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A field guide to middle age

The hidden cost of slippers, and other dilemmas of middle-aged life

Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

A field guide to middle age. Second in an occasional series.

A decline in memory retention can be a downer—but it’s important to maintain an upbeat perspective. I, for one, recommend a great little game that I like to call: “Have I Been Here Previously?”

Here’s how it works: I go somewhere and I wonder to myself, “Hey, have I been here previously?” Things and people sure look familiar here! But then again, maybe they don’t! It’s fun not to be certain of any past experience!

The game can be adapted to family gatherings, too. Was it last Christmas that Aunt Donna covered her dog in tinsel? Was it ’06 or ’08 when Uncle Mike fell asleep on the toilet? My family now spends 85 per cent of each holiday meal trying to remember the chronological order of events at past holiday meals. Believe me: It’s hours of enjoyment for everyone who doesn’t get bored and leaves to watch TV instead.

If you’ve mastered this game and are ready to take it to Expert level, try remembering what everyone gave to everyone else for Christmas the preceding year. There are no wrong answers because no one can ever remember the right answers.


I’ve been thinking a lot about slippers lately. I don’t currently own a pair, but the benefits of slippers grow more obvious and alluring with age. Warm feet. All-day comfort. Superior traction. And all for the low, low price of no one ever again thinking of you as a sexual being.

Some of my friends are nonchalant about slipper ownership, but I remain of the view that it’s a big step. Once you become a slipper guy, there’s no going back. You are fated to a life of wearing flannel pyjamas, drinking warm milk and using Ned Flanders expressions without irony. I even know some—including a Maclean’s colleague—who bring their slippers to other people’s houses. Because there’s no easier way of telling your host, “I’m going to sit over here on the couch, converse briefly about the weather and then nod off for 20 minutes. Thanks for having me!”


Arriving at a studio to be photographed for the devastatingly handsome new portrait that accompanies this column in print, I was directed to the makeup artist, who took a quick look at my face and said by way of greeting: “Hmm, what are those eyebrows doing?”

This took me aback. In 46 years, I’d never known my eyebrows to do anything other than divert forehead sweat and indicate astonishment every time Whoopi Goldberg won an acting award. But a glance in the mirror confirmed it: Perhaps a dozen eyebrow hairs had gone rogue, jutting off in various directions, growing in remarkable spurts. Unbeknownst to me, my face had developed a mind of its own.

It’s hard not to wonder: What evolutionary purpose was served by eyebrows that bloom like mad in middle age? Is this nature’s way of telling us we were all meant to be eccentric professors? Or is it simply a genetic relic of an ancient survival mechanism for aging men in a primitive world?

Sure, Grampa is a horrible burden and we’d all dearly love to push him out into the night to be devoured by sabre-toothed tigers—but dang it, the kids are sleeping so soundly under his eyebrows!


The other day, I actually said, “Bah!”


In recent months, I’ve taken to carrying around with me at all times a pen and notebook. It’s an easy way to make sure you never again forget anything—so long as you can remember it long enough to get out your pen and notebook.

Young people will assume I’m exaggerating the fleeting nature of the middle-age memory. They will ask, “How hard can it be to maintain one’s train of thought for eight to 12 seconds?” To which I can only shake my head and say by way of reply: What were we talking about?

Let me break it down for you, kids. It’s a four-step process:

1. Remember errand that needs to be done.

2. Reach into coat pocket for pen and notebook to ensure errand is not forgotten.

3. Immediately forget errand.

4. Continue to remember all the words to Sussudio, for some reason.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk


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