Thursday, 25 November 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


A Tale of Two Provinces


Where do I begin? Me, a twentieth century schizoid man living in an increasingly divided country. I lived in Quebec for 30 years. I was born there. Its politics ultimately drove me west. I’ve lived in Alberta for 30 years and a few hundred days. Its politics are driving me crazy.


Quebec politics are always insular intellectual exercises. There’s always an undercurrent of a sort of put-upon nationalism, a festering resentment of both history and modern times. No surprise then that the author of Quebec’s first draconian language legislation was a psychiatrist (New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province although the entire country is officially bilingual, sort of). Around that time, during Montreal’s summer Olympics hangover and the rise of punk, a cabinet minister, a minor poet, was arrested for shoplifting. His transgression wasn’t a crime; his action was interpreted as a Quebecois cri de coeur because he tried to rip-off a Harris tweed sports jacket (English) from the Eaton’s department store (English) on Saint Catherine Street West (English). A later premier, a former colleague of the men mentioned above, a corpulent buffoon, was such an Anglophile that his speech was literally peppered with Oxford-y-morons: “By Jove!” He preferred brandy and cigarettes over ethnic groups.


Quebec is currently governed by the Coalition Avenir (future) Quebec (CAQ), a conservative populist political party that did not exist when I lived there. Alberta is currently governed by the United Conservative Party (UCP), a conservative populist political party that did not exist when I moved here. Alberta and Quebec are the feuding twins of the Canadian federation, born just 38 years apart, resentful of one another, and alienated from everybody else. They’re special. They say they “want to change the Constitution, well, you know…”


News from Quebec last week was more of the usual, and, as always, charmingly bizarre. Premier Francois Legault has convened a committee tasked with discovering why hockey is fading as his province’s major religion. La Sainte-Flanelle, the holy cloth, is moth-eaten, les Canadiens suck. The obvious solution is the firewagon √©lan of French-Canadian players – if only these young people would lace up their skates and make the National Hockey League (NHL, LNH in Quebec). Just a hunch, but I suspect his committee’s findings will allude to the grassroots expense of the sport and an ever-growing global talent pool. The game has grown as the league has bloated. Still, if the Canadiens drafted Quebeckers only, as they generally did when they held exclusive territorial rights to the province up until Canada’s 1967 centennial and the LNH’s great expansion which doubled the size of the loop, they couldn’t be any worse than they are now.


Just to be clear: Universite de Montreal offers a comparative theology course centred on the worship of the Montreal Canadiens. Though there can never be an exact flashpoint in time, historians usually date the conflagration of Quebec Nationalism with the Richard hockey riot of 1955. NHL President Clarence Campbell (English) suspended the Rocket (French) during the playoffs (very bad). The greatest children’s book ever published in this country is The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier. Possibly the greatest animated short ever produced by Canada’s National Film Board is The Hockey Sweater. The plot is very simple. Mister Eaton (English) via his mail-order catalogue mistakenly sends a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater (Protestant and very English) to a boy in rural Quebec. The boy’s teammates, opponents and the priest refereeing his outdoor hockey games are not impressed. The boy goes to church (Catholic) and prays to God for a million moths to eat his new blue sweater (wool).


(Carrier’s Our Life with The Rocket is one of those delightful books that belong in every library if only because it defies classification. Between the boards it rates with The Game (Dryden) and The Game of Our Lives (Gzowsky). It is a novel approach to a twinning of biography and memoir, even in translation. My copy is shelved proximate to a history of Canada, some works by Leonard Cohen, a history of the fur trade and a biography of Samuel de Champlain.)


Once Albertans elected the UCP in 2019, Premier Jason Kenney convened a committee tasked with exposing the shadowy global forces conspiring to bring Alberta’s energy industry to its knees. This think tank of coyotes is not to be confused with the UCP government’s Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), a “war room” birthed to spin pro-fossil fuel propaganda. Anyway, its final report was released a month or so ago, a year late and a million dollars over budget. The gist of it was that Alberta had run smack into the niggling inconvenience of free speech and modern times; Mother Nature’s sons are gunning for everyone.


The UCP last weekend held its annual general meeting. Fittingly, the venue was a casino. Economic indicators suggest the coal-black marble spinning on Alberta’s boom-and-bust roulette wheel, crafted in 1947 at Leduc No. 1, is teetering over the black after seven years in the red. Demand for natural gas and oil has risen as have the prices of those commodities. Shadowy global forces work in mysterious ways. Weirdly, this increasingly good news may prove to be something of a mixed blessing for Premier Kenney.


Quebec has always been governed by a culture of complaint. Confederation being relative, Alberta is just finding her voice, learning to whine. The big national snit regards the nature of federal transfer payments. Various levels of government in Canada oversee various jurisdictions. Foreign policy is left to Ottawa; education and health care are left to regional capitals like Quebec City or Edmonton. Transfer payments are federal monies apportioned amongst the country’s ten provinces and three territories. The current distribution formula is complex and was crafted in part by Premier Kenney during his tenure as a federal cabinet minister. The national dole is intended to ensure citizens, no matter where they live, are able to receive a base level of services. Wealthier provinces don’t require handouts. Quebeckers consider transfer payments from Ottawa a birthright. Premier Kenney has convinced many Albertans that federal accountants simply walk into his provincial treasury and give all those shrinking petro-dollars to Quebec. It’s a compelling fallacy because the biggest problems in Quebec at the moment are: the fragile state of the mother tongue, the nature and role of religious symbols in a newly secularized society, and hockey (which I suppose includes both of the above).


Premier Kenney faces other challenges. The Wildrose Party did not exist when I moved to Alberta nor does it exist now. It flared like a gas well fire for a time, the result of a schism in the traditional Tory establishment; the Progressive Conservative Party was just, well, too darned progressive. Brian Jean, its former leader and former federal cabinet colleague of Premier Kenney’s, has emerged creature-like from the tar sands tailings ponds up north near Fort McMurray. He wants the UCP nomination for his riding and he’s gunning for Premier Kenney’s job. And he has allies. There will be a UCP leadership review in April 2022 and Albertans will go to the polls in 2023.


When Jason Kenney formed the UCP from the dregs of Alberta’s conservative cohort, he politically euthanized Brian Jean. Though Premier Kenney is utterly bereft of any quality suggesting leadership ability, there are few better backroom operators. Yet somehow, Brian Jean has managed to sit up in his coffin, a dream come true for Alberta’s left of centre New Democratic Party (NDP) and the official opposition in the legislature: “Please God, let that primordial beast crawl through the firebreak surrounding ‘Fort Mac’ and slither down ‘Highway of Death’ (a busy single lane for all types of heavy traffic through boreal forest) into our capital city.” At the casino last weekend, incoming UCP president Cynthia Moore (no relation) handed out “UCP United” buttons, a bad portent although her acronym usage reads better than “United Conservative Party United.” When unity is perceived as a concern it’s because there isn’t any.


Perhaps this week Premier Kenney shares a resentful if grudging kinship with Premier Legault? Any talk of the right wing is best confined to hockey.  


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of Canadian political commentary since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


November Is Poor Posture Month!


I hate November. I wish it was like February, a short month. Ancient Romans and early Christians just couldn’t get it right. How hard would it have been to reshuffle a few days?


The wind was up Sunday morning, needles like spatters of boiling water. The sky was the colour of the underside of a saucepan lid. When the ice fell from the low sky it crackled on the dead leaves like a campfire, but without the glow, the heat, the bad guitar and off-key singing. Thirty days of grey, a prison sentence of limbo before winter comes.


The ultimate aftermath of every blessed thing is death. The overarching sound of November is Remembrance Day, ceremonial gunfire and the bugler’s “The Last Post.” Faith is hard to keep when the neighbourhood resembles a battle zone the morning after, a defoliated and devastated wasteland. As the last Byronic poet Mick Jagger sang, “The fields is mumble brown and fallow, and springtime takes the long way ‘round.”


November makes me flinch. It’s a full month of those fractal nanoseconds I’ve experienced in bicycle crashes, car accidents and on a football field or hockey rink, that dreadful flash of awareness as I was about to be laid out knowing it was going to hurt and it would keep on hurting the next day too. November snow is hard little flecks, not the fluffy stuff wafting feather-like in moonglow to reinforce latent feelings of goodwill toward all and accentuate whimsical outdoor Christmas decorations.


Sneakers and some snazzy walking around shoes have been tucked away. Rubber gardening clogs have replaced the snow boots on the basement storage shelf. The billed caps I wear constantly, one for indoors and one for the great wide open as property lines permit, are seasonal and so football (which replaced summer baseball) is switched out for hockey. Toques and mitts (the right one still crusty with last winter’s snot) have migrated upstairs. The jackets in the hall closet have been rotated out to make space for heavier coats – including that ratty green one I’m not permitted to wear beyond the boundaries of the Crooked 9.


I’m convinced winter coats are patterned differently from their more temperate and more stylish counterparts. Their cuts encourage poor posture, stooping, hunching. When I shrug my way into one of mine, my motor reflex is to slouch, shrink. It’s automatic.


Weather here tends to roll in from the north and west. I watch the sky from the front porch. Monday morning was eerily calm, as if all the shooting had suddenly ceased. The snow came around lunchtime, gritty little pellets. I swear I witnessed the exact moment when they stopped melting on contact with the warmer ground and instead began to accumulate. It snowed all day. It snowed all night. It’s still snowing now, two hours after an invisible sunrise. It’s all a bit deflating. And it happens every year around this time; sixty-two Novembers and counting. I may bend, but I will not break and shrivel into an old man although my old coats smell a little musty.    

                      

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of rumination on crippling seasonal depression since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

THE MUSTER POINT PROJECT


A Slight Return on Many Favours


The Muster Point Project is the eponymous debut album of the Muster Point Project. Not to repeat myself, but the Muster Point Project is the latest guise of my friend of 30 years, Kevin Franco.


Kevin is not one of those guests to rest an elbow on the mantelpiece, his back to the wall, at a cocktail party filled with strange invitees; he was born to mingle and he knows everybody.  I called him “The Ticket Fairy” when I lived in Calgary. “Kevin, the Stones are coming.” “I know, leave it with me.” He’s also a restless entrepreneur which means I’m never quite clear about how he earns his living. The lone winter I skated with his midnight shinny team Kevin’s nickname in the dressing room was “Sparky.” A recent venture was positively Dylanesque, the marketing and artisan manufacture of boots of Chilean leather.


Kevin introduced me to Wilco. He promised the CD of A.M. would blow me away. He was right. A song on that album reminds me that I’ve spent a lot of time in Kevin’s various vehicles, always on the passenger side. There was always a glorious noise emitting from grilles in the dash or doors. Snippets anyway, two minutes of Blind Boys of Alabama or Taj Mahal before he punched a button to change the tune. It took me 15 years to track down Gregg Allman’s “I’m No Angel” based on a lyric fragment about tattoos I heard for the first time in Kevin’s car. He’d recorded the cassette and was still at a loss: “Come On in My Kitchen?”


This sort of music is the soul of The Muster Point Project. This is folk music in every sense of the term, certified genuine indie, written and recorded by an antenna on the great northern plains. How my friend managed to sit still long enough to compose and lay down nine tracks built around his guitar chops mystifies me. Probably pandemic productivity. Still, Kevin has probably and unknowingly spent his entire life to date working up to this, his first album. His second one will be a much trickier proposition.


Kevin being Kevin of course, The Muster Point Project is available as an eight-track cassette immediately because he’s just not wired to wait patiently in line for a vinyl pressing. Kevin has asked me to write the liner notes for his eventual black circle release. I hope that comes to pass, a fair exchange as he designed the cover of my first novel Murder Incorporated for Falcon Press. Kevin has always championed my writing - then again, he’s a speed-reader. Muster Point Project tracks are streaming on YouTube, digital downloads and more information are to be had at www.musterpointproject.com.                        


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of enthusiastic endorsement since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


The Self-importance of Being Edward


I love dynastic dirty laundry, the soiling of the elite. They’re just like us! Sort of.


Rogers Communications rivals Air Canada as one of Canada’s most hated companies. Yet both are as essential in this country as regular dental appointments and FIT tests. Rogers delivers wireless and media. Air Canada (a former Crown corporation) delivers passengers. Their respective business models work – most of the time. Both companies are public, and are notorious for their misleading messaging because they’re big enough to over-promise and under-deliver, and shrug.


Since the death of company founder Ted in 2008, it seems the Rogers family is coming apart at the genes. Son Edward these past couple of weeks has stared down his mother Loretta on Toronto’s Ted Rogers Way; and his sisters Martha and Melinda too. It’s Canadian Shakespearean, cell phones instead of daggers, eh? The 5G realm must be subjugated. Competitors Bell and Telus lurk in Birnam Wood or perhaps beneath the Gardiner Expressway.


I do not pay a single cent for any Rogers service. I do keep half an eye on one of its neglected assets, the Blue Jays baseball club, and that’s only because the Montreal Expos are no longer with us. My investment portfolio includes shares in Rogers, but unlike those family members who hold almost all the voting class A shares in trust, I’m not a player. I check the standings from time to time.


I read a lot. In my experience business books tend to be as interesting as human resources questionnaires. They’re rife with platitudes lifted from a Nike ad campaign and sprinkled with paraphrased passages from The Prince and The Art of War. There’s usually a dollop of Ayn Rand on top. If I’ve read three or four in my time, I wonder if Edward Rogers has read even one.


There must be volumes on how to stage a corporate coup out there in bookstore land. Should you be plotting to regain control of your family company’s board of directors against your family’s wishes by ousting its current CEO without due process, it’s probably wise not to ass-call your intended victim during the planning session; just a thought. And the last thing you need to hear is your two sisters telling you, “Mom’s going to kill you when she finds out.”


I’m compelled to surmise that Edward the Usurper’s leak was abetted by a Rogers product malfunction compounded by user error. God, I hope so. And now I’m praying for that day when Air Canada’s CEO is turned away at the departure gate because his airline overbooked his flight.                 


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of business analysis since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Saturday, 6 November 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Words Have I No


The Rolling Stones last month re-released 1981’s Tattoo You, arguably their last great album (nothing afterward came close and I’m not sure it rates with their stone classics). The gold for someone like me is the nine tracks on the bonus disc. I was reminded of the Some Girls (originally released 1978) reissue, again an entire album alongside the original. The vault music included with both dates from around the same era. I’ve never considered the Stones an overly prolific band; the reissues of their initial trio of Rolling Stones Records albums were augmented barrel scrapings. Tattoo You itself was an assembly of discards and outtakes.


These past two decades both Dylan and Springsteen have released enough shelved material as to allow fans to piece together forked road career paths for His Bobness and the Boss, glimpses of a parallel universe. It’s all akin to constructing the Beatles album that never was based on their debut solo albums: George gets one composing credit, maybe two; Ringo one vocal, a novelty number; Lennon and McCartney have a tug of war over primal scream therapy angst versus stripped down pop.


After Mick Taylor abruptly quit the Stones in 1974, fallow years plugged by greatest hits collections and live albums became the norm. God, you know, if they just could’ve gotten themselves together enough to release a hybrid album of the Some Girls and Tattoo You bonus tracks, I believe I’d now be typing that proverbial messianic clich√©, “their best since Exile.” It’s no small joy to be deafened and agape, blown away 40 years later by what is essentially the same old stuff. What can I say?


I’d prepared notes for another 500 words in this vein, that is until alternate realities collided this week in Dallas, TX. QAnon cultists Tuesday gathered on that city’s infamous Dealey Plaza, the grassy knoll and book depository and all that. Later that evening, the Rolling Stones’ 2021(!) “No Filter” tour touched down at the Cotton Bowl. Apparently, this pair of unrelated events shared a bizarre commonality, one John Fitzgerald Kennedy Junior (1960-1999). Bear with me.


QAnon members believe the United States of America has been taken over by a “deep state” cabal of paedophilic cannibals who hang out in a pizza parlour in Washington, DC. The pizzeria is easy to find because there’s just one item on the menu and it’s served with just one topping. A very recent former president, an odious vulgarian – a Republican too, not a Democrat – walks Woody Guthrie’s land with ennobled vengeance in his tiny, raisin heart, for he has been anointed by Jesus (good Christ!) to smite the Satanists. Are you still with me? I’m not making this up.


In my world, Q is the fictional British secret service quartermaster always ready for a cameo in the James Bond novels and movies. Q may also be the recurring Loki figure in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has since come to light that Q could also be JFK Jr., the Q in QAnon. It seems the late lawyer and journalist, the boy forever saluting his assassinated father graveside in Life magazine, has been in hiding since his death in a plane crash. John-John was supposed to reveal himself at Dealey Plaza before assuming the vice-presidency of der Trumpenfuhrer’s new regime. Damned if JFK Jr. didn’t pull a Mary Jo Kopechne and not surface – well, to be fair to Uncle Teddy, her corpse did. Is my narrative, my summation, coherent enough? Because, wait for it…


QAnon acolytes are not stupid people. They’re thoughtful in a charming batshit crazy way. On the other hand, they’re carrying, weapons or ideology, probably both. The savvier social media conspiracy cranks among QAnon quickly figured out that John-John wasn’t entirely cool with the crackpot Dealey Plaza deal. Instead, he chose an alternative stage for his second coming, the Cotton Bowl with the Rolling Stones. “Please allow me to introduce myself…” The truth is way out there, but certifiably genuine: JFK Jr., clad in a Keith Richards mask, handled half of the band’s glorious guitar noise. Of did he course.               


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of subjective lexical failure since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Awkward


I have read the Old Testament as presented in the King James Version of the Christian Bible. I’d been led to believe that edition constituted a work of literature. Verily, the prose begot boredom. Perhaps the holy nuances were lost in yet another translation based on other translations. I hate putting down a book just halfway through, but you know…. Life is short; there are far more interesting books to read.


At this time of year, just before Albertans make like Cher and turn back time, the light is slight and Autotune cannot change the low register dirge of the spheres. Saturday morning was darker than my sense of humour. Invisible to one another, Ann and I enjoyed our day’s first cup of coffee and cigarette together on the front porch of the Crooked 9. Hot orange glows in a toxic fog. The frosted leafy decay in the air smelled better, sharp. We listened for rustling, coyotes, hares, porcupines and skunks.


Caffeined and nicotined, we went inside and turned our attention to our ritual Saturday morning pleasure, The New York Times crossword puzzle. There were a couple of gimmies in the grid, STREET MUSICIAN and SPY NOVELIST DEIGHTON. Another clue read, SETH RELATIVE TO ADAM’S AND EVE’S OFFSPRING. Forgive me, Father, I’ve long forgotten my catechism; there were Cain and Abel for sure.


Ann said, “Adam and Eve had children?”


Oh, my woe begotten, pagan baby, let me pour you another cup of coffee. You’re not quite in full solve mode. It’s still dark outside, seems earlier than it really is.


It’s some kind of misappropriated miracle that many people with influence and power read the Book of Genesis as fact. Honest to God, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway makes more sense. Institutionalized ignorance is worse than disease because diseases may be treated, sometimes cured, or even eradicated. Blind faith overlooks a lot of illogical suppositions. Should the creation myth of Adam and Eve be true, homo sapiens did not come from a good family.


Mom, an afterthought, the weaker sex made from the first man, was one bad apple. One of her rowdy kids was the world’s first murderer, fratricide at that. And Mom and Dad would necessarily have had some daughters, you know, just to keep the first family’s ball rolling. Talk about dysfunctional, all of us the progeny of incest. Of course, that could account for the endless tragedy that is human history; life’s rich pageant.


Ann slid off the kitchen stool, hunched her shoulders and set her face in a frown. I could imagine the dowdy overcoat. Ann proceeded to imitate her father, an educated man and a voracious reader, mimicking the lipless handbag draggers who constituted the religious constituency in the small Alberta town where she’d spent her formative years. We had one such pinched and prim lady in our neighbourhood who petitioned the community league to cut back the shrubbery in our central park because God only knows what teenagers might get up to in the shadows. Her Baptist Sunday school taught curtain twitching.


The Times Seth solution was THIRD. I’m uncertain how much begetting Adam did once the Tree of Knowledge revealed the pleasures of the night to Eve, that little vixen. Still, Seth’s sibling bride must’ve been child number four at the very least.          


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of myth and theology since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.