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Retirement or Death by Dishes

by Naomi Cavalier

Several years ago, my husband retired. Other than each of us having a brief case of the bends from the abrupt change in our routines, retirement has been mostly swell. We enjoy living in California. We have separate and combined interests. We are companionable. The old saying, "I married him for better or worse but not for lunch," doesn't hold for us; we like our midday visit. Altogether, we seem to meet the textbook definition of a happily-retired couple. With one exception. The kitchen sink. The kitchen sink looms large in our retirement, rather like a protruding nose on an otherwise pleasant face.
      Before my husband retired, the sink was just another fixture in a kitchen where he did little else but eat. Since he retired, it has become a learning experience in which he is the teacher and I am the flunking student. Mind you, I have been keeping house for over fifty years and pretty well, I thought, considering my lack of enthusiasm for the job. True, spit and polish have never been my long suit but neither has dirt.
     When the kids were small, the house was always straightened up before he came home: standard operating procedure for women of my era.  When the kids were older, I went to school and then to work and the house was still straightened up before he came home: also standard operating procedure. For better or worse, the house, especially the kitchen, has always been my territory.
      Until his retirement. 
      At that point, my accumulated failure as a kitchen-sink cleanser finally surfaced like a slow-acting indication of a basic disorder. Little did I suspect, lo these many years, that the absence of spot-free faucets, stain-free porcelain and a dish-free sink were symptoms of dereliction rather than signs of more interesting things to do. Little did I think that the B- or maybe C+ I might have given myself as a kitchen-sink person was really a D or an F. Little  did I know that sink-wise I was a washout.
      Until his retirement.
      At that point, my husband, like the retired husbands of other women I know, became an instant expert on the intricacies of housekeeping. It was as if the expertise they formerly brought to their careers was of the one-size-fits-all variety. We women suddenly had a resident Inspector-General on our hands who found us wanting: wanting instruction. After a virtual lifetime of housekeeping, we are informed that we really didn't know how to do it. And thank goodness for their retirement. We are saved from our sloth just in the nick of time. With any luck, we'll have at least ten years to improve.
      Don't ask me why the kitchen sink is the focus of my domestic shortcomings (after all, we have three bathrooms). Maybe it's because we spend more time together in the kitchen than we do in the bathroom, giving him more time to notice the lack of gleam where the dishes go after meals. Whatever the reason, the sink has given me what vacuuming has given other retirees' wives I know: student status.
      One of those wives, after flunking vacuuming (she had only practiced 35 years), suggested that her husband take over since she was such a failure. And he did, going at it with the kind of thoroughness seldom seen outside of a surgical arena. She finally managed to be out of the house rather than out of her mind during his vacuuming attacks with their implicit message of how it should be done. 
      When my husband takes over the care and feeding of the sink, since I am such a failure, he attacks those spots as if they were an environmental threat unnoticed by anyone but himself. Spot-wise, his fervor makes Lady Macbeth look like a piker. As he scrubs away while I'm still drinking coffee, I contemplate eating out regularly or, as a last resort, committing murder by dishes: a little extreme, perhaps, but we can't afford to eat out often. Dishes are my weapon of choice because to visualize throwing them at him helps me to swallow my coffee.
     Years ago, I read a short story about a woman who did her husband in by slugging him with a frozen leg of lamb which she then roasted and ate to destroy the evidence. I don't remember the details but I wouldn't be at all surprised if her husband weren't retired and giving her cooking lessons in what she thought was her very own kitchen.


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