The Free Piano

November 26, 2008

The other evening I was walking home from work, and my friend Greta, who I had not seen in years, was entering Johnny Angel’s restaurant with a beau. After an exchange of mutual surprise and hugs, I told her that her piano was well.

Greta’s piano lives in our dining room, having moved to Skaneateles from our house in Syracuse, but it was the move before that was something of an epic. Abbie was little and about to start piano lessons, and Greta, a co-worker, said she had a piano we could have for free. An old upright, just the thing. Fabulous. I accepted immediately, and then, almost in passing, Greta spelled out a few small obstacles that could be easily overcome.

She lived in a flat on the second floor. The house had a spiral staircase. The piano had originally been roped and hauled up a row of ladders placed against the front of the house and hoisted in over the railing of the second floor porch. And, one more thing, the porch had since been enclosed, and she was fairly sure her landlady wasn’t open to any kind of deconstruction.

One of my college English professors, Robert Hastings, enjoyed the Zen riddle of the bird in the cage with no door. “How do you get the bird out of the cage?” he asked. The class was silent. “The bird is out of the cage!” he said, laughing at our lack of imagination. I’m sure the riddle had something to do with English literature that day, but it seemed more relevant to my situation as I pondered how to get the piano out of Greta’s flat.

Lacking a Zen master, I called a piano mover. He said, “No problem, we’ll take it out the front. Just call Parrot Sign and rent their crane for the morning.” Well, now I could get the piano to within a few feet of a crane, and thence to the ground and into a truck, but how would they get it out of the house? “My landlady leaves for work at 8:30,” Greta said, “We’ll just take the porch apart.” She knew a handyman, so we scheduled him for 8:45, with the piano movers due to arrive at 9 a.m. Or O-Nine Hundred, because this was beginning to take on the trappings of a military operation.

Some days things go right, especially if you grease the skids with enough money. The handyman was on time and began unscrewing the aluminum windows from the front porch. The piano movers and the crane arrived promptly as he was lifting out the final frame. The movers (two normal fellows and one behemoth) trod up the spiral staircase, rolled the piano onto the porch and reached over for the slings dangling from the business end of the crane. A few moments later, the piano cleared the opening with one inch to spare. Soon the piano was in the truck, the crane was headed back to its home, and the handyman was busy re-enclosing the front porch.

The landlady never found out. The piano was in our dining room on Crawford Avenue by 10 a.m., and I only had to write three checks. So it wasn’t exactly free, but the story of its travels more than made up for it.

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