The upside to being pummelled by the flu when you’re closing in on 53 is that it gives you the opportunity to see what you’ll look like when you’re 80. This is called a “Life Hack.” A Life Hack is a 21st Century term that means you’ve been using tools like mirrors, all wrong. Welcome to my personal hack, folks, the result of dumb luck and little to no science other than the swarm of tiny droplets that somehow made their way into my nose or mouth, awarding me a sneak peek at my golden years. It’s a hack that’s sure to go viral. If only in the ironic sense.
After too many days of breathing through my ears and medicating myself with echinacea chewies I decided that a dose of uncontagious air might do me some good, so I headed over to a favoured coffee shop to treat myself to fattening things because I deserved them. Battling echinacea withdrawal is a serious hell and whether it was the flu, or the chewies, somewhere along the line I’d turned into Herman Munster – bolts and all.
“she’s awfully small for Herman Munster… can Herman Munster be 5’3 and still be a real life Herman Munster? I think she means she resembles a miniature Zombie. Or a ghoul. She looks more like a ghoul, really.”
Being a Mom and working from home sounds like a great gig, and it can be, until your brain goes on strike and your body loses its ability to bend and turn. Being a working Mom means there can be no sick days because you are in charge of everything. So you hunker down and push through the muscle aches and the febrile seizures as best you can: “just put me over by the umbrella stand fellas, or under a table. Step over me if I’m in your way, that’s what my husband does.”
So here we are at my favourite cafe, just me, the counter staff, and the woman ahead of me placing her order. She begins to speak and I look up to see a very pretty young lady, (I guess you could call her stunning.) I’ve looked up because I’d noticed an accent and I’m really good at accents, so I study the intonation and try to figure out the home land. Egypt? Eastern Europe? It’s hard to tell. Normally I’d shuffle closer and tune into her conversation with the counter girl, but I’m also one of those hypersensitive types when it comes to personal energy. Her accent may have suggested exotic seduction, but her body language was all walls up. She was a fortress, cannons at the ready: “stay put you sickly grotesque creature of unorthodox scientific experiments, or I’ll blast ya!”
I hazard a second glance just the same. I can’t help it.
Her hair is a rich, chocolate brown. It’s thick and curly and falls just past her shoulder blades. Her face is alabaster white – absolutely flawless complexion – which is nearly impossible in real life. Her nose, unlike my overblown flu-infested honker, is one of regal perfection, right to its tip – a lesson in symmetry if ever there was one.
She turns her head just enough to catch my eye, and I offer an anemic smile. I offer the kind of smile that I can take back at any minute should she freeze me out, which she does, and so I do. I take it back.
To my ego’s great delight, I notice she’s wearing a navy blue t-shirt. The kind of t-shirt that conveys a certain “retail sales girl” motif. Her pants – more of a trouser, really – were a drab, garagey-grey. I begin to wonder if she works in the flower store across the street. Or maybe the knitting store beside the flower store. ‘Too bad that’s as far as you got’ I think to myself, ‘a pretty girl like you.’
She orders a green tea, and a flax muffin. I knew it! That explains her complexion. I prepare myself to deliver my slovenly gave-up-on-my-complexion-long-ago order with daring aplomb, because let’s not forget which one of us is the smarter woman – the one among us who manages kids, a dog, and a home-based business that could have been so much more if being maid, nanny, cook, dog walker, teacher and psychologist didn’t take up so much of her every day and night including weekends and holidays. But hey! A woman does what a woman needs to do, right? A woman works to make her home a haven first. Silly career dreams? A distant second. What’s important is that we don’t become bitter. Staving off bitterness is paramount when you’re a middle-aged female.
So I go ahead and I deliver my order with unmistakable confidence: “One large black coffee to go please, nice and thick I’ve got a virus to finish off. And a ginger scone to take the edge off the coffee and my peri-menopausal, existential angst.”
Jessica Alba-skaya takes her tea, and her flax puck, and she circles around behind me toward the counter at the window and I ignore her, which doesn’t even register because women like her take the time to consider women like me with as much interest as they’d devote to considering air. Women like me are invisible to women like her, which in turn, renders my passive-aggressive behaviour moot.
Suddenly, the door to the cafe swings open and a very tall, very awkward, 45 to 50-ish looking man clamours through it. He’s dressed in cycling gear, which may or may not explain the sweat beading across his forehead and cheeks. He removes his helmet, unleashing a mop of spring-loaded, golden blond curls, and he leans in the direction of the pretty, young shop girl.
“Hieeeee” he squeals as he plods toward her in his tricked-out bicycle shoes. “Look at you, all decked out in the Fortis’ corporate colours! How’s it goin’? What have you been up to? Workin’ hard or hardly workin’?”
“I have just feenish my last tree con-fer-enc-e iyn Lah Vay-ga and San Franceesco, and now tshoo-day I must conduct zee final con-fer-ence here iyn dowh-towh,” she replies politely.
Man-boy scrambles up onto the stool beside her. He places his elbow on the counter and then rests his chin on his pudgy white knuckles – all the better to release the eyeball cartridge, DVD-style, straight into the soft glow of the peregrine sex gleaming before him.
“Don’t tell me,” he giggles “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, huh, am I right, am I?”
“Oh yes, to be sure” she placates in return.
Out of nowhere, a thought bubble forms just above her head:
The words “Fortis” and “Conference” begin ringing in my head. “Fortis BC, The Energy Solution for Every Customer” and “Conference” as in “engineering authority / lecturer.” That’s a lot of intellectual torque. Her t-shirt, which I’d gladly mistaken for shop girl attire was a business uniform. Sure it was nowhere near as fancy as my Graham Sale Renewal t-shirt, but smart things can also come in monochromatic packaging – Steve Jobs for example. Between the two of us I was the fanciest, if no longer the smartest, and completely invisible anyway amid the bacchanalia of passion and avarice playing out in an otherwise proper Point Grey cafe.
The woman behind the counter produced my coffee and my scone. I paid and prepared to take my leave, but not before catching one final glimpse of what was going down between Bob Guccioni and his doe-eyed target. The guy, flushed and quivering with desire, seemed suspended in a porn-imbued dreamscape. The woman, portrait of a beauty firmly in control of her vomit reflex, was taking another stab at enjoying her tea.
Men, always defaulting to objectification. She’d probably seen it a million times, poor wretch…
The Other Side of This Thing
Sure men like that guy are offensive, each in their own particular way, but she understood that on some level, ascribing to the asymmetry between men and women was beyond our control.
It wasn’t the men that wore her out, it was the women. Women, often considered the more sensitive, innocent and accepting of the sexes, could be anything-but when first impressions registered as threatening – and didn’t she know it. It was all so disappointing.
Blessed with a nurturing disposition and the capacity for rational thought, women were often the more hateful of the two sexes – a choice borne out of jealousy, rooted in low self-esteem. She’d been on the receiving end of that up-and-down look followed by a smirk instead of a smile more often than not, but always from women and most often from the middle-aged crowd.
Everyone has a backstory, and hers was exceptional beauty and superior intellect – the stuff of lust and loathing. A woman defines herself through the ways in which she makes something of what the world makes of her. She understood this and she refused to meet those within the sisterhood that indulged in judgement, at their level. She chose to ignore them. It was her own personal Life Hack.