ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker


It was lust at first sight.  Or at the very least, gluttony.

I should have seen it coming.  I’ve always had this thing for Chinese food.  I consider ham fried rice to be one of the basic food groups, all by itself.  I’ve been known to drive hours out of my way for good Mongolian barbecue (remind me to tell you sometime about this little out-of-the-way place I found about 60 miles north of here).  And the way I see it, if there’s no sweet-and-sour in Heaven, I’m not going.

So the first time I drove by the big Chinese buffet that is located just a few blocks west of the Alzheimer’s care center where my Dad was living at the time, I knew I was in trouble.

“Look, Honey!” I said to my wife Anita as we drove past the building on our way to see Dad.  “All-you-can-eat Chinese food!”

“Uh-huh,” said Anita.

“Doesn’t that sound wonderful?” I said, with visions of hot, steaming egg rolls dancing in my head.  “And look – the parking lot is crowded.  That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

“Uh-huh.  Joe, please keep your eyes on the road.  You almost hit that Honda.”

Obviously, Anita didn’t understand that hitting a Honda was a small price to pay for really good stir-fry.  Still, she humored me nearly every time we drove past the place, as I felt compelled to comment on how many cars were always in the parking lot, and how science had proven a direct correlation between culinary excellence and automotive abundance.

Yes, I know.  What can I say?  It was the MSG talking.

Then it happened.  After more than a year of driving past the Chinese buffet, the right combination of time and circumstances (in other words, I finally had a few dollars left in the checking account the day before pay day) presented us with the opportunity to go in.  Of course, we had to stand in line for a few minutes, which just added to the anticipation.  And when we finally got inside and saw all of that Chinese food piled up and waiting for us, I thought I had died and gone to . . . well, whatever is the Chinese equivalent of Nirvana.

I skipped over the salad bar and went right to the good stuff: egg foo yung.  Fried rice.  Sweet-and-sour chicken.  Lo mein.  Beef stir fry.  Mongolian barbecue.  It all looked so good.  It all smelled so good.

And it all tasted so bad.

Well, OK, maybe “bad” is too harsh.  But it wasn’t good.  It was just . . . bland.  Tasteless.  Uninspiring.  And very disappointing.  Anita, who had gone the salad bar route, could sense what I was feeling.  It wasn’t just a disappointing meal.  It was a disappointing meal that I had been anxiously anticipating for more than a year.

“Well,” she said, patting my head reassuringly, “at least now you know.”

And there’s something to be said for that, I guess.  Life doles out its share of disappointments, large and small, to all of us.  Games are lost.  Tests are failed.  Relationships turn sour.  Dreams turn into nightmares.  Sometimes it’s hard to find peace in disappointment.  At such times, there is some consolation in simply knowing that . . . well, now you know.  And you can deal with it, and move on.

Come to think of it, I didn’t even glance at that Chinese buffet when I drove by the other day.  And I didn’t even come close to hitting a Honda.

— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

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