Mondays come with multiple benefits. Not only because I’m retired and no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work but also because Monday is change-the-sheets day. When we’re retired, it’s often those simple things that give us enormous pleasure. I”ll never understand how people can wake up in the morning and go to work or start their day without making their bed. The only thing lovelier than sliding into nice, smooth, cool sheets at the end of the day is when they’re freshly changed. In our house, that happens on Monday. When I change the sheets, I hang the freshly laundered ones outside to dry—screw the local bylaws. It’s environmentally friendly and they’re hung below the fence line where no one can see them.
Don’t you agree there’s nothing more delicious than sliding into a freshly made bed with crisp cotton sheets that have been air-dried and the pillow cases ironed with a spritz of lavender linen water? I even cheat and change the pillow cases mid-week to rush the experience. Is it a boomer broad thing, or am I the only peculiar one? My friends and I even have an acronym for it—CSD—clean sheets day. My friend Margaret loves the experience so much. she immediately hops in and has a snooze on CSD.
I’ve yet to meet a man who understands our pleasure. My mother always loved CSD and my father was oblivious. My husband doesn’t get it either. Maybe it’s because we’re usually the ones who do the laundering and changing so we’re true aficionados of the ritual. Oprah gets it; her sheets are changed every second day, which is particularly gratifying when you have staff to do the work. The only downside I’m finding is that as I get older and my back gets weaker, it’s becoming harder to pull and lift the heavy corners of the mattress to tuck in those fitted sheets. I need Oprah’s staff to give me a hand, or better still, do it for me.
The reward will come tonight around 10:30 when I slide into bed, propped up with a good book in my hands (it’s currently by Zadie Smith, but more on that another time), snuggled up with my honey and my little Yorkie and a smile of satisfaction on my face. It’s a well-earned and delicious pleasure. Sweet dreams mes chères.
It’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery—or is it the other way around? However you look at Michael Ondaatje’s latest book Warlight it’s a compelling story about a puzzling set of relationships. The story is set in London right after the Second World War. When 14-year-old Nathaniel and his 16-year-old sister Rachel are informed by their parents that work will be taking them far away to Singapore, they are stunned to learn they will be left behind in the care of a vague family friend they call “The Mole”. Feeling abandoned, the young people become increasingly confused when they find their mother’s fully packed trunk still in the basement after she leaves. Where is she? Why did she not take them?
Life for Nate and Rachael soon becomes filled with a strange and nefarious assortment of characters. The Mole, who supposedly worked as an air-raid warden on the roof of the Grosvenor Hotel resumes his pre-war duties as catering manager and is often absent, leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. An odd assortment of people begin frequenting their home and before long, Nate and Rachel become involved in strange adventures. Piecing together fragments of information they pick up along the way, Nate realizes his mother is involved in what appears to be covert intelligence work for the government, a continuation of her war work.
Thanks to The Mole, Nate gets part-time work after school and on weekends in the hotel kitchen and has a romantic affair with another teenaged hotel employee known as Agnes. A shady character called “The Darter” who was once a prize-winning boxer and possible criminal becomes a regular in their lives. He takes Nate along on his mysterious nightly runs smuggling illegal greyhounds and other secret cargo on a barge up the Thames River during dark London nights.
Ondaatje has a keen knowledge of London and its wartime buildings. It’s a treat to follow the observations of Nathaniel as he accompanies The Darter around the city. His sister becomes increasingly less visible until a dramatic event changes the course of their lives. The author is a skilled wordsmith and I was totally engaged in the writing, the psychology of the characters and the progression of their lives. I was a teensy bit disappointed in how it wrapped up but that’s just me. I’d rate it 8 out of 10.
If it’s true things happen in threes, then I hope our lottery tickets are the next big win. Twice this week we’ve been the recipients of unexpected prizes, or more accurately surprises inside something we brought home. The first could require some ‘splainin’ by my husband but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt about how this gift came about.
He took his car in to get some work done. The shop needed a few days so he was sent to Enterprise to pick up a rental. Coming home with a navy blue Hyundai Santa Fe, he was less than impressed compared with how much he loves his Ford Edge, but c’est la vie. It’s only temporary. The disappointment was mitigated however by the little bonus he found in the vehicle. With a giant smile on his face, he came in the front door waving a little green package that you can appreciate has enormous value to a pair of old boomers (a.k.a. seniors) like us. The previous users of the rental Hyundai left behind a pair of bedroom slippers under the front seat and a pregnancy test kit in the glove compartment. At least that’s the story he told me. You can imagine the “mileage” we’re getting out of that one.
Our second big score was hidden in the lunch he picked up (one of the reasons I love him) at Five Guys on his way home from golf. When I finished eating and slurping the last dregs of my fountain Diet Coke, I popped the top off the cup to pour the ice that was still rattling around in the cup down the drain and out fell a plastic nozzle that probably came off the pop dispenser. I’m now debating how to pursue recourse for that one. Am I entitled to a free drink? A free lunch? A year of free lunches? Or will they charge me with shoplifting?
It’s been a bountiful week and we’re obviously on a winning streak. Much as I’m tempted to start making lists of all the lovely goodies I’m going to buy with my lottery winnings I’d better play it safe and wait until the money is in the bank. As the previous occupant of that Hyundai rental sadly now knows, better safe than sorry. In remembrance of our Paradise By The Dashboard Light days, maybe we should just leave some condoms in the glove compartment, call it a day and walk home.
I knew I was going to love I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes right from the opening sentence. It was a line from a Beatles’ song, “There are places I’ll remember all my life—” The author obviously knows his audience. The story begins with a bizarre murder in a seedy New York Hotel. The crime scene replicates instructions detailed in a book written by a former high-level intelligence agent known under a variety of aliases that mask his real identity as Scott Murdoch a.k.a. The Pilgrim. When Murdoch is brought in to view the product of his “instruction manual” a complicated web of evidence unfolds.
Murdoch is a seasoned veteran of international espionage working at the highest levels of United States security and intelligence. When he’s persuaded to help the investigating New York police officer, the threads of the crime reach to the Middle East and uncover a potential threat to American security even greater than 9/11. As Murdoch peels back the layers of the simple crime in the seedy hotel, he travels to Turkey where it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. In keeping with his training, everyone he encounters is considered a bad guy.
When a young American billionaire is found dead after accidentally falling from the cliff in front of his luxury villa in Turkey, the plot thickens. Soon, the President of the United States (a fictional good guy, not the current one) is involved in the action. A rogue jihadist has created a vaccine-resistant strain of smallpox that he has manufactured and plans to release on the American public through seemingly innocent flu vaccines.
The severity of the threat is such that less than a dozen people are aware of it in order to prevent international panic and catastrophe. The Pilgrim draws on his years of expertise dealing with terrorists and traitors to eliminate the problem. The book was over one thousand pages on my e-reader (624 pages in hard copy) and I couldn’t put it down. It was a page-turner for sure but peppered with bits of humour and more than enough twists to keep me engaged the entire time. Author Terry Hayes is an Australian journalist and his first novel is a New York Times best seller—a remarkable achievement. I’d rate it 9 out of 10. Have fun.
When young people graduate, they are officially launched and become full-blown adults. Hopefully these two milestones occur simultaneously. But I keep reading about the stresses faced by young people in choosing their college or university career path. They demand greater support from mental health services to help them cope with the stress. How on earth is a teenager qualified to determine what he or she wants to do with the rest of their lives when they’re still coping with acne, learning the ins and outs of the opposite sex and micro-managing their social media profiles.
Even today, at the age of 70 and with more than 40 years of work experience behind me before I retired, if someone asked me what I would like to do with my life I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory answer. Sure, I’d like to edit a leading-edge women’s magazine or write best-sellers that would make me rich. But how realistic are those goals? Expecting a young person to know the answer to that question can be soul-destroying. Pick a course of study that’s too restrictive and you’re denied flexibility. Pick the flexibility of an arts degree and what are you trained for? Not an easy choice.
What complicates this decision, in my opinion, is the misguided direction to “do what you love”. I think that misleads many young people into thinking that’s the key to success. It creates false hope because it’s not always possible to earn a living and support a family when all you really enjoy is playing video games, making music or taking selfies (the Kardashians being the exception to the rule). It’s not always practical or possible to earn a living doing what you love. Aptitude may be lacking. A favourite activity may not lend itself to a sound business case. Loving writing does not mean you’re going to be a successful author. In fact, few authors are able to support themselves with their writing. The same applies to acting, art, music and even technology. Although individuals with strong technological skills have a better chance, particularly if they know how to write code. Sometimes doing what you love must be relegated to a side hustle not the full-time job.
When baby boomers were finishing high school in the late sixties and early seventies, there was not as much emphasis on post-secondary education as there is today. Most of us were never asked “What do you want to be?”. We simply left home, moved to the big city and got a job with the telephone company or an insurance company. If we were career oriented, our options were teacher, nurse or secretary. Boomer guys could work for Ontario Hydro (which in retrospect would have been the best career choice if you consider benefits and pension), become a mechanic or get a job at General Motors. Once that was accomplished, we started assembling the components of what eventually became our lives. There was no great discourse, no years of scholastic preparation, no months of consultation with parents and guidance counselors and no particular stress involved. And since most of us did not go to university, no crushing student debt.
I also worry that extensive post-secondary education may lead some to naively believe that high-paying employment automatically follows. There are many people with several degrees and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans who are unemployable. Women’s Studies and Psychology are wonderful subjects to study but a tough fit in the world of business. While all this pressure on young people to pursue multiple degrees continues, there’s a serious shortage of electricians, plumbers and tradespeople. Not everyone is well-served by attending university and there should be greater encouragement for those who opt for alternative careers. We must remember that educational institutions are still businesses that need customers so further education accompanied by its attendant debt is encouraged.
When I was still in the corporate world and in a position to hire young people, I never looked at marks applicants got in school. Other qualities such as interpersonal skills, creativity, motivation, energy and resourcefulness were more valuable in the world of business. Most of what we needed to function in the working world (with the exception of doctors, nurses, teachers and other trained professionals) we learned on the job or developed through supplementary training throughout our working lives.
In a way baby boomers were lucky. We escaped the “What do you want to be” pressure. We were happy to just have a job and personified the “Bloom where you’re planted”ideology. Most often, we were happy to break free of the restrictions of living at home and get out on our own. We worked as receptionists, bank tellers, manual labourers, secretaries or salespeople when we finished school. From there, we ran with whatever we were dealt and many of us did very well in spite of our lack of education and degrees. I’m glad I’m not young anymore. I don’t think I could take the stress of deciding what I want to be. I’m so glad I’m old.
When I wasn’t able to immediately download Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation from the library, I opted to read her earlier acclaimed novel “Eileen” (short-listed for the Man Booker Prize) to read in the meantime. It’s a very strange story about a damaged young woman named Eileen Dunlop. At the age of 24 she still lives with her widowed father, an emotionally abusive alcoholic who constantly belittles her while depending on her for his daily gin runs. Her father is a retired cop in their small town and because of his former status in the community his fellow officers enable and tolerate his increasingly bizarre behaviours. It’s through his connections that Eileen is given a job working at Moorehouse, a local juvenile prison facility where she performs minor clerical work processing incoming teenage inmates.
The story covers the span of a few weeks late in 1964 and is told in the first person by Eileen as she looks back on her life from the perspective of an old woman whose adventures, mistakes and stories are behind her (which makes her a baby boomer). Working at Moorehouse is boring and Eileen’s only passion is her great crush on her coworker and a former inmate Randy. She loves everything about him and spends her solitary weekends surveilling his apartment from her father’s old Dodge to make sure he doesn’t already have a girlfriend.
The constant put-downs by her late mother and her drunken father have left Eileen emotionally beaten up. She hates herself and the resulting lack of self-esteem is manifested in an eating disorder and inattention to her personal appearance. She neglects her diet as well as her grooming and wears her dead mother’s old clothes. Then, a bright, beautiful new woman called Rebecca joins the prison staff and Eileen’s life takes on new energy and sense of optimism.
I became engaged in Eileen’s story right from page one. She frequently alludes to what happened later and that mystery is part of what kept me reading. Despite the entire series of events spanning only a few weeks, it progresses in chronological order which is how I personally like to read a book. Stories that jump back and forth in time always annoy and confuse me. The biggest appeal of reading Eileen is the author’s off-beat writing style and black humour. Eileen is a sympathetic character and her peculiar perspective on life is fascinating. We’re constantly rooting for her and want her to win.
From tolerating and enabling a father she clearly hates to functioning in her dreary life on a daily basis, Eileen’s story sounds like it would be boring and depressing but it’s not. I loved it and blasted through it in a couple of days. Now, I can hardly wait to read her latest book My Year of Rest and Relaxation. If you liked Eleanor Oliphant, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. I’d rate Eileen 9 out of 10.