Accordion Fans: The Squeeze Is On


April 04, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

In these days of rising taxes, job insecurity and soaring medical costs, more and more Americans are asking themselves a chilling question: "What happens if, God forbid, I have to get my accordion repaired?"

This is certainly on my mind. I own an accordion. I used to own two of them. I bought them years ago at an auction for $25, which worked out to $12.50 per accordion, which struck me as an unbelievable deal.

One of my accordions was destroyed when I made the common consumer mistake of leaving it outdoors for 14 months. But I still have the other one, a Hohner "Student" model. It sits on a filing cabinet in my office, and sometimes, when I'm having trouble thinking up major issues to have opinions about, I amuse myself by causing it to make a scary wailing noise and swoop down at my two dogs, Earnest and Zippy, who jump up and bang their heads against the table they sleep under. Earnest and Zippy hate the Hohner "Student."

But I like my accordion, although it is not in the best of shape, a fact that has me deeply concerned, in light of an article from the Winona (Minn.) Daily News sent in by alert reader Mike Jones. This article states that the board of Red Wing/Winona Technical College has voted to eliminate, because of low enrollment, the college's accordion-repair program -- which happens to be the only such program in the entire United States.

I can't believe we would let this happen. We're talking about a part of our nation's history, dating to the early 1800s, when each generation would seek to pass the secrets of accordion repair on to the next.

Father: Son, it's time for me to pass along the secrets of accordion repair.

Son: I'm moving to Utah.

That's right: Without accordion repair, westward expansion might never have occurred.

I could go on, but I am clearly lying. This is why, in an unusual effort to include actual facts in this column, I called Red Wing/Winona Technical College and spoke with the accordion-repair instructor, Helmi Harrington. She told me there are "8 or 9 million" accordions in the United States, and that accordion repair can be "eminently lucrative." Right now, she said, "there are only a handful of certified accordion technicians," the result being that many accordions are being repaired by unqualified people.

"There are a lot of butchers out there," said Harrington.

In an effort to find out what the federal government is doing about this, I called U.S. Sen. Bob "Bob" Graham of Florida, who is -- and I mean this as a compliment -- the weirdest major politician I have ever met. I 'first interviewed him back when he was governor of Florida.

In an effort to throw him off base, I asked him what he had done, as governor, to promote harmonica safety. Without a moment's hesitation, he delivered a two-minute speech, featuring statistics, in which he claimed that his predecessor was responsible for most of Florida's harmonica-related deaths.

So I figured Sen. Graham was the man to call about this issue. I had barely got the words "accordion-repair crisis" out of my mouth when he launched into an impassioned oration, from which I got the following quotes, which I swear I am not making up:

* "Just last night I ate at an Italian restaurant which, like thousands of other Italian restaurants across America, is now without music, because their accordion is in disrepair and has been returned from Winona, Minn., with postage due."

* "We are preparing an anti-dumping order against Liechtenstein, which has become the center of accordion repair on a global basis and has developed some ferociously anti-competitive practices."

So some leaders are aware of the crisis. But so far, the failed Clinton administration has said nothing about it, despite proposing millions for saxophone repair.

What we need is for ordinary Americans like yourself, but with more spare time, to "get involved." Write to your congressperson. Write to the board of Red Wing/Winona Technical College. Write (what the heck) to your mom. Future generations will thank you. My dogs will hate you.

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