The Job Hunter and
the 90-Year-Old Lady
An unemployed woman lands an out of the ordinary temp job
By Isadora Nolan
The moment I opened my eyes, I knew something was off that day. Simon and Garfunkel’s song The Boxer was blaring from my bedroom speakers. But I had never set my iPod to wake me up.
Usually, my iPhone served as my alarm clock. Wondering why it had not made a peep, I slid in my bed towards my nightstand and grabbed the phone to check it. In the dim morning light, I could see that the phone was fully charged. Then the music stopped.
I must be hallucinating, I thought.
Yet, the song was apropos. Like the boxer in the song, I was job hunting back then. I, too, was asking for workman’s wages and I, too, was getting no job offers. I, too, carried the reminders of every glove that laid me down. In spite of the impossibility of this synchronicity occurring, I was too depressed to mull over it. Instead, I laid back down in bed, rolled over into a tight ball, and fell asleep with the phone in my hands.
Ironically, a couple of hours later, my iPhone came back to life with the ringtone I had programmed: Gloria Gaynor’s song, I Will Survive.
It was Jonathan Thompson, a recruiter, calling me out of the blue.
I had interviewed with him before for an Office Manager position for a small Montreal shoe company located on Chabanel Street. In retrospect, I still cannot believe how I had answered one of his questions during the preliminary interview.
“Why are you applying for this job?” Mr. Thompson asked.
You’d be a personal assistant for an older, wealthy woman for five days. She’s visiting Montreal. You’d be her chaperon: you’d need to go where she goes and make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble…
“Mr. Thompson, I need an easy job, so I could focus on reconnecting with myself. I need to find out what I am passionate about… and this job will give me plenty of time to do that.”
Needless to say, I was never called back for a second interview. Speaking honestly is a strong suit that does not seem to suit many hiring managers. But for some unknown reason, he gave me a ring that morning.
Half asleep, I answered Mr. Thompson’s unexpected call at the top of my lungs.
“Wow, you’re so cheerful,” Mr. Thompson responded unfazed. “It’s John here from Reality Recruiters. And I have a week’s work for you if interested.”
“Thank you for thinking of me,” I said more calmly. “If I may ask, what is the opportunity?”
“You’d be a personal assistant for an older, wealthy woman for five days. She’s visiting Montreal. You’d be her chaperon: you’d need to go where she goes and make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble. Make sure she doesn’t fall down or get lost.”
“Um… I do not have any training or experience in geriatric care.”
“From our earlier interview, I sensed that you’re a patient and people-oriented person.”
“But, I do not have any experience in…”
He cut me off, chuckled, and said, “I forgot to mention that we’ll pay you $500 per day.”
‘Feeling relieved, I basked in the silence encircling me. Money would be coming in to pay the tsunami of overdue bills loitering on my kitchen table.’
“When do I start?” I said, dumbfounded by my response.
“Miss Baron, you’ll start tomorrow at 10 am sharp. I’ll email you the lady’s home address. Your mandate will be to accompany her to wherever she wants to visit in Montreal. It’d be best if you dressed up in something conservative. Do you have any questions?”
“I know the job is only for five days, but what will I have to do to succeed in it?”
“Keep cool and smile a lot. Your perseverant personality will come in quite handy.”
“What is her name?”
He did not answer and I was left alone with an empty phone line.
Feeling relieved, I basked in the silence encircling me. Money would be coming in to pay the tsunami of overdue bills loitering on my kitchen table.
The rest of the morning, I spent reading the recruiter’s briefing on my new assignment. Then, at some point, I was overcome with an urgency to clean my studio apartment. I de-cluttered my kitchen and focused on cleaning my fridge, rationalizing that discarding the old fruits and vegetables would bring even better opportunities into my life.
Once I came down from my cleaning frenzy and my apartment was spotless, I decided to pick an outfit appropriate for my short contract. Even though, I am one of the least narcissistic people in the world, on that day, I must have checked myself in the mirror more times than any Kardashian. I finally settled on a black pencil skirt and a white blouse with low-heeled black pumps for my first day of work. I looked modest and I appeared ready for my assignment.
‘… when I came face-to-face with my client’s beautiful building, near the Ritz Carlton hotel on Sherbrooke Street, my anxiety returned and my hands started to slightly shake.’
The night before my assignment, I slept like a baby. Typically, before a new job, I can’t sleep. I worry that I will not be able to wake up. I worry that I will get lost on my way to work – and that I will be late. I worry that I will make a fool of myself. I worry that I will say something inappropriate to my employer. And most of all, I worry that I will be fired and sent home right away.
Even with a good night’s sleep, I woke up agitated for the first day of my assignment. Despite being stressed, I miraculously managed to have a full breakfast, which calmed me. But when I came face-to-face with my client’s beautiful building, near the Ritz Carlton hotel on Sherbrooke Street, my anxiety returned and my hands started to slightly shake.
The doorman knew who I was right away. “Hello Miss Baron, the lady has been expecting you.”
“Ah, yes,” I muttered, mesmerized by the lobby, full of 1920s chandeliers and gold-plated walls in the entranceway leading to the elevators. The furniture in the lobby looked like it was stolen from Le Château de Versailles in France, a far stretch from my lobby that had an ugly brown torn couch from the 1970s and a stained poker coffee table, which belonged more in a stoner’s basement.
The doorman walked me towards the lady’s private elevator. He pushed the elevator button and said, “Don’t worry! She won’t bite you, Sweetheart.” Entering the elevator, the last thing I saw was the doorman smiling to encourage me. It had felt like an eternity before I reached the penthouse floor.
Lightheaded, I rang the client’s digital doorbell. My mouth opened wide: I was shocked to hear Mozart’s Elvira Madigan Piano Concerto Number 21 playing. To relax, I inhaled and exhaled thinking: in with the good and out with the bad.
‘… she was dressed in a bright yellow Angela Kelly outfit with one of her trademark hats. I curtsied to greet her.’
The door finally opened and the music dissipated into thin air. My jaw dropped upon seeing her.
“Yes, it is me: Queen Elizabeth II.”
There were also these two young men dressed in black on each side of her, wearing ear pieces – and guns were bulging from their suit pockets. I could not tell if the guns were fake or real. In contrast, she was dressed in a bright yellow Angela Kelly outfit with one of her trademark hats. I curtsied to greet her.
“Oh, no need to be formal, Love. I am here on vacation. Please come in, you will catch a draft and get sick standing there,” the Queen said. She turned and I followed her towards to what I assumed was her reception room.
“You can wait here while I change. The media is still in the dark about my visit to Montreal, so I need to get into my disguise. Feel free to have some of the tea and scones and jam sitting on the serving cart, Love.”
“Yes, thank you, Your Majesty,” is all I could reply. As she walked out of her den, I sat down in this magnificent orchid purple sofa that was, in my assessment, part of a Roche Bobois collection. I crossed one leg over the other and put my hands on my knees, trying to act normal.
Elizabeth II came back a few minutes later in a pair of jeans, a nautical t-shirt, red Oliver Peoples’ sunspecs, and a blue baseball cap with the words “Buckingham Palace” embroidered in gold. “What do you think of my Americana-inspired disguise?”
‘There were also these two young men dressed in black on each side of her, wearing ear pieces – and guns were bulging from their suit pockets. I could not tell if the guns were fake or real.’
“Your Majesty, you look lovely,” I answered. It was hard to believe that this woman had turned 90 only a few weeks ago. No one could deny that she looked incredible for her age.
“Let’s go!” she commanded.
I got up and followed her zombie-like.
On our way out, I was surprised to see that the guards had also changed and were waiting for us at the front door. They changed into identical Bermuda shorts, t-shirts, and flip- flops. But the pièce de resistance was the ominous dark sunglasses they put on. It looked like they were cast members of a new movie called: The Beachtrix.
Once outside, I worked up the nerve to ask, “Pardon me, Your Majesty, may I ask where we are heading?”
“I wish to go to Vieux Montréal and I would like to take the subway, I mean the métro to get there. I have never taken a subway in my life and it is on my bucket list.”
“You really wish to take the métro?”
“Oh Dear, I do! Just like regular people.”
“Okay then, all you have to do is follow me. I am quite the specialist of Montreal’s public transportation system.”
‘Elizabeth II came back a few minutes later in a pair of jeans, a nautical t-shirt, red Oliver Peoples’ sun specs, and a blue baseball cap with the words ‘Buckingham Palace’ embroidered in gold.’
The Queen slid her arm under mine and walked with me towards McGill, the closest métro station. As we walked, she admired everything around her in a state of bliss. I sensed this was some sort of newfound freedom for her. Once downstairs, in the subway, the unrecognizable Queen screeched from joy giving her fare to the ticket attendant. I, on the other hand, used my bus pass like any other commoner. She ran down the escalators and childlike asked, “Where is our ride?”
I imagined that being the Queen of England, she had not been accustomed to waiting for anyone or anything. As we waited for the next métro train, I explained to her that we only had a few stops to Berri-UQAM métro, where we would switch to the orange métro line and then get off one stop later, at Champ-de-Mars. Luckily, one of Montreal’s new Azur trains came. At least, they were clean and spacious, better suited for royalty. I followed the Queen in and sat next to her. I felt formal and official. The surfer “Matrix” guards sat across from us. I decided that the smaller one would be called “Humpty” and that the larger one would be called “Dumpty.”
As the train went into motion to reach its next stop on the map, Humpty started to yawn. The Queen gave him a warning look before asking, “Is this how regular people get to work on a daily basis?”
“Yes it is, Your Majesty,” I answered.
“They are really lucky. I will now envisage taking the métro daily and the great thoughts I would have while riding it. And the time I would have away from Prince Philip,” she said and paused. “Marry younger, Love, you don’t want to end up living with a 94-year-old man. Especially, one who still thinks he is 50. It is exhausting managing his gaffes. Men’s tongues seem to get looser with age, Dear.”
‘The Queen slid her arm under mine and walked with me towards McGill, the closest métro station. As we walked, she admired everything around her in a state of bliss.’
I did not know what to say to that, so I simply answered, “Thank you for the advice, Your Majesty.”
“Since this is an informal day without any engagements, Love. You may call me: Elizabeth.”
“Yes, Elizabeth,” I said, as I turned and bowed towards her. I think I even said “namaste” in that instance.
She giggled and responded, “Aren’t you formal?”
I then sat there blushing and started getting extremely warm due to my faux pas. I chose not to utter another word until she spoke next or we reached Berri-UQAM. For the rest of the ride, we sat in silence. The Queen appeared distant, lost in her thoughts.
But Her Majesty tricked us all.
Right before the doors of the subway car closed at the next stop, Saint-Laurent, the Queen had jumped up from her seat and had dashed out for her life with the speed of Jesse Owens. It had been incredible to witness this scene until reality kicked in: the Queen of England had escaped on my watch. The security guards and I looked at each other in horror. We got off at the next stop, Berri-UQAM, where a local University had its campus.
‘Right before the doors of the subway car closed at the next stop, Saint-Laurent, the Queen had jumped up from her seat and had dashed out for her life with the speed of Jesse Owens.’
It was hard hearing Humpty talking, at the station, with all the students swarming around. But I somehow managed to understand him. With adrenalin pumping through his body, Humpty announced our search mission: “We’ll head to Old Montreal. For some reason, she really likes having her tea and goodies at a little teahouse on Saint-Sulpice. So my brother and I will head there first. And you’ll walk back to her penthouse to see if she has had a change of heart and has decided to go home.”
“Okay, I will do that,” I said defeatedly.
Afterwards, I proceeded to walk the streets of Montreal on the lookout for her. When I reached the Quartier-des-spectacles, my feet were throbbing and tears were running down my face. Discouraged, I went to sit on the front stairs of Place-des-Arts, the building in which most of the popular Broadway shows are hosted. But it proved to be a very short rest: my hunger got the better of me. With my growling stomach, I remember getting up and walking in a foggy state to a corner crêpe shop.
I waited in line exhausted. Abruptly, a man from behind pushed me, with his tray bombarded with waffles and Nutella. The place was tiny and not well lit. A “please excuse me” would have sufficed to get me to move. Yet, until this day, I am glad he had pushed me because it was nano-seconds later that I noticed a poster, in the sitting area, for the Grévin Wax Museum with the Queen’s face monopolizing it. Instinctually, I knew she was there. I bolted out of the place with an empty stomach, and I ran and ran for blocks. Once I arrived at the Grévin in Montreal’s Eaton Centre, I was completely out of breath.
When buying my entrance ticket, I could barely speak. As soon as the ticket was in my hands, I rushed to the exhibition display. As foreseen, I found her standing in front of her wax figure observing it. In that moment, relief took over my body. But the real queen looked miserable. It took me a while to find the courage to ask, “Is everything alright?”
‘… I noticed a poster, in the sitting area, for the Grévin Wax Museum with the Queen’s face monopolizing it. Instinctually, I knew she was there.’
“I do not look a thing like myself,” she answered while studying her wax statue.
By the expression in her eyes, I could tell that she was confused and frightened. “As we age, none of us look like our younger selves,” I said to console her. “It can be incredibly freeing to let go of an unrealistic self-image.”
She turned to face me and said, “Can you walk me home?”
We walked back to her home slowly and in silence. Once inside, I immediately put her into bed. She was exhausted; she had an emotionally charged day. I waited until she fell asleep to escort myself out. I asked the doorman to call her security guards. He did, and then, they instructed him to call her personal taxi service to take me home.
From walking out of the taxi, I ran all the way to my apartment to call Mr. Thompson and warn him of how I had messed up my assignment. “I just got home,” I said wheezing once he answered.
“Liz, is that you?”
“Strange, I just got off the phone with the client – they loved you. You’re not needed back for the rest of the week, but they will pay us the full amount agreed upon in the contract.”
“I don’t understand… I lost her. Her grandsons stormed around Old Montreal – in this God-awful heat – until I found her accidentally.”
‘From walking out of the taxi, I ran all the way to my apartment to call Mr. Thompson and warn him of how I had messed up my assignment.’
“To tell you the truth, she always runs away. But this time, something within her shifted. When she got up from her nap, she professed that she was no longer the Queen of England. This is what she said to her grandsons: ‘I have to accept that I have grown old and I have to face the fact that no one will recognize me anymore. I am free; therefore, I renounce the Throne. The young ones – Prince William and Kate can take over. The public at home and abroad seems to love them. They are so lovely, aren’t they? So, I no longer need you, boys, to come here every day to protect me. From now on, all I need is my psychiatric nurse to take care of me.’ ”
“Why did her family go along with this charade?”
“Sadly, a few years ago, she lost her children and her husband in a helicopter crash. The family was heading to a reunion and our client, Mrs. Lighthouse, had severe bronchitis… She chose not to join them… The news of their death killed her as well, I think.
“The grief must have been unbearable – and I presume it was easier for her to become someone else. Her grandsons have always indulged her fantasy and played her security guards. This probably brought them some comfort. The grandsons are rich; their family jewellery business runs itself. At least, the boys will be happy… They’ll now have more time to spend in the office.”
“It is true what Fitzgerald said, ‘The rich are different from us.’ ”
“He was a famous American novelist and a short-story writer from the 1920s. He was a writer of the Lost Generation.”
“I’m not into fiction. I’m a man who prefers reading history books.”
‘I remember wanting to reach out to someone to tell them about my recent experience… But then, I had a change of heart…’
“Like most men that I’ve met.”
“I guess we’re fans of the facts,” Mr. Thompson chuckled. “By the way, I have a few publishing and media clients. If something pops up with them, can I call you to gauge your interest for work?”
“Sure, I would love to work for any of your clients.”
Before I had the chance to say good-bye, he had already terminated the call.
At that moment, I remember wanting to reach out to someone to tell them about my recent experience with this elderly woman who believed that she was Queen Elizabeth II. But then, I had a change of heart, figuring that all the madness of those who suffer is best left— unspoken.
Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Isadora Nolan is an emerging storyteller and seasoned marketer who resides in Montreal.