Saturday, 30 January 2021


Pandemic Productivity

Pen drop!

Following three false starts, an initial draft and four rewrites I’ve completed the manuscript of my fourth novel. I am not a prolific writer. I was pretty sure the finish line was another year away. I guess I’m living through a strangely productive time. I’m even sensing number five is out there although at this stage it’s more like one of those ‘floaters’ patients tell their optometrists about.

French auteur Jean Cocteau once quipped that every dictionary contains a literary masterpiece: the problem being the words are out of order. I plot my stories out. I know I have to get from A to Z. My trouble is the other 24 letters in the alphabet. And frankly, neither Oxford nor Merriam-Webster is much use as it helps to know the first three letters of the word I’m seeking.

The working title of ‘Of Course You Did’ was ‘Atomic Space Rangers!’ Once I realized I had to change its title, the tenor of the novel changed. I’d envisioned straight comedy about awkward subjects. Tom the narrator is a failed science fiction writer but otherwise a relatively successful man. The story unfolds as he reflects on his life and his relationship with his older brother Pete, and his brother’s influence on the course of his life.

Each chapter is divided into three sections. The structure I arrived at was challenging because I had to integrate them and each had to inform the others. The first section is a good old fashioned adventure story, the brothers the main characters, essentially a 60s World War II weekly television drama set on a mysterious world somewhere in the Orion constellation. They keep breaking the fourth wall to argue about the plot and discuss their lives together. Other parts of the novel are set in Edmonton, AB, south side. The middle portion is Tom’s memoir of growing up in a broken home with his big brother Pete playing the father figure. The third section relates the fates of the brothers in present-day, again from Tom’s point of view.

I made up most of ‘Of Course You Did’, but I swear it’s all true.       

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of contemporary fiction since 2013. Of Course You Did is coming in 2021. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9, use that thingy on the right. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2021


Dying by Degrees

Baseball legend Henry Aaron died last week. ‘I Had a Hammer’ is the first volume on my two shelves of sports books. An intricately detailed figurine of Henry (he hated ‘Hank’), clad in that awful uniform the Braves sported in the early 70s, following through on home run number 715 stands nearby in the exalted company of plastic casts of two other childhood heroes of mine, Roberto Clemente and Bob Gibson.

Clemente was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972, a humanitarian mission to Central America ending in catastrophe. Gibson, a dominating and fearsome pitcher whose talent compelled Major League Baseball to change its ground rules (the height of the pitcher’s mound was lowered in order to give hitters a better chance of putting the ball in play), died last October. I saw these baseballers play against the Montreal Expos. I was a kid; I didn’t know enough about sports to realize that these stars were past their primes whilst taking the field at Jarry Park.

Language is a living entity and so am I. The words I write at age 60 are very different from the words my memory suggests I may’ve spoken at age 10 or 11. What has never changed is that tingling, hair-bristling awe in proximity to greatness even as time has forced me to constantly redefine greatness and shuffle tarnished touchstones.

I was lucky enough to see Paul McCartney live in concert a couple of years ago. His hair was an unnatural colour for a man of his age. His face was a little jowly. I realized his lengthy set was paced more to preserve his voice than take his audience for a rocking rollercoaster ride. But my God, that’s Paul McCartney on stage and I’m in the same room and breathing the same air. My post-Beatles druthers would be the ‘Wings Over America’ era when his hair was still black and his cheekbones more sharply defined.

That distinction, this sort of critical thinking, lay beyond the intellect of a sandlot baseball tween. Seeing Willie Mays in New York Mets kit was not a sad and bittersweet denouement to an amazing career. No. It was more, Hey! That’s Willie Mays! Gosh.

In times like these I bristle when someone I assume to be a fully formed adult espouses child-like adoration for any particular ideology, be it political, philosophic or religious. Blind yet wide-eyed worship is a realm best left to kids and should be reserved for a man like Henry Aaron, possibly the best there ever was. Number 44’s personal statistics over a major league career with the Indianapolis Clowns, Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers were so reliably and consistently excellent as to be ho-hum, expected, boring: a .300 average, 190 hits, 44 homers, a Gold Glove and an all star selection. The usual.

After more than 20 pro seasons playing the game so determinedly and quietly at an insanely high level, Aaron found his voice, the voice of experience. He spoke out about the lack of civil rights in America, systemic racism and the tortoise pace of off-field integration in Major League Baseball.

Aaron was born in Alabama in 1934. The Clowns were a Negro American League club. Between 1966 and 1974 Aaron played his Braves home games in Georgia. What could a Canadian boy like me know about the American South? The confederate states lost the Civil War and that was that. (I must digress: I sent two dollars along with an order form from the back page of a comic book in exchange for some 200 blue and grey plastic Civil War soldiers. The advertising graphic was awesome. It took some time for me to learn that two Canadian dollars in an envelope to the United States bought nothing. Needless to say, the blue and red Roman legions didn’t quite work out either. I’ve never been a quick study.) It never occurred to me that Henry Aaron was Black. He was a ballplayer.

A teammate of mine had a Louisville Slugger with Henry Aaron’s signature branded onto the fat end of the barrel. We were pretty sure he’d signed it himself somehow and he’d handled the bat at the factory and swung it a few times, inspecting its weight and balance. And the Beatles were four best friends who lived together. When I was a kid there was a lot I didn’t know, not sure that’s changed all that much 50 years on.

When an artist dies, an admirer is left with the work: canvases, reels of celluloid, poetry, prose and songs. All can be revisited and appreciated time and time again. Sport is ephemeral. If McCartney has performed ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ a thousand times, Henry Aaron could only break Babe Ruth’s career home run record just the once. Sure, there were photographs, highlight footage from different angles, newspaper and magazine stories and updates to the Baseball Encyclopedia, but ultimately the morrow brought another day and another game.

It’s here and then it’s gone. My memories of my childhood are vague and imprecise. This flaw in whichever portion of my cerebral cortex is sometimes vexing. I can watch ‘Help!’ any old time I choose and refresh my memory. But when an athletic idol from those days dies, I’ve found that my early past, a little of it, a lot of it, blurred already, recedes that much further. I’m a little more unmoored, another anchor lost as I drift ever closer to my own death. How could I ever have imagined that Henry Aaron would be some sort of marker in my own existence? Gosh, I just saw him play ball a couple of times. I suppose there will be more bad news and erasures to come soon enough. As there must be.    


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of internal contemplation and unabashed fandom 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.

Friday, 8 January 2021


Coping Mechanism

The biggest news story of 2021 broke just six days into the new year. More to come as the chaotic dust and tear gas clouds settle.

Ann and I sat stupefied the other day, entranced by CBC reportage from the capital of the United States, the mob swarming the Capitol, egged along Pennsylvania Avenue by the first family of douche-baggery, scrotal inflammation and Wal-mart luxury products. She said, “This feels a lot like 9/11,” as in, ‘What the fuck is happening on American soil?’ States of confusion.

Though the undefended border between our countries is closed currently, any sort of eruption down there always feels pretty close to home. Beneath the breathless commentary and the white noise of riotous sounds we swore we could hear gleeful chuckling all the way from Beijing and Moscow. I can imagine Canadian diplomats being a little on edge, a tad deferential: ‘I suppose this is a bad time to bring up cedar shakes and shingles, dairy supply management, aluminum tariffs and Michigan’s Line 5 pipeline, eh?’

A constant pleasure in my life has been retiring with a good book for company. I read in bed until the viscous film between my eyelids and eyeballs turns sandpapery. I finished a novel by Anthony Burgess that night, one which imagines the sordid decline of the Roman Empire and its suppression of Christianity. The book closes on an upbeat note, the volcanic obliteration of Pompeii. I put it down and began to read another historical novel, a Christmas gift from Ann. ‘V2’ by Robert Harris explores and explains Germany’s desperate, last ditch rocketry program at the end of the Second World War, London maybe a modern Pompeii, supersonic spite.

I shut out the light. All of those tired, nasty nouns and verbs, so repetitive, so shameful, so painful. I tried to summon some sort of pithy axiom regarding the nature of history from the darkness, but there was only silence in the night. And Supertramp: “All right, here we go again.” Eventually I realized I’d be better off drifting off worrying about something sort of within my control.

The City of Edmonton is changing its trash collection policy. While the new regimen is environmentally sound and long overdue, it will disrupt the way I’ve always done things. I’m still reeling from the City’s advisory not to collect and bag Crooked 9 grass clippings. I mow our lawn 12 times between Victoria Day and Thanksgiving. Even without grass clippings, Ann and I fill 40 huge bags with yard waste every year, 20 in the spring and 20 in the fall (yes, I track stuff like this). The City will no longer accept yard waste as regular garbage. Instead, like Christmas tree collection, there will be a special and limited pick up. Oh woe, where are we supposed to store all of this debris? “Derbis,” as Ann jokingly describes it.

Weekly collection of blue-bagged recyclables will remain unchanged. The new wrinkle is a green bin for biodegradable kitchen waste, fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells and coffee grounds. This gunk will be collected weekly during the summer months and twice monthly during the winter months. I assume there’s an assumption that rotting scraps won’t be rank when they’re frozen solid. I’m not sure we can count on consistent freezing temperatures even this far north anymore.

What’s left, actual genuine garbage is to be placed in black bins which will be emptied every two weeks throughout the year. As the green and black bins will be lifted up and dumped by trucks equipped with a mechanical arm, I suppose my war against dog walkers and their doggie bags of gifted shit must come to an end; I’ll no longer need to rebag it in a blind fury for the health and dignity of the garbage collector. I don’t know if I’m prepared to accept the inevitable and obvious. Maybe neighbours who pack their own black bins will try to dump the rest of their garbage into ours. Maybe I can get fucking mad about that and fight on.  

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of over-thinking the mundane 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.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021


Tripping Over a Low-set Bar

Well, gee, how hard can it be? There exists today a cynicism regarding politics and governance. Public service is no longer a calling for the best and the brightest. My father instilled in me a sort of ‘Live and Let Die’ work ethic: “If you’ve got a job to do, you’ve got to do it well.” Consequently I tend to admire people who are good at what they do, whatever that may be. Perhaps more importantly I tend to respect people who try their best however ill-suited they may be for their task whilst praying they may never be elevated beyond their base level of incompetence.

No facial hair. I have never held a job that fit neatly into its shift or office hours. There was always the commute and what I brought back home after a bad day or night. Union meetings. The uniform had to be cleaned and sometimes ironed. Yawning in a printing plant at three o’clock in the morning while awaiting another signature pull of an annual report or restaurant menu was the absolute apex of my career in advertising. Every job comes with tacit duties and obligations outside its stated parameters. This is how things get done. And then there’s public office.

Our officials, the faces of our various levels of government, seem to believe the taxpayer gravy train has led them to some sort of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ trough. They can get ready for their close-ups on the people’s time, nine-to-five. Thing is, public office is improv, always on. The job demands the live-long day. And night, if required. These are the hidden costs of a calculated career choice.

The public eye is a harsh spotlight. In this current era of social media-fuelled hair-trigger outrage, it’s a laser. Zap! You’re eviscerated! Those who will be judged must demonstrate judgment, an iota, a modicum, an ounce, a shred of it. Anything. And yet…

I’ve carried a Bruce Springsteen lyric in my heart through the decades: “When you’re alone, you ain’t nothing but alone.” I admire the simplicity of its truth, its vernacular. Our traditional holiday season can be hard on some. Always has been. Amid a pandemic, another layer of isolation, even the fortunate among us prepared ourselves to endure the pain of separation, a diseased disruption of what we’ve always done. No social gatherings indoors or out. For God’s sake, do not travel; God knows what viral strain will hitch a ride back. Weddings have been postponed, funerals streamed from empty chapels. We’re all in this together. Do not pass the cranberry sauce.

There are 38 million Canadians. And we all get fed up with winter about a week in, around Christmastime. We’re like Canada geese, snowbirds flying south. But, gee, the border is pretty much closed. Despite advisories and pleas from Ottawa and the provincial capitals to Canadians to avoid jet setting, an alarming number of politicos, ministers and minions, people who should know better, have jetted off to more temperate climes since the pandemic hit last March.

Some people believe covid-19 is a hoax or maybe something akin to the common cold. My older sister, a doctor who’s since come out of retirement because of the pandemic, would be delighted to guide skeptics through an Intensive Care Unit operating beyond its designated capacity. No need for gowns, gloves or masks! Curious tourists can see ventilators in action and even change patients’ bedding! Way too much interactive fun!

My favourite guilty party is Alberta’s, wait for it, Assistant Minister of Cutting Red Tape (honest). I want that title on a business card. If I’d known such a career opportunity existed, my life might’ve unrolled very differently. Second prize goes to Ontario’s finance minister who tweeted fireside chats from his home riding of Ajax whilst frolicking on the luxury beaches of St. Bart’s. Apparently, one of the perks of public service is a sense of entitlement; alas, neither common sense nor quiet, steady leadership abilities are qualifications.

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of head shaking 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.