The Chinese boy’s name was Doonk. Or, at least that’s how he pronounced it when I asked him who he was. And, he’d done everything humanly possible to make my take out buffet dinner as delectable, if gluten and soy free, as he could.
But, sometimes, we’re just in the right place at the wrong time.
I brought my dinner home, alright. Got it all set up on the sofa, and turned on the TV.
There he was.
Catching the tail end of the finale of his live one at PBS’ Austin City Limits just a day or two before, I’d heard enough to know that James Taylor and his band of back up singers and musicians had been one of the all time best that series had ever known. The collective light in everybody’s eyes told that tale.
And, this night, the time on the clock said 7:06 p.m.; with my carefully selected repast laid out before me, I’d be able to enjoy nearly the whole hour of his concert! This was more than the old single girl had bargained for, on such a Sunday evening in early summer.
Eagerly, I dug in to my meal, glancing up every so often at the radiant face of the man who had clearly come out the other end of a life that had borne its depths with what could only be termed a riding high. Smiling broadly as he sang, segueing from one song to the next with that rare fluency that only comes with the perfect band, the perfect night, the perfect scene, the perfect moment…..he was the perfected artist. As attuned to him as if they were inside his head were the flush, back up vocals, a wailing sax, Jimmy Johnson’s solo bass, and the subtle drumming of Steve Gadd always just under the lead of his clean, smoothe tenor.
To the innocent, Taylor seemed uncontainably happy.
But, I’m old, now. Just old enough. Old enough to know most of the stories – about people, and places, and things. There’s rarely a newsbyte or a bit of sound that comes across the ticker that doesn’t, in some way, trigger an associated memory. My fascination with the pure joy emanating from Taylor’s face was informed. His was a story of triumph.
In the early years of his fame, James Taylor was our lead balladeer. When we were down, or troubled, or we just needed a helping hand, that song……..that song brought it all home, for us. We didn’t know until the next decade that his own life would rise to the heights and plummet to the pit of despair; he would come out to us, eventually, not as a spokesman, but as a confessor of sorts for the rest of the bi-polar community.
And so, as I sat over my Chinese take out, I soaked up James Taylor in his finest hour, feeling the celebratory relief of a life that had come up out of its own troubles, coasting in conquering mode.
But, as if to gently prod my sensibilities, my taste buds started talking back. How audacious of them, really, in the midst of a perfect sensory evening. What was that bitter residue that seemed to be saturating every mouthful of my banquet?
Choosing my buffet meal with alleged care for only protein sources and clean nutrition, one fleeting, personal moment of weakness had permitted two small squares of red jello to pile on before I’d closed the styrofoam container. These had, in the emerging summer heat, decided to melt. Liquified, this red stream had meandered under the whole dinner, soaking up the rice, the noodles, the cheesy potatoes, the shrimp; and, worst part was, this was the artificially sweetened variety. The whole meal had been tainted by an alien chemical; it tasted awful.
Now, everybody knows – at least, anybody who reads a nutritional report produced by health conscious experts – that artificial sweeteners are, in large part, toxic. There is a larger point, here.
My generation is in that rare place: still comparatively lucid, and able to connect vast amounts of information from the past to the present. We are in the decade of now or never, the one that nobody has to tell us is our moment. What’s important, here, is that we go beyond realizing and actually do something with it.
We can look back, while we still have perspective; we can look ahead, while we still have our health. We can make ourselves available to any and everyone who seeks to benefit from our various wisdoms, and we can do even more: we can change our course completely without any concern for the judgments of others. We can break brand new ground, with far more than the idealistic notions of our youth; we now have the freedom to make sound decisions born of the vision that comes with the experience of knowing.
Had I been some twenty years younger, that melted red jello, that faux food would have ruined my entire evening. I would have brooded at the injustice of it all, maybe even written a letter to the restaurant owner berating his choice of dessert options.
But, James Taylor’s voice was still there, its beauty and clarity undiminished, to teach me everything I needed to know. There was a bigger picture, finally, even if I had needed almost a lifetime to see it. There would be another Sunday night, more Chinese take out to be had. Duke, as his name turned out to be, would greet me cheerily the next time, with added recognition.
And, there didn’t have to be any more melting jello embittering anything. We could all rejoice with the voice of our own, small triumphs.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 6/18/16 All rights those of the author, in whole and/or in part, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respec. Bon Appetit.