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Main Ingredients:
former boss

Spice Pack:
1/3 dollop of elation
1 cup of agitation


In his dream last night, James made it all the way out to the center of the stage, absorbed in the glory of that immaculate Steinway Model D, before his joy finally turned to horror. Then that asshole from the K-Mart started the heckling, his former boss, Mikey, the one with the hideous patinated-red alcoholic's nose. Mikey, who after accidentally learning of this, James' real life, his artistic life, his life of aspiration, would spitefully schedule James' shifts during prime practice hours. Thanks to Mikey, James and his beleaguered downstairs neighbors would feud constantly. James would practice at odd hours, because he had to. (And she-- what was her name? The old lady with the demented husband. It was on the tip of his tongue!-- she would envelop his home with pugnacious odors of curries, stews, and strange soups. In his sleep-deprived delirium James took to her cooking to be some sort of culinary retaliation.) In the dream, Mikey was there in the front row, wearing that old work uniform. His shit-faced cackling should have been shushed, but instead, everyone slowly joined him. The chorus of shouts grew, then became a physical force, pushing James off the stage, filling him with certain knowledge he would never play in public again.

James awoke in terror. What galled him most, after waking, was realizing that in the dream he wasn't wearing pants, only his underwear, with his tuxedo shirt and jacket impossibly tucked into his shabby white briefs. He felt sure the cliche, pedestrian nature of this anxiety dream proved he was no true artist, that he wasn't anything more than the perfectly ordinary minimum-wage-slave employee Mikey abused all those years ago.

The dream lingered with him all day, fouling his mood and his mind, threatening to ruin this long-awaited concert. But now the moment was upon him, and his anxiety suddenly gave way to reverie. As he waited backstage, a subtle odor wafted around him. It was impossible, really; for where could it have come from? Yet it was so distinct: the sweetness of that rich cake, layered with that plum jam which stewed for days in tumeric, ginger, mace, and some exotic magic. It was the work of his downstairs neighbor again. Most of the curried aromas which wafted up into his starving artist's flat drove him to distraction, making practice seem impossible. But then, based on some mysterious foreign calendar, the appointed time for making those cakes would arrive. When it was plum-cake time, he always feel compelled to forsake whatever practice he needed and just play that otherwise tiresome sonata, the Mozart, because he knew it was the only thing the old lady's demented husband loved hearing. For a couple of days, a glorious truce would take hold. His playing and the wonderful smells would mingle in the air, then diffuse throughout the awful, sticky heat of the apartment complex. The sound and the smell together, one perfect sensory experience, was a joy the residents' shared poverty could not crush.

As he stepped out onto the stage, the smell lingered all around him, filling him with a strange confidence that somehow, all the residents of that terrible old place would hear his playing now, and the music would once again grace all their lives. Perhaps even Mikey would hear it, and find some measure of joy.
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