Of all the flamenco palos I like the chaotic feel of the fandango most. Is it chaos harnessed into a mirthful structure? Or is it ordered revelry on the verge of releasing musical bedlam? I don’t know. I just play it, and it consumes me.
Here comes a man, Terrence Foley, twenty years old, a generous soul, but his wake is severe. I see it throwing out waves of disruption.
Most of my customers see a single alternative, but Terrence seizes me with dreams, so many lives flash before me. In one dream he speaks at a software conference, the admiration for his success pulsates throughout the room. In another he chairs a congressional committee for security, balancing the nations deepest secrets against politics. He plays a heavy metal solo on his guitar, exciting the busker in me, the crowd enthralled, the stage on fire with pyrotechnics. He throws a pass in a playoff game, a Steeler, but I forgive him. He stands before an altar, blessing the congregation that purchased his mansion and supports his private jet. He gives the state of the nation address as president of the United States.
Most of humanity has none of these choices, no matter how hard they strive, no matter how much sacrifice, no matter how many lives they ruin to get it, they fail and settle for less. Terrence would gain any one of these that he reached for. Any of them and more, for there was something in his nature, not looks, or charisma, or a great presence, but something more deeply rooted in the world that captivated it.
He drops a fiver into the guitar case, and I see myself through his eyes. We listen to the fandango, and I become him as it carries us away. I have never felt such powerful ambition, this ambition that I have carried my entire life, but it propels me into great fear and uncertainty.
But I choose. It’s what I do, and when I choose I throw everything into it, ignoring all fear and doubt. I apply at the big news organizations to be an investigative reporter and receive offers from all of them. I choose the one with the smallest viewership and the heaviest bias because the challenge appeals to me. From the start I give them grief everywhere I can, disrupting their biases and attracting viewers with fresh and surprising features. They hate me. And love me. And worship me. Seek to destroy me. Ultimately, I rule them all as the CEO.
“Jonathan’s game is at four tomorrow.” My wife removes her earrings while I pull a book off the nightstand.
“I won’t be there,” I say. “I have a strategy meeting all afternoon.”
She sighs, but I’m long inured to her manipulations.
“Because of the ratings?” she asks.
“Yes. And these new rebels in the company that think they can come in and destroy my brand.”
“You never stop fighting,” she says.
“It’s who I am,” I say.
I recoil. Filled with revulsion at what I have become, so instead of applying at the news organizations I find work in a homeless shelter.
I throw myself into the work, making friends and helping to raise funds. I get promotions until I run this shelter and several others, but it’s not enough. I create my own shelters for unwed mothers, battered mothers, homeless children, the elderly, and I work in them every day. I found a cooperative foundation among religious and secular charities to coordinate our efforts. There is no end to the work to be done.
“Leslie’s play is tomorrow,” says my wife. She picked the clothes off the floor and threw them in the laundry basket.
“Tomorrow?” I say. “This is her Pinocchio thing, right?”
“Peter Pan,” she says.
“Aw, honey, I can’t believe this. I promised Beth I’d bring her groceries and help cook. She’s down three people right now.”
She pushes the dog off the bed and pats my hand. “You never stop giving.”
“It’s who I am,” I say.
I see how I’m losing myself, disregarding those I love, people I have yet to meet, and I walk past the homeless shelter instead of asking for work. I have to find a balanced path. Something between taking and giving.
I go to the university and start enrollment in med school. A lucrative career of giving. I specialize in oncology and work on the bleeding edge of research to cure every kind of cancer. I start a family practice, but never quite give up on cancer, supervising teams in the university hospital to find new treatments. I hold the hand of every dying patient to remember why I’m doing it.
My wife sipped her Cabernet. “Don’t forget tomorrow.”
I put my kindle down, withdrawing my thoughts from an article in a medical journal. “What’s tomorrow?”
“Lunch with the Remingtons.”
I pretend to care. “I’m so sorry. I know how much it means to you, but we’re so close to a breakthrough. In a few months we’ll have more time. I promise.”
“Dammit,” she says. “You never stop working.”
“It’s who I am,” I say.
I don’t understand. No matter what direction I choose, it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. I turn back from the university and wander, trying to make sense of it. I return to Central Park, the fandango coming back to my ears, I follow it and watch the busker play until I again become two people. I am the busker, and Terrence now stares at me, utter desolation in his eyes.
“What do I do?” he asks.
I don’t know what to tell him. Until now they always knew. My customers saw their alternatives, a gift of knowledge that illuminated the choices before them, and they made their decisions with new confidence from that understanding.
But this poor man—this man who could do most anything—is at a loss after our visions.
‘I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t give wisdom, only insight. You must find wisdom by yourself.”
“There must be another way,” he says. He walks away.
“There’s always another way,” I whisper.
And in that dreary moment I can’t help indulging the thought—I liked the second wife the best.