Thursday, 19 May 2022

SAINTS PRESERVE US


About Last Night


Chaos reigned supreme in Calgary Wednesday.


Yesterday evening Alberta Premier Jason Kenney won his party’s leadership review by a Sunday morning hangover whisker. His speech in Calgary following the announcement of the result was short and something of a shock, he abruptly resigned his post. His United Conservative Party (UCP) is destined to remain a deeply divided entity with a provincial election just 12 months hence. Party officials feared they couldn’t win it with him; perhaps they can’t win it without him.


Kenney’s immediate fate is unclear. He could stay on as premier until the UCP holds a leadership election. The party could appoint an interim leader and placeholder premier in the meantime. Conceivably, Kenney himself could stand as a candidate in the UCP’s leadership election. All of this as the Alberta body politic cycles into election mode. In the short term, Albertans will be represented nationally and internationally by a person citizens did not formally choose.


The tiny list of Kenney’s obvious and potential successors is blood curdling. Both Danielle Smith and Brian Jean are former leaders of Wildrose, a defunct breakaway party formed because the Progressive Conservatives were just too danged progressive. The talent in Kenney’s cabinet is thin. No minister has presented as his de facto Number Two, a dauphin. Kenney was something of an autocrat, prideful enough to keep the spotlight on himself. Though he whined about how Canada’s myriad of constitutional documents impinged upon his powers, he was canny enough to keep his views on some social issues to himself and therefore out of the public forum. For the most part, the church did not impede nor direct the state on his watch.


Kenney, after demanding God to bless Alberta, closed his conciliatory and concessionary remarks by urging Albertans to get on to what really mattered, round two, game one of the Flames and Oilers National Hockey League (NHL) playoff across town. That game was Iggy Pop hockey, a real wild one. Fifteen total goals when analysts insist there should be no room to move. Open ice is a rare commodity this late in the second season. Calgary hung on to prevail 9-6.


The venerable Canadian Broadcasting Corporation streamed the game live, no charge excepting annual federal income tax dollars. The match was one of those rare conversion tilts. A new or indifferent hockey viewer might well wonder what they’ve been missing and may become a fan. The nature of the sport suggests the possibility that there will be many more future games as engaging as last night’s. Hope is on offer.


Yesterday evening’s UCP invitation-only deflated, failed redux coronation suggests the party will continue to tweak its dogma, get that populist whistle pitch perfect. Eligible voters can expect the UCP 2023 campaign platform to be planked with inarticulate talking points, shrill ones, generic ones like anger and complaint. This, this is on offer for one of Canada’s “have” provinces (the price of oil is up – war is very good for a commodity-based boom and bust economy). May the saints preserve a majority of Albertans from the reconfigured UCP.


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of all things Alberta since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Tonight, Tonight, Tonight


Sometimes things just work out this way. In this particular provincial instance, it might be for the best.


The Edmonton Oilers visit the Calgary Flames tonight for their opening match in the second round of the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs. Both teams got through the preliminary round, gutting it out for the full seven games. The provincial rivals have not faced each other when it really matters since 1991. All of Alberta will be watching.


Meanwhile, the governing United Conservative Party (UCP) will announce the result of its leadership review. That process should have been done and dusted during a weekend convention in Red Deer before Easter but a surge in paid party memberships created unwieldy logistical problems. The ballots will be counted today under the scrutiny of Deloitte, an auditing firm with offices in Edmonton and Calgary. Premier Jason Kenney formed the UCP in 2017 by luring the right, the righter, the rightest and the righteous into his Ford F-150 clown pickup. Seating’s been cramped – even with the extended cab. Another guy who also believes in the sanctity of traditional Christian families and the tar sands wants to take the wheel. All of Alberta is waiting to fasten seatbelts.


Even casual readers of the sports pages must now be fatigued by “Battle of Alberta” repetitions and it hasn’t even started yet. Remarkably, the NHL hasn’t registered the phrase as a trade mark and sold a sponsorship: Scotiabank Battle of Alberta with superscript circle Rs and TMs. Because the Flames and the Oilers are the last Canadian teams left in the tournament and one of them must lose, it’s a sure bet one or more hockey scribes will lament the diminishing odds of “Lord Stanley’s mug returning to its rightful place in Canada.”


The UCP is fragmenting ahead of tonight’s vote result. The Buffalo Party has been formed to advocate for Alberta’s rightful place in Canada – or outside of it, whatever; they don’t know. The tenor of politics here is petulant teenager: angry, alienated and inarticulate. And that’s just within the UCP’s existing rank and file, miraculously and temporarily swollen by the stakes of power, incoherent ideology as lash-out complaint. It’s a safe bet that Premier Kenney will keep his job, maybe just. He’s a plump, huggable teddy bear with a shiv.


Hockey is a meaningless distraction, as is all sport, but it’s not without engagement. The Flames and Oilers will change Alberta’s casual conversation for the next ten days or so. This change is welcome. Really, really welcome. One team will advance, progress. There will be more hockey talk. For a time, the spittle-laden invective of UCP infighting and debate over the party’s archaic platform of sepia-toned regression will be flooded out by the power plays most Albertans truly care about.


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of all things Alberta since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Monday, 16 May 2022

NONSENSE VERSE


Will You Give Me No Peace


Fuck you I say fuck off

I couldn’t give a toss

Lanyard ‘round your neck

Shilling utilities on spec

Piss off from my door

Don’t knock on it no more

Running down the hall

Another bogus robo call

Credit card security

Home computer impurity

Used clothes for charity

Disease donation solidarity

Contribute to the misery

By making poverty history

Art gallery membership

Even though it exhibits shit

And you my China doll

You make no sense at all

Very stern but a little fresh

Mandarin via Bangladesh

Canada Revenue gift card taxes

Sheriffs due armed with axes

Can’t you all just let me be

It’d really fuckin’ please me             


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

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

A FAN’S NOTES


James Taylor with Jackson Browne


Ann and I spent a mellow, mid-tempo evening in the company of two seventies musical giants. Ann has always enjoyed James Taylor’s music and has previously seen him in concert. A few years ago we attended a scaled back Jackson Browne theatre show together. This hockey arena double bill, upper tier scrimmed, and originally scheduled for more carefree, pre-pandemic times, should have flipped headliners. We decided to buy tickets late last week. I thought the performance would make a fine finale to Ann’s May Day birthday and then Mother’s Day and, anyway, our faded social skills off the property require refreshing.


Neither sensitive wimp had anything to say to me during their primes. They sang from an easy listening place where I wasn’t. I’ve since come around more than a little bit, with caveats and conditions.


My nephew, 32 years my junior, dropped by for a visit on the weekend. He was going Monday night too. He asked me if there was a definitive James Taylor album he should be familiar with by curtain time. Ann would say Mud Slide Slim.


I said, “You know, he’s one of those guys where all you need is the Greatest Hits.” It’s a Boomer staple, on the same shelf as the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.


The irony of James Taylor, singer-songwriter, is that three of his biggest hits are covers of the Drifters, Marvin Gaye and Carole King. They are low key love letters but he doesn’t inhabit them the way Aretha owns “Respect” or Joe Cocker owns “Darling Be Home Soon.” Then again, I can’t imagine anyone else covering his material like “Mexico,” “Fire and Rain” and “Country Road” except for maybe a drunken amateur in front of a midnight campfire.


Taylor took the stage dressed like Tom Joad in his rumpled Dust Bowl Sunday best. He is a strikingly tall man. Ann leaned into my right ear: “He was wearing the same clothes last time I saw him.” He showered the people with his greatest hits. All of them. While some of the arrangements have been changed from the overly familiar, his voice has not. Taylor confided that though he’s been clean for decades, he understood he performed for the majority of his audience, “people who are still fucked up.” Why, thank you, sweet baby James, I guess heroin and mental hospital stays combine to form a sort of grandfatherly clarity.


My nephew wanted to know about Jackson Browne. I said, “It took a while but now I really admire his songwriting. So, yeah, there’s definitely a couple of albums of his that are worth having.”


If Taylor is a singer-songwriter, Browne is a musician-activist. Being harangued by employers, politicians, priests, professors and California rock stars with one nostril never suited my temperament. To Browne’s credit he informed the audience that he’d been watching YouTube footage of himself for “research purposes.” He said his song introductions and explanations ran long and he ultimately told his video self to “shut the fuck up.” Amen, I’ve thought that for the longest time. Rumours from the last century allege he may’ve rehearsed that line on his various domestic partners.


The couple seated to Ann’s right asked her who Browne was, they’d never heard of him. They were younger than us, but, man, Ann and I looked way better, a bit more fashionable too. Buying a t-shirt at a show and then wearing it immediately at said venue is frightfully gauche. I whispered, “If ‘Doctor My Eyes’* doesn’t hook them, nothing can. They’ll think ‘Take It Easy’ is an Eagles cover.”


Following the 1979 “No Nukes” concerts in New York City, Browne tried to walk handsome and hot down E Street. “Boulevard” came out more John Cafferty and Beaver Brown than Boss. It will never, ever be mistaken for “Dirty Boulevard” by Lou Reed. Still, it’s got that crunchy Fender sound I love so much. Browne didn’t play it nor did he do his version of Little Steven’s “I Am a Patriot.” His more recent material, not that Ann and I had heard a note before last night, blended nicely into his set. “Downhill from Everywhere” from just last year rocked far beyond “Boulevard,” the road paint blurred.


Conversely, Taylor rued that his latest album, yet another American songbook syllabus, had landed in the marketplace “like a baby being thrown down a well.” Taylor, of all people, should’ve realized they’d all been done and redone; he’s been there before in so many understated and somnambulant ways. He did play one pleasant enough jazzy obscurity from the collection as the screen behind the stage displayed a Merrie Melodies cartoon about cats in college. Mercifully, he let those other old dogs lie and stuck to his own.


* If you’ve a proper stereo, I mean one with speakers that move air, blast this song, turn it up! I don’t know that I’ve ever heard such rich, fat production since. The piano and the congas sound fantastic. Jesse Ed Davis (Taj Mahal) on guitar; Crosby and Nash chiming in on the choruses. The lyrics are great, suicidal existential angst muted and fairy dusted by soaring music. “It’s later than it seems.”           


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of insufferable music snobbery since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES


Recurring Engagement


“Oh, my boy,” as Elvis might’ve mumbled from the stage; I’ve been keeping this blog current for almost a decade now. I have written satire and wretched verse. I have covered politics, business, history, sports and music. I’ve tried to promote my attempts at contemporary fiction. I have dwelled upon the fleeting absurdity of existence and continue to do so. And the weather. As Shelley actually wrote, “Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”


I envisioned Dispatches from the Crooked 9 as a genuine magazine. A compendium of what captured my scattered attention that particular day or week, which would in turn, I hoped, engage some of my readers some of the time. Nobody cares about everything and, anyway, I tend to flit about. A particular joy for me has been chronicling Ann’s and my travels. There’s always another world unfolding beyond the civic boundaries of the Crooked 9 and our neighbours’ eyes, and a reflective green highway city limits sign. I don’t take many photographs when we’re away, but I always pack a child’s Hilroy exercise book and a few pens; I prefer to scribble my impressions.


We have booked our first trip since covid walloped the world. A short flight to a comfortable place. I’m so excited that a trip yet to be taken counts as travel writing. Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, has always struck me as a very clichéd, veddy British place. At one time it was an important Royal Navy station, a check to the ambitions of Imperial Spain and the American ideology of Manifest Destiny. The Butchart Gardens suggest Kew, while the grand old Empress Hotel still serves high tea to Royal Doulton dowagers.


Victoria is home to Ann’s big brother Jim and his wife Shannon. The four of us are good friends, so much so that Ann and I have become friends with their friends. Jim is a retired accountant who loves to cook. On a visit our way he insisted on making macaroni and cheese, another dish to serve at a large, outdoor family gathering. I was almost pained watching him measure the ingredients so precisely. He didn’t count out the elbows per cup individually, but, you know, an internal struggle to refrain from doing so was evident. Shannon, a self-described “hot mess,” neither hurries nor rushes, no, Shannon “snaps a garter.”


The small grace of returning to a different place multiple times is familiarity. Ann and I enjoy ferreting through Victoria’s bookshops, one of which, Munro’s, is legendary among Canadian bookworms. There’s a record store in Fan Tan Alley that’s an absolute musty must for me. I’ve kept in touch with a high school and college chum who now resides in Victoria’s hippest neighbourhood, proximate to mile 0 of the Trans-Canada; we used to spend hours together earnestly dissecting the meaning of Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel songs, time well wasted. In Jim’s and Shannon’s company I cannot help but think of the Beatles and Lou Reed because we four go day tripping, doing the things that we want to. And oddly, shockingly, shock and odd, there are a few preferred pubs we make a point of frequenting.


The West Coast League (WCL), a baseball loop, has recently and somewhat absurdly expanded to Edmonton. I’m now aware of its existence. While Ann and I pondered visiting dates convenient for all and flight availability, I tracked our plans against the scheduled home games of the Victoria HarbourCats (not a typo, don’t get me started). Ann always enjoys a couple of hours at the ballpark on a sunny afternoon or warm evening. I always get a little extra kick watching baseball in an unfamiliar venue. Royal Athletic Park is a few blocks off Government Street, so not too too far from the water. We noted the club would welcome the Coquitlam Angels on Father’s Day.


Good hosts always ask visitors if there’s anything in particular or special they’d like to do. Good guests normally demure. While chatting with Jim and Shannon over the speaker phone I said, “Well, there’s a ballgame on the Sunday afternoon.” Worst case scenario was that I’d make my own way and meet up with the others afterward. That prospect didn’t bother me, better than examining pottery or local crafts, signed and numbered prints of frolicking orcas. We ended the call. They phoned back an hour later. They’d bought a dozen tickets; everybody in their Victorian circle was game.


I began to conceptualize this blog when Ann and I were in Parksville on Vancouver Island. We kept extending our overnight, one-off off season stay. I’d go to the desk each morning to book just another night. Jim and Shannon had recommended a casual resort to us, cabins and seclusion; a beach like boots – made for walking. I was reading Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men at the time, a borrowed, second-hand copy. I wondered where the book had been, it was a long way from home and many other places. Where might it go next?


My Victoria is a city strangely out of time. I’ve written about it in the past. Today I’m writing about it in the future. Come June I suspect I will write about it in the present. I’m covering a lot of the familiar, the same old ground, but how I wish, how I wish, Ann and I were there now. Then again, the HarbourCats won’t be playing yet.             


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

Saturday, 23 April 2022

A FAN’S NOTES


Guy Lafleur 1951 - 2022


The last time I saw Guy Lafleur play a National Hockey League (NHL) game, number 10 was him, but it wasn’t. Sort of a Schrodinger’s cat winger. He was the only player on Edmonton’s Northlands ice not wearing a helmet. His uniform was wrong, Quebec Nordiques powder blue. There was one fleeting, shining moment of another time and another place: Guy led a rush and once inside the Oilers zone he half spun and made a blind backhand pass, tape to tape; an assist for a legend who was already in hockey’s Hall of Fame and who used to score at will.


The NHL was formed in Montreal in 1917. Le Club Athletique Canadien was formed in 1909. The team was a stroke of marketing genius, a Quebecois antithesis to the existing Anglo Maroons and Wanderers. The Montreal Canadiens eventually came to dominate the NHL for three consecutive decades, the fifties, the sixties and the seventies. Those teams had tremendous depth but their identities were singular, each era featured a Quebecois superstar. “Rocket” Richard was the first NHLer to score 50 goals in 50 games. He is a myth now but during the fifties he was a veritable psychopath from the blue line in. Jean Beliveau exemplified the sixties, an elegant, rangy centre, a gentleman who later in life respectfully declined an offer to act as Canada’s Governor-General, our ceremonial head of state.


I came of age in the seventies, for better or worse. I think of Guy, “the Flower” in the English press and “le demon blond” in the French press, as a rocker. Like Jagger and other great front men during rock’s pop culture hegemony, he was all flash and all substance, utterly electrifying. The most exciting hockey player I have ever seen. Ken Dryden, the erudite goaltender of those phenomenal seventies Canadiens teams, wrote in his seminal book The Game that their best player whose game was built for speed was always destined to burn out rather than gracefully fade away.


It didn’t help that Guy tended to live like a rock star too. The sporting press in those days wasn’t tame but nor was it prurient. Beat writers and columnists kept their copy to performance, to shifts, to final scores: off ice was off limits. It was an open secret that Guy enjoyed a couple cigarettes between periods. When he nearly decapitated himself in a single vehicle accident after the bars had closed, well, hadn’t he played hard that night and subsequently grown tired driving the speed limit along a notoriously dark stretch of highway?


I’d rather watch old footage of Guy than regurgitate his statistics, but some are telling. He notched 1000 points in just 720 games. The goals and assists, reliably combining to more than 100 through six consecutive winters, were registered against every team in the league. Cleveland Barons, Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, bad teams, good teams, the opposition didn’t matter. And when it really mattered 134 points in 128 playoff games, including 58 goals. One glorious slap shot in one series ended the coaching career of Bruin buffoon and blowhard Don Cherry. Guy played another series aware that he might be sniped at or his family kidnapped. That’s why his name has been engraved on the Stanley Cup five times.


Hockey fans know the eighties heralded a changing of the guard. The Canadiens were getting older and the New York Islanders were getting good. When the Islanders got old, which didn’t take long, the Edmonton Oilers were getting good. The Canadiens began to play boring, defensive hockey. The neutral zone trap did not suit Guy, there was no space for élan, panache, fun. Of course, he’d lost half a step or so by that time. Still, he complained. The team awkwardly engineered his bitter retirement in 1985. It had all been so fleeting. It must have galled him that the Canadiens managed to steal the 1986 Stanley Cup without him skating on the right wing of the power play and the first or second forward lines.


Guy had been a god in the hockey capital of the world. The Theology Department of the Universite de Montreal now teaches a course on the Montreal Canadiens. The Shroud of Turin’s got nothing on the bleu, blanc et rouge sweaters. The old Forum on Ste-Catherine, since ineptly repurposed, remains something of a shrine. This is now. In 1988 Guy came out of retirement at age 37 to play for the New York Rangers and the Nords. He managed 107 points in 165 games thereby reducing his points per game average to a mere 1.20. C’mon. Wow. At least those clubs let him play what was left of his style of game.


The Montreal Canadiens ultimately made up with Guy because all the team had to market for its centenary was the past. The reluctant ambassador stumped for the club that had cut him loose years before. The Canadiens have always displayed a bland corporate mentality in that the organization is ruthless in ridding itself of what it perceives as difficult or diminishing assets. Trouble is the club has seldom got it right as flamboyant individuals do not fit easily into slots and they tend to thrive in less cloistered climes.


Guy’s life on the other side of the rinkboards was all a bit bizarre. He recorded a disco album. He plugged his scalp with implants and so when he flew on skates his blond hair no longer fluttered so much as sat through his velocity like some perfectly combed helmet. He touted Viagra on television. He tried to sway the legal proceedings surrounding one of his two sons only to find his godlike status in Quebec was confined to the Montreal Forum. Right wing, right thing, maybe he hadn’t been the world’s best father. He could not effect change in court, only on the ice. His restaurant business was, frankly, a bit of a boring drag: a mere greeter, a man like him. Heart problems followed for a star who’d played every game with every ounce of his own. Lung cancer too.


Unlike Beliveau, Guy was never a diplomat. And so when the Canadiens presented their presumedly rehabilitated goodwill Guy to the sports media to promote the team, he had no qualms going off message, revealing why he thought the current incarnation of the team sucked. I always sensed a certain glee, fire wagon hockey schadenfreude. Because, you know, when he played the game… I loved watching him. He moved like Jagger.         


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of hard-hitting, insightful sports coverage since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Monday, 11 April 2022

A FAN’S NOTES


Baseball Is Back


Somehow baseball’s major leagues managed to stop arguing about insane amounts of money long enough to stage the traditional opening day for their quaint sport. Come the sixth of June, Edmonton’s downtown ballpark will host its first opening day in two years. Locked down, socially distanced summers are, for the moment, a thing of the past and the Canada – US border is pretty much open with proof of vaccination. Enter the West Coast League’s (WCL) Edmonton Riverhawks. I’m no ornithologist but their logo resembles the head of a bald eagle.


The WCL was established in 2005. It’s short season, collegiate level baseball. As all of its other franchises play in the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon, Edmonton, Alberta northerly and on the other side of the Rockies, will be one hell of a long bus ride away for the other 14 teams. The WCL follows on the spikes of the Western Canadian Baseball League, the Northern League, the Canadian Baseball League, possibly the Golden League if I remember correctly - God knows which other leagues I’ve forgotten – and, for a glorious time, the legendary Triple A Pacific Coast League. Seamheads will recognize a pattern of faith and foolishness here, one as exact as a diamond. Once more into the batter’s box, dear friends! Weather permitting.


I remember watching the Class D Edmonton Tigers back in the seventies. Since then local baseball fans have cheered for the Trappers, the Capitals, the Prospects and the unfortunately named Cracker-Cats. That name was spun straight-facedly as a whimsical play on the hydraulic technique of fossil fuel extraction known as cataclysmic fracturing. Riverhawks is another one of those clumsy and curiously unathletic sports neologisms, a proper noun that’s no portmanteau. I know what a river is. I know what a hawk is. My Birds of Edmonton reference book describes both sharp-shinned hawks and red-tailed hawks. I don’t know what a riverhawk is; must be a mythical creature, like a roc.


The team’s base colours are two shades of blue accentuated with black and gold. Their colours all have special Ralph Lauren paint swatch names of course because, because uniform palettes require a certain exclusive designer gravitas. Anyway, dark and light blues and black to me caw magpie. There are more than a few around town. What the hell was wrong with Edmonton Magpies?


John Feinstein is an incredibly prolific sportswriter. In 2014 he published a book about life in baseball’s minor leagues called Where Nobody Knows Your Name. This is the level of baseball I’ve come to appreciate since I moved from Quebec to Alberta 32 years ago. While the infield’s dimensions are universal, the scale of the game is human, intimate. Feinstein has also written a book about the men’s professional golf tour called A Good Walk Spoiled. I’ve not read it because I absolutely and utterly loathe golf. But, his title never fails to make me chuckle. Watching live baseball in Edmonton is similar, a leisurely conversation with a companion in a clichéd storybook setting infrequently interrupted by the action between the foul lines.


Barely edible food, icky condiment dispensers, revolting toilets and overpriced beer, what’s not to love about a fine summer’s afternoon or evening at the ballpark? A particular quirk of mine is critiquing the signage on the outfield wall, a hangover from a life in advertising. Billboards are generally viewed from moving vehicles, the drivers and their passengers have perhaps three seconds to register a simple message. An outfield sign may seem like a billboard looming over a captive audience, but the reality is that fans see a rectangle about the size of a business card. For all the outfield (and sundry venue and hockey rinkboard) signage I conceived and executed on behalf of a former employer for various markets in Alberta, I like to think I instinctually got it right - for the most part. Whether those branding exercises ever realized a return on investment remains an unquantifiable mystery.


The Riverhawks market what the club describes as a “flex” pack. Ten discounted tickets that may be used in any combination for any game. I bought one for $150, my order number is 44. Oh, Henry! The gods of the game have smiled upon my need to return to the ballpark. In the latter half of the eighties I used to buy Montreal Expos “mini” season tickets. Two seats for six (possibly eight) designated games. They were affordable on a grocery store union wage augmented by freelance writing cheques; I want to say about $150 total. I don’t remember, but I do recall the visitors being the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and not the Portland Pickles.


Between my cash outlays, when I was working on all that baseball signage, I was the default recipient of Trappers graft, a pair of season tickets for three seasons running. No one else in the advertising department, indeed the entire division office, cared about Triple A baseball. I did.        


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of hard-hitting, insightful sports coverage since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Corpse Reviver No. 2


Ann and I had been missing my sister Anne and her husband Al. They arrived in Edmonton late last month from Montreal for a week’s visit although arrival and departure days don’t really tally up to seven. Normally Ann and I head east. We speak frequently and the four of us travel well together. Our group had been on pandemic hiatus for a couple of years.


When the family bonds are healthy and strong you need not worry about hosting frenetic entertainment and activities, distractions; the joy lies simply in proximity and presence, just hanging out. Ann and I know Anne’s and Al’s preferences. I knew they’d rifle the shelf of paperbacks in our basement needing something to read during their stay and I knew they’d do it again Monday morning a few hours before AC 334 was due for liftoff. I ensured the Crooked 9 stereo was spinning the good old stuff, Tony Joe White, Sonny & Brownie and Todd Rundgren. Ann had previously altered our usual errands, amending our grocery lists and retailers. We were prepared to grant one additional degree of central heating complemented by tobacco scented fleece jumpers. We also deployed the emergency space heater in the guest room.


“Come and laugh about our funny little ways…” 


My sister Anne is a medical doctor, only semi-retired because the patients in the clinic she oversees need tending and advocacy in a health care system plagued by covid. Al is semi-retired too, a dedicated researcher in a specialized area of health science. And don’t you want a scientist mixing up the medicine come five o’clock? Ann and I thought we’d thought of everything, bags of lemons and limes, and new bottles in our liquor cabinet. Even the ice cubes in the freezer were freshly frozen - Rolling Stones tongue logo moulds and everything. The master of toxicology disagreed because a Ziploc leftovers container just wouldn’t do as a cocktail shaker. I didn’t dare suggest that our Rubbermaid stuff might have a better seal.


Our primary group excursion during their visit was a search for a proper cocktail shaker and an arcane ingredient or two for a proper Corpse Reviver No. 2. The cocktail dates from the Great Depression. It’s thought to have been conceived at London’s Savoy Hotel and subsequently refined stateside by the legendary Trader Vic. It’s a delicious, addictive mix of gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and absinthe, originally concocted as an alcoholic hangover cure: a tart start to another perfect day back then.


There’s an array of yard tools stood against the side of the house outside the back door: a shovel, two types of ice chippers and two differently shaped fan rakes. It’s springtime in Edmonton. My sister’s past visits have always been more obligation than vacation, uncomplainingly driven by family events. This one was just because, different. Ann and I hoped our various weather apps would reach some sort of agreeable concord about blue sky and solar heat for our dearly welcome guests.


Saturday’s afternoon blossomed into a still and golden Happy Hour. We took our handmade cocktails outside and took seats on the front porch of the Crooked 9. We discussed big important stuff: Who does the best version of “Rainy Night in Georgia”? We talked trivialities: family matters and national affairs. But mostly we just basked in a comfortable silence and the sun machine’s warm beams, cradling our Corpse Revivers.


“Well, we’ve had a few minutes to breathe…”        


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of thanks and praise for John Sebastian lyrics since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer. 

Monday, 28 March 2022

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Badges, Flags and Emblems


A Canadian flag hangs in the garage of the Crooked 9. It’s cheap, nylon. It arrived on the premises folded up inside a two-four of beer. I’m not a flag waver, but it seemed disrespectful to throw it in the garbage. I’ve always admired the design of my country’s flag, it’s simple, elegant and the maple leaf is slightly stylized in a thoroughly modern way. I was surprised these past months to find myself offended by the freedom drivers wrapping their convoys in our red and white ensign, sometimes defacing it in the name of some form of twisted patriotism. I worry too that should a casual passerby notice the Canadian flag fluttering in the garage they’ll assume Ann and I are lunatics of that ilk. But, kudos to those clowns for somehow managing to co-opt a relatively benign national symbol.


Neighbours across the street have draped a Ukrainian flag over their front porch railing. I know the couple by their first names only. In fact, we see so little of them that unlike The Borg, the Sex Offender, the Nosy Buddhist and la vache qui cri, they haven’t been assigned nicknames. Initially I dismissed the flag as just another blight of woke or cancel culture, a meaningless, knee-jerk and ultimately empty show of solidarity, not all that different from the ignorant libertarian honking in the cab of a Peterbilt semi. I’ve been contemplating that blue and yellow banner for a few weeks now.


The Ukraine was a region in the old Soviet Union. Ukraine is a recently minted country. Either is usually described in news reports or geography textbooks as “one of the world’s great breadbaskets.” The same may be said of America’s Midwestern states and the Canadian prairie, lands of big blue sky and yellow grain. Western Canada was settled by steel tied to government promises: immigrants could ride the transcontinental railway to somewhere sort of proximate to their new homesteads. For Ukrainians in Alberta the work would be no different, just as hard, but their efforts would not be overseen by the apparatchiks of Tsars, Bolsheviks or dictators. No five-year plans for the glory of the motherland here.


The jagged line on the horizon of Alberta’s shield is the Rockies and their green foothills. Above is blue sky. Below are golden sheaves of wheat. Erase the mountains and you’re left with a somewhat less abstract version of Ukraine’s flag. But I’d seen those bars of blue and yellow depicted even more realistically. It took a moment to remember where.


Our friend and former neighbour Forest is of Ukrainian heritage. We’ve not see him for two years. He resides in assisted living now and, as of the other day, recovering from covid. I hope he still has hair like Bob Dylan and glasses like John Lennon. Forest is a mystical minimalist, an aesthete. His younger self used to zip around Edmonton in a maroon Jaguar. He had one chair in his living room, the Platonic ideal of a chair. It was too low for him to actually sit on and get up from, but he could admire its design, its colours and how it sat by the fireplace in his disused living room. His eyesight was failing even then and so I believe a lot was left to his imagination.


I used to go next door fairly frequently. I always brought him a container of Ann’s cooking or baking. He’d call back and gush, Ann was so much better than Meals on Wheels. I changed out batteries, light bulbs and furnace filters as required and requested. Ann was once gracious enough to repair his toilet because my plumbing expertise amounts to jiggling the handle and hoping. She purged his fridge from time to time because he was unaware of the elementary school science projects blooming inside it. I carried his trash and recycling into our back alley for collection day. Ann and I read his correspondence aloud to him. He subscribed to New Scientist and so once a month or so I’d read the magazine’s table of contents to him and sometimes an entire piece that particularly intrigued him. Forest resented our intrusion even as he depended on it. We talked hockey.


The long wall of Forest’s living room was dominated by an oil painting whose dimensions demanded an entire wall. It was an Alberta scene, a yellow field of canola beneath a sheltering blue sky. In the middle distance providing the viewer some perspective on the immensity of the painting and the land it portrayed was a farmhouse. The structure’s scale reminded me of a thumbnail icon on a computer monitor. Its existence inside the frame indicated the wide bands of yellow and blue were not abstract stripes. I admired that painting.


I phoned Forest last week. I make an effort to check in with him regularly and I usually bone up on my hockey news beforehand because I know how our conservations must inevitably turn. I mentioned our neighbours displaying the Ukrainian flag.


“Oh yes, (he’s) Ukrainian. I don’t know about (her), she’s his second wife.” Forest never married.


“I was struck by the design of the flag. It reminded me of that prairie landscape you had hanging in your living room. I’d never realized the similarities.”


“I can’t remember the artist’s name. He was popular for a time. I think he had ties to Ukraine. But that’s all he painted, canola fields and sky, they were his subject. I bought it because the scene, especially the farmhouse, reminded me of where I grew up (south of Edmonton). But I broke with my family and my relatives, the old ways held no attraction for me. I sought enlightenment.” Young Forest drifted east to Toronto and confessed to me that he’d quite enjoyed being a hippie in Yorkville. Much more recently, he sold his family’s land.


“So,” I said, “covid aside, how are things generally?”


“I’ve had to isolate. It’s just as well. It’s impossible to have a conversation here. Everybody just wants to talk about their grandchildren. Hey, listen, what do you think about the Oilers’ chances? I’m worried their goaltending is sub-par.”


“Well, consider Montreal last year. They still lost with one of the best in the world. I think recent history has shown that you can win with strength from the blue line out and ‘average’ in nets.”


“I don’t know about that. But Saturday’s game against the Flames (Calgary) should be a good one, a real ‘Battle of Alberta.’ Both clubs are very good.” And so, we chatted further about local hockey matters, team grudges and ice dancing fights, stuff both of us at least understood, meaningless crests and uniform badges.


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

Friday, 18 March 2022

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


The Rites of Spring


It happens every year around this time. That light, that certain kind of light that I’m convinced never shines on me, returns. And I always make the same mistake whilst fully aware I’m making the same mistake: I put my pair of Sorel Snowlions in the basement for summer storage. I’ve worn these clunky boots for more than 30 years. They go up to my knees. They used to be snow white, now they’re black, grey and, weirdly, even pink in places; Ann prefers I not wear them beyond the property lines of the Crooked 9. My little ritual is the harbinger of our last heavy snowstorm. Inevitably I have to go downstairs and bring them up again. That’s all right, I like routine.


Ann’s been planning her garden since February, that month when we notice the winter’s darkness has received some sort of cosmic sanctity as the sky elevates higher and higher, grey turning to blue. Ann reviews her gardening books and consults her hand-written notes from previous years; Ann tends to write the way she sketches plants and flowers, in pencil. Seeds are germinating in her head and on the sunny window sill of the laundry room. We make plans to investigate local greenhouses, more fun than groceries or a beer run. That space in the mud area off the kitchen my Sorels used to occupy has been filled by Ann’s red rubber gardening clogs. Her yellow pair too.


I sense some internal breaker joyfully tripping. The music constantly playing back in my head has switched formats. My unofficial song of spring is “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Alas the rest of the album’s a bit too polished to spin all the way through, but “summer’s almost comin’ and the days are getting’ long.” And Neil, man: “Comes a time/Comes a light, feelin’s liftin’/Lift that baby right up off the ground.” McCartney’s joyous “Coming Up,” the live version with his exhilarating Little Richard gardening metaphor: “Like a flower!”


My first published short story was called The Rites of Spring. It appeared in the spring of 1984, I was 24. I can never repudiate it, but, good God, I somehow managed to pack every literary baseball cliché there ever was into five pages. Perhaps that’s why Hollywood never telephoned me about acquiring the screen rights. I reread it the other day, took a pause from puttering around the basement checking for a glistening pool or the tell-tale rug-damp stain of snowmelt seepage because I worry about the ancient integrity of the Crooked 9’s foundation. I should’ve put that reading exercise off until next fall because I died a little bit.


Back then I loved baseball as much as I loved the Rolling Stones. I no longer pay attention to the game as I did, largely because the Montreal Expos (1969-2004) no longer exist, AAA Pacific Coast League baseball pulled out of Alberta ages ago and the current independent league in the province has withered through two pandemic-induced silent springs. However, old habits die hard. Every year around this time, spring training, I make a conscious effort to read a book about baseball. And my Montreal Canadiens winter outdoor chore ball cap gets switched out for a genuine baseball one.


Canada geese are returning to town as have our folk art wrought iron birds to the front porch. I enlisted a neighbour to help me move Ann’s three massive, soil-filled terracotta flowerpots down from their winter shelter under the eaves. The hirsute, russet 007 doormat (I’ve been expecting you, Mr. Bond…) has been replaced by a Stones tongue (Can’t you hear me knocking?). There’s a bench, a couple of folding chairs and even an extra ashtray for casual visitors – most of whom don’t smoke. I need to swab the slate tiles on the porch. And I need, like Van Morrison, to clean our windows inside and out.


At this time of year, once the clocks have sprung forward, Ann and I chip ice and shovel water; we are too impatient to await the might of the sun. Sure, I’m upbeat now, yet I often complain about the Sisyphean nature of our work. (Sisyphus was a Greek king whose arrogance and presumptuousness so offended the gods residing atop Mount Olympus as to require punishment. His sentence was an eternity of futile labour, rolling a boulder uphill but never cresting the peak.)  The seasons are so fleeting. So much to do in so little time. Why rake leaves on a windy day or shovel snow during a blizzard? Why bother with anything? An old friend has gently reminded me of Albert Camus’s main thesis in translation or paraphrase: “We must assume that Sisyphus was happy.” Consequently, the work Ann and I have done to date and the work we’re preparing to do doesn’t seem quite so useless at all. In genuine, unadulterated and actual legacy fact, it feels great, trending upward to greater. Together we’ve made it through another winter; keep them coming.


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

Saturday, 12 March 2022

SAINTS PRESERVE US


666 on Your AM Radio Dial


Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney is looking doughy and sweaty these days. Some observers attribute his damp bloat to binge eating. Others argue for binge drinking. But they all do agree that the United Conservative Party (UCP) leader is not in a good place. He’s trapped in a dark space, maybe a closet or a coffin.


Some politicians, and Kenney is one, have an affinity for backroom dirty work. But has a single politician the world over ever signed on to test their mettle, hoping their latent, possibly non-existent, crisis management skills will be brought to bear? That glossy power brochure came off the same press as the travel agent’s all-inclusive, hurricane season discount getaway to a war zone. That warm, soft-focus view from an exclusive peak wasn’t advertised as a vista of catastrophes and disasters. Ain’t no ruling in a perfect world.


Alberta’s boss to date has demonstrated a yawning inability to measure up to the legacies of even his most ineffectual previous conservative predecessors, Don Getty, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, to name a few. Citing placeholders Dave Hancock and Jim Prentice would just be mean-spirited and grossly unfair as neither of these men held power long enough to get scoped along the barrel of a hunting rifle or turn their backs on sharpened survival knives.


Kenney’s immediate problem, notwithstanding plague and world events, internal UCP ethical breaches and, dear me, an overarching cornered rat mentality of fear and paranoia, will manifest next Tuesday, March 15, likely around 9 pm. That’s when Albertans will have a good sense of the result of the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche byelection, a lose-lose proposition for the premier. This is juicy stuff.


The New Democratic Party (NDP) stunned Alberta and the rest of Canada when it won the 2015 provincial election erasing 44 consecutive years of Progressive Conservative government. Kenney, a remarkably slick operator, managed to unite the shell-shocked right. The dregs of the devastated Tories and its bastard offspring, the populist fringe Wildrose Party, constitute his UCP. To consolidate his power, Kenney had to dispatch Wildrose leader Brian Jean. Kenney did so with a ruthlessness not seen on any stage since the Scottish play was first mounted at the Globe. Both men had served under Stephen Harper as federal cabinet ministers.


Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche is oil patch, tar sands country. An NDP victory in the upcoming byelection would be a staggering repudiation of UCP governance. However, the UCP candidate is viewed as the overwhelming favourite, one Brian Jean who has risen from the dead more like Dracula than Lazarus. The Jean genie, now fully recovered from his stab wounds, lives again for just two reasons: he wants Kenney’s job and he wants Kenney’s head.


Come April, the UCP membership will conduct a leadership review in Red Deer, a city considered smack-dab central Alberta. Party memberships are consequently selling like flapjacks at a Calgary Stampede charity fundraising breakfast. Something’s in the air. It’s impossible to speculate on who’s stacking the deck, Jason or Brian?


The stakes are high and time is tight since the sepia-toned good old days that never really existed yet faded away will never come again. Premier Kenney has decided to engage with his core constituency through the magic of AM radio. How quaint, but that’s all they know. He will be featured on a weekly Saturday morning call in show, “Your Province, Your Premier,” possibly up until the writ is dropped for the 2023 provincial election, at which time an exclusive avenue of mealy-mouthed whinge would be illegal. He is simultaneously looking over his shoulder while looking ahead, greasing the gears of two sets of ballot machinery.


Kenney’s “the bell tolls for thee, Duncan” moment with Jean remains an open file with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police which is probably why he’s advocating for an Alberta provincial police force. The latest minister of justice is under investigation by the Alberta Bar Association. The previous one thought it was a good idea to telephone Edmonton’s chief of police about a traffic ticket. The energy minister figures mining coal in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is a good idea. The education minister thinks the K-6 curriculum is a veterinary service for junkyard dogs. Most Albertans had no inkling the province’s energy industry was brought to its knees by a shadowy cabal of rich, international eco-terrorists. It’s always all somebody else’s fault; this poor workman doesn’t blame his tools. Kenney could prove to be talk radio gold although humour is subjective.


What’s all this have to do with the price of oil? Everything. Undiversified, single resource-based economies are bastards to be beholden to. Ledgers don’t always teem with black gold skimming. When the Kenney government was elected in 2019, the price of the province’s major commodity was low. The House of Saud, a major ally of the United States, had left its oil taps running, praying America’s shale projects would become too expensive to pursue, thereby nullifying any hopes and dreams the US had of becoming energy self-sufficient. That would mean American foreign policy in the Middle East could slide into indifference. Also, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company was planning to go public. The Americans kept fracking.


The collateral damage was Alberta; Americans didn’t need the province’s cheap and impure crude. Energy companies ceased to view the tar sands north of Fort McMurray as a worthwhile investment. Premier Kenney blamed the federal government for hostile global market forces, specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The evil, scheming Liberal leader obviously had some kind of secret, elitist Davos green plan designed to flip Alberta back into a Stone Age economy of hunting and gathering.


Before philosophy got all confusing and complicated over the natural rights of man, the means of production, the nature of God, and the absurdity of existence there was just one fundamental question: Is man a part of nature or is nature his subject? In current geological theory, we are all awake and alive in the Anthropocene, an epoch both fired and fried by human activity. It’s a controversial concept because the science, like creationism, isn’t backed up by multiple millenniums of evidence. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s difficult to see the forest when all the trees are aflame.


Well, don’t things somersault and see-saw? War, provided it’s waged on another continent and the aggressor is a member of OPEC+ (pretty much the Sauds and Russia) and subject to international sanctions, can be a pretty fine thing. Alberta, a busted, bitter beggar some 1000 days ago, though still Canada’s richest province, is now flush with commodity casino cash. Oil royalties, that is. Kenney’s previous go-to bugbear, the allocation of federal transfer payments, can no longer be served at the UCP whine bar. Yet all is not well in the boom town. Alberta drivers who tend to favour pickups and SUVs have noticed an alarming spike in the price of gasoline. These people vote with their engines idling. Kenney insists the gouge is strictly the leftists’ fault, the former NDP government and Trudeau in Ottawa. Carbon taxes. In this province!


The taxation of fossil fuel emissions is progressive policy; anathema to the regressive populist bent of the UCP and commercial AM radio listeners. The intent of the modest additional consumption expense is a gentle nudge toward more efficient and judicious usage. It’s easy to be cynical about any government program, but ideally the monies raised would be invested in upgraded, cleaner technology, the research required for the development of viable alternative energy sources, and the retraining of the energy industry’s existing workforce. Canadian carbon taxes are also an exercise in international public relations, a spin away from the commonly held perception that Alberta crude is “dirty.” Sort of a win-win for Kenney as opposed to next week’s byelection.


Still, Alberta is now in such a positive financial place, the land of gushing coffers, that Kenney this week announced his government will stop collecting its portion of fuel taxes at the pump because the federal tyranny in this country is just too much. Albertans deserve a break on the eve of his leadership review, darn it! Albertans are also due a gratuitous $150 electricity rebate because Alberta’s deregulated energy markets are as unpredictable as pet weasels. Folks, a single strip mine in a designated preservation area, a provincial recreational park, could solve everything.


“Good morning, Mister Premier! This is Brian from Fort Mac, longtime listener and first-time caller…”


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of snide provincial political commentary since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer. Shucks, I'm no huckster, so believe me when I tell you the book is selling fast, walking out the door, supplies are limited. Best get yours now, folks.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Music Is the Doctor


It’s been a long winter. I’ve never known any other kind. It’s been a fatiguing pandemic. I’ve never known any other kind. Ann figures the malaise enshrouding the Crooked 9 has been lingering for about three or four weeks, likely longer. Another fucking war in Europe. Other fucking wars elsewhere. Another year of inbred, home-schooled government here in Alberta.  Neither one of us has felt like ourselves. The discomforts of mysterious minor ailments have been alleviated only by the new discomforts of other mysterious minor ailments. Simple errands are drudge, epic chores. Ann and I are bored with our lockdown habit television, fuck all is funny. And we’re sick and tired of damaged detectives wrestling with their inner demons as they solve particularly tricky murder cases in moody, noir locales; these enigmatic streaming mavericks have no friends while we miss our real ones.


But our world and our world view is not entirely glum. Tim, my friend of five decades and counting, was in touch from Calgary. His nephew’s band, The Agonist, has one Alberta date booked for its upcoming tour, a venue in downtown Edmonton. If Tim was to run up Highway 2 for a visit, would I be interested in going to the show? I said I was all in; the two of us have not ranted face to face over cigarettes and beers for three years or more. Tim: “Melodic death metal. Not exactly our cup of tea.” The Agonist is big in Japan (really), god-like in the gloomier parts of northern Europe and, here on the Canadian music scene, a Juno Award nominee.


Live music. Live music! I set about scrolling the iMac power window to the outside world. Tim had inadvertently goosed me out of an extended funk. Ann had introduced me to Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, a presumed one-off collaboration of three established artists that still has legs 25 years on. Roots music to rival The Band and rawer than Blue Rodeo. We’ve seen them a couple of times. A plague-postponed show had been rescheduled for next November. Buying tickets so far in advance amid a pandemic rife with contradictory protocols is an expensive act of faith.


I asked Ann, “Shall we go?” She thought something to look forward to in a future dreary month was a fine idea. “Done.” I did not logout of the Ticketmaster website.


“Lost in You” is an inferior rewrite of “You Wear It Well” and stubbornly catchy as hell. The song was current in 1988, the last time I saw Rod Stewart perform. Tim attended that Montreal Forum show too; we were late to the gate, walk-ins. Tim continues to describe Rod as “a consummate showman.” He is all that because I doubt there’s a single person on the planet who’s purchased a “current” Rod Stewart album since Unplugged… and seated was released in 1993. When I’m stuck for a Crooked 9 stereo selection, I generally default to a Faces record or one of Rod’s early solo Mercury recordings. Ann enjoys his good old stuff and yet she’s never seen him in concert. The essence of Rod Stewart remains performance. Next September promises a retro fever dream double bill, Rod Stewart with Cheap Trick. Alas, if only the year was 1982 rather than 2022. I bought tickets for us anyway.


Atomic rockets to power! I had the Ticketmaster time machine at full throttle. The old crate began to shake, rattle and roll. I asked Ann another question. “Where’s the Century Casino?”


“Fort Road, a sketch part of town. Why?”


The Blushing Brides bill themselves as “the original tribute to the Rolling Stones.” They have also billed themselves as “the world’s most dangerous tribute to the Rolling Stones.” I saw them first in a sold-out Montreal club. The eighties, time was... Their debut album, Unveiled, garnered one regional radio hit and it was easily mistaken for a track on the second side of a seventies Stones album. I saw them again in Calgary during the oughts, after all pretence of a unique band identity had been dropped. They’re good; then again, they’ve been interpreting Stones music for 40 years.


“The Blushing Brides are playing there in a few weeks’ time, toward the end of the month.”


“Who are they? A Beatles cover band?”


“Erm, no.”


I save our back issues of The Economist for our friend Netflix Derek who passes them on in turn. His stack of pre-perused weeklies has been growing since last December. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him and his wife, Alex, a close friend of Ann’s and like her, a talented violinist. The four of us have attended shows together in the past, notably when their eldest son was fronting a local punk band. Masked bubbles, six-foot social distancing and whatnot; whatever we misunderstand to be the right or wrong things to do. We live around the corner from our friends. The weather’s not been cooperative, not conducive to sitting outside for a half hour of catching up and common complaint.


I said to Ann, “Would you be up for a couple of hours of ersatz Stones? It is what it is. Maybe we could turn this into a mini-event? Why don’t I phone Alex and Derek and see if they’re game? We haven’t seen them for ages.”


Ann said, “That would be fun.”


Right. I had to sell Netflix Derek on a cover band’s performance in a desperate place, probably shabby, definitely dodgy. He’s long since ditched his landline, so I dialed his cell. He picked up. The background noises made the timing of my call seem very inopportune. I said, “Hi, it’s me. Sounds like you’re in the middle of something. I won’t keep you.” Maybe he was washing his car. “Phone me back when you have a chance.”


Derek said, “I’m running in the river valley.” The north bank trail had been plowed after the latest snowfall. He was somewhere between the athletic clubhouse and the botanical conservatory, the plant pyramids, possibly proximate to the ballpark on the south flats and the dormant Pink Floyd power station, brown brick and seven white stacks. “I was just thinking about you. I’m listening to live Stones now. How can I not make that association?” He’s a psychologist. “We must get together.”


“Derek, man, you are not going to believe why I’m calling…”   


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

Saturday, 26 February 2022

HUMAN WRECKAGE


A Parliament of Porch Pirates


Sometime last summer I noticed a squashed squirrel on the road in front of the Crooked 9. I sincerely hoped it was the bastard who’d shredded the hood liner of Ann’s 2008 Honda CRV. Justice! I wasn’t inclined to scrape it up. Let that rotting corpse be a warning. A lone magpie swooped down to investigate. Another one joined it. A few more strutted up to the buffet. Before long all that was left on the asphalt was a stain, a Springsteen lyric: “Man, that ain’t oil, that’s blood.”


I’ve reluctantly come to accept that the monster house directly across the street from the Crooked 9 possesses some positive attributes despite my critical eye. Its construction predates the current trend to subdivide traditional residential lots in order to squeeze a pair of skinny infills inside generous lines. So, mercifully, the view from here is not a matching pair of structures that resemble ersatz commercial buildings or military installations. The monster home’s design and colouring suggests an oceanfront cottage and we’ll take that Carly Simon, Cape Cod affectation over a rococo palazzo or a California ranch bungalow hooded by Spanish roof tiles any old time. I suppose it’s relatively tasteful for something that doesn’t quite mesh with the existing postwar residential architecture in a landlocked northern town.


It has too many windows; but if their shapes weren’t a home-schooled child’s educational toy array of squares, rectangles, circles and ovals maybe I wouldn’t notice them. Pythagoras must be spinning in his cylinder. But what really dances me to the edge of sanity is the octagonal home security sign on the inside sill of a square window. Red alert, it’s never on its proper edge. Ann’s a bit more sanguine about chaos. To me it’s like roadkill, I can’t look away.


The household sees more deliveries than a maternity ward. Friends don’t drop by so much as FedEx, Purolator and UPS. Groceries and prepared meals are dropped off almost daily. There’s always an Amazon box on the porch. All in all, a lifestyle a bit too modern for us, a bit too cloistered. Ann and I don’t know these people beyond their given names and casual, silent waves.


Earlier this week we were listening to an amazing compilation of New Orleans jazz and r&b called Take Me to the Mardi Gras. As I was about to photograph its sleeve for the edification of my fellow Facebook music nut group members, I glanced out the living room window. Two cartons of groceries were being hefted onto the open porch of the Martha’s Vineyard mansion. Sixty-eight minutes later I was ruminating over my next selection. I’d played Elmore James and Willie Dixon the week previous; maybe some Jimmy Reed or Sonny & Brownie? Otis Blue? The Very Best of Al Green? What would Ann prefer? I glanced out the living room window again.


The scene across the street could’ve been staged and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. A very excited parliament of magpies had swarmed the porch and the unattended groceries. I went outside to get a better view. I snapped the tab on a chilled tin of schadenfreude; I nearly asphyxiated myself whilst smoking and laughing at the same time. I called Ann outside to enjoy the show. I’ve never been a swift study and so it took a while before my sense of common decency was activated. I eventually decided to cross the street and prorogue parliament.


The grocery order had been picked and then packed into corrugated merchandising trays, open top and front. Retailers may slide one onto a shelf or stack a bunch to create a display; great idea when used as intended. The carnage was remarkable. A paper sack of sugar was torn open, but it was the fate of the pork chops that gave me pause. The Valu-Pak! was busted open like a suicide bomber’s vest. Slabs of pink, well-trimmed, thick-cut meat where scattered everywhere, on the porch, the stairs, the front walk. The magpies ceded enough territory to allow me to ring the doorbell. No response.


I walked back to the Crooked 9. The birds returned to their picnic. We were posed with a new dilemma, the terms of further engagement. We’d no contact information; these neighbours were anonymities on the community league’s “block chain” chart. Ann phoned another neighbour, the Nosy Buddhist, figuring if anybody had a number, he would. He thought he just might. We delegated the rest of the do-gooding to him. I’d grudgingly done my part and, anyway, it was time to change the music. I settled on the Staples, something uplifting about how we’re all in this together. 


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of neighbourhood curtain twitching since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Talking Baseball?


The fundamental promises of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms are “peace, order and good government.” Modest and sensible aspirations for a normally dozy democracy peacefully unified by a jigsaw assembly of British provinces in 1867. These basic tenets were not evident in the nation’s capital in recent weeks as orchestrated chaos enveloped Parliament Hill.


The “trucker convoy” protested persnickety pandemic protocols. Canadian covid messaging remains woefully inconsistent throughout every legal jurisdiction. Even as Alberta trumpeted a wide open “best summer ever” Quebec meanwhile imposed a curfew; sort of a national “Q’est-ce que fuck?” for long haulers. Though Canada has signed a revised pact purporting free trade between it and the United States, our largest trading partner, the countries’ rules and regulations aren’t always in synch. Free trade within Canada’s borders remains a weather dependent draft document. Moving freight around this continent is challenging at the best of times.


No single industry, business or worker has had an easy time of it these past two years. My first thought about the trucker convoy was “Get in line; we’re all fatigued.” Of course it didn’t take long for a simple demonstration of pandemic frustration to turn weird. We live in an age of whinge and whine. Social media has rendered civil discourse and rational discussion as archaic and arcane as Socratic Method. Digital platforms provide wonderful pulpits for those bent on fomenting or inflaming dissent. The trucker convoy metastasized into a “freedom convoy.” Protesters unfurled their Confederate and Nazi flags, inflated bouncy castles for the super-spreading amusement of the would-be new world order’s indoctrinated and uninoculated brood. Why does the far right wave loser symbols, and put their children at risk and even deploy them as potential human shields should the riot squad come calling? Awkward branding.


Last spring I re-stained the back steps of the Crooked 9, as I always do. I work downward from the door to the garden path. Because I was home alone and at the back of the house, I was careful to ensure the front door was locked. Last year unmasked anti-vax protesters gathered in front of hospitals across Canada blocking their emergency entrances. You’ve got to get into the ICU to check out. This month those sympathetic to the plight of international freight haulers blockaded crucial border crossings in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Some were armed; I mean heavily armed, American militia or high school shooter armed. I was not a member of my high school’s debating society either.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is something of a charismatic milquetoast, the type of weak kneed liberal his philosopher king father would’ve despised. A wise man without the power to reason away what a fool believes. According to disparate freedom convoy sources, the Prime Minister is the bastard son of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, a communist and a war criminal. I submit that he’s really just an ineffectual leader who lacks ethics and good judgment.


Last year’s snap election was predicated on the virus: this Trudeau’s government’s relatively successful management of the international health crisis vis-à-vis Canada and the logical demonization of those citizens hesitant to take their medicine; it’s insane to deny the effacing effects of ten billion global jabs. Wedge politics is like a perfect isosceles triangle, there’s no right side to hammer on: I pound, you pound, we pound and they pound - until everybody’s tired and fed up. The final poll tallies reflected this, Trudeau was not granted the comfortable majority of Liberal parliamentary seats he sought and expected.


Protests are subjective assemblies. Is upgrading and twinning an existing pipeline along an existing right of way bad? What about logging old growth rainforests? In these days of universal complaint, protests not only draw police presence but anti-protest protesters. Matches meet gasoline on Tindr. With downtown Ottawa invaded and occupied by fascist clowns and locals becoming increasingly annoyed, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Trudeau was self-isolating, having exhibited covid-like symptoms. This convenient dereliction of duty was akin to the Prime Minister’s decision to go surfing on Canada’s inaugural National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.


I wasn’t the only person shaking my head as the days added up to weeks. The White House telephoned Trudeau. President Biden wasn’t so much concerned with the Prime Minister’s whiff on peace, order and good government (never issues in Washington and a backward capital K if you’re scoring along at home), but the millions of dollars evaporated by stalled trade. International standards decreed Canada a failing state. Then and only then did Trudeau invoke the Emergencies Act, a cuddlier 1988 update of the War Measures Act which was infamously invoked by his father during the 1970 October Crisis (“Just watch me,” a double dog dare); a risky and reluctantly undertaken political maneuver for the embarrassed and scolded head of a minority government.


The Emergencies Act allows the federal cabinet seven days of carte blanche clampdown in the interests of peace, order and good government before the House of Commons and the Senate may vote on the merit of its utilization (it passed). In this case its enactment was a last resort shut down of a populist street party that never should have been permitted to be thrown in the first place. Yet the lunatic fringe seems well organized and well funded even though its message is lobotomized drool. I don’t worry so much about its hateful flags as its rallying around false ones: I wonder in whose interest it might be to exploit a wedge in an apparently fragile and poorly led western democracy’s increasingly divided society. Fun and games.


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

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


Something in the Air


Ann has two weather apps on her iPhone. I have a third alternative on my iPad. Every morning we select the day’s forecast we most prefer. We’re no more logical than a cat who assumes the weather outside the front door must be different than the weather outside the back door and vice versa. January is like November, a month that seems to pack a sixth week.


Come February the mood around the Crooked 9 begins to lift beneath a seemingly inflated and bluer sky. Ann plays the solar chariot races on her weather apps; any day now sunset will be after five o’clock. Talk about happy hour. There’s an array of grocery store primroses in four-inch pots on the dining room table, colours of spring. It’s time to gently pry open those eye-catching packets filled with a few seeds of promise now displayed on many retailers’ power aisle. We’ve been saving egg cartons throughout the winter, recyclable germination vessels.


There’s a tantalizingly suggestive ring of green grass around the mossy base of one of our white and black birch trees. There’s a jerry can of gasoline in the garage for the old Honda mower, and I’ve made a note to purchase a litre of four-stroke motorcycle engine oil to lubricate its motor. I want to move Ann’s three massive, soil-filled terracotta flowerpots off their winter storage porch platform. I can barrel roll them to the stairs but the next few steps are trickier. That reminds me, the stairs leading up to the back door need to be re-stained. The task is an annual rite but this season’s freeze and thaw cycle has been particularly robust making our winter conditions icier than normal. I’ve been wearing cleats for outside chores and they’ve chewed up the planks. 


Dawn lit up the horizon on Saint Valentine’s Day, a rosy colour. Outside the air smelled clean, refreshed, as if someone had opened a window on our world. I was sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette in the chill on the front porch, breathing all of it in, girding for another grim session with the headlines in the morning newspaper. I rolled my shoulders, shaking off that sloped winter hunch.


Two skunks, their bushy tails up, ran down our neighbours’ front walk at cartoon velocity. I’ve never seen a skunk do anything other than shuffle or waddle under moonlight, not exactly silver streaks these nocturnal critters. Even the magpies gathering twigs for their nest high up in the mountain ash above the power lines paused to cast their beady eyes on the mating race. The skunks cornered the city sidewalk and scampered up the driveway two doors down. They did another frisky lap. I laughed. Spring! Their third lap was a varmint variant: they came my way.


Very recently certain family members politely requested that I not swear in the presence of our granddaughter. I do tend to use curses as commas should the conversation turn to current affairs, the Montreal Canadiens or fucking everything else that pisses me off. As the skunks approached me, I exclaimed, “Oh dear!” They came to a sudden stop and then turned tail. I ditched my cigarette and coffee and ran back indoors, where Ann and I have spent the past few months anyhow.


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of advice for smitten lovers since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.