Showing posts from 2019

Andy v. Litter

I want to tell you about Andy, but, first, I want first to try to explain why I didn't stop to clean up the shards of broken beer bottle glass on the shared-use path this morning.

I can't. I don't know why I didn't stop.

I did see the shards. But I swerved, content not to hear from my tires the poof of rubber's deflating surrender to glass. I might have weakly dangled a left-arm warning to the bicycle rider behind me. That was it. That was the extent of my flaccid public spirit muscle flex. Having neatly navigated through the peril, I quickly forgot about the glass or how it might undo others. It was on to Coffee Outside in Faraone Park, a Friday morning meetup ritual with fellow bicycle riders.

Like the rest of the Coffee Outside gang, Andy was there with his bike. Unlike the rest of us he was there with his aluminum trash grabber arm.

On the tip of the device is a retractable blue claw that, when triggered at the handle, squeezes closed, securing whatever is cau…


The first time I ever lost my grip on things I was maybe six or seven years old,  and the garden behind our house in the northeast end had been shredded by summer hail. I stood in the back porch down the three stairs from the kitchen and looked through the glass and metal and mesh of the storm door at the frame of devastation.

The hail had knocked everything flat. Carrot fantails were bent over and smeared into the soil. The potato plants were pulverized. The food that took shape above the ground—the peas, the cukes, the green beans, the precious tomatoes tied for support by sections of my mother's old nylons to slender wooden sticks—were destroyed. I stood still in the porch and watched my parents in the garden here and there reaching down to collect handfuls of shredded lettuce, letting them drop dead.

The sight of the fractured corn hurt the most.

My parents had put so much work into that garden, and I could tell they were sad. Now, as I stood still in the back porch, keeping …

My bike ride in today

There are bicycle rides where I just know I'm going to keep seeing interesting things. This morning's was one of those rides. Starting with the Husky pup on the sidewalk along 101 Ave. What a face.

I watched a hare change its mind, and then again, and then again, about which side of the avenue it would aim for.

I saw a cyclist prepared to fix a puncture.

A Glenora skateboarder projected a giant shadow mask.

Shelagh pedalled by wearing her helmet that looks like a scoop of gelato.

Eden entertained us with tales of basketball and beer in the place we, as children of the age of cable TV,  both grew up: 500 West Boone Avenue, Spokane, Washington, the Inland Empire, where you could shop at Rosauers.

Look closely at the guy on the porch of the house with Richard Avedon's Nastassja Kinski on the fence. He's sanding a wooden donkey sculpture.

At 109 St a vaper exhaled a thought balloon as he considered things.

I love riding my bike in the city. I see so much that is precious.

Recalling the moon landing, July, 1969

As I remember, the machine was called the Lektriever. The device was from another age of recall. It was a giant electronic carousel of a contraption that contained terraces of newspaper clippings organized in files according to the reporter's name and subject matter. Under the eye of the Edmonton Sun librarians, John and Bruce, it would wheeze and kerchunk around until arriving at its destination. Summoning the Lektriever was how you would find, say, a news story by Quig or Roberta Staley or Dean Bennett that you would need as background for the story you were working on that night for the next day's newspaper. 
I loved how the archeological Lektriever spun and dug into and served up the past. 

The old Lektriever spun back into view yesterday, unexpectedly. Like memories do. I had phoned my mom with a request. Do you remember the old photograph of me when the men landed on the moon? She remembered. I grew up in a family of photograph takers. Everything was captured on film. S…

Quarryman on 142 St

Unlike a book held by the person reading it, a smartphone—opaque, impenetrable, typically black in colour—does not betray the content being consumed by the person holding it. I knew, for instance, that the MacEwan University student we met outside the Dirtbag Cafe last week had given his attention to Finders Keepers by Stephen King. Roddy Doyle was the companion of the woman walking across the Groat Bridge as we pedalled by this afternoon. The man sitting in a red chair at the downtown farmer's market was considering Harari's argument about the future of humakind in Homo Deus. What the teenager at the table across from ours at Filistix was looking at while his mother and grandmother talked to each other, no clue.

Compared to the protective casing of a smartphone, a book, with its illustrated and printed dust jacket, is a giant-sized billboard, and an invitation to engage in small-talk conversation. "What are you reading?" is easier to ask when you already know a lit…

Sitting at the intersection of 109 St and 87 Ave

That is my old Miyata Six Ten leaning against the trash can. This is my fave piece of sidewalk.
Behind the white chair I’m sitting on is Transcend Coffee, and behind and below Transcend Coffee is Pharos Pizza. Great Popeye there. 

Pharos sat on the corner of 109 St and 87 Ave, and it was west along 87 Ave that we would take Sunday drives with my grandfather in his 1965 Ford Custom. When motoring mattered. He would take us through the University of Alberta campus. Years later, I got glimpses of Athens and Jerusalem there. I saw Shelagh in Dewey’s there. 
South down 109 St was Miami Pizza. We’d take food back to J + M’s place and listen to Neil Young. 
Across 109 St sits the building that housed the restaurant I had breakfast in the morning Shelagh and I got married. I think. I can’t remember what it was called. Thirty years ago this summer. 
To the left of the restaurant building and back 45 years or so was the Kinsmen golf course on the other side of Walterdale Hill. We’d bus out ther…

A note from Edmonton

Halfway through my second beer of the Edmonton Jazz Ensemble's reunion at the Yardbird Suite, I saw it all quite clearly. I know, I know.  A jazz club on a June 30 afternoon is a peculiar place for illumination in Edmonton. It was 23C outside, blue sky, soft wind, the kind of gentle weekend day that Edmontonians pine for during the winter months up here on latitude 53, the kind of day to be outside in the river valley—or, at least, to luxuriate in the walk across the warming asphalt from the car to the mall. But there I sat, inside, in a kind of reverse hibernation den, and, with 150 others,  listened to the sextet dig into songs from 30 years ago.

The music was superb, as far as I understand jazz, which is not far. I love jazz, I marvel at the way its practitioners are able, to my ear, to detonate single notes and then walk around and play in the fallout. Like they are inside a snow dome of their own shaking. I love the horns, especially. Watching Jim Pinchin on tenor saxophone,…

A scene in the alley

The man lay on the ground, face up, eyes closed, rib cage lifting and lowering slowly beneath a t-shirt worn inside out, the letters D-E-T-I-N-U running backward across the shirt, nothing between him and the oblivion of sky. His right arm was pointed straight down along his side, his left bent at the elbow and pointed up. His legs, slightly parted. He had been wearing blue and orange flip flops. They were at his side. The man, a section of his abdomen exposed to the air, presented the aspect of a crime-scene body before detectives trace with tape its shape on the ground.

"I'm going to call the cops," I said to a young man walking across the alley toward me. In one hand he carried a 26 of Absolut vodka, blue letters on the bottle, the bottle half-empty. In his other, hand a black smartphone.

"Good idea," the man said, placing the bottle and the phone on the ground next to the man lying prone. "These are his."

"What happened?" I asked.


Thought bubble

I didn't see much of it at the time I pedalled by. I didn't have enough time to see much of it. It was all too small, too fast, too big to take in with however many frames per second my impoverished eyesight limits my experience of the world to the first time through.  
I mean the two girls making bubbles visible through an escaped floating planet of a bubble, its poles two soapy, iridescent continental caps—I saw all of it only later. Through my computer. 
The scene unfolded in Hawrelak née Mayfair Park yesterday afternoon as I pedalled past two boys playing on the gravel path with a basketball, one trying a dribble between his legs while the other watched. I said hello, then headed for the footbridge, and that's when I saw the bubbles in the air. I had enough time to check that the Go Pro on the handlebars was still rolling, and then pedalled toward the biggest bubble. Go to the story. Go directly to the story.

I took aim, and then swerved back onto the trail so I wouldn…

Edmonton Jazz Ensemble @ 30

In March, when it is dark outside in the early evening in Edmonton, Shelagh (child 9/9 in her McAnally family) sat with her brother Sean (8/9) at a table with Al Jacobson at his house in Bonnie Doon.

Thirty years ago, Sean (trumpet) and Al (trombone) were turks in the Edmonton Jazz Ensemble (EdJE). They won the Alcan Jazz Prize. They played all the jazz festivals in Canada. They were nominated for a Juno. They toured Europe. They were big deals. For me back then, new to the McAnally family and its circle of characters, Sean and his bandmates (Al, Jim Pinchin, Wayne Feschuk, Marek Semeniuk, Tom Foster) were exotic. I was from the north end. I listened to Nazareth. They knew about Miles Davis. The way they moved was in a foreign time signature.

That night in Bonnie Doon, Sean, back in his old city from his home in New Jersey, and Al were talking about what is now only a little over a week away: the 30th anniversary EdJe reunion concert at the Yardbird Suite.

"I told [Edmonton Jazz…

Waves of graduates

The University of Alberta President, David Turpin, stood on stage at convocation ceremonies and asked the graduates seated before him to look back.

"Your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, your spouses, your children, your friends, let's turn around and say thank you," Turpin said.

Under Turpin's baton, a couple hundred gowned students rose in a wave from their floor seats in the Jubilee Auditorium, their mortarboards bobbing, their academic hoods, red for Law, white for Arts, shining. They cheered and clapped and received back hoots and hollers and hellos from the balconies.

It was something to behold from our seats in row C of the first balcony.

It is something again to behold from the stage.

For a couple of years I sat on Alumni Council. Among the thanks for the early morning meetings on campus was the chance to represent alumni on stage during convocation.  It wasn't much of a chance, actually. It was a privilege to sit gowned up with the other medie…

Today I saw 10 pelicans above downtown Edmonton

A remarkable and a quite remarkable and a truly remarkable thing happened at the farmers market this afternoon.

In exquisite formation, 10 American white pelicans soared overhead. I stood dumbfounded, at first thinking they were airplanes. I do this. I mean, I transpose nature into artifice, as if somehow birds resembled aircraft and not the other way around. For a few heartbeats, the creatures flew out of sight behind the old GWG Building. I ran, and they reappeared over the new museum, banking to the north, then looping back and around high over the law courts, the undersides of their wings shining as they wheeled. It was remarkable aerial performance for a groundlooker like me.

Shelagh had seen the birds first.

"Oh, look," she said, pointing up as we stood beside the Blindman Brewing stall.

We had been talking with Nicola.

"They're pelicans," Nicola said immediately. And then, after a second or two of considering the things above, she said: "American w…

Where there's smoke...

In the history of kisses recorded during a forest fire, this was, perhaps, the smokiest.

I had just crossed the High Level Bridge and was pedalling up the hill to meet Shelagh at the Sugar Bowl when, all of a sudden, there they were, two strangers on their bikes, smooching like there was no tomorrow, while a thick, brown-grey shroud of wildfire smoke embraced them.

That's a great shot, I thought, and checked to make sure my handlebar Go Pro was rolling. I decided to make a line for them. How close could I get? As it turned out, I could have stopped and started singing Jason Isbell and they wouldn't have noticed me.

I tried to keep the handlebars steady, and smiled as I slipped by. Somebody whistled.

At the Sugar Bowl, Shelagh and her bicycle-riding friends from MacEwan had the patio to themselves. I ate a lamb burger and drank Delirium Tremens from an elephant-trunk-shaped goblet. There was no conversation from the next tables. Nobody was at the next tables. It was eerie.

We …

May 23, 2019

This morning's bike ride downtown was nothing extraordinary. But there were some things worth noticing.

The big tree on 101 Ave was all in at the photosynthesis roulette table. On green.

At the shared use path trailhead, I felt like a spoke in a fancy dance.

My friend Brian suggested Strauss.

I said hello to a pedestrian heading south.

I said hello to a magpie heading north.

I correctly predicted that the white Uber would right hook across my path.

I heard 10,000 Maniacs.

I waved to Karly, who I count among my bicycling friends.

I said hello to Jason as we arrived at Edmonton Tower.

My morning had unfolded nicely.

The day took unique turns. I guided Milan to City Centre Mall. He had a stroke three years ago. He was off to buy razors.

I took a photograph from 1978 back to the exact place I took it on a Kodak Instant Camera as a 14-year-old kid. I loved that camera.

I told the story to Eric and Brad from the Westin.

Also, I ate the first two caterpillars of my life. From Botswana. …