The Retirees

Unlike most of the world, who left academia behind the day they graduated from college, our lives continue to be ordered around semesters and breaks. Thus a new year brings not only a change in the calendar, but also adjustments to the professor’s teaching load and work schedule. And so, the schedule it took me the better part of the fall semester to memorize – classes on which nights, which mornings – becomes obsolete the second week of the new year.

Apparently 2016 has delivered the professor from the evil of morning classes, or so I learned last week when I observed him standing in the kitchen while I went about my morning routine of scanning news headlines without actually reading the contents.

‘I want you to take this quiz about who you should vote for,’ he insisted Tuesday morning from his phone checking perch by the stove. The same place where I’d just walked around the corner and observed him staring at his phone while waiting for the kettle on the stove to boil – except he’d turned on the wrong burner and was entirely unaware of the unoccupied coil burner glowing red hot behind him.

‘I don’t want to take a politics quiz,’ I shook my head, having paid less than nominal attention to the U.S. presidential race, other than knowing red-faced Donald Trump is in it to win it. It’s become the go-to brotherly insult chez nous: ‘You’re worse than Donald Trump,’ one of the boys will berate the other. I’m honestly not sure why.

‘Please, I just want to see if we’d vote for the same person.’

‘I think we pretty much agree on all the major issues.’

‘But let’s just see.’

And so, I forfeited multiple minutes of my morning trying to articulate my stance on ‘the big issues’, occasionally coming up with my own snarky positions to supplement the quiz’s prefabricated ones.

‘Should people on the no-fly list be banned from buying guns and ammunition?’

I’m pretty sure I read a headline about a 6 year old being on the no-fly list recently.

‘Should a photo ID be required to vote?’

Sure? Maybe? I don’t know!

When my candidate and level of support were tallied up, it turned out to be exactly the same as the professor’s. He took this as a sign that we were obviously ‘meant to be’ and tentatively agreed to remain married to me for the next twenty years. With that load off my mind, I looked at the clock. It was almost 10am, nearly two hours since the boys had left for school. ‘Let’s go get a coffee. Today will just have to be our date since half the morning is already over,’ I schemed, ever the pragmatist.

We have a standing Thursday coffee date, because we are basically 65. But I couldn’t justify devoting two of the week’s child-free mornings to talking about the 2016 election, standing date or not. So we drove downtown in our 98 special, and the less than enchanted professor spoke about Kijiji ads he’d seen recently……for vehicles that aren’t as old as our marriage. ‘We’re keeping this one,’ I insisted, lovingly patting the dashboard, ‘the Gort is going to drive it.’

‘No way,’ the professor shuddered, imagining a world in which our preciously pale boy is old enough to drive, in a car large enough to accommodate obnoxious boys. Or worse, girls.

‘Well, we could maybe load a refrigerator into the passenger area. And make the van smell really bad so no one else would want to get in it,’ I brainstormed.

Parenting is not for the unresourceful.

After a latte and a pseudo lunch of quinoa salad, we headed home because, despite appearances to the contrary, he actually had a class to teach and I had to pick up kids from school and ready my mind for an afternoon of piano. ‘Let’s just stop at Community Natural,’ my desperate-to-be-efficient self begged, seeing as we were driving directly past it and I’ve unofficially dubbed 2016 as The Year of Not Going to the Grocery Store Every Day.

Really, it should read ‘every other day’ but it’s a resolution, not a miracle.

The professor does not enjoy going to the haven of all things organic casually referred to as ‘Community’ by those patient enough to wait for a parking spot in its tiny lot. He shuffles around the even tinier store, muttering under his breath about selling a kidney to pay for the food or the eccentric cashiers that could pass for characters from a Portlandia episode.

Which, point taken:

‘How are you?’ a dreadlock wearing man with a badge that said ‘Wesley’, asked me several months ago.

‘Fine, how are you?’

‘So good,’ he gushed. ‘I got to work an hour early, so I just walked down to the river and did some yoga.’

I can’t remember if he also used the words Namaste or Kombucha in that sentence, but I had to bite my lip to keep a straight face.

With our selection of oats and lentils tenuously tucked into a 25-cent paper bag (we forgot to bring our own) we headed home. That was Tuesday. The next day, was Wednesday.

‘What time is your appointment,’ I asked the professor for the hundredth time, either because I failed to pay attention each time he replied or possibly because he kept giving me a different answer. Or maybe both.

‘I think I have to be there at 10:45,’ he stated-guessed, and I offered to drive him because I’d already written one blog post for the month and had lost all sense of motivation for projects like responding to emails, getting rid of the boys’ ‘art’ or addressing the array of digital images clogging up my hard drive.

Or showering.

I was still in the parking lot, taking a third stab at squeezing the 98 into a too-small parking space, when the professor learned he was, in fact, one hour early for his appointment. But instead of walking down to the river to do yoga in the subarctic temperatures, we walked half a block to a ramen restaurant that had been on my to-try list for a long time. We arrived fifteen minutes before it was due to open and found two girls sitting on a bench, getting their [insta]gram on. By the time we were allowed in, there were twelve people standing in line behind us, and as we waited for our food in the ultra-tiny space, the even tinier entryway filled with more people, eager to take our spots.

Our waiter, sporting a mustache, a man-bun and a sort of bouffant thing held together with a bandanna, set two of the largest ramen-containing bowls I’d ever seen before us. This after I’d seen the note on the menu about ‘to-go containers not being available in an effort to reduce waste’. Waste-conscious Nicola despaired at the amount of food that would end up in the trash.

It was to be my first bowl of hip-ramen and I hadn’t bothered Googling ‘how do you eat ramen in a restaurant’ ahead of time. A few furtive glances at the tables adjacent to ours informed me that you’re [possibly] supposed to use your chopsticks to drag noodles onto the mini wooden shovel spoon and slurp away. All while carrying on a conversation with the person across the table from you?

I did my best with my subpar chopstick skills. Halfway through I realized I was chopsticking with my left, non-dominant hand. Embarrassed, I switched to my right, though the improvement was less than negligible. I’d consumed about a tenth of the pool of noodles and broth before me and I sensed my stomach expanding with every slurp. I stared at the crowd waiting in the entryway, to see if anyone had a tupperware container I could purchase in exchange for giving them my table.


We paid the bill and walked back to our original destination where I sat in a room listening to music coming out of a white clock radio, and then we drove to the grocery store because my unofficial New Year’s resolution is turning out to be more laughable than ‘Exercise Three Times a Week’ or ‘Eat Less Sugar.’ The bowl of ramen had left me with a distended abdomen and a serious craving for chocolate. The professor and I stood in the organic aisle and disagreed over which bar was more virtuous. We settled on something with chocolate and coffee and picked up a few more random things before heading to the self-checkout.

There are people in this world who love a self-checkout and there are people who hate a self-checkout and unlike the politics quiz, our opinions do not align on this particular matter. ‘I didn’t go to graduate school so I could bag groceries,’ he balked, whereas I, a person who also went to graduate school, love nothing more than putting my own groceries in a bag.

As soon as we got to the car, he requested the virtuous chocolate we’d just bought. ‘Um, it’s  not in here,’ I delivered the bad news, upon rummaging through the store-issued plastic bag. (Seriously, can we just leave some reusable bags in the car, already?) It dawned on me that I couldn’t recall scanning or bagging a chocolate bar, despite having tossed it in the basket with our other groceries. I glanced at the receipt – no sign of a chocolate purchase there, either.

The professor was somewhat displeased by this turn of events. ‘Did you leave it in the basket?’ I shrugged, not entirely sure.

When we got home, I put the groceries on the table and, on a whim, peeked inside my purse. I pulled out a chocolate bar.





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