Wednesday, 26 May 2021


Thanks for Your Order(s)

It was early Friday evening, about the supper hour. I opened the rear passenger door of our Honda to slide in a box of pizza, a foil bowl of Greek salad and two individually bagged sandwiches. I heaved a great world-weary wheeze, a cigarette sigh. Ann looked over her shoulder from the driver’s seat. “Is everything okay?” she asked me. “You were in there for a while.”

“I did it again,” I replied.


“I told a guy how to run his business, one I know nothing about.”

When I was 20, I knew everything and nobody could tell me differently. Knowledge is dynamic, elastic. I was a Dark Ages savant who knew all there was to know whilst not knowing most of it was wrong. I spent the next 40 years learning life lessons, most of them harsh. Because an income is crucial, I always viewed myself as a dedicated employee even as I resented hierarchy and process. I just wanted to be left alone to do my job without well-intentioned and unwelcome meddling. My code for “Will you please fuck off” to managers, colleagues and clients was “Thank you for your valued input.” Now aged 61 and pretty much retired, I now know more about everything than ever before. It’s not a miracle so much as an affirmation of a deeply personal journey of aggravation. Maybe I’m stubborn; maybe I’m arrogant: I’ve been called a lot worse by people who actually know and (used to) like me.

Campus Pizza first fired up its oven in 1981. It’s been in our neighbourhood a lot longer than I have. The business has changed hands many times but the Campus brand has remained remarkably consistent. The new owners have moved beyond mere paper flyers and have since created an understandably skinny social media presence. They say they want to hear from Campus customers. Careful what you ask for.

Ann and I are of a generation that still considers a take-out or delivered pizza something of a treat. We easily skip the dishes purveyed by Uber Eats. Campus is our go-to and we order out more frequently than our parents ever did. The modest operation reminds me of a neighbourhood joint I discovered in Calgary after I was transferred there in the early nineties. I’d rented a two-bedroom unit in one of those squat, low-rise apartment buildings whose builder had dodged the obligation and expense of elevators by sinking the ground floor, thus cutting off half a legal storey. The area was called Sunnyside; I could cut up two back alleys to catch a train out of there, but I liked to hang around.

On Tenth Street NW at its t-intersection with Kensington Road there was a record shop and a newsstand, conveniently located side by side. Along Kensington, past the Austrian consulate, the Polish Combatants’ Association, the cinema and the bookshop, were a couple of pubs who enjoyed my patronage. Beyond the pubs was a tiny bakery and delicatessen whose proprietorship changed at happy hour; it became Kensington Pizza. I suppose the shared space was what we would now describe as a ghost kitchen.

Tony and his Tatiana were from the Black Sea port city of Odessa, Ukraine. He had black hair and black eyes. His nose wasn’t exactly a beak but it was hard to miss. Tatiana was petite and very pretty. The first genuine conversation I had with her was when I’d wandered in and interrupted her reading of Len Deighton’s Berlin Game. Spy thriller! I said something like, “I’ve read everything he’s written.” Tatiana replied that she wished to satisfy her curiosity about what the “other side” was thinking during the Cold War.

Their all dressed pizza was called “The Godfather.” My problem was that green olives and shrimp just wouldn’t do. I customized the toppings and remained steadfastly consistent: “Hello, Geoff! The usual?”

Sometimes when I telephoned for home delivery Tony would come inside to chat in the living room for a quarter of an hour. A couple of times he buzzed my apartment from the vestibule, wanting to sit and chat even though I hadn’t ordered anything. I did what I could, offering him a cigarette, a beer and an ear. It’s not easy trying to start a small business in a foreign country; what could I presume to tell a stranger in a strange land otherwise? I worried that our relationship would turn Saul Bellow – The Victim weird, but mostly I fantasized about “Geoff’s Usual” earning a numbered line on Kensington’s Pizza menu, which, I guess, spoke to the dormant state of the aspirations and dreams that once drove me.

Twenty-five years later I strolled into Campus Pizza. “Hi, a pick-up for Ann,” I announced.

The owner shuffled his chits. He’s gym-fit with a shaved head, but he’s got the skull for it, so more action hero than egg man. “Your meatball sub needs another minute in the oven.”

I said, “You need a Philly cheesesteak sandwich on your menu.”

“I’ve been experimenting with it. I can’t quite get the flavour right. There’s no point selling it until I do.”

“You know, if you had steak on hand, you could also make Montreal-style steak and pepperoni subs. That’s at least two new menu items with a single additional ingredient. I had them try to make me one at Route 99 (a popular south side diner), but it didn’t work out.”

“Okay, your sub is ready. That’s everything. Anything else?”

“Yeah. Ann says your spinach pizza is missing something. Maybe some garlic or dill?”

He swivelled from his hips up and said to the cook, “You hear that?” He turned back to me and handed over the debit machine. I selected the “You Rock” gratuity option because I figured my advice was worth paying for. I knew my feedback, my input, was valued.        

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of refined culinary criticism since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates

Saturday, 22 May 2021


Say Hello

I was talking with a friend of mine who lives in Calgary last Saturday night. Checking in long distance, my landline to his cell: he made a choice; he decided to take my call. I’m not sure our conversations have changed all that much over the course of some 50 years. I find that aspect as reassuring as his voice coming down the line. We generally cover current topical slices of life and work; all that is righteous on E Street; the Montreal Canadiens. The indignity of public toilets is a bizarrely frequent subject, something of an increasingly unhealthy phobic-fetish as we’ve aged.

Toward the end of our chat, I asked after a mutual friend whom we first met in high school and who also lives in Calgary. I said, “I’ve telephoned him a couple of times. They always go through to voicemail and he never returns my calls.”

“Oh, that’s funny. I was texting with him just last night, providing some Springsteen listening instructions. I think he only responds to texts these days.”

I said, “Oh.”

I suppose I cannot communicate with one of my oldest friends as easily as I used to because I am a Luddite. I am “Beechwood 4-5789,” a telephone exchange designated by a proper noun, while he’s got a supercomputer skinnier than my package of 25 king size cigarettes in his pocket. The Marvelettes meet Kraftwerk. I do know that when old and new technologies somehow mesh and allow us to speak again, we’ll pick up our previous conversation from the middle: “As I was saying….” We will find a way to ensure our friendship endures relentless, confusing and sometimes frighteningly dehumanizing change.

One of the charms of Bruce Springsteen’s latest record with the earthquaking, legendary E Street Band is its quaint title: Letter to You. The 12 tracks are not exercises in nostalgia, glory days. The album spins like a missive to any rock and roll soul who ever set a sneaker on E Street, “This is where we were; this is where we are; this is what happened,” the Boss just checking in.

Because my mental bombe functions with plug-ins and punch cards, I’ve contemplated creating an exhaustive list of once-popular songs whose narrative devices hinge on archaic ways to younger ears. You know, “Return to Sender,” “The Letter,” “Operator,” “Switchboard Susan,” and such. A big job for someone who never figured out Lotus Notes and those are just a few titles. What about scene setting opening lines? That “Long distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee…” plea from Chuck Berry or Rod Stewart and Faces, “Just a telegram as your plane touches down…” that lovely and forlorn introduction to “Jodie.”

There’s no avoiding technological advancement. New habits can only be delayed before they’re formed. According to last year’s “Living in a Ghost Town,” Mick Jagger spent his first months of lockdown looking at his phone. My hunch is it wasn’t an elegant “Princess” push button model from Bell Telephone. The godfather of Caledonia soul has recently weighed in with “Why Are You on Facebook?” The consensus among music fans is that Van Morrison has always been a prick as a person, but that aspect of his character never manifested in his music. He’s always presented as a spiritual, romantic soul. Have I told you lately that he’s now a crabby old crank too? Van makes curmudgeon Don Henley seem like Raffi. This new song is so cartoonishly mean-spirited as to be uncomfortably hilarious.

The latest and best song about modern times is John Hiatt’s witty “Long Black Electric Cadillac.” The long black ride is a common trope and image in blues, country and rock music, as classic as the mystery train. Hiatt’s driver can cover a thousand miles between charges and, anyway, he’s “been running on artificial intelligence ever since I was a little boy.” The lyric fragment I’ve excerpted suggests a “Slow Turning” childhood memory: “I always thought this house was haunted because nobody said ‘Boo’ to me…” I am hooked by his new song’s sly nod to “Memphis in the Meantime,” Hiatt’s breakthrough: “After we get good and greasy, babe, we can go on home, put the cowhorns back on the Cadillac and change the message on the Code-A-Phone…”

John Hiatt’s tangential check in reminded me of “Boots and Hearts” by the Tragically Hip: “Well, I left myself on the answering machine, said I’m back in town tonight…” Answering machines, Code-A-Phones, how’d I forget about those? Sometimes I think I’ve spent half my life talking to a spooling reel of tape or responding to pre-recorded verbal prompts: “If you would like to speak to a human being, hang up.” If I wasn’t a lapsed Catholic, I swear to God my prayers would go to voicemail.   

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of aged, innocuous and meaningless observations  since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates. 

Tuesday, 18 May 2021


Oh No, Not You Again

The news in my morning newspaper becomes bleaker with each passing day. Friends: The Reunion will air May 27. The original sitcom ran for 10 excruciating seasons between 1994 and 2004. I have never sat through an entire episode. The show made my skin crawl and chipped the enamel on my gritted teeth.

At the onset of the Friends decade I was transferred from Canada Safeway’s Edmonton-based Alberta Division advertising department to its corporate parent in Calgary. I arrived late for work my first day at head office because it was located out toward the airport and I was unfamiliar with my new city’s transit system; I’d mapped out the route but did not consider how the various train and bus schedules meshed. I knew some of my colleagues very well; others I met for the first time that morning. I was one of the department’s two or three smokers.

Television back then was on the verge of a massive transformation. Specialty cable channels had begun to proliferate. The analogue signal was going to be digitized. Bulky TV sets would be squashed, flattened like emptied moving cartons. Even though video cassette recorders existed and had for some time, it’s fair to say that Friends was one of those weekly traditional network shows that everybody watched at the same time, perhaps the last of its kind.

In my twenties I’d seen snippets of Thirtysomething and had cringed at scenes of self-absorbed existential angst about very little. I was damned if I was going to make time for twentysomethings going through the same motions in my thirties, even if the hand-wringing was interspersed with hilarious hi-jinks, reckless abandon sans alcohol and drugs. I didn’t particularly enjoy my job, but a morning at the office after Friends the night before was a particularly exquisite form of career Hell.

“Isn’t Phoebe such a ditz!?”

“Wasn’t Chandler hysterical!?”

Oh, how they laughed.

Office dynamics are fluid. We’d sit outside around a cement picnic table so the smokers could smoke. While I appreciated my colleagues’ pariah inclusiveness, I found Friends morning coffee breaks painful. God, I tried to join the conversation: “Jennifer Aniston? Courteney Cox? I would” or “Wouldn’t you like to beat that whiner Ross to death with a Louisville Slugger?” Ultimately I found myself alone with my habit and fellow addicts, but, you know, the weather had turned.

Friends did, however, leverage contemporary music to clumsily accentuate the theme of that week’s script. When I was growing up we had a black and white portable television, second-hand, tucked away in the basement. Its viewing was not encouraged. We had books after all, and they were there to be read. Upstairs on the second storey my sister had a pale blue and white Fleetwood suitcase hi-fi set up in her pink bedroom, Beatles on the wall. I heard her LPs and 45s. Maybe I was inadvertently bred to be nascent Amazon’s prototypical customer, books and music. In my prime as a record shop haunter, 10 or 15 years before Friends, it was all about albums. They were carefully sequenced works of art. I recall the 90s more by song, CDs I’d no wish to buy because of the other eight or nine potentially lame tracks; one hit and all filler, the industry was regressing backward into 60s product, all tamed Elvis and no pelvis. My passion as a fan had subsided somewhat and I believed my time had passed.

“Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones knocked me out; it still does, that curiously upbeat existential drone of despair from 1991: "I was alive and I was waiting for you, right here, right now." Same went for “Get What You Give” by New Radicals and “Dizz Knee Land” by Dada. I was wordstruck. “Good,” a Better Than Ezra track, really was, something of a grunge update of country classics like “Hello Walls” and “The Grand Tour.” What really entranced me from that era was a shambolic, seemingly one-take cover of “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” by Paul Westerberg, former leader of the ingloriously imploded Replacements. The original hit was a deceptive Top 40 diatribe by Jonathan Edwards. Anger has rarely sounded as catchy since.

One day after work I disembarked the train two stops too soon, the downtown side of the Bow River. It must’ve been a Thursday or a Friday. I knew A&B Sound or HMV would be open until nine. I wanted Westerberg’s version of “Sunshine.” I assumed he’d just released another solo album I hadn’t yet heard about. With a little help from a clerk who actually liked decent music I found the song on a newly released Friends CD soundtrack. I thought, “Oh.” I stood before the new releases rack jiggling the jewel case. I can’t tell you what the other nine or 10 songs on it were although I must’ve scanned the back sleeve; the cast portrait on the front was an insipid affront. I thought, “I’m not sure I can allow this CD into my house.” Visitors could very well notice its spine on the shelf between Aretha Franklin and Peter Gabriel. And what about contributing money to the franchise, the Friends brand? I asked myself if I hated Friends more than I liked Paul Westerberg. I put the disc back in its slot.

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of pop culture complaint since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates.

Friday, 14 May 2021


Oh, Christ, Now What?

Diogenes the Cynic was a Greek philosopher who lived some 400 years before the birth of Christ. That loose timeline is based on the Gregorian calendar, itself a tweak of the Julian calendar. Your Pandemic calendar is likely still displaying our current moment in time as March, 2020 – these strange days are getting long. Anyway, legend has it that Diogenes went about his daily business whilst carrying a lantern. He said he sought just one honest man. I imagine him today in Alberta, the flashlight of his iPhone always on, seeking one sane person.

A third wave of covid-19 has walloped Alberta. We're a world beater, in a very bad way. The really weird thing about a hoax airborne respiratory virus is that an alarming number of the shadowy conspiracy’s enablers tend to get sick and die. These purported flu victims possess the utter gall to clog up and very possibly collapse a public health care system designed to barely cope with more traditional ailments, injuries, wounds and other diseases.

And that’s something of a cause for concern; in warfare the preferred euphemism is collateral damage: “That’s what the NDP (New Democratic Party, the official opposition in Alberta’s legislature), the media (I’m supposing traditional and reliable news sources) and the federal Liberals (Canada’s governing party) were looking for and want.”

Those words were typed onto Facebook last weekend by Kaycee Madu, a member of the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) caucus. Madu is not an obscure backbencher nor is he a mere Assistant Minister of Cutting Red Tape. Madu is Alberta’s Justice Minister. Justice is not an insignificant cabinet portfolio.

God bless him, Madu was only trying to spin the government’s latest series of tardy, ineffectual responses to a relentless scourge, crackdowns and lockdowns, to the party’s rural base. The UCP has consistently demonstrated an “us against them” bunker mindset since it was elected in 2019. Its constant reactionary stance of accusatory whining has since embarrassed most rational Albertans. Consequently, I’m compelled to consider the concept that Kaycee was convinced he was on message, ergo most other people in the country want the UCP’s lame health measures to fail so more innocent people will die simply because that would be bad for the party and its populist movement; curse those clever elitist fiends!

The backlash against the UCP’s covid conduct, beyond its inefficiency, has been something bizarre to behold. Some Albertans are complaining about the suppression of their perceived constitutional right to gather unmasked and speechify about Christ knows what with vitriolic spittle.

Unlike the Constitution of the United States of America, Canada has no such singular document crafted back when slavery drove a rural economy, and armed state militias seemed like a good idea after General George Washington disbanded the Continental Army following the War of Independence. The US Constitution is a lot like the Bible, of its time. Nothing’s sacred nor should it be. The Constitution of Canada is a mish-mash of legislation comprising the British North America Act (1867), the Statute of Westminster (1931) and our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). As is the case with English Common Law, precedents have been tacked on here and there. Our founding documents are dry reading; they mostly divvy up federal and provincial powers. However, the Charter does note that governments (note the plural) may impose temporary restrictions upon the individual should they be deemed beneficial to the greater good of society. Not a terribly insidious Orwellian nightmare idea in a progressive country like Canada.

But these imagined God-granted rights, you know, these arcane human artifices writ in dusty legalese, continue to confound. Big top conservative populism as pitched by the UCP requires many guy wires to keep the circus tent from collapsing. A lot of huffy hot air too. And there’s always room underneath the canopy for the lunatic fringe.

Small town Alberta isn’t a place so much as a state of closed mindedness. The freak flags are flying in map dots like Breton and Boyle; Nazi symbols are a-flutter in the grassroots. Since Madu’s paranoid complaint was plain insane, how does the UCP as willing agent of a crypto-commie conspiracy bent on suppressing some form of twisted libertarianism strike you? Yes, repulsive fascist ensigns as protest in a model democracy like Canada may be jeered at but are not life threatening to their moronic wavers because, thank God, no political party in Canada possesses a retaliatory paramilitary cadre of storm troopers. And, for the most part, Canadian citizens are free to be batshit crazy.

Meanwhile, within the UCP caucus and its rank and file, there are the unmistakable rumblings of a putsch. Internal calls for the party’s founder and leader Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, to resign his post are growing louder. The cause isn’t the Kenney government’s ineffectual management of the pandemic; no, it’s that the premier’s tried to do too much to stop it. Diogenes wrote, “The mob is the mother of tyranny.”            

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of soul quaking and head shaking since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates.

Friday, 7 May 2021


Nature’s (Un)Domesticated Ways

Ann and I are those types of people: weather permitting, we leave our yard in the fall pretty close to the state we wish to find it in the spring; a few hours of work in October pays off five months down the road in April or May. Once the snow melted this spring we were horrified by the condition of our back lawn. The turf was riven with vole veins, cat yarn trails of grass consumption.

Every Wednesday I collect our recycling and trash for Thursday morning pick up. I place a blue bag and a black bin in the alley. Something brown and silent glided between my feet last week. I screamed at the infestation hallucination. 

The Crooked 9’s north side is a shaded, Shakespearian strip of private property which denotes the demarcation between two warring households. Neighbours, eh? It’s no small hardship, my being a white baby boomer cisgender smoker. Our DMZ is not fenced. Years ago I uncovered a platoon of toy soldiers in the sandy soil up against the Crooked 9’s foundation. I position them every spring and point their weapons in a particular direction. Their field of fire ranges over groundcover, moss, an askew and uneven footpath of cement patio tiles and thistle.

A couple of old washtubs are stacked upside down. Sometimes Ann uses them as planters; sometimes they hold ice and beer. There’s a blue and red, spoke-wheeled cart that Ann’s father flung together from spare parts many summers ago. Its plywood panels are showing the indifferent care of time. Beside it is an upended wheelbarrow, its tire is inflated but the barrow itself could use a fresh spray of rust-proofing paint; we’ve been meaning to get around to that chore.

The woodpile has been a curious constant. The wind never seems right for a backyard burn. And anyway, throughout these years of drought, the annual fire ban is akin to daylight savings time, implemented sooner and left to linger longer. Fussing about on the north side recently I noticed a gnawed pile of sawdust in front of the pile’s right side anchor log, an un-split cylinder of birch. Its angle of repose forms a perfect pyramid. Something brown and silent glided between my feet.

It’s been two years since our eccentric south side neighbour, Forest, a self-described “lapsed Buddhist,” sold his property which included an elaborate and strikingly beautiful Japanese meditation garden. While his mind actively searched to identify the universal and cosmic Christ figure, time and disease had ravaged his body. He came to realize and accept that his solitary and unassisted living was hazardous to what was left of his health. The buyer was a hobby developer, a retired fireman who lives a couple of streets over, near the bus roundabout and the elementary school. The subsequent demolition for Forest’s former lot’s ensuing sub-division was, for Ann and me, heartbreak, noise and dust.

Population density, progress, comes with a price and without a warranty. The hurt for us was a suddenly homeless pileated woodpecker kak-kak-kakking at the destruction beneath from atop a telephone pole, the churned earth and the mud, the trees and shrubbery torn up. An entire habitat, Forest’s mini-ecosystem, had been destroyed. With every action or transaction there is always a hidden cost. Rodents migrated next door because our property’s prowling predators, littermates, have both slipped their ninth mortal coil. Their archenemies, a dairy cow patterned bruiser and a sleeker marmalade model, have also vanished - lost patrols. And doesn’t nature abhor a vacuum?

I do, do, do spend an inordinate amount of time looking out our back door. Of late, I’ve been gratified to observe a new player in our ever-evolving tableau. A smoky grey tabby from I have no idea where seems to have annexed the Crooked 9 to its territory. I watch it make its morning rounds. It does a full circuit but seems to prefer our somewhat neglected north side. It is stealthy; it never sets off the insane neighbour’s mangy Burmese-poodle cross who always barks at me. There’s good eating at the woodpile buffet, good hunting with no competition. Even the local squirrels have made themselves scarce.

Go, cat, go: Ann and I are perfectly fine with rodent carnage on our lot, the crows and the magpies too. And should you need to vomit or piss, may we suggest the lovely commode next door? 

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of back door musings since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates.