Mr. Chips Meets Piano

I was still relying, in that college sort of way, on the backbreaking volunteer labor of my more macho friends. The piano was being delivered, but my friends were going to help me get it in the house, thereby saving me $200, which they desperately hoped I’d spent on beer and snacks. Not being a guy, my brain went more toward tea and cake, but I did manage to come up with the beer and…cookies.

Murphy’s Law was in full force that day, patrolling the streets, escorting my piano up to its new home. There was trouble getting it out of my parents house.  Going into the truck, one of the professional piano movers had  an oops moment, forcing the other professional mover to catch the full weight of the piano. Out went his back. (Piano was a studio upright, sort of the equivalent of a nice 17hh warmblood.  Tall and beefy.) Mover called. It’s on the truck.  I hear moaning in the background. They can haul it up, but will shave off $200 if I can get someone else to get it down the ramp and into the house.

I dialed up the most macho guys I knew, rented a piano dolly, picked it up at the rental place, and met everyone at my house in an hour and a half.

We wait. Nothing.  (Pre-cell phones.)  They were awfully late.   My guys drank a lot of beer, and ate a lot of cookies, making terrible faces at the combination.  Still waiting.

Phone rings.  It’s the radio dispatcher from the moving company.  Truck was late: one mover down, then a flat tire on the freeway: a highway patrol officer pulled over to help – via leaving his bar lights flashing and leaning against his patrol car.  He supervised the healthy guy struggle with a tire on the shoulder of a 12 lane freeway.  Standing there, Officer discovered a broken tail light.  He doled out several tickets (illegal pulling over on a freeway, tail light out, peeling registration tag).  For good measure, he breathalyzed the moaning guy to make sure the moaning wasn’t because he was dead drunk.  The fact that PIANO MOVING was painted on the truck in four-foot high letters didn’t faze him.   He checked the back for stolen goods.  Once cleared to go, an entire day’s pay was effectively used up in the first 20 minutes.  They still had two hours to go.  I’m lucky they did not drive my piano over a cliff.

I’d cleared a huge pathway from door to piano (I know exactly what piano moving is like) and put down a heavy sheet of plywood to serve as a makeshift ramp to wheel it in, once it was strapped onto the dolly.

Movers arrive, loading door opens, ramp appears, all in the space of five very crabby seconds.  (Can we blame them?)

They’ve backed the truck up to the front gate, with no squeeze room between the fence and truck.  Only way the piano was coming off that truck is if my friends hauled it off.  Driver couldn’t get into yard, and wasn’t about to fix that “oversight”.  I handed cookies over the truce line.  They went right into the cab with the driver and the moaning guy.

Friends strap piano to the extra heavy-duty dolly, made specifically for pianos, and ease it down the ramp.  Success!

At the bottom of the ramp, inexplicably, the dolly snaps in half, with the piano still on board.   I hate Murphy.

I think quick. 4 guys with a beer/sugar stomachs, and two starving, depressed, miserable movers.

I make sandwiches.  Hand them over the truce line, with two $20 bills (all I had on me).  I didn’t want movers to leave: the piano is half on and half off the ramp on a cartoonishly split dolly.

Friends manage to get piano wriggled off ramp and broken dolly.  It’s on my patio, standing awkwardly.  Friends decline sandwiches, and troop off to return broken dolly and get replacement.

The yard is empty.  I badly need to use the facilities.  It will only take a second.

A second is just long enough for a very curious pony to unlatch the garden gate and let himself into the yard, walk up the ramp, examine the inside of the truck, and start dragging around the padded moving blankets.  I come back out just as driver slams out of cab  cussing and spitting: “You guys sound like a herd of buffalo.  What the frick are you frickin doing in my frickin truck?”  He leans around the truce line to look into the back of the truck just as Mr. Chips peers around the same corner.  They are eye to eye.  Or eye to hair, I should say.

“HOLY shit…what the [swear word] is THAT?!”

I have to admit, with only front legs and hair showing, Mr. Chips did have a remarkable resemblance to Cousin It.  Guess who forgot to chain the gates after feeding?

“Uh sorry, that’s my…pony”, I say.

Mover stares at me in disbelief.   “Aren’t you a little old for a pony?”  His head swivels back to Mr. Chips.  “Why did you put it on my truck?”

“I didn’t.  He climbed in”,  I say.  I am hoping this reply will confuse driver enough that he doesn’t wonder why pony is in on the patio.  I scramble up the ramp.  Un-haltered Shetland.  Luckily, Mr. Chips is done.  He leisurely picks his way down the ramp with an eye on the mover. Food?  Guy is holding an empty paper plate.

“It better not have done any damage!” guy yells after me as I rush into the house and grab the tie off my bathrobe.  Note to self: buy extra halter and lead for Mr. Chips-caused emergencies.  They are going to be frequent.

I improvise a pink chenille halter, put Mr. Chips back in the bottom pasture, put the chain on the gate, and run back.  Moving truck is gone.  Phone is ringing.

My friends stopped for pizza, be back in an hour or so.  Don’t worry, they picked up a replacement dolly from the rental place, got an extra rental day free.

Translation: see you in a couple of hours, hopefully before dark and not throwing up.  We’ll take care of it.  Really.

I call pizza place and ask them to put bill on my credit card.

Sigh. Front gate: close and lock.

There’s a piano on my patio.  It’s nearly as odd as seeing a pony in my living room.

I’m dying to play it, tuned or not. Wait a sec…I can!  Perfect piano property.  Who can hear to complain?

It feels odd.  First time I’ve played a piano outside.  I don’t have to worry about sheet music.  Mrs. England never allowed sheet music during third practice, rehearsal or performance unless the piece was over 30 pages long (they exist, trust me).  My fingers have their own memory.  I play a classic piano-recital piece, the one instructors use to show off their teaching: Clementi’s   Sonatina  Op 36, usually #3.  Anyone who can do a decent scale will sound like a genius.  It’s all runs and phrasing.   It was my 12-year-old “see the brilliance of the instructor” recital piece.  I hear the chain and padlock banging on the pasture gate.  Ignore it.

Dive into the keyboard.  Lose myself totally in kids recital piece.  I wonder if I’ve ever heard it played NOT as a recital piece?  It sounds so different without the acoustics of walls and a roof.  There’s a certain…breathiness…to it?

No.  That would be Mr. Chips. standing quietly behind me.  Breathing.  Surely I snapped the padlock shut on the chain?  (GROAN)

He stares at the keyboard, at the piano, at me.  He is wide-eyed, full of a tense stillness.

I play a scale.  No response.  I pick # 2 of the same Opus, and play that.  He freezes.  I play very quietly.  He sniffs the piano, watching my fingers, then marches around the back to see what is there.  Nothing? Comes back to the front and stands next to my shoulder, listening.  Not as intense as he is with In the Hall of the Mountain King.  But very alert.  When I finish, I rub him under his mane by the ears.

“Hey buddy”, I say.  “You like the piano?”

Mr. Chips looks at me quizzically.  He has no idea what I said.  I feel like an idiot.

He takes a step forward and sniffs the keys.  Suddenly, deliberately, he lifts his head and mashes his muzzle down on the keyboard, creating a horrific discordant noise that makes him jump out of his skin.  Clearly, he expected to be able to touch it and pretty sounds would come out.  He’s surprised, but not frightened.  He tries again, this time lightly pushing his muzzle on the keyboard.  Softer discordant noise.  Huh.

I watch him process this.

He looks at me.  Bumps me with his head.  Looks at keyboard.  Waits.  Expectantly.

I really do need to find a shrink.  This isn’t normal.  Roz is normal.   She hasn’t noticed a dang thing.  I have to be projecting onto this pony.  What’s the word?  Anthropomorphizing?

Bump. Stare. Bump.

He likes the romantics.  I think of something softer and more lyrical: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  Hey, if I’m going to anthropomorphize, why not go all the way?

He stands quietly next to me, breathing.  I feel him relax.

He loves it! I am suffused with a desire to please him.  I suddenly understand why Roz let him in when she wouldn’t let anyone else in.  I want to play for him.  I’ve never wanted to play for anyone.  It’s always been torture.  I sit a little taller, and try a little harder to make the piece come alive.  The music is full of longing and despair.  He takes a step forward, and cautiously tries again, pressing down on three or four keys at once with his muzzle.  He seems to expect the resulting disharmony.  I keep going.  He backs up a step.

I finish the piece with his tilted-up muzzle resting on my shoulder.

I want to cry.  Having him simply stand there listening, with no agenda, caused an internal fissure.  A very hard-shelled place in my chest cracked. and a small ray of light landed gently on the softest place of my heart.

Maybe I don’t need a shrink.  Maybe Mr. Chips is my shrink.  I throw my arms around his neck and start snuffling, he flicks his tail in surprise.

What?! I liked it.  More please.



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18 thoughts on “Mr. Chips Meets Piano

  1. billie

    I love Mr. Chips!

    This kind of interaction is why we will never ever sell my daughter’s first pony, Apache Moon.

    Half-Shetland, painted pony, with rune shapes and symbols all over his body. He can be a little devil and then he can do things that defy logic, if one thinks animals can’t logically think.

    Can’t wait for the next installment. What a great series!!

    Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      Thank goodness the goats were a terrible idea!

      I would never have had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of Mr. Chips imperious decrees. My own semi-benevolent dictator.

      Reply
    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I wish I could take the credit, but WordPress has auto-snow this time of year, I can only choose to toggle it off. I like it though, so I leave it be.

      I don’t envy you the struggle of webpages from scratch!

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Mr. Chips Meets Piano « JC Dill

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I no longer have a piano. The same fire (this may be where the trouble started with the whole glass-is-half-empty thing) that claimed everything in my house, except my cast iron bed frame (and the box of photos underneath the bed) ruined my piano. Eventually I got an electronic keyboard, but it didn’t quite do it for me. At the time, the full keyboards were expensive: it was missing an octave. It drove me nuts to keep reaching for notes that weren’t there.

      How the glass fits in? It was Thanksgiving day.

      Happy Thanksgiving.

      The glass is half-full: I was not home. My cat was outside.

      Half-empty: My beautiful birds were trapped inside. I had literally nothing, and I lost my piano.

      Fire is probably a story in itself.
      I’ll play a piano if I can find it alone with no one listening. 🙂

      Reply

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