Retirement Replete with Reward and Revenge

 Retirement Replete with Reward and Revenge


Retirement was rearing its ugly head, and Our Hero was slowly growing frantic. All his adult life, he’d lost himself in his work. Wars, divorces, broken engagements, broken fingers on his typing hand, cancer scares, lost friendships and so much more had all taken their shots at bringing him down, often singly but sometimes ganging up. Each time, he retreated into his computer, his algos, his equations, his world of invisible things.

When sisters or cousins or disappointed third dates had confronted him with his “preferential option for retreat” he always responded immediately with two rejoinders he alone found convincing. First, he argued that he was really taking to heart, in his unique way, the Papal maxim of a “preferential option for the poor.” He honestly believed that his ethereal labors would somehow, someday trickle down to uplift the masses. Though it might require a general recognition of his genius, that day would surely come. Second, he turned the argument on its head and said he was really attacking not retreating: Ignoring the quotidian to attack some of the most devilish technical problems that stood between Mankind and Progress. All would agree he was steadfastly persistent. Some would argue he was persistently delusional, but he paid them no mind. His heart was pure and his mind was clear.

Now, though, the clock was running out. His university had sneakily implemented an age limit for active faculty, so he would soon be gently locked out of his office, cut off from the campus supercomputer, and removed to an unhappy distance from the oversized whiteboards that were his mathematical canvas.

It appeared inevitable that the Champion of Avoidance was headed for a rude confrontation with the old man’s primal fear: Now what will I do all day? What challenge will propel me out of bed every morning with fight in my heart and a snarl on my lips? He was suddenly unable to drop into deep sleep every night. His standard trick of drifting off thinking about an elusive proto-algorithm no longer had salience: Why bother if nothing would come of it?

One day, when the end was nigh, he participated in what would surely be his final dissertation committee meeting before the student’s defense. In between the usual technical back and forth, the conversation drifted off-topic to the student’s now desperate search for a high-tech job that would keep him in the US for at least another thirteen months. The student, an ultra-sincere, even naïve Chinese nerd, recounted details of his job interview with a leading New York bank named after a long-dead robber baron. The bank was looking for an AI genius who could invent a robotic way to make money out of thin air. The student lamented that he had totally messed up the first, warm-up question.

The Old One listened to the question and the student’s response. Unhelpfully but characteristically unaware of his malicious tone, he declared it to have been a softball question that any first-year student should have answered correctly. He said, “If it had been me in the interview, I’d have said…” and proceeded to eviscerate, obliterate and annihilate the question with such ferocity that the bank guy would have fled the room in shame and gone to work for a nonprofit.

When the meeting ended, everyone else filtered out of the room, the poor student’s advisor telling him to shake off the bank idiots and just go straight to Google like everyone else. Left alone in a room with whiteboards full of equations, the Old Guy could feel a gray mood coming on. Was he looking at the last equations that would mean anything to him? He’d learned to live without women (or at least told himself he had), but life without math?

Then suddenly he sparked up. “If it had been me in the interview…” His undiscovered puckish side had awoken just when needed most.  After quickly reassuring himself that the business world was wrapped in a tighter legal leglock than any university viz-a-viz age discrimination, he hatched his plan.

The timing was right. The end of the semester was nigh, and new graduates were queueing up in droves for job interviews. There were career fairs, remote career fairs, information sessions, and small group problem-solving exercises ostensibly to build teamwork but really to see who could eat whom.

Best of all, there were multiple-day on-site technical problem-solving sessions in cities all around the country. The first day might start with the standard weird questions (“You have one minute to estimate the number of windows in Manhattan. ”) Later sessions might focus on computing (“Examine this Python code and find a way to make it run twenty percent faster.”) or statistics (“When would you prefer to compute a median instead of a mean?”) or both (“Write pseudocode for an algorithm to efficiently sample from a truncated Normal distribution.”)

Before his dreaded retirement date was upon him, he was off to the races. Other Old Guys roamed golf courses in Florida, or sailed catamarans to Hawaii, or ping-ponged endlessly from coast to coast in a sexed-up Camaro, or took up knitting with an f-you for anybody who laughed. Our Hero found a different way to live a vibrant post-retirement.

The first job interview was remote and helped him shape his game. The interviewer seemed to fall out of his screen when he saw who he was dealing with. “Umm, are you Dr. Pasqualle Levine, candidate for the Data Scientist position?” “Yeah, kid”, came the snarling answer. With a devilish grin, the Old Guy issued his challenge: “Ask your first question.”

Day after day, remote and in-person, single and group, city after city, Our Hero found his bliss. He turned down any job offers (and there were a few, from aggressive Wall Street banks), because why stop the fun and work for some idiot who didn’t know anything? Every morning there was fight in his heart and a snarl on his lips.


Thomas R. Willemain

Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain is a former academic, software entrepreneur and intelligence officer. His flash fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Granfalloon, Hobart, Burningword Literary Journal, The Medley, and elsewhere. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A native of western Massachusetts, he lives near the Mohawk River in upstate New York.  


  1. the strength of short fiction is how many tangents and styles can be created to foster the mood. this one is particularly strong in that regatd.

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