Showing posts from April, 2013

Dear Frank

Here is the latest in a periodic series of emails I have written to famous musicians.

Dear Frank, 
Hello from Edmonton, Canada. From a dining room table in a house in a little bungalow in a west end neighbourhood of Edmonton, Canada. Where just now, thanks to your music, a neat little scene in the history of fathers and sons unfolded. 

Michael is our youngest son. He's a big fan of yours. As I type that last sentence the cliche alarm goes off. Big fan of yours. What that really means is he is a thoughtful, sensitive teenager in North America at a time when nobody with the money and power to get images in his head really gives a shit about him. And because he instinctively knows that, your music gets through.
And to us. 
Through his bedroom door as he sings and strums your music. From the laptop as he shares your music. 
Just now we listened to Nashville, Tennessee together. And talked about knowing who you are, where you're from, what your voice is when that knowledge and that …

The Ballad of Dave Mitchell

Here's an email I got this evening from my mother. I am not making this up.

Hi, Glenn.

How did the media hockey tournament in Calgary go?
Bad luck for David Mitchell. Is he out of hospital?

Love, Mom

The body of David Mitchell, better known as Mitchy, the former sports director and now videographer at CTV Edmonton, lasted approximately 60 seconds into the first game of the tournament. And that's rounding up generously to the nearest minute mark. Mitchy's spirit was ready to play, his legs were ready to skate, his heart and lungs were willing to supply the oxygenated blood necessary to fuel the effort. But a disc in his back waved the away-white flag. It seems Mitchy's 45-year-old spine is the
Maginot Line of his hockey-playing body.

"I'm out," he said to us on the bench. His eyes were question marks.

"Like out out?"

"I'm out." Periods.

And with that verdict, punctuated as the play crashed on in front of us, Mitchy began the lonely ri…

Highway 2

It's the shortest route between two points, the two points being Edmonton and Calgary, the route being Highway 2. Or the Queen Elizabeth II Highway. Or The Deuce. And though it's short, there is a sense on it of the interminable. A sense that there is nothing to see. And, in a sense, that is true. Or, perhaps, there is nothing to see but things that don't seem to care if you're there. Like the obliterating blue sky.

There are other things that get your attention.

:05 - The split second of being under an overpass is a shadowland.

:13 - Looking east and east and east. East was toward 66 Street and we were taught to remember that because the Shell service station had an e in Shell.

:17 - Duct tape to the rescue!

:19 - My travelling companion of 26 years.

:24 - The Crossfield Esso can be a pretty windy stop. Looking at it I imagine looking back at us going by.

:33 - Charolais statue. It's the same pun all evert time: Charolais Angels.

:38 - Semi shoots back crap. Wipe…

Boston, Bombs, Bentham

(Wednesday) - There are many unanswered questions in the Boston Marathon bombings. To the list of the obvious ones, including, who did this? why? foreign or domestic terrorism? what does it mean that no one has taken credit for this? anarchists? was this a failure of U.S. intelligence? we can add this: will the panopticon work for good? 
I don't pretend to understand the panopticon, the theoretical work of 18th and 19th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham popularized by Foucault. But it is deeply intriguing and unavoidably metaphorical. Its design stems from the idea that a guard is able to observe all celled inmates in a jail without their being able to determine if they are or are not actually being watched. It is social control by architecture. It is said that Bentham described this prison as a mill for grinding rogues honest.  A car driver who hits the brakes instead of running a red light, remembering a news story  touting new red-light cameras, has felt the force of …

Pen Pals

Sometimes it's fun to introduce people to each other just to watch the conversation flow. And, so, Ted Bishop, professor of English at the University of Alberta and social historian of ink,

I'd like to introduce you to Brian Fallon, tattooed lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, whose latest album Handwritten remains, thanks to our youngest son, on heavy rotation in our house and car.

I don't know Bishop very well, but he did teach me English 309: Expository Writing when I was an undergrad those many years ago. And he made an indelible impression. And I don't know Fallon at all, but he's made his mark on Mikey's imagination and guitar playing.

I think ink is at the top of the page of the things you two could talk about. I'd just like to listen in.

Handwritten is awash in ink, or, what that ink in many songs symbolizes: the vitality of human blood. This is from the album's namesake song:
I'm in love with the way you're in love with the night
And it…

Alma Mater

I wonder about the quiet people at political protests.

The ones who know enough to come with saucepans and drumsticks, the ones who know the words to the chants, the ones who are willing to bang on doors and put video cameras in the faces of security officers and the ones who wear red patches on their coats, all these are interesting folks, don't get me wrong. But as much as I am intrigued by their tactics, and curious about their stories, I find the quiet people, the ones who stand next to walls at the edges of the protests, just a little more interesting.

Maybe I know them a little better.

Among the protesters at this afternoon's rally against post-secondary budget cuts in Alberta was one of those quiet ones. If you saw him, you'd be right to conclude it had been a few years since he was at an event like this. And that he felt a little uncomfortable, a little out of his element.

Had he been asked by one of the many news reporters on the scene why he was there, he would …

Refreshing Perspective

The structure of modern life, Carey has said, is that we are being watched. And that we are watching.

Lately, I have been watching Cascade Mountain and a few of the buildings at the Banff Centre via the centre's cool webcam. I check it out in the morning, I guess, to try to simulate the thrill of getting that first view of the mountains when actually lucky enough to be in the Rockies—and disciplined enough to get up early. Occasionally, I use it as a momentary emotional escape hatch out of an office tower meeting pushing an hour that should have been 30 minutes. You get the picture.

For a rectangular image that sits on my laptop, the webcam screen is, in a way, enlargening. Typically, when we get back from a vacation, whether to the mountains or wherever, I return resolved not to submit to the tyranny of the now visible. And to remember, for instance, that at this exact moment there are people walking into the Safeway on the corner of Robson and Denman in Vancouver. Or walking pa…

Losing My Wallet, Finding Myself

This is how dense I am.

It was the end of the work day and I realized my wallet was gone. Again. That temperature-rising-in-the-armpits feeling that my wallet was gone. Not in my pants pockets. Not in my jacket. Not anywhere on my desk or in my office. Not on the ledge of the urinal on the 15th floor. Gone. Again.

The wallet is/was one of those paper contraptions made by the mighty wallet company. A couple of years ago I carried the  New York subway map version, and now have/had the passport design. If nothing else, they are conversation starters, and losing them is less dear that losing a nice leather wallet.

But the wallet was missing, along with all my bank cards and my trusted Edmonton Bicycle Commuters membership card. But don't panic. That's what Shelagh would say. Panic impairs vision. Hemingway said something similar.

So, I thought about it. Thought hard. Really bore down and realized the last time I knew I had the wallet was about 90 minutes previous at the McDonald&…

Spring In My Step

As north end kids, we walked to school. By today's standards, it was an obscene distance. These days, my parents would be ostracized for allowing it. But walk we did. No, not uphill both ways, but certainly through all the seasons.
That was just the way it was. Once, I cut my mouth and tongue up pretty bad in a monkey bars accident (our playgrounds have evolved since then) and I was sent home, bleeding from the mouth, on foot. 
Winter into spring was the best time of year to be à pied. There were still windrows to scale. There was ice to slide on. There were chunks of graded road snow to kick until we kicked them to pieces. 
And, best of all, there were those frozen puddles that sagged and buckled under the tread of a size 6 Kodiak. It was a thrill to be the first of the morning to step on those brittle mirrors, slowly releasing more weight until the icy film cracked and heaved up a spurt of brownish water. 
For me, that was spring. And it still is. And maybe it explains why I go…


Note: What follows is only a slight exaggeration.

I remember driving with Shelagh toward Las Vegas Boulevard when the topic of our sons came up. Let me back up. The topic of my remembering I had sons came up. We had been in Sin City for a couple of days, an oldtimers hockey tournament, maybe, and I simply asked: "I wonder what the boys are up to back home?"

Ten words. An honest sentiment from a father of two teenaged boys who we left in Edmonton for a couple of days to fend for themselves.

Note: There is only a slight exaggeration in what follows

"Are you kidding me?" Shelagh asked. But it wasn't really a question, you know, like that brand of questions that are asked to get, you know, answers. "Is this the first time since we've been away that you've thought of them? I think of them all the time."

I then made a bad situation worse by injecting into the conversation the rare essence of honesty.

"Dear, it's nice to get away for a few da…