A piano lesson: Practice saying no

November 14, 1994|By KEVIN COWHERD

It is only 2 in the afternoon, but I sit in front of the word processor drained and listless after one of the most numbing experiences in my life: shopping for a piano.

The piano, it should be pointed out, is not for me. I myself can barely tap out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on the $8.99 Fisher-Price xylophone in the playroom.

No, the piano is for my 9-year-old daughter, who announced the other day that she'd like to take lessons.

This, she hinted, would inevitably lead to her complete mastery of the instrument, a full music scholarship to an Ivy League school and a financially secure life as a recording artist.

"Maybe we could look into a used piano," my wife said.

"Look," I said, "this is like knowing how a book turns out before you even read the first page.

"Here's what'll happen: She takes a few lessons, becomes bored, never touches the piano again. Two months later, we're using it as a planter. Or I'm chopping it up for firewood."

Then I told her the story about my friend Dave and his psycho mother, Irene.

When Dave turned 12, his mother made him take piano lessons three times a week at the home of a music teacher.

Naturally, since he had no say in the matter, Dave quickly began to hate the piano.

I still remember all of us playing touch football in the street and hearing Irene yell: "Dave, time for your lesson!"

Then Dave would trudge on home dejectedly while the rest of us wondered how long it would be before he went after Irene with a fireplace poker.

Of course, Dave's lack of enthusiasm didn't stop Irene. After Dave had taken about a half-dozen lessons, Irene went out and bought this big, expensive piano.

The thing was the size of an aircraft carrier and she parked it in the living room near the picture window, so the entire neighborhood would know the family had a new piano.

Well, you can guess the rest. One night about two months later, Dave broke down and began screaming and yelling about how much he hated the piano.

He told his mother that if she made him take any more lessons, he would run away and join an outlaw motorcycle gang and start shooting heroin, providing someone could point out exactly what heroin looked like.

So no one ever touched the piano again. Then Irene had a party and a couple of drunks spilled their beers in the piano.

After that, even if you wanted to play the stupid thing, the only sound it made was this irritating plink-plink-plink that sounded like the dripping of a faucet.

Anyway, when I finished telling this story, my wife said: "Irene sounds like a very caring mother."

"Irene was a nut," I said. "It's a wonder Dave didn't end up shaving his head and wearing saffron robes and beating a tambourine at the airport."

As it happened, a few days later we received a flier announcing a big piano sale at (of all places) the National Guard Armory.

"Largest ever in Baltimore!" the flier said. "New, used, discontinued, freight damaged and more! Over 200 pianos on display!"

There was also this mysterious addendum at the bottom of the page: "An easy drive from anywhere!"

I don't know . . . what if you were coming from, say, Texas? Twenty-six hours or so behind the wheel, I wouldn't call that easy.

In any event, my wife and I went to the armory. Sure enough, the place was packed with pianos.

One of the first we saw was a gleaming baby grand Steinway. The price tag said $42,400.

"What price range are you folks talking about?" a saleswoman asked.

"We're looking for something like this," I said, patting the Steinway. "Only for around $42,000 less."

At this, she made a soft, gagging sound and said: "Uh, why don't you folks browse for a while?"

But since the cheapest piano in the place cost over $2,000, there was no sense hanging around any longer, unless we wanted to look at a tank or something.

So basically what we're looking for now is an old piano that's kicking around someone's basement near the busted Ping-Pong table and the pictures of the poker-playing dogs and the Bud Light sign.

If the price is right, I'll take those babies off your hands, too.

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