Friday, 30 October 2020

HUMAN WRECKAGE


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.     

        

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of peculiar lower intestinal stirrings 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.

Monday, 26 October 2020

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Boom!


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

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


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. Clich├ęs 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.                        

             

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of absurd musings 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.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

 SAINTS PRESERVE US


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.