I remember when we got our first piano. It was a black upright. Not exactly gorgeous, but definitely a nice instrument. I was really excited to get my hands on the thing, but dad wasnt too, um, keen on the idea -- "Keen"? Really? I say things like that sometimes even though I know they sound lame. What can you do, though? I didnt have my first piano lesson until a few days later. Sounds of tinkling piano keys filled the room. Bassy notes caused the whole foundation to shake. It was a thing of beauty. It really was. Best part: It was me. I was playing it. My hands couldnt throw a ball with any sort of accuracy at all, and I was picked on for it bad, but damn could they play a piano! I mean really! Just damn!
That was, what -- like, five years ago? Yeah, I was about eight at the time, so, like, five years ago. So here I am, five years after I started playing the thing, and Im still going. In fact, Ive got a recital tonight. Thats why Im all dressed up, see. My instructor tells me I have to be presentable, you know? Seriously, though, like, when am I not presentable? I dont make it a point to dirty myself up or anything. I think she means I should be more than presentable, you know what I mean? Like, gussied up or something. Damn, Im lame to even say that. Gussied up of all things. I dunno, I just think when someone tells you something, they should say what they mean. I mean, if she tells me to look presentable, Ill look presentable. Then again, my idea of presentable is undoubtedly different than hers. However, if she were to say to me, My boy, youve a recital this evening. Dress for the occasion: coat and tie and all that, you know -- tuxedo, if you have it. You must look distinguished! Conversations in my mind sound like that, by the way. Sometimes the speakers even have British accents. Not sure what thats about. Anyway, Id ask her, Perhaps you mean distinguishable? In that case, Ive a few ideas of my own! You know, just to get a laugh or something
or just to be a jerk. You know, whatever I was feeling at the time. My instructors one of those old-timers, though -- Old-timers, wow
-- and isnt afraid to hit a kid. Ive never been too thrilled about getting smacked in the teeth, though, so in the end Id probably just end up enacting the event in my mind. Face it, its funnier that way. You know, what with avoiding child abuse and all.
Despite having to look, um, presentable, I am allowed to wear my favorite hat. One of those knit little numbers -- Little numbers? Who am I? -- a beany, a skullcap, a toque. Im sure you know what I mean. Anyway, thats the one less-than-classy thing Im allowed to wear. You know what? That really is fine with me. I have this nice blazer to wear to these sort of things. Its black, and I hear that its quite indistinguishable from something fancier -- you know, if you have bad eyes or squint a little bit. You know, speaking of my hat, Im on in less than twenty minutes and I have no idea where the damn thing is.
I guess what I didnt mention is that I was wearing that hat when I first learned to play piano. Yeah, it was big on me, and yeah, its absolutely filthy now. Seriously, Ive never washed the thing. The fact of the matter is, I need it to play. It must be covered in gnome dust or leprechaun dust or fairy dust or something. You know, whatever it is that has magic dust. My point being, the things lucky. What really gets me is whenever I lose the thing -- hell, Ive never lost it, it just gets misplaced -- whenever I misplace the thing, mom gets on my case right away. If its so lucky, then howd you lose it in the first place? Ha-ha, mom, youre hilarious. Really. She gets a big kick out of it, too. Anyway, my point: Ive got -- damn -- like, fifteen minutes to find the thing. Hell.
After about, like, fifteen hours, I finally run into my mom. Shes talking with the parents of some of the other kids thatre playing tonight. I think some of those piano moms really are just the worst sort of people. I mean, really. Ive talked to a lot of the other kids, and most of them really dont want to be here. Still, you know, their parents are really just trying to get their kids to do the things they never did themselves when they were young. Its pretty awful, if you ask me. Then, to top it off, theyre always bragging about what pieces their kids are working on. I dont know about everyone else, but it really doesnt impress me that your little Johnny is learning a piece by Mozart. I mean, they really are the same pieces everyone else learns. Its not as big a deal as they make it out to be. Besides, its not a contest. Sure, I guess thats the kind of thing a loser would say, but I actually am pretty good. Not a loser at least.
So anyway, moms talking to one of those awful piano moms and she doesnt pay any attention to me when I call her name. Basically what I do in situations like this is I kick at her feet a little bit. I imagine its annoying as hell, and thats probably why it works. Eventually she excuses herself from the conversation to pay attention to me. Shes not happy about it and kinda yells at me, but you can only yell so loud at one of these functions without coming off as crazy -- you know, or abusive. I cant find my hat, I tell her. She opens her mouth like shes about to make her dumb joke, and I put my hand up and say, No. Ten minutes until show time and Im seriously hatless. She gives me one of those looks, like so what. I dont think she ever really grasped the concept of a magic hat. Its simple, really. She didnt get it, though. Cmon, mom! She just shrugs a little bit. We must have left it at home. Youll have to go without it because theres no time to go home.
So thats it, then. Im on in less than ten and my hats MIA. I wonder if its too late to call my performance off for the night -- or, like, go to Walla Walla. That sounds like a pleasant enough place. Also sounds like a place where they dont make you play piano without your hat. Is something wrong? Stand up straight, my instructor says from behind me as she puts her hand on my shoulder. Shes this gangly old lady with creepy long fingers. Theyre the kind of fingers that are good for playing piano but really get in the way of everything else. I left my hat at home. Im pretty sure she never even realized that I wore the thing to every lesson and every recital prior to this one. She gives me the same damn so what look that my mom gave me. I cant play without it. Seriously. Her head nods and she smiles, like she really knows what I mean. Listen, she says, did Dumbo need that feather to fly? No. He was able to fly all on his own. Its a seriously lame thing to relate my situation to, but she doesnt let up so quickly once she gets going. You dont need your hat to play piano. Youve got all the skills you need within yourself. God, what a dumb thing to say. Still, she might be right. Maybe I really dont need the hat. I mean, I took all the lessons. Ive gotta know a thing or two. Break a leg.
So I get out on stage, sit on the bench, and open up my music. Suddenly, I feel like I really can do this! Confidence just flows through my body and I feel awesome! I position my hands, take a quick look over the music, and take a deep breath.
They say that when you get older youll look back on certain things and laugh. Its been fifty years since that performance, and Im still playing piano. Im pretty sure I always will be. Still, Ive never been able to look back on that night and have a laugh about it. Every time I think about it, I just shake my head a little bit. God, that night, I was damn awful.