as the strangest in our lifetimes. Come 2021, I believe we’ll leave our lights up for an extra week or two.                  

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of enlightenment since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave is here and winter is coming; you’ll need a distraction.

Sunday, 22 November 2020


A Letter from Paul to the Covidians

Thus it came to pass there was a great plague upon the land which lasted a quarter score of seasons as everything turned, turned, turned under Heaven. The reign of Odious Rex Vulgaris was a scourge upon the green Earth. Then came the pandemic. The petulant and childish king cried out in anger as he could not wash the blood of multitudes from his stubby, orange hands.

Yea, even as Mitch of Kentucky and Jared of Kushner licked the tassels of their sovereign’s stylish Italian loafers, Odious Rex Vulgaris raged in his rented, gilded palace. He fired his most trusted acolytes because they could not understand the emptiness and cynicism in his withered soul for they had little faith in the Pharisees of QAnon and Info Wars. Melania, the sultry Balkan Queen of Very Expensive Consorts, and Ivanka, Princess of Wal-mart Jewellery, went shopping. Donny Junior, the heir apparent, realizing both the absence of enlightenment and the teachings of Christ in the void of his father’s raisin heart, dispatched hastily penned screeds to the leaders of hostile foreign powers and private offshore banks asking for the grace only they could bestow upon the patriarch and himself. Indeed, there was evil in the White House Rose Garden or at least on the other side of the unscalable and unclimbable multiple sets of temporary barriers.

Lo, though mired in his despair, even Odious Rex Vulgarus understood he must keep his covenant with his people, about half of them anyway. Alas, there was no sign from God on the lush fairways of Virginia, just a scorecard to be fiddled with. Verily, maybe, the pollster oracles spoke falsely of the Chosen One with his Proud Boys standing by.

The vox populi echoed with the words of the prophets. The first words came on the archangel wings of the Byrds: “I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone.” And a Motley Crue of Samaritans, Philistines, Nubians and Romans gathered outside the Pennsylvania Avenue gate of the shining mansion: “Don’t go away mad, just go away.” Light shone down from the heavens, and the people (about half of them anyway) saw that graciousness, dignity and common sense were rays of hope. Thus it came to pass, eventually, that Odious Rex Vulgarus, blinded by the light, fell off his high steed whilst travelling along the road toward a second term of global chaos.

Peace be with you.                       

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of apocrypha since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave is here and winter is coming; you’ll need a distraction.

Friday, 6 November 2020


Waiting on a Fiend

Tim and I have been friends for at least fifty years. We grew up together in Montreal, streets apart, went to the same schools. We liked the same music; we liked the same clothes. We both lived in Calgary, AB for a time. When we weren’t in the same city, one of us would always accommodate the other’s visit, business or pleasure. Reunions were always fun, sometimes staggeringly so.

He’s always been a foot taller than me and so I’ve always had trouble keeping up to him: oh, he’s got the latest Stones album, guess I better get it; oh, he smokes Player’s Light, guess I better switch brands; oh, he’s got a girlfriend, guess I better try and get one; oh, he bought Mission stereo speakers, guess I should buy a pair… There have been little victories: if we’re out drinking Tim has to flood the urinal long before I feel the need.

My friend laughs at me because I’m a Rolling Stones completist: Hello, Pot, this is Kettle calling, can we talk about Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young? Sure, sure, put the phone down while you get yourself a cigarette and a beer, long distance calls are almost free in this day and age.

A couple of weeks ago Tim wrote me to crow about the red silk Stones tongue covid-19 mask he’d just purchased. I thought, What a maroon, what an ultra-maroon. But his note prompted me to conduct a mental inventory of my Stones stuff. First and foremost is their music of course: the vinyl, the CDs, the 45s, the 12-inch singles, the cassettes, the box sets; and then the tour programs (we saw the ’81 Buffalo show together); the tour posters displayed in the Crooked 9’s basement; the 1983 fan club package and all of its contents; the embroidered badges, branded cigarette lighters, the fridge magnet and the metal buttons; the t-shirts, socks, rural Alberta formal fleece pants, caps and the flammable acrylic tongue Christmas nerd sweater; the books and hoarded magazines and God knows what else I’ve squirreled away and forgotten about. Tim’s father, a Quebec superior court judge, a lovely, charming man, gave me his copy of a Canadian legal digest detailing Keith Richards’ 1977 Toronto heroin possession court case. Of course I still have it.

I know that when the hand of fate knocks me down for good none of this Stones stuff will mean anything to my survivors. The ephemera of a misspent life. By any measurement of Stones fanaticism, I’m a relatively sane specimen. Yet I was irked because Tim had a pandemic Stones mask and I didn’t. This nugget of knowledge began to eat at me, hurt my guts like hot stuff.

A close friend of my sister’s is a designer, an interior architect. His Montreal firm won the contract for No. 9 Carnaby Street, the new Rolling Stones department store in London’s Soho district which opened last September. I’ve met him a few times. I don’t know him very well but I like him because he’s enjoyed my three novels. So, for me and the Stones, mainly Mick I suppose given the nature of the enterprise, I’m talking two degrees of separation; we’re like this. That’s why the band bombards me with e-mails inviting me to shop their wares.

I was online the other night. I placed a Stones non-medical plague mask in my cart. Not a red Italian silk one like Tim’s, just a simple one, painted black. I thought, Gee, a single purchase seems so counter-productive and since I’m here… Well, didn’t I transform into a curious crow in a land of shiny objects? I loaded up with stuff I wanted but didn’t need, a ‘Goats Head Soup’ lithograph and the Spanish version of ‘Sticky Fingers’ with General Franco-dictated cover art and more, hoping to hit the ever-elusive free shipping bingo. Thanks, Tim. Some day, my friend, there will be a reckoning.               

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of petty bitterness since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave and winter are coming; you’ll need a distraction. 

Thursday, 5 November 2020


Game On (and on)!

Apparently, the Stanley Cup may be awarded and a World Series won if nobody’s there to see the final game, the ceremony, watch it on TV, or even care. Had the onset of this particular November resembled the ones to which I’ve become accustomed over time, my attention would now be turning to the final few weeks of the Canadian Football League schedule. Our modest loop’s playbook was overly complicated in 2020; no team played a single down.

The Grey Cup championship remains stalled at 107, the 2019 final. And so, in the spirit of Marcel Proust and as a nod to les temps perdu, Ann and I decided to treat Tuesday’s American presidential election as the big game: beer and bar food in front of the television. When watching sports we want see-saw drama, white knuckle entertainment. This particular night we wanted to watch a rout, a landslide. No nail-biting overtime.

The Constitution of the United States of America is a noble and justly venerated document. Despite its many amendments, it remains at its core an eighteenth century mission statement. Like the Bible, Magna Carta or anything published by Alvin Toffler or Faith Popcorn, the constitution reflects the times of its authors. Some things should no longer apply. And yet it remains the Saint Peter rock of a twenty-first century schizoid democracy.

Consider the Second Amendment (with or without the comma – language and usage evolve), the one about the right to bear arms (,) and form militias. Having won the War of Independence, General Washington disbanded the Continental Army. Naturally the thirteen nearly sovereign states should be allowed to fight back should the British, the French, the Dutch, the Spaniards and the Portuguese come sniffing around the New World again.

These newly and tenuously unified states realized they’d require a singular figurehead to represent their interests around the globe. A man to provide an American face and wield some central authority, but not so much as to trample states’ rights. The people (at least those souls who qualified as people) would choose. Checks and balances were assigned to the executive, judiciary and legislative branches of the nascent federal government. Some of these regulations are now hopelessly archaic.

The eleven-week gap between election day and the president-elect’s inauguration reflects a time before telegraph wires, railroad steel and the fabled Pony Express. Nor does the United States utilize the scrutiny of an overarching and objective institution like Elections Canada.

Our fun night is now playing out longer than a cricket test match because none of those American boys in breeches and powdered wigs ever imagined that the results of an election in a far-flung land could be tabulated in hours instead of weeks – provided all interested parties are on board. Adherence to the old ways, insightful then and ignorant now, is fraught with unintended consequences. And so Ann and I will stay on our couch for another day or two cringing at absurd reality TV. Here we are now, entertain us. Pass the fiery wingnuts.          

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of politically-charged sports commentary since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave and winter are coming; you’ll need a distraction.

Friday, 30 October 2020


All Tucked In

The Account Director for Kraft Canada was wearing my winter coat. Not the same colour and style off the rack as mine, but my winter coat. He was a hefty guy, it shouldn’t have fit him. He was agitated. A production docket dormant since Y2K, a sinkhole of unpaid client fees, was now active. We had to deliver the agreed upon point-of-sale materials by 2015. Yet I knew 2020 was already winding down. I looked around my office, a fluid kaleidoscope of my first cockroach apartment when I was a student in Montreal and a mishmash of the six or seven offices I’d occupied as an ad man in Alberta. I told him I was out of the game; that I didn’t care, that Cheez Whiz was best utilized as plumber’s putty or maybe a really repulsive lubricant.

I roiled awake in a tangle of damp sheets. My grey t-shirt was sopping, black with perspiration in the darkness. I was shivering, chilly all of a sudden. The bedroom floor was on the ceiling. Time was abstract. It was hours after midnight and hours before the dawn; a pillow concealed the red digits of the clock-radio on the night table. My feet found a pair of unlaced running shoes because that’s where I always leave them, just so. I shrugged into a fleece half-zip and put on my Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap. The nights are getting cold.

Once in the kitchen I opened a tin of diet Pepsi. The real prize was a sandwich wrapped in butchers’ paper from the Italian Centre. Spicy cold cuts and provolone cheese slathered with hot ajvar, a red, eggplant-based vegetable spread. An Italian sandwich is a rare and always welcome treat. I took a stool and settled down with the latest issue of The Economist, intent on giving my subconscious a healthy dose of reality.

One particular item caught me eye: “Brazilian police raided the home of Chico Rodrigues, a senator allied with the president, Jair Bolsonaro, and discovered 30,000 reals* ($5,000) wedged between his buttocks. Mr Rodrigues denies diverting funds meant for the pandemic.”

Me? I guess I’m from the Leonard Cohen school: cracks allow the light in. I sat in the stillness, chewing and contemplating the nature of dirty money. Just how thick is a 30,000 real wad? Thousand dollar bills no longer circulate in Canada because they were too efficient a denomination. Illicit cash that once fit in an envelope now requires a gym bag. Larger amounts of smaller denominations are bulkier, difficult to move.

I suppose I understand corruption and the hunger for ill-gotten gain on some base level, but I will not abide embarrassing ineptitude. I guess this is why “politician” and “ass” go so well together in word-association exercises. In for a centavo, in for a pounding. My sweaty, fever dreams are entirely rational in contrast.

The brand name Pepsi derives from “pepsit,” the Greek word for digestion. I knew the soda would roil up the hot pepper in the salami and condiment. Spicy food does not agree with me anymore, but some old habits are so hard to break because there’s no accounting for a pack-a-day smoker’s tastebuds. As I crept back into bed and pulled the covers over me I calculated I had maybe four hours before I would have to clench like Chico and hotfoot it down the hall to the toilet. In the meantime, I had places to go and things to do. I hoped I was done with work for the night.

*The magazine spelled it “reais,” which I assume is a typo.     


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Monday, 26 October 2020



Della, our neighbour two doors up, is the mother of four boys, a matching middle set of twins included. When Della was pregnant with her fourth son she somewhat despondently asked Ann, “Do you want a baby?” Until the pandemic walloped our world as we knew it, Ann and I had been patiently training Della’s eldest boy as our holiday house-sitter.

Our street has since been overrun by a gang of screeching kids. I love the noise and activity. The black Star Trek Borg cube down the street releases its brood a few times a day. Sometimes the Amazon Prime people in the Cape Cod monster house let their special deliveries off the lot. An activities bubble has formed among these few addresses. The chaos is always overseen by an adult, perhaps the parents draw lots.

Before the first snow fell on October sixteenth, I was puttering around the front yard of the Crooked 9, the garage door was open. Della was marching up and down the sidewalk, one eye on her iPhone screen and one eye on her cabin fevered herd. I asked her what she and her husband and the other families were planning for Halloween because neither Ann nor I are prepared to distribute treats on the blades of hockey sticks. Della said she didn’t know. Della said this 2020 Halloween was shaping up to be the strangest one ever. I disagreed.

“There are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is go on and bleed.” Mister Prime Minister, how far are you prepared to go to ensure public order and safety? “Just watch me.”

The Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ) was a terror group intent on transforming the province of Quebec into an independent country, a sort of workers’ paradise akin to Cuba albeit with harsher winters. History tells us that it’s highly unlikely America’s CIA would’ve abided that particular political model abutting the Vermont and New York state borders. Active since about 1962, its methods of sedition included bombings, armed bank robberies, kidnapping and ultimately, murder. By October 1970, the FLQ was no laughing matter. Canada’s prime minister at that time was pere Trudeau. Comparing Pierre to fils Justin, our current first minister, is pretty much a similar exercise to comparing John Lennon’s music to his son Julian’s. You recognize some similarities and you’re inclined to grant the kid the benefit of the doubt, but…

By invoking the War Measures Act, Ottawa effectively curtailed civil liberties in Montreal and its environs by granting various law enforcement agencies sweeping powers of arrest and detainment. Fifty years on, the Bloc Quebecois, the federal separatist party (I know, I know), is demanding an official apology for this humiliating manifestation of Canadian oppression and tyranny.

I was ten in 1970 and so I thought people with helmets and guns on the streets of my town was pretty darned neat. It’s important to remember too that these soldiers were not foreign troops, invaders. Anyway, the bigger news story that year was the break up of the Beatles. Almost as big was news that Halloween, like a Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup parade, would be celebrated as usual. The only caveat was that trick-or-treating had to take place immediately after school let out, in the afternoon daylight, based on the assumption that the FLQ would only murder kids after dark and only Anglophone ones at that.

In those days the major Halloween myth was that evil people inserted pins and razor blades into the in-season Macintosh apples they handed out. So, it was prudent not to stray too far from the street you lived on where you knew who most of the people were. Well, didn’t that fear-informed strategy blow up like an FLQ-infused Canada Post mailbox in 1970?

A member of Quebec’s National Assembly lived six or seven streets over. The premier’s sister lived another block or so from there. These homes were heavily guarded by members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Gee, where else is an unsupervised kid going to go? I’d yet to pick up the habit of habitual swearing and so I can only say in retrospect that those two treat stops were not only eerie but very fucking cool. Those few moments of suspense at those addresses were almost unbearable because while I didn’t want anything bad to happen while I was there, I wanted something bad to happen while I was there.

An invisible disease isn’t quite as fun as a military occupation for kids. Mindful of this simple fact, Ann and I will prepare individual treat bags for the kids on our street. We’ll deliver them early before any activities get started – should they even do. And then lights out. We’re afraid that some strange children might be bringing more home from school than just their homework. Maybe Della’s correct, 2020 will be the weirdest Halloween ever. 


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of memoir since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. The second wave and winter are coming; you’ll need a distraction. 

Friday, 16 October 2020


Carry On (as You Aren’t Quite Were)

During my quarter-century career in advertising, I sought only muted recognition for my efforts. Silence was golden: no criticism or complaints from clients or colleagues. Clichés exist because their sweeping generalizations are fundamentally true. This is the era of John Lennon’s ‘Nobody Told Me,’ these times are “most peculiar, mama! Whoa!” Nazis and God knows what else have moved out of the paranoid bathroom in The Dakota and taken to the streets. No news is good news.

My family and friends snicker at me because I’m a tad particular. I embrace routine. Disruption disturbs me; I require an existing, standing structure. Two of my close friends are self-described serial entrepreneurs. I’ve no idea how they derive income from their vertically integrated eco-systems and I wonder how they sleep at night, so many unknowns churning in the mental hopper. It’s stressful enough working for someone else. My career courage levels never revved into the red zone, I’ve always known my limitations. I bide my can-do spirit for writing and household chores.

I enjoy sprinkling sweeping compound on the Crooked 9’s garage floor and then sweeping it up. I grasp the absurdity of raking leaves on a crisp and blustery fall day, but I enjoy the process. This past Thanksgiving, with the temperature dropping, I’ve been reminded of the small comforts of normalcy. I’m no longer a slave to the grind, but routine, the mothering arms of the mundane.

I haven’t actually seen Stats Guy since some time in August but he was on the phone the other day and we were talking baseball. It’s October after all. His hometown Los Angeles Dodgers are in the running to win the World Series. I phoned my former neighbour Forest at his downtown seniors’ residence. Once we were past the formalities of autumn holiday greetings, the lousy food he’s forced to eat and the nature of the Christ in world religions, our conversation pivoted to his beloved Oilers. Edmonton’s hockey club could use some decent goaltending and a quarterbacking blue liner. Oh, and 30 goals from the fourth line.

There were other reassurances too that our globe and my little world wasn’t completely off its axis, hiccupping like a knuckle ball into an insane, funhouse distorted, parallel universe. The clutch on our 2006 CRV went pfft, mercifully in front of the Crooked 9. The Motor Association’s tow service was prompt and courteous – as usual – a membership well worth paying for. And it was business as usual with the dealership’s service department. Ooh, the problem may involve the flywheel. Turns out flywheels are not merely props in flea circuses. Honda parts are in stock but less expensive after-market parts? Well, gee, they’re difficult to source and there are warranty implications. Just like third party supplier exploding airbag recalls, I suppose.

There’s a note on the next page of the kitchen calendar reminding me to change the furnace filter. The furnace has been running more frequently of late. It’s a machine like our vehicle. Mechanical parts are going to wear out. Every fall I wonder if its seasonal start-up noises are the same as last year’s. And so I worry: does that clank sound familiar? What about that rattle?

One of my favourite Bruce Springsteen songs is ‘One Step Up,’ a sparse and subdued wrist-slitter from the mid-eighties: “Woke up this morning, the house was cold/Checked the furnace, she wasn’t burnin’/Went out and hopped in my old Ford/ Hit the engine, she ain’t turnin’.” Back then his lyrics about a dying relationship weren’t quite so exactingly literal as they resonate today between my 2020 Edmonton ears.

Recent news from E Street is heartening, sparks are flying. A new Springsteen album featuring the full band which now has more members than the Alberta Motor Association is due a week Friday. “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band/From the coastline to the city all the little pretties raised their hands!” The two songs I’ve heard hark back to the creation myths of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-out’ and ‘Backstreets.’ Fifty years along an endless highway these bittersweet tracks are wistful but not nostalgic rockers. Perhaps Springsteen read the Teaneck, NJ leaves and decided now is not the time for his earnest and dour Raymond Carver solo persona. What the world needs now is the popular and familiar because nobody can remember what that was.

The patio chairs have been stacked, tipped over and tucked into the exterior crawlspace beneath the kitchen floor tiles. I’ve cut the peonies back to stalks and hung their supporting rings off one handle of the upturned wheelbarrow on the north side of the house. Today I ran the gasoline out of the lawnmower’s tank. It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when I don’t know if I’ll need a snow shovel or a rake. This is the sort of uncertainty I can embrace, cope with. I’m here, I’ve done it and I’m doing it.                        


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Saturday, 3 October 2020


Stand Back, Stand By as the World Turns More Strangely than Ever

Well, I don’t mean to harp on this but I’ve enjoyed a few fine Guinness beverages. Last Tuesday’s United States presidential debate should have been staged in a Rust Belt barroom about an hour before closing time: “Will you shut up, man?”

Bruce Springsteen called it years ago during the Reagan era on his ‘Nebraska’ album: “I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.” But nobody expected criminally insane and Pinhead from the ‘Hellraiser’ horror flicks in 2020. It’s an ugly hot mic world and we’re just living in it. American politicians once conducted themselves with a certain stately decorum and had respect for their elevated offices in American society. At least in public.

The absolute nadir of the planet’s leading democracy turned funhouse weird later in the week when the White House announced that der Trumpenfuhrer had tested positive for covid-19, a new disease best treated by light bulbs and Clorox. I admit to experiencing the gleeful and selfish elation of schadenfreude. I happily hummed a John Lennon lyric all the live long day: “Instant karmas’s gonna get you, knock you right on the head, better get yourself together, brother, pretty soon you’re gonna be dead.”

Around beer o’clock I was check stopped by a sobering thought. The untimely death of the orange, odious vulgarian in the final weeks of the meanest and nastiest presidential election ever could serve as a bugle call for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I’ve an awful sense that Russia and China are circling American skies like giggling Warner Bros. cartoon buzzards.

The small grace, the modest miracle was news that Joe Biden tested negative for covid-19. Dear God, the Democratic candidate was just ten feet away from the incumbent’s bloviated dog whistle spittle Tuesday night. Perhaps der Trumpenfuhrer’s mucous missiles couldn’t go the distance, overly laden as they were with ignorance, intolerance and invective. Viscous vitriol.

Meanwhile, thoughts and prayers have been tweeted to the 45th president from national leaders the world over. Their collective unspoken plea is that the good doctors at Walter Reed, the military hospital in Washington, DC will not treat der Trumpenfuhrer’s condition with steroids.      


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of end of empire observations since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. It’s safe to emerge from isolation now, honest. Everything’s copasetic.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020


Just Another Day in the End Days

The New York Times Sunday revealed that a certain self-proclaimed billionaire and “very stable genius” has paid out more in hush money to a porn actress than he has in income taxes to his nation’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This researched and documented “fake news” will not of course sway the loyalty of der Trumpenfuhrer’s constituency of armed white supremacists and morbidly obese Wal-mart women who can only fantasize about being groped by a pudgy orange paw.

I try not to turn my attention south too often because I’m embarrassed for the United States of America. Mortified. Besides, we Canadians face challenges up here in the cool blue north. Last week’s Throne Speech had as much depth as a government public service announcement in a newspaper: “Wash your hands!” Times are hard in most sectors of the economy and our first covid-19 winter in a winter country always beset by flu season is sliding at speed like an avalanche in the Rockies. I am afraid of heights but sometimes I find myself compulsively compelled to look down on Canada’s major ally. All I see is actor Nicholas Cage in midair slow motion yelling, “Noooo!” Too late the hero.

Covid-19 has killed one million people, 200,000 of whom were Americans. The rose red blood of incompetence drenches the green lawns of the White House grounds. Not a surprise on the watch of a commander-in-chief who believes wind turbines cause cancer, forests should be raked like golf courses and ingesting bleach is a good idea.

Der Trumpenfuhrer also believes November’s presidential election is already “rigged” in favour of the Democrats, the QAnon fix is in. Ironically, it is traditionally the Republicans who gerrymander electoral districts and enact policies intended to make voting as arduous a Constitutional right to exercise as possible. Still, the odious and vulgar incumbent has refused to commit to the sacred democratic convention of a peaceful transition of power should he be defeated. Grace and good manners are for losers.

Renowned French author Victor Hugo wrote, “Let us study things that are no more. It is necessary to understand them, if only to avoid them.” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is Washington’s newest cabinet. Established in 2003 in the wake of 9/11, its remit was a panicky, knee-jerk grab bag of duties already seen to by more established and expert federal agencies such as the FBI and the CIA. Think “mayochup” on the grocery shelf between jars of mayonnaise and bottles of ketchup. In Canada, we say, “Qu’est-ce que fuck?” No agent in the DHS new model army could’ve imagined they’d be deployed as White House paramilitary shock troops to both quell and incite civil unrest. The historical parallels here are both ugly and obvious. 

My hunch is that the American people will not choose their next leader in November. My hunch is that a certain dodgy casino owner is betting the West Wing on a hastily and righteously stacked Supreme Court. And I wonder who fronted him the money for the chips he’s playing with. Casinos are lovely places for laundering cash should one’s operating funds be provided by a sleazy oligarchy whose client vetting process isn’t quite as thorough as a legitimate bank’s. This plague on America demands eradication. Will the magic bullet come from Pfizer or Remington?


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of end of empire observations since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. It’s safe to emerge from isolation now, honest. Everything’s copasetic.

Monday, 14 September 2020


 Scotch Bonnet or Botched Sonnet


Morag was my comely bride

She gave birth before she died

Our pale babe did not survive

A very nasty case of hives

And then the Redcoats occupied

Our murky bogs and River Clyde

The laird’s land all up and dried

His tartan flocks they did not thrive

I broke my staff, knelt and cried

For mighty Robbie Burns had lied

I could not ask the poet why

No grey mutton in my Scotch pie

I distilled the peat ‘neath the sky

Drank cheers to life and a another try       


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of depressing Celtic laments since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. It’s safe to emerge from isolation now, honest. Everything’s copasetic.

Monday, 7 September 2020


Not the Same Old Song

The Rolling Stones last Friday re-released 1973’s Goats Head Soup. At the time it was considered something of a louche and lazy follow-up to its predecessor Exile on Main St. which was considered a sprawling, incoherent mess compared to its predecessor Sticky Fingers. Still, the Stones were the biggest band in rock ‘n’ roll in the early 70s and those years coincided with my elevation from elementary to secondary school and the awkward onset of puberty. There was bound to be a chemical reaction, an eruption.

The music industry these days doesn’t sell a whole lot of physical product. Perhaps that is an O. Henry-like statement, a gentle irony about moving air, filling silence. But don’t old ways always die hard? Elaborately packaged re-issues, Goats Head Soup redux for instance, are, on the surface of the vinyl or CD, simple cash grabs from blindly loyal fanatics. But these re-masters, enhanced by outtakes, demos and live tracks add what was then contemporary context thereby transforming a simple album into something of a document, a ghost sign from its prime time. The sheer gravitas of most of these boxed sets encourages critical reassessment and historical revisionism: positive re-takes as opposed to the current fad of cancel culture.

Always the vanguard, His Bobness began the trend with his ‘Bootleg Series’ which was likely inspired by the success of his Biograph set from the 80s. Springsteen has subsequently released an entire parallel universe canon and alternative career whilst hawking collectible editions of his classic albums. Even for hardcore fans there are overly documented instances of overkill. I imagine an ‘Immersion’ edition of a Pink Floyd album would be both blue sky and pain. There are plans for a six disc reissue of Lou Reed’s seminal New York album. Take the straight razor to the strop.

I’ve been buying albums with my own money since I was 13, 1973. There are some I don’t listen to much anymore. That’s not because they were bad records or haven’t aged well, but because I love them so much I make the mistake of taking them for granted. Why listen to Born to Run again even though it changed my life the first time I brought it home and played it all the way through? We have been intimate; we are intimate. I know that album backwards and forwards and inside and out.

The pricy joy of a boxed reissue is that it compels the lover to revisit those initial crazy days of bliss, to remember. Goats Head Soup originally had a gatefold sleeve. Gee, wasn’t peeling the cellophane from the 2020 edition similar to the 1973 release, that anxious need to know what was under the cover? The audio was upgraded at source. Here at home too, thankfully I’m no longer a slave to my crappy little teenage bedroom stereo. The first plays have revealed sounds and nuances I’d never heard or perhaps ceased hearing. My true revelation lies with the lyrics. The words haven’t changed but their meaning has. Their message is necessarily transmitted to an upgraded receiver; I’m no pimply Catholic schoolboy these days. I’m all grown up now and able to superimpose myself, my experiences, listen differently and enjoy the songs all over again in a brand new manner.

There is a particularly lovely and forlorn ballad on Goats Head Soup called ‘Winter.’ “It sure has been a cold, cold winter, my feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground/the fields has all been brown and fallow, and springtime take a long way ‘round.” I came of age on the urbanized island of Montreal. Now, all I can picture is the scrubby, arable land along Highway 2, the road between Edmonton and Calgary. And Alberta’s first covid-19 winter is coming on. Labour Day signals the end of summer. The nights are shorter and chillier. There’s a fresh nip in the morning air.

If that prospect isn’t depressing enough (the furnace just turned on), Jagger then conjures “the bell, book and candle,” a malevolent ritual of excommunication of the Catholic Church’s framed to frighten the faithful. Toll the bell, shut the Bible and kill the flame. Only really nasty people get fast-tracked to Hell prior to Judgment Day: “When the lights on all the Christmas trees went out.” The song possesses a doomed tenderness which suggests novelist Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair on cocaine and downers. “Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around ya, but I can’t afford ya.”

‘Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ is a raucous complaint about police brutality, deadly illicit drugs and young people not getting a fair shake. Nothing’s changed but those tragedies are neither rare nor abstract now. I can see them all around, way too close to home. ‘Star Star’ could be about a social media influencer or a reality television meat puppet, a 21st century groupie, desperate for a brush or something like it with fame or at least account feed followers of some sort.

The Goats Head Soup deluxe box hook for me is the inclusion of Brussels Affair, an astounding live portrait of the band at their absolute apex. The set list is weighted toward Exile on Main Street and Goats Head Soup because the Stones were in fact promoting two recent albums on their 1973 European tour. I’m overjoyed to finally own a cleaned up copy of what may be their most sought after bootleg. The other notable blessing of the new Goats Head Soup, the recipe card aside (two heads are better than one), is that there’s only one version of ‘Winter.’ Thank God.         
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of musical musings since 2013. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


The Good Neighbour

Across the street beside the monster house is a modest pale blue bungalow of similar vintage to ours, the Crooked 9. Ann and I are casual friends of its owner, Vin. We know his wife and daughter by name and by sight but not much more. Vin is his family’s social patriarch. He visits with us on our front porch about once a week and the three of us sit together and chat about what’s on our minds from a safe distance.

Vin is one of those intelligent, overly curious people who needs to know everything about everybody. He asks a lot of questions and some are sometimes beyond the boundaries of decorum because Vin believes life and everything in it is very expensive and those particularly awkward queries of his demand gentle deflection. Vin is a goldmine of neighbourhood intelligence. If Ann and I lived in a police state we’d cut him dead. Though we keep an eye on each other’s homes, look out for each other, I’d hesitate to give him a set of keys to the Crooked 9 should Ann and I ever take another holiday. He’d treat the place like a real estate open house walk through and I’ve a hunch bedroom drawers would be opened for inspection.

If I’m awake early enough I watch Vin’s morning ritual. He burns incense in the planter by his front steps under the branches of the Ohio buckeye on his lawn. He crouches in prayer. After a few moments of tranquility, it’s go, go, go! Vin will sleep when he’s dead. We compete, as we must: whose lawn was cut most recently; whose grass looks better; whose driveway was shoveled first, who spread more grit on the public sidewalk. Vin’s need for speed has created at least one predictable habit: he tends to back his SUV into his driveway at high velocity.

I have smoked 25 a day for over 40 years. That’s a few hundred thousand cigarettes. Sometimes I wonder if their cumulative effects will be the death of me or will the fatal trigger be the fourth puff on the smoke I’ll have 15 minutes from now? I imagine my life as some sort of cosmic movie, ultimately the screen must fade to black. But given the nature of the film industry, I worry there might be a sequel.

These past few years I’ve caught myself emitting a lot of involuntary old person noises. The pain is not physical. The sighs and the groans stem from the yoke of sin. Raw regrets about very stupid and very bad behaviour which now cause me to cringe with vocal embarrassment and sorrow. And until last Monday morning I was fairly confident that I’d come to terms with the cross I’d hammered together all by myself for me and me alone to bear. Monday morning sure looked fine; my slate was pretty clean. I was a weightless being.

Vin zipped up the street with a load of lumber jutting out from the rear of his SUV. He drove past his driveway and shifted into reverse. His vehicle was about five feet longer than he was used to. He accelerated into the turn. God help me, I thought, “Please ram your garage door. That would really make me laugh.”

As Vin revved his Toyota’s engine I realized I’d cleared the edge of a tipping point in my life; I was the speeding cartoon character who’d paused in midair to look down. Vin and I do many of the same chores, but I take my time. That revelation was sort of like the abstract awareness of my mysterious and ultimate lottery cigarette: eventually my time on Earth won’t allow for just one more. I have eviscerated my soul alone in the darkness and confessed my flaws with moans, humility and shame in the witching hours. But I really, really wanted Vin to smoke his garage door, repairs would be expensive. I would’ve been highly amused. I cannot apologize for that malevolent little thought even as it undid years of self-examination and self-admonishment. And just like that, I’m going to Hell now. I am not sorry. No regrets.   
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of too much information since 2013. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.

Sunday, 30 August 2020


Pandemic Palate

Ann said a couple of weeks ago, “You know, this time last year we were on the Island.” I thought of eating lobster rolls by the water in Summerside, under no illusions about the meaning of “market price” on a creased and sticky laminated menu. And wasn’t the crab and lobster club at the local pub in nearby Kensington a sandwich worth flying across Canada for?

This summer has been very different. Ann and I booked four months in Porchtown, an exclusive resort conveniently located a single step outside the front door of the Crooked 9. Drinks are cheap and you can smoke as if the end of your life depends on it. I’ve been lagering a lot of time there, enjoying the street life serenade – especially when it rains.

There’s a monstrous, obese house across the street, erected before sub-dividing standard lots and throwing up a pair of skinnies became all the ugly rage. It’s painted a bluey-grey, a colour I associate with an east coast cottage, an Atlantic Ocean shade. The place is all right to look at except for one niggling thing. There’s an octagonal alarm company warning sign resting on the sill of one of the front windows and more often than not it’s tipped on the wrong edge. Sometimes I’m tempted to break in just to set the sign straight. Give it a nudge more than a good talking to. So I stare at that sign frequently and while I’m doing that I see other things going on.

Our neighbours receive more callers than our local drug dealer. They’ve all been summoned via a delivery app. I’m pretty certain Amazon Prime delivered their three children. I know their Skip the Dishes guy by sight. If it wasn’t for him, they’d starve. And he would too; I’ve read some alarming statistics about gig delivery drivers grazing on their customers’ meals. Last winter a waitress in a pub Stats Guy and I favoured for our Tuesday Night Beer Club outings told us that management quickly figured out that an app to-go meal was way different than standard take-out: carrier bags required more staples than a fresh surgical slit.

Last winter, cast my memory back there, Lord. In February Ann and I read about a weird viral outbreak in some remote Chinese city in some remote Chinese province. I thought, “That’s nice, something like ebola or zika on the other side of the world. Who cares? Anyway, I’ll take pastrami and salami over wet market bush meat any old time.” And then the tempo of the news changed, the stories were increasingly urgent. Ann and I compared it to watching a storm gather in the western sky. Thunderheads billow and bubble up. Sunlight takes on a harsh metallic hue. The twilit sky reels a seasick green.

When things became really weird we turned pro because we had to. The most mundane tasks beyond the confines of the Crooked 9 have become missions. Some days neither Ann nor I feel particularly motivated to embark on a grocery store adventure. Some days we’re not particularly inspired by what’s on hand in the fridge and the pantry. And some days the prospect of just eating because needs must looms like a tiresome chore.
Our shabby commercial hub is a 20-minute walk away, across the light rail tracks, past the elementary school and the fire hall. The old IGA grocery store is some sort of rainbows and unicorns daycare facility. There’s a mom-and-pop convenience which sells dust and penny candy beside it. The hair salon became a nail salon because they grow faster. The creepy, nosy pharmacist whose voice carried from his elevated perch at the back of his space pulled up stakes. The bank has been sub-divided into medical offices.

The saving grace along the avenue has been an Indian restaurant called Coriander. Ann and I have been sweating its survival. Opening an eatery at the best of times is risky enough. Before Coriander could even establish its presence in the neighbourhood, the City tore up the street, a months-long reclamation project. About the time Coriander had finally managed to acquire its liquor license covid-19 hit.

Ann and I have phoned ahead for pick-up three or four times these past six months. We don’t mind the hassle of collection because we know an independent food delivery service isn’t skimming Coriander’s revenue and our Tandoori chicken. But we can’t eat Indian food every day although I suppose Indians do and don’t give it much thought.

Around the corner from Coriander is Campus Pizza, a local institution. The current and third owner drove delivery for the second owner who in turn had cooked for the founder. Not exactly a family-run operation, but pretty darn close. Campus, like Coriander, has faced its own challenges. The street was a trench for an entire summer of course, but then a pipe burst after the new asphalt was steamrollered, flooding the space and forcing an extended closure. Once Campus reopened Ann and I bided our time because, gee, there had to be something in that water; best wait and see if our neighbours get poisoned.

Part of the attraction of Campus Pizza is that there’s just the one shop; there always has been and there always will be. It has meaning on the south side in the university district. Ann and I don’t order the ‘House Special’ from a multinational logo. No polyester uniforms in this corner joint. As well, the toasted subs, especially the meatball and the Italian, are exquisite sandwiches. Campus donairs are decent enough although the crucial sweet sauce seems to exist more as a descriptive menu detail rather than an actual condiment. Sweet sauce is essentially evaporated milk and garlic and it pairs nicely with the spicy meat, essentially congealed abattoir floor sweepings roasted on a spit.

The logical albeit impractical deliverance from my donair dilemma would be to layover in Halifax en route to Charlottetown and graze downtown on the fast food slope between the citadel and the harbour. Not this year. Thanks to Ann I’ve stumbled upon a made in Alberta solution a little east of us on the other side of the Canadian National Railway freight tracks. Burger Baron is a local operation with few links left in its chain. The industrial park drive-thru is always open. Ann enjoys the Baron’s mushroom and Swiss cheese burger and the onion rings. Lately I’ve been augmenting my donair order with a side of hamburger or hot dog. It’s possible that this pandemic will not end well for my waistline.

Some things stick with a person throughout their lifetime, like a hearty stew or heartburn. Ann and I were both raised to appreciate that food prepared outside the household kitchen is a treat. And treats by their very nature are infrequent indulgences. While we can’t imagine donning masks to be seated on site inside a restaurant neither can we imagine daily Skip the Dishes deliveries. So maybe covid-19 hasn’t affected our dining habits all that much.

Summer is winding down. We have missed taking our holiday and eating food prepared in different establishments a long way from many places. “Then again,” Ann reflected recently, “we’ve really utilized our patio this season – when it wasn’t raining – which is surprising, all things considered.” We have safely hosted small parties of relatives and friends. The socially distanced pleasure has been such that I even enjoy cleaning up afterward. Though I have missed my Tuesday evening chicken wing summits with Stats Guy, a bachelor, we’ve been able to feed him proper cooking a couple of times.

Yesterday morning Ann said, “We’re getting into soup season.” Last night’s supper was homemade chicken noodle soup mildly accented with a dash of smoked paprika. There’s no app for a bowl of that.       
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of processed food advocacy since 2013. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020



Canada’s most charismatic prime minister, the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, once remarked that neighbouring the United States was akin to sharing a bed with an elephant. The elephant is the mascot of the Grand Old Party (GOP), a recognized Republican symbol. Sunday’s news from south of 49 suggests an elephant not only rolled over but started sleepwalking.

I’m not a political news junkie but I keep an eye on Canadian machinations because it’s my civic duty to be informed. As such, it’s impossible to be blind to the executive, legislative and judicial chaos rampaging through the United States; ripples and shockwaves spilling over the border and signaling the decline of empire. No surprise then Republican conventioneers acclaimed der Trumpenfuhrer as their candidate in November’s presidential election.

With apologies to Erin O’Toole who won Canada’s Conservative Party’s leadership race in the wee, wee hours Sunday following a botched vote counting procedure, the night’s big news was the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) declaration that the GOP had zilch for a 2020 election platform. Not a plank. The cadre is prepared to live and die “enthusiastically” with the odious vulgarian’s erratic twitterpations as policy.

The RNC cited the covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for its collective cranial cramp. Yet this intellectually vapid rationale was somehow mildly reassuring. It suggested that the GOP’s backroom operatives recognize the disease for what it is rather than a hoax perpetuated by donkey-riding socialists. It also signaled an existential surrender of sorts. Since der Trumpenfuhrer and coherency pair as well as Comrade Xi and Guns n’ Roses, ‘Chinese Democracy,’ why bother doing the work? The buffoon will go off message the moment he purses his lips in front of a microphone.

Another possibility intrigues me but I can only speculate. What if the lack of a Republican election platform was in fact an invisible plank of a soft coup? What if the RNC has quietly decided that the orange man, his convicted cronies and his spawn are hogging too much space in the elephant’s clown car? What if the brains in the party organization are playing a fatalistic long game: concede the 2020 White House to the Democrats; irradiate the elephantine Republican brand cancer from Queens, and meanwhile, gear up for 2024. There’s got to be at least one Republican backstabber in that divided country who’s looking forward, desperate to launder the soiled sheets of the GOP.     

 meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of political commentary since 2013. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.