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The Piano that Love Bought

I liked my Yamaha P60 keyboard. It was ok. It did the best job of mimicking a piano that a machine could do. It reliably fulfilled what it perceived was its role. It stood by me for as long as it could, and I stood by it and told people where they could get off if they wanted to thumb their nose at it. I liked it.

But I didn't love it and never had. I can't share a creative relationship with a machine, because it's not alive. It's an object.

Still, it was a signficant object. It was bigger than a bread-box, it had cost money, it was black, and it had been a present from my ex-husband back when he was my boyfriend and I had just moved in to his place on the Lower East Side. It made me feel approved of and cared for. It also made me constantly aware of my position as the moneyless one, because he had money to buy keyboards and I did not...and the fact that it was a keyboard, not a piano, reflected his tastes and not mine. And, every time I touched it, I thought, “thank God I have this keyboard! Look at all the wonderful music it's made possible! And if it weren't here, I would have no piano at all!”  In my mind, if anything happened to the keyboard, the only possible
alternative was to have nothing, and to be miserable. Pianos were expensive. All I could see was that I did not have money, and as far as I knew pianos required a lot of money, so if the keyboard died, there would be no more piano music and in its place would reign anarchy, grief, and want. The functional, unlovable, trusty keyboard had been a rock of consistency through a decade of tremendous change, and I hung on to it.

Until yesterday, when it died. I turned it on and it gave one last feeble gasp and that was the end. I jiggled and reset and played with everything and knew that some Electronic Component inside had worn itself out.  “No,” I thought. “I like that little bugger. We have a functional albeit boring relationship. Plus, the keyboard has always worked! If the keyboard doesn't work, what can I count on in life?  And...I need this pianolike object for business! How am I going to do business in ways that require a pianolike object now?”

And then I thought, “wow, I wonder what's going to come into this apartment now!  Because when the stereo died, it sucked, but it forced me to ask out loud, 'what in the world am I going to put in my apartment to make music now?' and four hours later the concert series was born,
and look what a magical gift that's already been for everyone it's touched. And the keyboard is much bigger than the stereo.”

I investigated getting the keyboard repaired, although I suspected it had died of old age. Only one place in San Francisco would do it, at rates suitable for an actual surgeon, and if the surgery was successful, I would once again have a...keyboard. I reached out to a prior associate who dealt in pianos, to no avail. A half-forgotten bell rang in my head and I re-heard a friend saying, “there are a lot of free pianos out there, actually. People want to get rid of them.  What's expensive is the delivery.”

I looked on Craigslist. There were definitely free pianos. But most of them had euphemistic statements indicating they were in poor shape and did not have good voices or touch. Or they were out of tune.  There were ones marketed as “good for the beginning phase of your child's learning,” and there were ones up flights of twisting stairs and would cost many-hundred dollars to extract. There was one listing that I noticed in passing, and I felt, “and that's the one I'm going to get.” Then I shut myself up, “don't be ridiculous, I'm not going to put that big black lunk into my living room. Plus the owner says nothing about its voice. I have plenty of time. I'll watch the ads for a few weeks and see what comes up.”

And yet.

I opened up the field for hive logic input and when an old friend I'd known from adolescence pointed out that exact listing to me, I thought, “huh.  Maybe I'll just go see it.” I didn't expect the owner to be available in the middle of a Monday, but he was! 

She was stuffed awkwardly into a supply room. She was too big, too black, too chipped, and too rudely coloured with many different paints to fit her code-monkey surroundings. She was dirty and covered with grunge and flecks and streaks and drabbles. “You're going to need work,” I thought. “You have good bones but look at the state of you. You need a serious facial.”

And yet.

Something inside her pulled me to her. She reached out to my hands and kissed them and pulled them down onto her keys. “I am the one for you,” she said. I felt something amazing through the blanket of dust and crud and even though I had no money on me, I had only intended to play a couple experimental scales and leave, I found myself clearing off the keys with my jacket and thinking, “you fascinate me. Tell me more.” She looked up at me with great big invisible eyes. “I love you,” she said, simply and without artifice. I knelt down in the dust and played for real, and she was warm and tender and had richness and depth and she felt amazing. When I touched her she touched back, and when I asked her to sing a note, she sang a whole range of qualities, like someone who'd had a lifetime of experience and sensations and was speaking to me with their life's story backing every word. She had human emotion. She was surprisingly soft and pliant for someone who could clearly be quite bold...when I first saw her outsides, I'd expected to need a hammer to push a key down, but no, she was an artist and she listened to me and told me what she heard. Even if it was that thing. “You heard that? The keyboard never heard anything!”  ….When I listened to her, I heard a world of emotional colour. Not just the zippity-do-dah colours, not just the butter-yellows and the ballerina-pinks. I heard humanity. Of course. She was alive, and we were doing this together.

For the second time in three days it was time to compare a joint creative process to the difference between masturbating and having sex. —It had been so long since I'd played with a real piano, I'd forgotten what I was missing. Playing the piano felt like holding someone's bare butt in my hands, and playing the keyboard felt like holding a photocopy of someone's bare butt in my hands. But I'd been holding the photocopy for so long, I had forgotten to remember, and it had completely changed my relationship with the idea of “piano.” No wonder I so rarely sat down to just play the piano, not sing, not nothing, just play. Playing the keyboard was a lonely and uninspiring experience, because it was just me. It was ok, but it was only my
thoughts and opinions on how the event should go. I had total artistic control and it bored me. The sound was flat, like the difference between acrylic and oil paint. The feeling of the keys
was a nonfeeling, so I never thought about it. The notes I played hovered right in front of me; they didn't expand through space and time the way the piano's did. And they sounded the same from inception to disappearance. But the piano's notes were like wine, on an evolutionary journey from start to finish, and I got the distinct impression that the notes had always been there before and would always be there after, and I was just referring to them, drawing
samples of them out of their bigger pools.



"The man who used to live here when this was an apartment threw house concerts, so he used the piano for that," the owner said.  You don't say, I thought to myself....


But practical concerns threatened to mar my perfect story.  She was very broad-shouldered. Would she fit into the elevator at home? My mental model of the elevator had about four inches of spare space available around her in the difficult direction, but what if I was wrong? And what about the doorways?

And what about the money?

I hurried home and checked the elevator and the doorways and, dayenu, she would fit.  But the money, the money....

And then I realized, I did have the money. And if ever money had been earmarked for exactly this purpose and no other, it was the money I currently had.

You see, I've been doing this series of paintings. It's about how we love, so I call it the Love Series. And I have this wonderful friend who's in it, and she had touchingly asked for a print of her painting. And I have this other wonderful friend who's in it, and he's the son of the first friend, and when he heard from his mom that prints were an idea that existed, he also touchingly asked for prints of two of his paintings. And while he was at it, heck, he'd buy his mom's print for her, because moms like that don't come around all the time and they're worth it.

And the exact, precise cost of the three prints was the exact, precise cost of having the piano delivered.

The timing was poetic. The prints had been bought but not yet paid for. Saturday night, the son-friend played a magical and heart-blowing concert at my place. I kept the cost of the prints out of his percentage of the profits. Sunday, the keyboard died, but I had this new, specific chunk of money I hadn't had before. And then Monday, that specific chunk of money and not one penny more nor less turned into the piano that love bought.

Initially I thought, “well if it hadn't been for this guy buying those things, I wouldn't have this piano.” But then I realized that it hadn't been the act of one person, and it hadn't been about money.  It had been about connection.  The piano was a result of everybody loving, and everybody helping, and everybody inspiring, and everybody doing, and everybody contributing. If it hadn't been for the many people I know who love in so many wonderful ways, I wouldn't be painting the Love Series.  And if I hadn't, the mom-friend might or might not have had a painting that inspired her to ask for a print, and if she hadn't done that, the same goes for her son. If it hadn't been for my old friend from high school, I might not have gone to check out my beautiful new love...and if he hadn't already been loving pianos, he might not have seen the ad to tell me about.

The piano that love bought sounded even more beautiful in my living room than she did in the supply closet. I realized she was probably about the same age as the apartment. They were consanguineous, kinda. I felt the redwood of the building happily vibrating back the music and everything felt aligned and whole. I played my favourite tatters of hundred-year-old sheet music, because that's what she wanted to do first, and we got to know each other and revelled in every tender surprise and every moment of unexpected intimacy. We laughed at the accidents and challenged each other and spent the afternoon together, embracing each other.

I can't wait to share her with everybody! So...come for a visit! Come love the new member of the family.

She will love you back.

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