Through The Glass Darkly

From the first issue (November, 1987) of Bailey’s Illustrated Monthly. Published under the pseudonym “J. Austin Smith”.

Through the Glass Darkly

Illustration by Ray Statham

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it certainly seems to me that the management at the Bessborough must have recently entered into some serious renovations without consulting me. I’m referring, of course, to the steeper staircase I now encounter to the left of the main door of the venerable hotel. In past years I’ve encountered little difficulty in ascending from the main lobby to the mezzanine level via the staircase, but on my last visit it seemed as if the risers were higher, or there were more of them, or something. It certainly seemed impossible to make two steps at a time (a practice of mine a few years ago on steps that looked surprisingly similar to today’s staircase) and it was all I could do to make one step at a time. Unfortunately the Hotel Bessborough is only following a city-wide trend I’ve noticed over the past year. Everywhere steps are getting steeper.

Another thing I’ve noticed over the past year or so is the small print l encounter wherever l look. I have to hold the Star-Phoenix farther and farther away when l hold it, and I have to squint to make out the words. Just last week in the Lawson Heights Mall, l had to step back a foot or so from the telephone booth in order to make out the number on the phone box. Even our government, perhaps in a cost-cutting effort, has joined in the small print movement. Tax forms have never been easy to understand, but this past March, l couldn’t read the material unless I left it on the dining room table and stood atop a chair to peruse the directions. It is ridiculous to suggest a person my age needs glasses, but the only other way l can seem to find out what’s going on is to have somebody read aloud to me, and that’s not working out too well because people speak in such low voices these days that I can barely make out their words.

Distances are also different from what they used to be. It is now almost twice the length from my house to the bus stop, and they’ve added a fair-sized hill that l never noticed before. The buses leave sooner, too. I’ve given up running for them, because they start faster when l try to catch them.

Even the clothing manufacturers are doing things differently these days. All my suits seem to shrink, especially around the waist or in the seat of the pants. My shirts tend to bulge out at the waist, not lie flat like they used to. I’ve remained loyal to Arrow all these years, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s misplaced loyalty. Not only do l now have to contend with the problem of the bulging shirts, I also have to adapt to the company’s seeming inability to standardize their neck sizes. For years l could count on a size 15 neck to fit comfortably. Lately the neck sizes seem to grow larger with every passing year, and I can’t account for it other than to suggest the company is playing games with me.

Even the Saskatoon weather is changing. It is definitely getting colder in the winter, and the summers are muggier than they used to be. I’d go away, to tell the truth, if it wasn’t so far. Last winter, while shovelling the walk, I also noticed the snow was a heavier brand than what we used to get. It is also getting draftier, but that may be attributed to the way windows are built these days.

People are younger than they used to be when l was their age. Yesterday I revisited the U. of S., and while standing in Place Riel was shocked by the youth of the students they’re admitting these days. Back when l attended, we thought it was a real accomplishment to be admitted to classes by age 18, yet it was obvious to me that when today’s students graduate they’ll still have to wait a year before they’re legally of age to enter a pub. They’re a polite lot l must admit; several of them called me “Sir”, and one of them asked if he could help me cross to the bus shelter.

On the other hand, people my own age are so much older than I am. It is evident to me that my generation is rapidly approaching middle age (roughly those years between 29 and 112), but that is no excuse for so many of them to stagger so quickly into advanced senility. Over the weekend I stepped into the lounge at the Sheraton and ran into an old college roommate. He’d changed so much that he couldn’t recognize me.

After we’d exchanged pleasantries and pictures, I commented that he’d put on a little weight over the years. “It’s this modern food,” he said. “It seems to be more fattening.” When it came time to part, I pointed out to him that we owed it to our old friendship to keep in closer touch. “After all, George, it must be several years since I’ve seen you,” I said.

“l think the last time we met was right after the election,” responded George.

“What election was that?”

George pondered for a minute. “Dief’s big sweep,” he said.

I got to thinking of poor old George while I was shaving this morning. I stopped for a moment, and looked at my reflection in the mirror. They don’t seem to use the same kind of glass in mirrors anymore.

By Roger Warner (AKA J. Austin Smith)
November, 1987

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