I’m a Yo-Yo Ma devotee, admiring both his versatile musical artistry and his good works. I share the wishes he conveys in the brief snippet above:
May 2023 be “fabulous” for us all!
The shovel he used to usher out the Old Year seems appropriate too. Though there were some important positive developments last year, there was also a lot of crappiness that should be consigned to history’s garbage pile.
That’s why the conversation I overheard as the year took its dying breaths was so apt.
The Setting: A hotel in Boston where we were staying during a visit to see our daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and granddog. The hotel was swarming this holiday weekend, and its buffet breakfast tables and chairs were all filled when we arrived.
We grabbed two stools at the Starbucks counter on the periphery of the breakfast room. Two seats to my left (with no one in between to buffer the noise), a man was speaking loudly into his cell phone.
The Loud Talker: Mid-sixtyish, portly, remnants of white hair on a bald pate, a ruddy face that grew ruddier as he spoke. Two conversations in quick succession, one melding into the other—both employing an adjectival abundance of Ye Olde Anglo-Saxonism that I’ve grown accustomed to but still feel is more effective when introduced into speech sparingly.
His Opener: “I’m effing sitting on top of the world. I made effing $350,000 this effing year living in a place where I can live well for effing $50,000. I’m up here in Boston visiting my kids, and my son-in-law is having dinner tonight with Yo-Yo Ma’s manager. He’s gonna give him my CDs.”
With no transition, he continued:
“My effing sister. I had effing Covid, and she never called to see how I was. I wasn’t that sick, but still. And when I had gall bladder surgery with an effing complication that I almost died from, I never heard from her. All those years…she’d take each of the kids to Hawaii, ya know, to make the cousins closer, which was nice. But she never effing invited me, not that I effing would have gone. She’s effing dead to me—I’m writing her off. What’s a family if there’s no contact when you need help? No effing family at all.”
“You know, the ER I run has only 12 effing beds, and four of them had effing Covid patients on ventilators. One had to be helicoptered out.”
So this man to my left is a physician—possibly semi-retired—still aspiring to be discovered as a great cellist.
“My mother—she was a Polish immigrant. She met my father, a Jewish physician. He killed himself.
“She told me: ‘You can play the cello, but you’ll never play brilliantly.’
“My mother only cared about brilliance. She told me, ‘If I had a son who grew up to be a dishwasher, I couldn’t bear it.’
“Can you imagine that? What kind of effing thing is that?
“My effing sister—she always had to be effing number one. Always. Once she was doing a science experiment, and we had to eat effing chicken every day of the effing week for effing weeks.” (Go with your imaginations on this one!)
“OK, so I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year. Tell Sally to make you filet mignon tonight, and the Dom Perignon is on me.”
Sad, isn’t it? There was little time during the conversations to ponder what the patient listeners on the other end were saying. I find myself hoping that the Yo-Yo Ma connection gives this crude wannabe cellist some validation. Apparently, financial success, successful kids, and at least two patient friends haven’t helped him overcome the inadequacies instilled by his mother and sister.
Sometimes a superficial glimpse into the life of a stranger is a reminder of what’s important. May we all find ways to live more comfortably with our personal demons in the New Year. Yo-Yo Ma’s shovel is free therapy. Fresh starts are always possible.
Here’s to New Beginnings!