Today's impossible challenge, ladies and gentlemen, pits this standard Catonsville row home, the one with the oh-so-narrow-minded staircase, against this 700-pound, 6-foot-long, Baldwin grand piano.
On our left we have the row home's prospective tenant, Adam Mahonske, a cheerful piano teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts. He wants to move his piano, not into the front room of the row house -- for that would be a little too easy -- but upstairs where he will be able to operate a cheerful little studio.
On our right we have the mountainous Gurski brothers from Brooklyn, not the one in New York, the one in South Baltimore. David, at 235 pounds and 29 years, is the serious, younger one, the one standing just inside the foyer. His eyes are cast doubtfully at the sharp, totally impossible angle that the piano will have to take immediately to the left and then to the right once it passes through the main doorway -- assuming it does pass through the main doorway -- and then into the entrance to the enclosed staircase.
So: Gut-busting piano, claustrophobic stairway, optimistic piano teacher, two Polish-American guys from Brooklyn. Is the picture coming into focus?
David Gurski is frowning now at the low ceiling. Now he turns and frowns at his brother. "It's tight, Eddie," he says. "That first turn is tight."
One year older and possessed of a benign, confident smile that suggests the advantage of being the brother who is 85 pounds heavier, Eddie opens his palms and shrugs.
"We've got 2 inches to play with."
As D&E of D&E Movers continue their debate, Adam Mahonske places the challenge in perspective. First, if the piano can't get in, he isn't moving in. Second, this is the piano his parents gave him when he was 12 and he wouldn't be at all happy if it were, say, dropped down the staircase and turned into fiddlesticks.
"I've always moved my own piano," he says. "I'd borrow some pads and skid boards and I'd get a couple of friends." He pauses and peeks again at the narrow staircase. He shakes his head. "I never had to go up a staircase. No way on earth could I do this one."
L The question is, what way on earth will the Gurski boys use?
LET'S TAKE A MOMENT HERE to examine what we've got. Inside every piano there is a Rube Goldberg maze of delicate pegs and dowels and flanges and shanks, wrapped in felt and string and buckskin and paper and framed out in steel, copper and iron. When triggered by an ivory-covered key struck by a finger -- or if you're Jerry Lee Lewis, by elbow or cowboy boot -- a felt-covered hammer strikes a tautly stretched length of wire and the resulting sound is, well, nice. (If you're Jerry Lee Lewis it just sounds loud.)
The whole contraption weighs about 80 pounds and, so far, there is no need to call the Gurski boys. Trouble is, you need to anchor that intricate assembly in something, you need someplace to stretch those wires and while you're at it you might as well throw in some lacquer to make it look halfway decent and easier to dust. The resulting packaging adds a quarter to a half ton of weight and somehow qualifies it for the term piano, which comes from the Italian, meaning graceful or smooth or, well, nice.
Piano mover, however, is a conundrum, an odd contradiction of terms like jumbo shrimp or soviet union. For just as the blending of all that weight with all those delicate notes makes a piano a piano, it also takes a mixture of strength and grace to move the darn thing. Not that you always get it. After all, the piano mover's lexicon wouldn't contain the word "ding" or "nick" or "chiropractor" if all moves went smoothly.
"IT'S ABOUT AS TIGHT AS IT gets," says David Gurski in front of Adam Mahonske's row house.
L "It's pretty tight," Eddie Gurski grins to Arthur Fliggins.
Arthur is their East Baltimore-raised partner, the former U.S. Marine mortarman whom they call their third brother. He stands 6 feet even and weighs 245 pounds, and he is also the crew's bottom man.
Piano-moving crews ideally have three men: The top man is the guy who leads the way with his rear end and, going up stairs, lifts and heaves and turns red in the face; the bottom man is the guy at the bottom, or heavy end, who uses his back and shoulders to heave and guide, and who sees most clearly just how flat he will be squashed should the top man let go; the dolly man is the guy who lends a hand here and there but whose principal task is to keep repositioning the dolly on which the piano rests.
All pianos, whether the upright models or the smaller consoles or spinets or even the grand pianos, are lifted onto a special padded sliding board that is then rested on a dolly for easy moving.
And here is the first secret of the Gurski brothers' success.
"Other piano movers have dollies with the kind of wheels that wobble," explains Eddie. "When you're going down a hall, they can make the piano go crooked. It's hard to control."