Wednesday, 29 July 2020


Someone Left a Kraken the Rain or Fill My Kraken

The Seattle Big Fucking Squids will begin play as the National Hockey League’s 32nd franchise in 2021-22, pandemic permitting. How a mythological Scandinavian sea monster relates to the Pacific Northwest of the United States eludes me. Maybe the squad is named for hipster hooch or a really bad big budget action flick.

“You must be Igor?”
“No, it’s pronounced ‘Eye-gore.’”

The NHL has been staging professional hockey games for more than a century, and, boy, will it really stage them this summer: “Quiet on the set! Cue crowd noise! Camera One pan to inflated sex dolls behind the penalty box!” Maybe the Seattle Kraken isn’t so weird after all.

Over time the league has proffered a stirred potpourri of team names. Some are crimes against grammar (Toronto Maple Leafs); some are boringly obvious (Ottawa Senators); some are unimaginative transplants (Calgary Flames); some are alliterative (Philadelphia Flyers); some have too many syllables (Columbus Blue Jackets); some are derogatory slang (Vancouver Canucks); some may be deemed culturally insensitive (Chicago Blackhawks nee Black Hawks); some are historical though obscure (New York Rangers); some are steeped in myth en francais (Montreal Canadiens); and some are sublimely inspired (St. Louis Blues).

My personal bugaboo with sports team names is usage of the singular (Minnesota Wild). Even casual conversation about the club demands the insertion of an article, an extra word. I know I’m a bit past my best-before date. I know I’m something of a traditionalist. No matter how much I primp and flash my billfold, I know I’m a secondary demographic to sports marketers. But I also know that I know how to pronounce the names of every team in the league and not one of those names affords an opportunity for willful mispronunciation. Following this summer’s riots in Seattle, childish hilarity ensures.

A question begs: Did anybody think this through? This is the same question I ask as I watch a diseased world burn. In 1919 civilization was in the grippe of a nasty bug, Spanish flu was epidemic. The Stanley Cup playoff between Montreal’s Canadiens and Seattle’s Metropolitans was called off after five games. Nobody won it that year. The new Seattle franchise’s logo is evocative of that bygone yet eerily similar era. The primary crest is a simple letter S, serpentine and seahorse-worthy. Still, modern and too busy by half, its design affectations include the suggestion of a tentacle and an evil red eye. The Kraken crest is sort of heraldic while mysteriously and mildly off-putting. The gothic font niggles.

Fortunately, the Seattle Kraken primary uniform colour is neither black nor field grey. No, it’s “deep sea” blue which is apparently entirely different from navy blue. The team’s palette includes four secondary colours. Four. One of the uniform trim colours is “ice” blue. Ice blue, and you need to know this, is a very different hue from baby, powder, sky and light blue. Only a graphic designer can tell the difference and they make it up. I know because I worked with the precious bastards for 30 years. “Yeah, I added seven eighteenths of cyan to the colour mix.” Really?

The Kraken last week unleashed a slick brand video, the big logo and laundry colour reveal. The organization was likely disappointed by the muted response to its dramatic and cinematic self-promotion. The major hockey story in North America is the NHL’s attempt to summer-salvage last winter in two Canadian “hub” cities. What could possibly go wrong?

Should the Seattle Kraken ever take the ice, they will be expected to meet the audaciously high bar set by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s 31st club, a team with too many syllables who couldn’t even get its home city right. I shouldn’t sweat this stuff because in days like these the future of hockey, pro sports or anything really, seems like a fantastic and remote possibility, something akin to a sea monster.          
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of sports writing since 2013. Apologies to Mel Brooks. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.

Thursday, 23 July 2020


In Our Backyard

God bless us because at least the furnace isn’t running. It has been that kind of summer so far – and that’s just the weather. As I’ve aged I’ve come to conclude that I’m incapable of exercising any control or influence over external events – hashtags and online petitions are empty gestures. I devote my attention to Ann’s and mine’s little patch of turf and the people surrounding it.

The brown bungalow adjacent to the Crooked 9 whose street number ended with a properly installed 5 was reduced to a pile of debris before noon today. Amazing what comes out of an empty house: sheets of plywood, solid timber studs, pipes, wires, ducts, tubing, pink fiberglass insulation, purple and blue rigid insulation, aluminum, plastic sheeting, tarpaper, porcelain bathroom fixtures, wrought iron, glass shards, carpeting, ceramic tiles, cement and a snow shovel. All of it smashed, crushed and bent into haulable smithereens.

The fellow who operated the orange Hitachi backhoe with the dinosaur-jaw at its end was something of an artist. The destruction was methodical, room by room. Demolition isn’t neurosurgery but I was surprised by the agility of the panzer-tracked machine, and the finesse and dexterity of its operator. A colleague of his saturated the dust raised with the nozzle of a water truck’s unspooled large gauge high pressure hose. Water sprayed everywhere into the air, droplets shining like mercury in the morning sun. The light revealed other things: a fallen bird nest, a squirreled cache of peanuts and an angry swarm of displaced wasps. And pushing the surreal, a perfectly intact box of Mickey Mouse disposable Huggies diapers.

Our eccentric neighbour Forest was getting on. His eyesight had declined as his infirmities increased. A solitary man, he sold his home pretty much “as is” last November to move into assisted living on the north side of the river, downtown. He is not enthralled with his new residence. “Geoff, the food is beef, beef, beef, beef, chicken. Sometimes they make me an omelet. I’m evaporating. And the people, they play cards and talk about nothing. I can’t relate to anyone.” He allows that living next door to Ann and me afforded him a bonus year, maybe two, of independence.

Forest loved Ann’s cooking and baking. His twice weekly Meals on Wheels deliveries provided little satisfaction. We shoveled his snow and changed his light bulbs. We read his correspondence to him and accompanied him on short walks in the neighbourhood. Ann fixed his toilet; I changed his furnace filters.

I encountered Forest for the first time about 30 years ago. He had hair like Bob Dylan (and still does) and wore eyeglasses that would have suited John Lennon. He drove a maroon Jaguar. Here was a far out enigma, a self-described “lapsed Buddhist” who “helps people when they’re ready.” Throughout all the years I’ve known him he’s been working on a book. A philosophical treatise on the human condition and the nature of the christ figure who must necessarily embody the best qualities of every gender and race and unify the world’s great religions. Yet his legendary aphorism remains: “So much to do, so little time. Why bother?”

Forest is an aesthete and a minimalist. Should there be just one chair in his living room (and there was), it had to be the Platonic ideal of a chair and the purchasing decision could not be made in haste, weeks of reflection were required because any and every choice about something seemingly as simple as a piece of furniture changed the past, altered the present and affected the future by its very presence. There was no such thing as an easy chair, a La-Z-Boy, how could there be and, more importantly, why should there be?

Forest’s backyard today looks like a battlefield the morning after. The dust has cleared. Truth is that it had fallen into neglect before he decided to pull up stakes late last fall. At one time his Zen refuge was an elaborately manicured private space of paving stones, raised flowerbeds, hanging baskets and compact, elevated winding paths. There was a torii, a gate between the humdrum and the sacred, and gong, and a bell. The exact placement of each primitively hewn obelisk was an agonizing decision - the correct side must be properly oriented, but which one? The boards comprising the fence between us had been individually inspected by Forest and he’d rejected many as less than furniture quality.

He had a life partner too once, an artist, but for a limited time only. Ultimately her muse led her out of town while Forest chose to remain in his garden. Alone with the biggest regret of his life Forest fretted over the inability of the Edmonton Oilers’ fourth line to provide the club with 40 goals over the course of a hockey season. And why does Edmonton always lose the big must-win football game to Calgary?

We spoke over the telephone just recently – a visit is still impossible. Forest said, “Don’t tell me about my house, I don’t want to know. I’m trying to erase it from my memory. Hey, Geoff, what do you think the Oilers’ chances are in a five game series against the Blackhawks? Chicago wasn’t having a great season before the stoppage but they’ve got a couple of great players who’ve already won three Cups.”              

Most Canadians live in urban environments. Higher levels of government limit cities’ abilities to raise revenue which in turn is spent on essential services and administration. Ann and I are aware that the infill phenomenon, the sub-division of existing lots to accommodate two skinny houses, increases the municipal tax base through density. The problem with this poorly regulated process is that speculative builders often run out of cash midway through projects. Most city neighbourhoods are blighted with weedy wastelands, scars of failed quick-buck dreams. New builds display their Tyvek vapour barriers for months at a time. Finally, architectural controls are mere guidelines; civic bylaws don’t allow accountability for a developer’s poor taste, neither the gauche nor the cookie-cutter.

The Forest project is right in our backyard. Ann and I are annoyed because this infill job has become our headache. Noise and shockwaves. We are sweating the integrity of the Crooked 9’s 65-year-old cement foundation. We are sweating the solidity of the excavation face along the property line following a decade of drought. We are sweating slope, drainage and shadows. We are concerned about privacy in our home and our backyard. But most of all we are grieving the loss of a friend - the three of us were close for many years.                                
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of city living news and notes since 2013. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.

Monday, 13 July 2020


A Scene from a Pandemic Common Law Relationship

A screenplay by meGeoff Bergman.

(From the opening scene the entire film is a single continuous tracking shot. Death, shrouded in a shabby black cloak and carrying a scythe walks along a gravel strewn North Atlantic beach. The camera pans upward to gaze at a cloudy leaden sky. The camera descends to reveal a water tower atop a building in New York City. The camera pulls back to reveal the large open window of a loft studio. We can see and hear Liv Ullman instructing Meryl Streep on how to sob and cry with a convincing foreign accent. The camera slowly pans to the surface of the East River and zooms in on the water. The camera swivels to focus on a steep wooded slope in the medium distance. The camera climbs the sheer face and pauses on a sign reading ‘END OF THE WORLD Edmonton, Alberta.’ The camera pans further upward to reveal a cloudy leaded sky. Lightning flickers. Rain begins to fall. The camera zooms in on a single silver rain droplet. The raindrop explodes like an atomic bomb on a black slate step in an extreme close-up. The camera pulls back to reveal the front porch of a bungalow. The porch is festooned with flower baskets and plant pots. Ann and meGeoff are seated side by side. Cigarettes smoulder in the ashtray on the table between them. Smoke curls around them like a shroud. Each is absorbed by the screens of their Apple devices.)

Ann: Fuck!

meGeoff: Now what? Der Trumpenfuhrer?

Ann: Who else? You know, I never used to curse and swear.

meG: Hard not to. He’s an odious douche bag.

Ann: Fuck.

(They reach for their respective cigarettes and fall silent, re-absorbed by their individual screens.)

Ann: There’s an uptick in covid cases in town.

meG: Not surprising what with the easing of restrictions and the re-opening of the economy.

Ann: It’s as if people think the virus was just visiting, came for a while and moved on. I don’t get it.

meG: Wait until it teams up with flu season.

Ann: I need a holiday.

meG: Where can we go?

Ann: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I was thinking separate ones.

meG: Oh.

(They both stub out their cigarettes. They both light fresh ones. They stare at each other through cloudy tornados of smoke until they are both distracted by prompts and pings from their respective devices. Time passes.)

meG: Oh! Hey! Here’s some good news!

Ann: What’s that?

meG: The Stones are re-releasing Goats Head Soup!

Ann: Hmpf.

meG: This is exciting, baby, something to feel good about and look forward to.

Ann: Don’t you, I mean we, already have it?

meG: Of course! But the deluxe edition will include The Brussels Affair which is probably their best known live bootleg.

Ann: Don’t you, I mean we, already have it?

meG: Erm, yeah.

Ann: Hmpf.

meG: And there’s a disc or two of unreleased tracks and demos! Okay, I, I mean we, already have a boot of ‘Criss Cross’ called ‘Criss Cross Man’ but there’ll be other stuff too! Did you know that a lot of the material recorded for the Goats sessions in Jamaica in the early seventies turned up nearly ten years later on Tattoo You, their last great album?

Ann: Hmpf.

meG: You don’t seem overly enthused.

Ann: Um, well, gee… What’s on Goats Head Soup? I know I’ve heard it, but I don’t remember it.

meG: The big hit was ‘Angie,’ but that was the third best ballad on the album. ‘Winter’ is sublime, sadness wrapped in Mick Taylor guitar solos. Keith’s ‘Coming Down Again’ is an achingly vulnerable lament about addiction and adultery; they're not very different if you think about it, similar states of want and need. The rockers were more distinctive for their words than their riffs. ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ remains an angry slice of social commentary. ‘Star Star’ is Berryesque and hilarious provided you can make out the words and slurs. I’ve always thought ‘Silver Train’ was a worthy sequel to ‘All Down the Line’ from Exile. Migration, salvation, haven’t trains been a recurring metaphor in rock, blues, country and gospel music? Goats Head was considered something of a louche and lazy follow-up to Exile, but that album too, now considered a masterpiece, was panned upon its release. Historical revisionism is everywhere.

Ann: (Zzzz.)

meG: My apologies. It seems I’ve bored you to tears.

Ann: I’m just crying out for some different company after more than 100 days of lockdown.

meG: Funny you should say that because one of the more experimental tracks on Goats Head is ‘100 Years Ago.’ Not that the Stones have ever been terribly experimental, they’ve never strayed too far from their blues foundation. However, I believe it’s somewhat significant to note that their two departed guitarists, founder Brian Jones and his replacement Mick Taylor, were probably the most adventurous musicians in the -

Ann: Aargh! From the depths of Hell I will stab at thee with a dull bread knife!

meG: Well, at least we’ve both got something to be excited about.

(The camera pulls back from the porch of the Crooked 9 and ascends. Soon their home blends into greater Edmonton’s pattern of rooftops. The city soon becomes a mere blot on the prairie. All of North America is then revealed. The continent becomes part of the marbling of the blue and white planetary disc. The camera reverses through the solar system at speed. The spiral of the Milky Way bleeds into view and then recedes into a dot. Fade to black.)                    
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of unfathomable European art-house cinema since 2013. Don’t sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, stay safe.

Thursday, 9 July 2020


White Noise, Muted

We are living in interesting, disease-ridden, hyper-sensitive times. Advertisers are confounded by the prospect of trying to deliver a message through a myriad of minefields. “We’re all in this together” isn’t good enough in days of protest like these. Last week actions spoke louder than slogans and tag lines. Canada’s major banks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Frito-Lay among others pulled their July buys from Facebook, the world’s largest advertising platform.

Business practices aside, the forum is perceived as an evil garden filled with hostile foreign trolls, hate speech, propaganda, goopy quackery and cat videos. Facebook and its digital ilk may have devolved the human intellect back to the nadir of the Dark Ages. To be fair, nobody grasps the unintended consequences of something new when it bursts into the mundane everyday – except perhaps an aghast brand manager. At issue here is a semantic stance, Facebook’s insistence that it is a parrot and not a publisher.

Yet this big brand boycott of Facebook feels temporary, a pandering gesture much like Pride rainbow logo affectations. A stalled economy equates to hard times for anybody wishing to buy or sell anything. It’s tricky business trying to quantify an advertising campaign’s return on investment; inadequate statistics can be skewed and that’s part of the game. Should an advertiser’s portion of a consumer’s shrunken dollar decrease exponentially, it only makes sense to ramp up the spend, amplify a brand’s message and its awareness. A sliver of a pie is better than no slice at all.

The arcane value of advertising is too often all too easily dismissed. A new enterprise won’t include the expense in its business plan. Advertising is the afterthought waiting for the initial revenues to roll in. Bit of a hard sell if nobody knows. For a struggling established company advertising is the simplest budgetary cut to make. Good luck with future sales, fade to red ink. Should the aforementioned big brands really eschew Facebook, where can they turn outside of the digital realm?

Advertising and mainstream media are symbiotic industries, mutually supportive. They don’t always get along because eventually a reporter will have to file a story about the doings of an advertiser or an advertiser will bristle over a particular though informed editorial stance. The creaky old analogue system worked pretty well for both parties and the first disruptive cracks in it were almost invisible.

Network television began its lingering death throes in the 80s, decades before its broadcast signal went digital and long before anybody noticed the symptoms: dedicated cable channels, video recording devices and video cassette rental shops on every commercial street corner. The communal evenings of everybody watching the same show at the same time vanished into the night. Fast forward to today. Trophy ad spots have been reduced to play stoppages in live sports broadcasts. There are no live sports amid a global pandemic. So spare a thought for Scotiabank who bet its brand image and marketing budget on hockey.

Classified ads and automotive and real estate listings are grey stuff, no glamour. But these were the basic, ancient elements like earth, air and water, crucial to a newspaper’s survival. Those lucrative column inches migrated to the world-wide-web, settling in places like Kijiji. Internet ethos demanded that its up-to-the-minute content must be democratic and free. So why pay for this morning’s newspaper when its content is already yesterday’s news? Declining circulations reduced the reach of advertisers, and media buyers understandably insisted on paying less for less. Magazines, those weekly or monthly compendiums of news and information suffered as well as their content had yellowed into the historical even as they went to press.

It’s strange to consider that the advent of radio was once considered a threat to sheet music publishers and the nascent recording industry. The corporate conglomerate wasteland that constitutes commercial radio has now been rendered irrelevant by podcasts, satellite channels and streaming. Its formats are strict, indifferent segments of pre-programmed tastes. Nobody’s listening anymore and so why should an advertiser bother to buy chain-wide time on the generic wacky zoo morning show or the generic afternoon drive? Brands like to stand out, as they must. Radio advertising sounds the way most unaddressed admail reads: All free estimates will be matched.

Come August there will be some kind of reckoning between big brands and big tech because they need each other. We’re all aware of what becomes of media outlets when advertisers reduce or cease their spending. Conversely, beyond social media there’s no viable alternative avenue of mass reach for major advertisers. One of the interested parties will dictate the terms of pandemic advertising in the new woke world order. We’ll learn soon enough what’s cheaper, talk and posing or ad rates.                     

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