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.