Monday, 28 March 2022


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 to find your preferred format and retailer

Friday, 18 March 2022


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 to find your preferred format and retailer. 

Saturday, 12 March 2022


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 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


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 to find your preferred format and retailer