November 1, 2014
November is hunting season in upstate New York where my wife, Dorothea, and I have a home. And if it’s hunting season, then it’s time for our hunters to show up.
Several decades ago, three men—let’s call them Andrew, Bob, and Charlie—knocked on our door and politely introduced themselves. They told us that they worked as policemen in nearby Albany, New York, and asked whether they could hunt on our property. They offered to keep an eye on our place when we were gone and throw some venison our way if they had any luck. All three were very friendly and personable guys, and the mouth-watering thought of venison sausage with our morning eggs or venison steak along with the evening veggies proved irresistible.
We gave them the go-ahead to hunt on our steeply wooded hill.
I don’t think a single season has since gone by without the hunter’s November appearance and I always look forward to our friendly chats. I talk to them about playing the violin for a living and they talk to me about robberies, drug busts, and general mayhem in the inner city. And as often as not, a package of venison, or two, or three will be handed to us.
The hunters appear every year like clockwork, but one November stands out in my mind for the conversation I had with Charlie.
Charlie: “I see you have an upright piano in your studio.”
Arnold: “That’s right.”
Charlie: “Would you like me to tune it?”
Charlie: “Would you like me to tune it? It looks like a good piano, maybe a Steinway.”
Arnold: “It is a Steinway. But wait just a minute. You’re a cop. You deal with criminals, con artists, and lowlifes. How on earth do you know about pianos?”
I’ve known quite a few piano tuners and piano technicians over the years—among them a distinguished composer, a philosopher, a devout Buddhist, and a professional French horn player. But a cop?
I was flabbergasted. Along with learning how to shoot a gun, restrain a suspect, and apply handcuffs properly, did the Albany Police Academy also offer courses in piano tuning?
I demanded an explanation, which Charlie graciously supplied.
Charlie’s parents separated when he was young and his dad—let’s call him Fred—soon found himself in another relationship. The new lady in his life—let’s call her Alice—told him that she played the piano, and Fred thought it would be a great idea to buy her one as a surprise birthday present. Fred knew absolutely nothing about pianos, but he looked in the local paper’s classified ads and found one selling for fifty dollars. So he bought the piano, a very old upright and, with the help of a friend, lugged it in his pickup truck to his lady’s place.
In his ignorance, Fred thought that Alice was going to love it. But Alice did not love it. The piano was horribly out of tune, some of the keys and strings were missing, and its sound was small and tinny. Alice ordered the piano banished from her house and poor Fred suddenly had a very large piece of junk on his hands.
Not to worry, dear reader. Fred cleaned, sanded, and varnished the upright’s exterior, asked one hundred dollars for it in the same classified ads where he had bought it, and sold the piano for his asking price by the very next week. Now Fred suddenly saw dollar signs before his eyes if only he could learn how to repair and tune pianos.
He sent away for a Learn- How-To-Tune-A-Piano-By-Mail course, and within months Fred was making enough money buying, selling, and tuning pianos to consider quitting his day job.
What’s good for the father is good for the son. Fred taught his son, Charlie, how to tune pianos and told him that come what may in life, Charlie would always be able to depend on this skill for a source of extra income.
Charlie looked up at me, smiled, and asked once again: “So, would you like me to tune your piano?”
Sign up to receive new stories straight to your inbox!