Monday, 27 September 2021


Signals and Symbols

They are rare birds in the city. Ann said that when the raven alit on the top rail our entire fence wobbled. Moments later I saw the beast on an angled piece of one of our downspouts. It was the size of a Canadian football with a head and a scythe for a beak, its wingspan constrained and knock-knock-knocking under the eaves. It was shiny black like Superman’s hair, complete with cyan DC Comics highlights.

The biggest birds Ann and I have marvelled at as they’ve flitted around the Crooked 9 are pileated woodpeckers, the largest of that species. They’re vertical birds, designed to cling upright to tree trunks. Bald eagles fly too high for our point of view. We sometimes hear great horned owls in the night. Ravens are dirigibles, unleaded zeppelins whose song remains the same, “Nevermore.” Even our local magpies were intimidated; a parliament of those prancing, squawking, puffed out toughs will generally take on all comers, cats and dogs included.

It’s impossible not to be at least a little po-faced as summer fades into fall. Yet it’s still that lovely and brief Hemingway time of the year: Ann and I get out of bed as the sun also rises. Dawn’s cloudy blazing swatches of horizon colour, hues of red, orange and yellow, accentuate the beautiful decaying leaves of our trees and shrubs; the sky curls on the lawn and the walk, drifted down to Earth. The air smells different, a little more pungent. There’s a refreshed clarity in our neighbourhood star’s lower light, everything we can see seems a little sharper, as if some cosmic lense has been wiped clean and adjusted minutely.

Mornings of late have been no small grace. Ann and I are still able to take our coffees outside. Our mugs steam on the front porch tete-a-tete. We are cozy in our Neil Young godfather of grunge lumberjack flannel shirts, collars up. The pages of our newspaper sections rustle in concert with the shrivelling leaves. The birds are active: some are year-round residents; Canada geese are squonking south; arctic nesters layover on their flight paths north. For one blessed hour there is peace, no motors, no sirens, just gratitude for a sense of low-key contentment in spite of everything else unfolding out there. It’s all good. Winter’s coming though, it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

I suspect this will sound a bit bizarre, but sometimes I imagine Richard Harris in shining armour clopping down our street astride a warhorse warbling, “By order summer lingers through September…” But Camelot was as idealistic as Eden, wasn’t it? As misguided a faith in the fantastically unattainable as a failing cult serving cups of funny tasting Kool-Aid. Nothing lasts, be it a moment, an hour, months, years or an era, good or bad.

I like to wear caps, baseball style ones. Berets never suited me. Only two English speaking people have ever rocked the French look, Groucho Marx and E Street’s Miami Steve. But I’ve smoked enough alcohol and drunk enough cigarettes to know that the Existentialists got life’s innate absurdity right enough or close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. Our unbidden existence is akin to raking leaves on a windy day: a futile exercise, but not entirely without result. When I’m working on our lawn with a fan rake in a breeze, I can choose between Sisyphean despair at the uselessness of it all, rake up and do it again, or be dazzled by the beauty of the fall. Still, it’s somewhat disconcerting to be conscious of the beady gaze of a lone raven as I go about my meaningless business. 

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of mystified musings since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer

Wednesday, 15 September 2021


Have We Got Neighbours?

The nosy fellow across the street likes to sit on the front porch of the Crooked 9 and update Ann and me about what’s going on up and down our street. A few doors away, the home renovation of our local, convicted sex offender seems to have stalled; perhaps the pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain of dungeon fixtures. The neighbour to our immediate right hasn’t spoken to us for years – discounting a few obscenity-laden screams; we’re right up there with the sky, her adult daughter and her weird black dog cross-bred to bark anxiously. When her blinds are up we note that her Christmas tree is a 12-month, decorative fixture – and has been for a decade. She is of a peculiarly obese shape, her knees, her hips, her lungs and her heart have to work awfully hard while her mind is on vacation.

Ann and I have always kept things together.

The brand new, two-storey, curiously commercial-looking skinny home to the left of the Crooked 9 sold this week. All conditions are off and we expect new neighbours casting their shadows upon us by next weekend. Consequently, I’ve been dwelling on the nature of neighbours, Robert Frost and fences, all those posts and boards, gates and latches. I suppose new neighbours are akin to a choking hazard toy in a cereal box, a sealed pack of baseball cards or cancer: you can’t help wondering what you’re going to get.

I’ve come to terms with a biker bigwig moving into a fortified clubhouse. Incidental and opportunistic crime in the neighbourhood would plunge to zero. On the other hand, neither Ann nor I wish to be remembered as gang war euphemisms, civilian collateral damage.

Should we not be blessed with professional criminals who abide by a code of professional conduct, we’d settle for introverts or snobs – people likely to keep to themselves. Maybe our new neighbours might let their taste in music do their talking over the fence; Ann and I are more Warren Zevon and ZZ Top than Zamfir. There could be disputes, or not. We can only speculate about the value these strange folks place on the creative arts and its implied aesthetics, after all, they just slapped down a million plus on a home more suited to house a suite of medical offices as opposed to a family.

God forbid they’ll be garrulous. Life’s too short to gab at length about nothing. I hope they’re not passionate about weird stuff like Amway or Scientology. What if they prove to be extremists, right wing-nuts or trigger warning-happy leftists? A good neighbour is a burned-out cynic with a whit of wit.

Ann and I together keep our eyes on the street. We are front porch sentinels. Truth is, not a lot goes on and keeping watch might be a lonely job except for the fact we’re both mildly misanthropic. Cars enter garages, the segmented doors close; nobody uses their front doors. Nobody receives visitors or hosts Saturday night parties. The neighbourhood seems to exist in some sort of Stephen King prison dome, food and water rations driven in from the “outside.” Humanity’s rich pageant is hired help: housecleaners, lawn care and snow removal crews and dog walkers.

I don’t believe this strange and insular world Ann and I observe so acutely stems from pandemic life. I suggest its roots lie with the advent of digital television signals, the proliferation of the internet and their spawn, the iPhone. Real life selected an upgrade to version 2.0, departed our avenues and streets, bought the server farm. Of course, dwelling inside “the internet of things” costs money and nobody carries cash. When in 1987 the Royal Canadian Mint launched the loonie, I surmised our dollar would lose some of its value. I was not referencing global currency markets, I meant the average person’s perception of its worth, the denomination’s migration from billfold to change pocket. Money has become an abstraction since then. Binary code has evolved into fingertip prime numbers. Goods and services are delivered with the touch or swipe of a screen.

This weekend we’ll greet our new neighbours with a liberal sample of Ann’s baking. My hunch is that we won’t see much of them after this casually awkward attempt at introductions - and not just because winter’s coming on. Our neighbourhood has defaulted into digitized agoraphobia; remote work and home entertainment are investments that demand confinement. I suspect our new neighbours’ expansive and irksomely elevated rear deck may never be more than dead space, the way apartment and condo balconies are utilized mainly for exterior storage.

The convicted sex offender’s property abuts an immense black cube. Ann and I refer to its residents as “The Borg;” engagement is futile. There’s a woman who lives farther down our street, just as the asphalt begins to curve, who I ape with my not-too-bad impression of a smiling horse or perhaps a member of Britain’s royal family; sometimes Ann and I never need speak. All I know for sure about our new neighbours is that we will anoint them with a nickname, a descriptor or a mimicked signifier. Welcome to our street. We don’t judge, we just observe.              

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of street gossip since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer.

Thursday, 9 September 2021


Wake Me Up When September Ends

We know them; we know who they are. In my working life I was fortunate enough to possess the wherewithal to engineer a transition from blue collar to white collar. While I wasn’t cleaning toilets or mopping floors any more, I learned that less physically strenuous labour came with its own form of hell, and hell was other people (not a shock) but dressed in cleaner, nicer clothing: the caffeine-free herbal tea drinker who complains the only office perk is free coffee; the frail, pale moppet who messes with the thermostat in August; the rah-rah team-builder nuking butter-flavoured popcorn for all in the tiny common kitchen.

When I was transferred to Calgary from Edmonton almost 20 years ago, my employer’s ad hoc advertising department was graced with a minor miracle – we all agreed on what radio station to listen to in our space. AM1060 was a captivating mix of punk, post-punk, new wave and current releases in that spirit. It was too good to last for corporate radio and I can only assume its current format is news, talk, Christian or yacht rock. That station was my first sonic exposure to Green Day. I heard echoes of the Clash, in the same way I couldn’t glibly dismiss the Black Crowes for regurgitating Faces and Stones. There was something else there.

Ten years later I was in a Piccadilly tourist shop with my older brother. He was shopping for souvenirs for my nephews. He pointed at a Green Day t-shirt: “(My son) likes them.” I said, “I do too, great band.” He said, “I don’t think I know them.” I said, “You watched Seinfeld, you know ‘Good Riddance,’ time of your life? Anyways, they’re American, you can get that stuff anywhere.”

I never liked Motley Crue. I thought they were as cartoonish as Kiss, the Monkees and the Archies. Yet, there’s that theory of monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare and so one good song isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. If I still recorded mix tapes, I’d segue “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” into Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” This was the state of affairs in Alberta and Canada on the last long, lost weekend before a bitter Thanksgiving.

There are still 12 days left on the calendar before the advent of autumn, but Labour Day is the last melancholy gasp of summer. For Ann, a retired schoolteacher, the holiday Monday might as well be New Year’s Day. These first days don’t bode well. An unneeded federal election is underway, a campaign nobody wants. But Ottawa is governed by opinion polls, popularity. While opinion polls allow for a margin of error, they are not static: they’re a lot like life; things can change in a hurry. Protesters protesting various imaginary personal slights to their perceived rights have taken to throwing fistfuls of gravel at the prime minister at outdoor rallies. Many Canadians will recall his father not flinching at the rocks thrown at him by Quebec separatists. Perhaps the analogy of gravel and rocks and two dynastic prime ministers describes the chasm between their respective intellects. Anyway, somebody’s going to be at the helm of another minority government and the electorate may reasonably expect and project another annoying sense of déjà vu. Election day is one day before the fall.

Meanwhile, within the confines of the Crooked 9, my relationship with Ann is fraught. Though we agree that we’re both embarrassed to be Albertans, we’re at wellheads as to whether the mistaken state of affairs in our province has descended into tragedy or farce. Our immense slab of western Canada exists as visions of Jonathan Swift, H.G. Wells and George Romero: satire, science fiction and horror.

Premier Kenney promised Albertans “the best summer ever.” Only God and his confessor know what constitutes his idea of a good time. All pandemic restrictions were lifted in the province on Canada Day. This curiously libertarian and laissez-faire attitude to public health was based on British data. Alas, Alberta’s health authority did not account for that country’s spectacularly high rate of vaccination when it felt the time was ripe just to get on with things. Oddly, covid’s Delta variant has surged here and hospitals are again in the red zone.

As the leaves turn from green to burgundy and gold, I can imagine a drought stricken, pre-apocalyptic wasteland populated by Us, the vaccinated, and Them, those who must be shunned. I can smell the Alberta government’s desperation through my mask. Restrictions have been reintroduced. There’s an alcohol sales curfew for instance, although, weirdly, rodeos are exempt; they get a free ride. Anti-vaxxers are being bribed with $100 to dredge up some primordial form of common sense, to get a jab instead of a dose of livestock de-worming medicine. Gee, hot water with lemon, and bleach didn’t work nor did an earlier upped ante endeavour of three million-dollar vaccine lottery prizes.

There will be a civic election here next month. My hibernation might run 61 days – wake me when October ends. The slogan of one of Edmonton’s mayoral candidates is: YOUR TURN TO GET AHEAD. It’s pithy and populist, an absurdist plagiarism from der Trumpenfuhrer’s teleprompter. Boorishness American-style, that rhetoric is everywhere, another wedge between the jabs and the jab-nots. Civic politics are not terribly high-falutin’ – crumbling infrastructure and the costs of basic public services predominate, sewage disposal and treatment among them. Here we are now, Them and Us angrily at odds in a wasteland of confused stasis.

Perhaps despair knows no nadir because nadir knows no depths. Way back when I used to fret over the sequencing of my mix tapes, usually 11 songs per side for a 90, I recorded a “Suicide Cassette,” 22 of the most depressing songs in my collection. The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” constituted the precipice of the blues abyss. The twin reels were great, but I had to be in the mood. And now, I wish I still had it. Beyond this month and October, November lurks like one of those smug, smirking HOLD MY BEER social media memes: the insufferably saccharine Swedish pop group ABBA is going to release its first album of new material in 40 years. Certain people I used to work with loved ABBA. Fuck. Fuck them. Fuck it all.          

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of head shaking since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer