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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…