Tuesday, 27 April 2021


I Got You Under My Skin

T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month…” A perusal of the business press indicates that every pandemic month has been cruel to corporations. Some companies are accused of being “woke.” Others are condemned for crimes against social justice and diversity. It’s no easy task to please shareholders, employees, customers, activists, hedge fund managers and financial analysts. And what about all these useless square feet of office real estate?

I don’t even have this tidbit on anecdotal authority, but I’m convinced many chief executive officers are currently knuckling their eyeballs and consoling themselves with the wisdom of Eddie Money, an immortal American poet: “I Wanna Go Back.” In that spirit, a couple of April stories that hark back to the good old days of amiable corporate competition and antagonism. It was all so much simpler then.  

New York City’s avenues are legendary. Freeze-outs, whores or heartaches - whatever’s on the stereo. On 3 April, 1973 Motorola engineer Martin Cooper placed our planet’s first cell phone call. He tapped in a number whilst standing outside on Sixth Avenue. There were payphones nearby, on the corner. The recipient was his equally dedicated counterpart at rival AT&T’s Bell Laboratories: Hi, guess what?

Forgive my hazy memory. I’ve not endured Alberta’s proposed elementary and high school social studies curriculum and so I’m bad with dates. Anyway, about 15 years ago I was seated in a boardroom alongside the rest of the boutique agency’s staff. The principal intoned, “They’re dropping ‘Classic.’” My emotions were decidedly mixed. I thought of all the now useless Coca-Cola packaging files. Proofing ads was going to be a short term nightmare. Then again, all the new photography and art required for virtually any application was billable – even if Coke took 90 or 120 days to pay my employer’s invoices.

Back in the 80s Pepsi got under Coke’s skin; gave the red company a purple-nurple, much like Mr Cooper calling AT&T. Pepsi’s marketing mavens manufactured the “Pepsi Challenge.” Coincidentally, consumers who participated in the staged blind taste testing always preferred Pepsi’s marginally sweeter flavour over Coke’s tooth enamel-peeling sweetness. Go Blue! On 23 April, 1985 Coke launched New Coke.

Pepsi executives were stunned. Their rival, the market leader, had altered its signature product, spending millions of dollars in a blind panic to fix what wasn’t broken. They’d poked the bear and it had lumbered off in all directions. Pepsi geared up to launch Savannah Cola, its own Coca-Cola-flavoured brand to satiate consumer demand for the genuine stuff. Note the proposed product’s name, the compounded double-A sound.

The cola war even warranted coverage in Rolling Stone, a pop culture publication. New Coke existed in the marketplace for 79 days. The “Classic” modifier hung around like an embarrassing stain for almost a generation. The cell phone, meanwhile, has had a much longer shelf life.                                         

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of informed business glee since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, 19 April 2021


Unsolicited Enlightenment

This just in, and it’s official: Sunday I crossed the line separating middle-aged men from dotty, know-it-all seniors.

I habitually buy my cigarettes at a Circle K (formerly Mac’s) located in an adjacent neighbourhood called Windsor Park. Fittingly, my supplier’s store is a block away from the Cross Cancer Institute. Because federal health regulations insist cigarette packaging be uniformly ugly, the various brands are virtually indistinguishable. Consequently, it usually takes the clerk a moment or two to rustle up what I’m dying for. And so, to kill time while I wait, I examine the display racks of Bic disposable lighters.

I’m fussy about the graphics on my lighters. I will not buy a “Flick My Bic” Bic. I will not buy a basketball, beer or Harley-Davidson Bic. I will not buy a Rush Bic because they’re a bit too proggy for me and I can’t abide Geddy Lee’s shriek. I will not buy an Aerosmith Bic because they haven’t made a good album since 1976’s Rocks.

My current Bic is a Montreal Canadiens home sweater, red. My backup lighter is white and features an “Original Six Vintage Hockey” Canadiens logo, whose CH letters are skinnier, the design more open. This time of year, I’m on the lookout for baseball themed Bics because once in a while I come across a Montreal Expos one. I miss that team. I’ve used Bob Marley lighters although I think they’re more spliff accessories. Elvis is a rare score.

The absolute apex was the afternoon I met the Rolling Stones Bics. I bought the three that were available. The fourth in the set was sold out. The first one was a Canadian flag tongue logo. The second was a thumbnail cover shot of the 2005 Rarities compilation, itself a still from 1978’s “Respectable” promotional video. Those two, the butane exhausted, are displayed on a shelf in the basement of the Crooked 9 alongside my Stones CDs. The third one, a Union Jack motif, a pop art design affectation I normally associate with the Who, the Kinks and the Sex Pistols, went missing. Maybe it’ll turn up in the pocket of a jacket I’ve not worn since last fall. Maybe it’s underneath the passenger seat of the Honda.

Yousef is a big young man, a bald young man. He had a gratuitous foot on me due to the elevation of the Circle K till. A clear snot and spittle sheet hung between our masked faces. He said, “If you want a carton, I’ll have to go in the back and unlock the safe. That might take ten minutes.” He was working by himself in the store. “How many packs in a carton, eight? What if I give you eight loose packs?”

“That’ll work.” Eight equals eight. “Whatever’s simplest for you.” Jousef turned his back to me to play Whack-a-Lung, opening the lids to the cigarette shelving, hunting for a particular brand that looks like all the other ones. I contemplated the rack of Bic lighters. The upper tray was backwards, the graphics facing inward, away from the customer. When Jousef turned around, I said, “You’re not going to sell many lighters displaying their warning labels and bar codes. You should turn it around.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He did. The back half of the tray was pocked with empty slots. “Look! Half are sold! That’s why!”

I said, “That’s just lazy. You’d sell the other half too if their fronts were facing your customers. You probably have a minute of downtime now and then? You could just rearrange the lighters in the tray, graphics out. Take no time at all.”

Months before I’d asked him if he was able to stock particular types of branded Bic lighters. He said, “No.” He shrugged, he just sold whatever head office sent him. I shrugged back at him, made a smoker’s noise in the back of my throat, sort of dry, sort of wet: “Umugh.”

Jousef began to fuss with the Bics; I’d inadvertently though effectively delayed our transaction. Oh, dear me. I stood there watching him and thought, “Who am I to tell another person how to run their business?” Rotate the stock. Don’t ever allow inventory to gather dust from neglect. Cross-merchandise too, ensure hot dog buns and condiments are proximate to the wieners.

The fundamental equation of retail merchandising, suggestion, attraction and consummation, will never change. Customers are crows in a world of shiny objects. I know this from experience. I learned this early on when I’d sported an apron in the grocery business rather than a jacket and tie. A lesson from back in my day. Couple that with meGeoff’s Universal Law of Wham!: “If you’re gonna do it, do it right, now!” Those shiny objects must be readily available for impromptu purchase.

I’m certain Jousef welcomed and valued my input even as I’d caused myself to cringe with embarrassment. Nothing resonates quite like advice from a retired stranger. And if one of those anonymous Bics had been Expos or Stones instead of a brand of cigarettes I don’t smoke – excepting Jousef’s infrequent mistakes, cartons or loose packs I can never be bothered to rectify with a return trip - I’d have bought a couple.                                 

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of shopworn expertise since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. E-mail alerts from this blog will be disengaged by the provider come July.

Monday, 12 April 2021


A Little Jab’ll Do Ya

I awoke Sunday morning with a mild headache. I felt a little foggier than usual as I poured my first cup of coffee in the kitchen. Eons ago I would’ve blamed Saturday night. This time the culprit was Saturday afternoon. Anyway, the positive news was that my left arm wasn’t sore and tender, that’s where the needle went in. I’d picked my left for the prick figuring I’d need to use the toilet before I’d have to write anything down in cursive.

Ann received her Pfizer dose a week ago Saturday. My hit was Astra-Zeneca. We understand either medicine requires a couple of weeks to kick in. We expect our booster shots in eight to 12 weeks, subject to supply and demand. Discussions surrounding the pros and cons of the various brands of covid vaccines have amused me. I think about tickets for a major concert: “Did you get orchestra or balcony?” The main thing is to be there. My take on vaccines mirrors my high school, college and university attitude toward street drugs: “What is it? I’ll take it.” I knew there are some documented albeit miniscule risks associated with Astra-Zeneca. But I also knew the odds of Ann and me being killed in a car crash en route to my hit were better than me dying because of a vaccination. I’ll roll the dice with a potential prophylactic rather than a potential pathogen any old time.

Throughout the years, our country, our province and our city have not demanded a lot from Ann and me: obey the law; pay your taxes; vote. Though we can quibble about the quality of our lives during 13 or 14 months of pandemic, we cannot in good conscience complain even though public health messaging has been frequently confusing and often incoherent. We’ve done our best to adhere to the ever-shifting advisories. As for inoculations for our own benefit and that of others, including our city’s public and private institutions – all those services we once took for granted – bring them on: we’re obligated to do our part; social contracts are two-way streets dotted with bus stops, clinics, offices, pubs, restaurants, schools, shops and theatres.

Friday, once I’d booked my jab and had filled in the requisite forms, I was stirred by a curious sense of elation. The petty tyranny of the virus, the pandemic present, is repetition, a single calendar page with some 400 Soviet grey and lethargic days endured to date: monochromatic and flatly uniform. Only the delusional and irrational believe in magic bullets. Still, as I thanked my pharmacist on Saturday, I was conscious of swallowing a catch in my masked voice, cleared my throat. Even amid a third wave of particularly nasty covid variants, inoculation, that proverbial and uplifting shot in the arm, is welcome because it at least suggests the possibility and promise of a post-pandemic future – whatever it may be.                                

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

Thursday, 8 April 2021


Yes, I Didn’t Sign up for That

Spring is a time for renewal. Earlier this week and late in the evening I assumed my usual swivelling perch at the kitchen counter to assess and review the Crooked 9’s latest home insurance policy. I don’t build spreadsheets and my mental math beyond grade school arithmetic is hopelessly flawed. And yet I marvel at how an insurance provider tabulates an ordinary existence.

What is the replacement value of my quasi-bootleg Sex Pistols Anarchy in the U.K.: Live at the 76 club CD? I paid $5; I’ve played it twice. My mother’s father died a few weeks after I was born in 1960. What is the value of his rural Quebec winter scene in oil? He was no Lawren Harris. His work is worthless yet priceless to me because I have a connection of sorts to a man I never knew. Should I lose these things, well, gee, I at least had the opportunity to spend some time with them.

I would hazard that the gambling and insurance industries are similar because they both monetize risk and the house is understandably reluctant to pay out. But unlike a casino, my insurance provider hopes I won’t lose everything. And no premium or modest deductible covers genuine loss: innocence, ideals, ethics, family members departed, friends moved on and grey tabby cats embarked on life number 10. 

The policy’s exclusionary clauses provide a pause for alarm: Nuclear Incident, Terrorism and War. The definitions of these three terms are necessarily broad. For instance, War, aside from being good for absolutely nothing, includes invasion, occupation, revolution, civil war, rebellion and insurrection. Nuclear Incident is a bland euphemism for some pretty harrowing stuff, apocalyptic even. Terrorism reads like a redundant afterthought, i’s dotted and t’s crossed, sort of an End Days catch-all.

As if anything like that could happen on brave, New World soil. Oh, hang on, it has – and more than a few times at that. I jogged the document on the countertop, paperclipped its sheets. I pushed it aside for future filing, another bill to pay, and more horrific potential events to worry about whilst lying awake in the darkest hours.

I slipped outside onto the recessed front porch for a silent cigarette. I heard last fall’s brittle leaves crackling and twigs snapping, rustlings in the night. The Crooked 9’s household policy does not cover structural rodent damage. There are degrees of uninsured problems. And anyway, as far as rodents go, I’d rather share the property with them than work alongside them at an ad agency; talk about war. I went back inside. I shut the door then locked it. I killed the lights.                

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

Sunday, 4 April 2021


A Knotty Cross

My favourite dark adage: A friend will help you move; a good friend will help you move a body. But there’s an ethical corollary: A murderer who is a good friend should not even consider imposing that moral dilemma upon his good friend. And then there’s that old saw: If you want something done right, do it yourself. This, my friends, is the world’s best selling book in a nutcase shell.

Monotheism is not much different from pantheism: All the seasonal rites and ceremonies, every basic human emotion, love, hate, fear, anger, jealousy, bundled into a convenient all-inclusive - one supreme being rather than many. But some old rituals are so hard to shed. Abraham had a hell of a time of it. Because the precept for Christianity stems from his god, the entire Bible can be abridged to one scene.

God said, “Abraham, prove to me that you love me only and no other: kill your son.”

Abraham replied, “Gee, that’s a big ask. I’ve never presumed to be an expert in contract law, but I assumed we had an implied covenant to progress past such puerile petulance? I mean, it's all a bit primitive.”

God said, “Hmm. Oh, never mind. I’ll do it myself about 500 pages from now.”

Happy Easter.     

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