What to Do Until the Piano Tuner Leaves

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Sometimes our past lives come back to haunt us in strange ways. I’m not referring to anything paranormal. Reincarnation is a jolly concept but it begins to take on Sisyphean overtones. There’s also the sense that in a previous existence (if there was one) I must have been very, very bad. This has been to all outward appearances a remedial life. For all I know I’ve been in the cosmic equivalent of the Second Grade for 7,000 years. My Progress Report (I imagine) still says “Does not work well with others.”

No, I’m referring to all those things we used to do in our current skins. What’s interesting is that I find everything I’ve ever done or learned has turned out to be of use to me in my capacity as Editor and Publisher of The Syncopated Times. My lifelong interest in various forms of music as well as my sedulous pounding of typewriter keys were obvious helps in creating this publication. I never thought that my ten years spent as a self-employed piano technician would come in handy.

Piano tuning is what I did because I had to do something. I knew I could never last long as an employee. Owing to the idiosyncrasies of my metabolism, I could never regulate my schedule to the demands of a time clock. So, because I taught myself to play piano, I taught myself to tune the awful beasts. I never made buckets of money but I gave the impression of working. I could set a temperament like a dream, and I had enough service calls to pass for the simulacrum of a busy person.

In point of fact I have never been truly busy until publishing The Syncopated Times.

This October, my office as publisher got me in the door at Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party in Branford, Connecticut. They didn’t know they were getting an unfrocked piano tech. The first night of the weekend (during which the marvelous Paris Washboard was scheduled to play), the rented Steinway proved sticky. The second A flat in the bass end rang out; the damper would not return to its original position. My wife Sue, having overheard the fuss, acted as facilitator. She told Jeff Barnhart that, while in the guise of a mild-mannered editor, I was secretly Piano Man. My cover was blown.

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And so to work. I couldn’t pull the action to get at the damper flanges, of course. We tried a variety of weights and contrivances to get the recalcitrant damper to fall back into place. Finally (as a Rube Golbergian arrangement had been jury-rigged to make the piano playable) I told Jeff that I probably could fix it—temporarily at least—with graphite or baby powder. At the break, I had the talcum and I tried to get it into the felt damper bushing. Then I remembered the coffee stirrers, which were little straws.

It came to pass that at various intervals throughout the weekend I was summoned to blow baby powder into the damper bushing using a coffee straw. It worked.

There were two doctors in the house (Eli Newberger and Louis Mazetier) and one piano technician (me). It was a wonderful weekend—and I was happy to offer something in return for all the delightful music.

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