Monday, 30 March 2020


Tones on Tomes

Saturday morning I wasted three minutes of my life reading a column in the newspaper’s style pages. Its subject was built-in bookshelves, blessing or curse? It was all a bit twee, precious. Perhaps my mind’s become a bit frayed in these isolation days and so my emotional response to the sniffy, shallow dilemma raged from contempt to fury.

I know people who’ve hung pictures on their walls not because they appreciate the subject so much as its colours go with the paint and furniture. Now it seems that books have become like items of décor. I don’t know when this shift in perception occurred; I must’ve had my nose buried in my prose or someone else’s.

In the mode of the ultra-chic sorting and shelving books alphabetically by author and genre is a faux-pas. Books must be displayed according to size and tone - that is the colour of their spines. Some books must stand upright while others must lay on their backs in stacks and, dear me certain volumes are destined to be leaners. The proletarian paperback, whatever the merit of its content, is of course libris non grata. Best stowed in the basement or home office, don’t you know. Décor necessarily dictates its own peculiar Dewey Decimal Classification.

Once the shelves have been tastefully arrayed in colour wheel hues and treasured family mementoes have been added as stunning accents, appallingly there may yet be dead space to fill. Fortunately, that problem is easily rectified by a visit to a shop specializing in used books!

Over the course of the past year it’s been my incredible good fortune to spend time browsing in Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR and the Waterstone’s location in London’s Bloomsbury district. And so, I’ve imagined a vacuous version of myself in one of those stores, on the hunt to populate my accursed built-in shelves:

“I’d like to buy some blue books, please. About eight inches’ worth.”

“Ah, the erotica section is downstairs, sir. In the rear.”

“And do you have any red books?”

“Ah, red? Ah, you’ll find the works of Marx and Mao in the philosophy section. You may also wish to investigate the history and politics sections.”

“Great. Thanks. What about white books?”

“White? Ah, do you happen to know the author’s first name, sir?”

“No, they’re just to lean against the blue and the red books.”

“Ah, well, I’m sure you’ll find something. Is there any other thing I can help you with? Any more questions?”

“What about large format books, oversized?”

“We’ve a lovely array on the main floor, just outside the bistro. What’s your particular interest, sir, fine art, photography, architecture, film, music?”

“About twelve to sixteen inches.”

“May I suggest the erotica section once more?”               

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative record of the absurd since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Thursday, 26 March 2020


A Dry, Persistent Cough

I’m contemplating Gaia theory
And how our planet must be weary

Human infestation, this biped domination
Eco-consternation, stewardship adjuration
A spiky salutation from our global Matron
A doomed nation fulfilling its vocation
Ethics on vacation, no newsy revelation
No ticketless salvation at St. Pandemic Station
No miracle libation or proven vaccination
Insane hygiene education in alien isolation
White hot cremation, feverish incineration
A mass hallucination, the end of all creation

Gaia spritzed a little covid-19
Trying to scrub Her surface clean

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative record of rhyming existential dread since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020


And a Further Letter from Tony

Tony Intas and I attended Loyola High School together in Montreal many years ago. He is meGeoff’s roaming reporter; a thoughtful man of multiple addresses. Today Tony writes from the Hawaiian Islands.

The Irony Is Not Lost on Me.

Ever since my caregiving responsibilities ended back in 2017, I have had the opportunity to spend the first three months of every year on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. I have been volunteering with the National Park Service on the Kalaupapa peninsula for about ten years now, which back in the 1800s was chosen - because of the remote geography of the place - as a site to isolate individuals suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) from the rest of the world. Who would have thought, over 150 years later, that it is an appropriate place for me to be during this pandemic. The irony is not lost on me.

Molokai is a very rural island and people are basically self-sufficient. Most residents, all 5,000 of them on an island smaller than Montreal, know how to hunt and fish. Most grow their own vegetables. and keep chickens. Enviable skills to have now!! Coconuts, bananas, mangos, avocados, papayas, oranges and other fruit are there for the taking from neighbours or out in the wild.

The people of Molokai are very protective of the lifestyle they have. They, and other Hawaiians, view Molokai as sacred. They are a very proud people and they want to keep their way of life. The community is very tightly knit and there are some families that have been on the island for generations. This is Hawaiian concept of ohana (family). Everyone calls elders “Auntie” or “Uncle.” There is only one town on the island, two gas stations, one bar, five restaurants, a bakery, a pharmacy, three grocery stores, an ice cream parlour and no traffic lights.

Very few tourists visit here. There is only one hotel, but there are several guest houses/vacation homes and four condominium residences that have some rental units - a source of contention with residents as it impacts their ability to rent accommodations at a reasonable price. Cruise ships are not permitted to visit here and large yachts are turned away at the one dock.

The people of Molokai, while they are friendly, do not welcome tourists like they do on the other Hawaiian islands. A good rule to follow when you visit Molokai is “do not act like a tourist.” Residents will respond to that. It takes time to make friends here. You will often be asked “who do you know,” so residents can “check you out” to see if you will embrace what has been created here.

On March 31, I will be taking a “repatriation” flight back to Canada, the same day that I was originally scheduled to leave my “special place.”  I will be re-entering a world that has radically changed since I left it in January, coming from a place that does not change, wants to keep it that way and has been self-isolating for almost 200 years. Again, the irony is not lost on me.

(meGeoff update: Tony's Air Canada flight way back home has been cancelled. He's marooned in a former leper colony. No irony there. The good news is that a decade of volunteer work has paid for itself - Tony has friends and shelter on Molokai.)

Readers of this blog who find themselves in places where they don’t normally find themselves, actual or otherwise, are encouraged to write meGeoff a letter detailing their experiences and impressions. Get in touch with me. I’m on Facebook.

Sunday, 22 March 2020


What Are They Thinking?

Ann and I have a scripted routine which we know by heart. We employ it often whilst discussing COVID-19 pandemic events beyond the confines of the Crooked 9.

Ann will sigh, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

That’s my cue: “I don’t fucking know. I just don’t fucking know.”

“I don’t know either. I don’t know anything anymore.”

In these most peculiar days of emergency measures, mixed messages, sniffy moralizing and profiteering, our lines are growing stale. Because I’ve had some additional free time on my hands of late, I was able to spend a couple of days last week furiously scratching my head over two blunders made in the public’s interest.

First, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced its suspension of all locally produced supper hour newscasts. Normally, I will always listen to a well-reasoned argument that is contrary to my point of view. In this instance I’m so deaf to the Mother Corp.’s rationale that I won’t waste words repeating it.

The taxpayer-funded CBC is one of the world’s great news-gathering organizations. Since its inception in 1936, the crown corporation has filed hard news stories from war zones and disaster zones the world over. It has reported history. Its mandate is to be a key component of the ethereal infrastructure that connects Canadians coast to coast to coast through six time zones. Canada is such a quagmire of regions and jurisdictions that free trade between its provinces and territories remains an administrative nightmare 153 years after Confederation. And so, while the City of Edmonton has declared a state of emergency complete with the potential infringement of civil liberties the act implies and the City of Red Deer has not, citizens of both cities and their environs require localized and accurate information from a credible source. There is absolutely no excuse for the CBC shirking its duty to Canadians across the country.

The second blunder is almost laughable, colossal for a province the size of Prince Edward Island. The health authority, acting in good faith, announced that the government controlled pot shops and liquor stores would close until further notice. I can sort of glean the rationale here as many people view sin products as non-essentials. Then again stores that sell baggies or bottles and cans are no different from grocery stores. The official mistake was providing Islanders with advance notice. The resulting panicky queues were so long that any semblance of social distancing evaporated.

The City of Edmonton last week experienced its own miscalculated encounter with the law of unintended consequences. Transit officials reduced the frequency of our light rail trains and reduced the number of carriages strung together for each one. What could possibly be transmitted from passenger to passenger in a rolling sardine cylinder?

My examples are linked by a thread of well-intentioned incompetence backed by a foolproof excuse. I’m not sure if the parties involved are bright enough to seek some sort of temporary pandemic advantage, but a reduction in services sure helps strained operating budgets and the resulting unemployed become a federal responsibility, wards of the greater state; much like any CBC employee working or not. I don’t know. I just don’t fucking know.

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative record of existential dread since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020


Oh, Fuck! What Now?

The city is finished. I have this walking, waking reverie that one perfect day I’ll be moving through the streets of my town and virtually everything around me will be in its absolute, ideal state. Every single construction project has been completed. All the roads are in good repair. All the light rail stations are open and the trains are running on time. Every park and lawn is manicured; there are no dandelions. There’s no brown paper in a single storefront. Nothing needs a fresh coat of paint. My impossible dream, is there any other kind?

As I signed my first mortgage contract I felt nauseous, tasted bile in my throat absorbing the implications of those amortized numbers. Those quick and viscous pre-vomit swallows are now part of my morning ritual of coffee, cigarettes and the goddamned newspaper. These days I am a newly minted senior citizen living in historic times. Since I’m a trifle too pedantic I venture that all times are historic because history has a pronounced penchant for unfolding its quilt endlessly. Still, contemporary history has never seemed quite so personal and rife with existential dread.

Because the most commonly used verb in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business section of late has been ‘plunge’ I have resisted the temptation of reviewing my investment portfolio online. I know if I give in I’ll be like a teenaged boy with Internet porn, looking at my declining numbers every ten minutes. History tells me that economic depressions and recessions, bear markets, don’t last. I remind myself to think long term. Trouble is I don’t know how many future years of my life I’ve frittered away fretting these past six or seven weeks.

Lately I’ve seduced myself with another crazed daydream. Tomorrow morning’s Globe and Mail will have no content. The relentless assault of bad news, tragic human interest stories and earnest mental health advisories will cease. The opinion columnists will mutely opine in white space because just for one day nothing either good or bad happened anywhere. Nothing. Sweet fuck all. A sweet, stable stasis.

A few months ago the renowned American novelist John Irving became a Canadian citizen. A good friend of mine wrote me: ‘You will never win the Giller Prize now.’ But this dream of mine of a newspaper with no news is almost a reality these days, more real than any fantasy I ever concocted for myself. There are no reviews of live events in the arts pages and no game scores in the sports section. Almost there, if only the news cycle would stop like everything else has.                                    

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative record of existential dread since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Thursday, 12 March 2020


Panic Pandemic!

There was a virus going ‘round, Papa caught it and he died last spring – Bobbie Gentry, ‘Ode to Billie Joe’

The sudden scourge of a new or previously unknown disease is nothing new in human history. Alas, our species’ collective memory is afflicted with amnesia. Mass hysteria has caused our herd to stampede away from the fear of the unknown once again. When confronted with the palpable fear of the mob you find out what you’re made of. You can join the mob or hold it in contempt, common sense versus ignorance. On a related fashion note, people who wear useless surgical masks in public look really stupid.

Mortality is a limited-time offer, eventually the warranty expires. Death is inevitable; it may be deferred but is never preventable. So, you know, it’s always going to be something one way or another: the ultimate fact of life. In the fantastical human drama death will always arrive according to the script, at what we perceive to be the right time and it will be merciful, swift and painless. When the Grim Reaper (it is our nature to anthropomorphise a natural process) ad libs, we ineffectual directors feel more powerless than ever.

Helplessness leads to panic whose manifestation frequently descends into the theatre of the absurd. It’s not unreasonable to believe that a percentage of people are avoiding Corona beer in order to avoid the coronavirus. Runs on toilet tissue. The mob however is not a unified bloc. With various stock indexes roiling over broken supply chains and cratering productivity, a millennial socialist will crow that the rich are finally getting theirs. I’ve read too that coronavirus is some sort of karmic payback on cisgender society for the AIDS crisis. A tweet of the times I suppose because no activist no matter how radical would have typed that during the SARS epidemic at the turn of the century.

Meanwhile somewhere south of the Medicine Line, a crafty traveler has just booked a Princess Cruise at a bargain because COVID-19 is a hoax perpetuated by the Democratic Party even if the vice-president has said the Dems hope the respiratory ailment will kill millions of Americans. Private jet rentals have skyrocketed. It’s one thing to demonize a microbe, but to commercialize it and politicize it is insanity. You just want to wash your hands of this farce and the human condition – albeit thoroughly.

I am a rational being. I believe I can keep calm and carry on while taking simple and sensible precautions. I have a pleasure trip to Toronto planned for the end of April, tickets for the flight and three public events in hand. Should the events be cancelled or postponed and federal and provincial health authorities discourage leisure travel I will be annoyed but I will abide. I am prepared to do my part as best I can.

But I’m afraid of other people. I have smoked 25 cigarettes a day for 40 years. Unsurprisingly, I cough from time to time. I’m petrified that I’ll experience a fine throat-oyster bout of smoker’s hacking in the wrong place at the wrong time only to be swarmed by the paranoid mob and public health workers in hazmat suits. Zealots everywhere and from all sides and me torn apart or tested; no one is immune from madness or draconian measures. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Addendum: This news is about an hour old. Prime Minister Trudeau has isolated himself because his wife Sophie has exhibited symptoms of infection. You know how this is going to shake down on social media. It will go viral and he will be pilloried for running and hiding from a national crisis instead of being lauded for setting an example for all Canadians to emulate.                            

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative record of human foibles since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Monday, 9 March 2020


Henri Richard 1936-2020

Canada’s most famous leap year baby has died at age 84, just days following his 21st birthday. He did seem ageless through 20 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. His personal statistics are remarkably consistent, a tick or two under a point a game through 1259 regular season tilts and 180 crucial playoff matches. What staggers are the 11 Stanley Cups he won as a player between 1955 and 1975. Eleven. A champion more than half his time wearing the CH sweater over flimsy felt shoulder pads. An impossible dream for every other little local boy - and any other player, past, present or future, who laces up his skates in the National Hockey League.

Henri Richard’s father worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and had spent his career toiling in Montreal’s Angus shops. Maybe that’s where Richard’s heart was forged. He was okay with being overshadowed by his much older brother Maurice the ‘Rocket’ and later Jean Beliveau because they played the game with the same commitment he did. Anecdotal tales told outside the dressing room suggest Richard could not abide fools either as teammates or coaches. He is the sole uniformed link between the glory of the Rocket’s era and the annunciation and anointment of Guy Lafleur. Twenty winters. Perhaps the ultimate grace of Richard’s career was a twist of fate, another instance of impeccable timing: Richard retired before the front offices of pro sports teams transformed into analytical entities who viewed their scarred legends as diminished assets. He was not cast aside to play out his final winters in exile – or worse, Oakland.

In Richard’s day hockey was truly a seasonal sport. Paycheques covered the schedule. Players were no different than teenagers, they needed summer jobs. Because les Canadiens were owned by Montreal beer blue bloods, some players elected to open taverns with a corporate, silent partner leg-up. Richard’s brasserie was situated on Park Avenue a few strides north of Sherbrooke Street. Across the street was a very hip record store called Phantasmagoria.

There, near the corner, myth and my memory intersected. I had a fish hook-shaped LP record hunting route that commenced at the A&A store at Ste-Catherine and Guy beside the Toronto-Dominion Bank branch and stretched east to Sam the Record Man near The Main and then looped up and back west to Phantasmagoria. Brasserie Henri Richard was where I’d strip the cellophane off my new albums and examine their inner sleeves. Read the liner notes with a cigarette and a bock of Molson ale.

The exposed side wall of the greystone establishment featured a gigantic mural of Richard, wearing number 16, and his big brother the Rocket, wearing number 9, swooping in on Toronto’s Johnny Bower. I liked to think the scene was from 1960, the year I was born and the Rocket’s final season. It was possible because that was the year Bower also established himself as the Leaf’s number one goaltender.

I attended my first Canadiens game at the Forum in 1968. My French-Canadian Nana (nee Leblanc) brought me (we took the bus downtown); I was eight; she worshipped Beliveau and the brothers Richard. I saw one or two other live games between then and 1975, when Richard, hobbled by a broken ankle, finally succumbed to the toll of a fast and violent game. Hockey tickets in Montreal were like an aisle seat near the toilet for the Second Coming – impossible to get. He’d be on television of course, every Saturday night in black and white. On the radio, skating left to right on the dial. And who could forget his pair of decisive coffin nails against the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1971 Cup final? Richard was omnipresent yet remote.

But he hadn’t just lent his name and personal memorabilia to his beer parlour. Richard was always there holding court in his bleu, blanc et rouge rocking chair set by the taps and the fridges, more often than not shrouded in cigar smoke. A close up view I’d no wish to be obvious about taking, a warrior at rest. Periodically he’d circulate; work the room, greet his regulars. I was surprised that we were about the same height even if the rest of me couldn’t possibly measure up.

Once he stopped by my table and asked me how I was enjoying my club sandwich, French fries and gravy on the side. Me!? Well, what do you say to a god when your jaw’s on your chest and your mouth is packed full of toast, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese and chicken (possibly turkey)? I wagged my head, shaking it because in that instant I forgot how to nod up and down even as I prayed I wouldn’t spit chewed food all over the alligator logo on his golf shirt.                    

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of sports and musical musings since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.