Albatrosses and Honky-Tonk Pianos

The field was strewn with bright red fragments of a piano, along with a few good sized shards of mirror.  It was a sight to see, not at all what you expected to find out here in this pastoral setting.  From a nearby barbed wire fence, a meadowlark warbled his distinctive call.  Across the field, several cows sheltered in the shade of an old elm tree, gazing at us with curiosity.  Imagine!  First this gaudy thing went tumbling noisily across their field late one night, then the next day, these crazy people stand and stare at the wreckage, annoying the bovine residents during their nap time.  Nothing to see here, humans!  M-o-o-o-ove along!

Just a few days before, these pieces of brightly painted wood and glass had been a complete piano, albeit an unusual one.  I don’t even remember how we acquired the thing, but it was an albatross around our necks from the start.  What’s that?  Where does the albatross reference originate?  Well, that comes from a famous poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, written back in the eighteenth century.  Ordinarily, the albatross was an omen of good luck if it followed a ship, but in this case, the mariner shot one which was following them.  As punishment for his evil deed, the rest of the crew made him wear the dead bird around his neck, hoping that there would be no curse to cause problems for their voyage.  It didn’t work out so well for the crew, but that is the way of most superstitions anyway.  Suffice it to say that sometimes we make bad decisions which have a way of following us for awhile.  The purchase of this piano-shaped-object was just such a decision.

Some brilliant thinker had decided that the once-drab natural exterior of the piano would benefit from a make-over, so he found a large quantity of spray cans of fire-engine red lacquer and emptied their contents over the outer surfaces.  You would have thought that he would be content with his desecration of the instrument at that point, but, one thing leading to another, he installed a mirror across the entire front surface of the upper body.  I’m thinking that his wife hated the “honky-tonk” decor and demanded its removal from her premises, but regardless, we acquired the loud (in more ways than one) piano to try to sell in our store.  The ridiculous instrument sat, first near the rear of our piano showroom for a few weeks, and then, in an attempt to quiet the non-stop smart-aleck remarks, it was relegated to the back storage room.  After a couple of years back there, we decided it was finally time to get rid of the rotting carcass of the albatross, so to speak, and we moved the eyesore to the local consignment auction to be sold the following Friday evening.  It sold for the paltry sum of twenty-five dollars, but we were more than content.  Whew!  We were finally rid of the thing!

Just a note of caution.  Albatrosses have a way of resurfacing.  This one had just one more swan-song to sing, if I may use that particular phrase.  On Saturday morning, the report came.  The fellow wanted his money back.  It seems that he had loaded the huge upright piano, all four hundred fifty pounds of it, into the bed of his pickup truck on Friday night.  “Aren’t you going to tie it down?” queried the auction staff.  “Nah,” came the curt reply.  “It weighs so much, there’s no way it’ll move from there.”  He reached the first sharp curve in the rural highway and took the left hand curve at about forty miles per hour.  The piano made a quick exit off the right hand side of his truck, rolling its way to the resting place in the field…now just a jumble of wood and broken mirror.  (Hmm…seven years bad luck to boot!)  The auction refused to give a refund.  So did we. 

Thinking about that amusing episode lead me to recall a not-so-funny incident which had occurred a few years prior to that.  It was before I was married to the Lovely Lady, so I was sitting in the laundromat that Sunday afternoon, waiting for my jumbled (completely unsorted) load of clothes to dry.  I noticed the pickup with the big old piano in the back go by slowly, but didn’t really think much about it.  Moments later, there was yelling outside and a man rushed in screaming for someone to call an ambulance.  This was in a days before cell phones, you remember.  There were only two or three of us in the building, but we all rushed out to see the horrible scene.  There was a man lying on the street, with the huge piano lying partially on top of him, his head gushing blood.  Once again, this piano had been loaded on the back of the truck, but the difference this time was that they had the “foresight” to have one of the volunteer movers stand and hold onto the top-heavy instrument as they proceeded across town with it.  When they rounded the corner a little too fast, he attempted to stop the tipping of the piano, only to be thrown over the side of the truck by its weight and then was struck by the full measure of its mass as he lay on the pavement.  As we watched in horror, the ambulance came and the paramedics ministered to him, then transported him to the hospital, siren screaming.  He was in grave condition for weeks, finally recovering from the frightening ordeal, but not without lasting effects.  It was an incident I will never forgot.

I spent thirty years moving pianos.  We frequently recruited help from young men in the store who were happy to earn a ten or twenty dollar bill just for doing a little lifting and going for a ride with us.  Our instructions to them always had the two incidents mentioned above in mind.  “If the piano starts to fall over, don’t try to stop it!  Get out of the way!  Pianos, I can replace; people, I can’t.”  Even when it’s observed in someone else’s life, experience is a very effective teaching tool.  I’ve seen what can happen when gravity or centrifugal force starts to move one of these hefty objects, and I don’t advise trying to counteract that force.  Newton’s First Law of Motion states, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.”  I’ve broken a few laws in my life, but laws of nature like that really don’t break easily.

The lesson learned here is one which applies to all of life, which is to say that it’s one I have yet to master.  We need to think through what we start, from beginning to its conclusion.  Actions have consequences.  Words spoken bring resulting reactions from the hearers.  One thing leads to another.  And, as much as possible, we need to think about the effect of our actions and speech on those around us before we act and speak.  Oh, I know we can’t always accurately predict what unpredictable humans will do in response to us, but there are quite a few things that are under our control and we need to do just that; control them.

Tie down the piano when it’s moved.  Don’t sit next to it in the back of the truck.  Our lives are replete with correlations.  We just need to use our common sense a lot more than we do.  I used to think that getting older would mean these things get easier.  Now I think it’s more that we don’t undertake quite so many foolish tasks.  For some reason, I still get into trouble with the ones I do undertake.

Maybe one day, I’ll look back and see the progression from hard lessons to complete wisdom.  I’m not there yet.

“Mama says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.'”
(Forrest Gump)

“Don’t begin until you count the cost.  For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to build it?”
(Luke 14:28~NLT)

One thought on “Albatrosses and Honky-Tonk Pianos

  1. Thanks for the post Paul. As I look back at the experiences in my life I often think about how the negative ones have improved my life. While I am having the experience it is very difficult to think about how I will appreciate it later in my life but in the end theses experiences make us who we are. They are great teaching experiences. They provide us with a wonderful palette of perspectives in which to appreciate the things we have.

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