Piano Man

Illustration by Tom Dougherty

In general, I’m not big on other people. What I care about is my place, my DVDs, my food, my couch. But my buddy Jason had a kid, and when that kid looked into my face and smiled, I turned to Jason and said, “Now I have to love this thing. I hate you.” So I’m determined to make this kid—he’s now four—love me as much as his dad. Preferably more.

His name is Sean, and for some reason Sean loves classical music. I don’t know why. Jason and I live for sports. We’ve been going to Seahawks, Sonics (RIP), Mariners, Thunderbirds, and Bulldogs games since we went to Garfield. But Sean is all about piano. He listens to Bach. He wants CDs of piano music from the library. He can name all the parts inside a piano. Hey says G major is his favorite key. (What?) Whatever, the kid can’t be perfect.

I figure I’ll be godfather of the century if I get Sean a piano.

Well, a keyboard. I can’t afford a real piano. I reveal my plan to Jason and his wife Sarah so they don’t get him a piano—cuz two pianos, right?

I look online and realize I can’t afford a keyboard. But I refuse to get Sean a plastic crap toy piano. Kid knows what’s up. Then I start checking Craigslist and JACKPOT, there’s a bunch of good stuff. I finally get a winner: This woman Judith is selling a Casio with 61 keys for $65! I just gotta drive to somewhere near Sequim to get it.

I head out on Friday with Judith’s directions and take the Edmonds to Kingston ferry (13 bucks?!) to the peninsula. My old car’s usually not happy on long trips, but one adventure won’t hurt. After clearing Kingston, I’m crossing the Hood Canal Bridge when I take a good look around. I mean, it’s really amazing out here. The sun, clear sky, all these trees along the road—it’s like nature put out a welcome mat and I’m driving on it. Some kinda hawk circles above and I wonder how I can own one. I want a house out here. The food choices aren’t so great, but man, this air smells like air.

I stop at a fruit stand off the Olympic Highway and have a nice conversation with an old man in a Kenmore hat. He’s all, “Have some apples,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll have some apples,” and he asks about the ‘Hawks because of my shirt and I say, “They’re turning it around,” because of the Jets victory, although our defense needs work. The apples are so freakin’ good I almost turn around and go back for more, but I’m on a mission.

So I’m driving around Sequim Bay. The directions say to turn off onto this small road, which I do. I drive for a while and the road gets smaller. And the trees get taller. And I’m like whatever because it’s beautiful and it smells good and there’s a piano waiting for me and I’m gonna be godfather of the universe. And then the road ends.

Huh. I turn around, go back to the last fork and check the directions. But Judith’s instructions are incomplete. And my phone has no signal. So I try the other road and drive for a while. I didn’t know it was gonna take this long to get out here. Most of the day is already gone. Then the other road ends. Not good. OK. I check the incomplete directions again and drive back down the first road. Sun’s going down. Once again, dead end.

That good-air smell is now a damp smell.

“C’mon, Judith!” I say out loud. Check the phone. Still no signal. Okay. Okay. I put the car in reverse and it stalls. No. Then it gurgles. No no no, not now. It won’t start. I throw my phone at the floor. Okay. Time out.

This isn’t supposed to happen. This is against the rules. I gotta be godfather of the year. I hit the dashboard. Probably eight times. I stare out the windshield at nothing.

I get out of the car. I don’t know what to do, so I start walking. Without thinking, I just walk. I’m angry and lost. Stupid Judith. Stupid car. Stupid piano. Stupid Jason. Stupid Sonics. I almost call Sean stupid but then I picture him listening to Bach, playing air piano because his godfather didn’t get him one. Stupid me.

An hour goes by and I’m really hungry. It’s totally night now. I’m wearing a jacket but it’s not warm. The woods are cold and wet. I do not want a house out here. I want my place. I want my couch. I want to watch Justified. I want a burger.

Then a flashlight shines in my face. Scares the crap outta me. I didn’t notice anyone standing there.

“Hey,” I say. “I’m—”

WHAM. Something whooshes by me and hits a tree. A friggin’ arrow. I turn to run but trip instead. Falling. This is bad. Here comes the ground. GROUND. The flashlight is back on me.

“Please, don’t don’t don’t!” I stammer.

I see a crossbow in the light. Suddenly, with my life on the line, I think of two things.

1.  Chips and salsa is good, but do we need a salsa-flavored chip?

Just being honest.

2.  Sean as a young man on a fancy stage playing for thousands of people. The music sounds beautiful, like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I don’t want it to end. I want him to keep playing forever.

I sob violently. “I have to get a piano for my godson!”

There’s a grunt from behind the flashlight. Then a voice that sounds like a zombie with a lisp.

“You here for the Casio?” it asks.

I say yes but add a question mark at the end.

“Oh,” says the voice. “Sorry ‘bout that. Been deer poachers ‘round here. Let’s get your keyboard.”

Judith, this scary old lady with Don King hair who lives in a log cabin but still gets internet somehow, gives me the keyboard for free because of almost killing me and all. I’m worried it’s gonna be covered in mud or cheese or something, but it’s absolutely pristine. She says she never played it because she got into saxophone instead. Then she gives me a ride to my car which, of course (OF COURSE), starts just fine. I drive back to Kingston totally wired and eat five cheeseburgers.

The whole ferry ride back, I stare at the Casio. Maybe it’s the near-death, maybe it’s thinking about Sean, but gazing at those black and white keys and all the spaceship-looking buttons, I think this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

When Sean opens his present on Christmas, his eyes turn to stars—way brighter than the lights on the fake tree. He keeps shouting, “It’s a real keyboard!” as he jumps up to find the nearest outlet to plug it in. See—kid knows what’s up.

Jason and Sarah’s living room is made of Christmas cheer, what with the fireplace and the tree and the candy canes and the Santa hat they made me wear. They’re floored by my story, though in my version, I don’t trip or blubber and I catch the arrow. But everything falls away when Sean starts playing the Casio. Just the way he presses the keys, he’s already a natural.

I know this sounds weird, but right before my eyes I see him grow tall. The keyboard stretches into a full-size grand piano. The living room expands into an auditorium big as the sky with thousands of people inside, listening underneath crystal chandeliers circled by hawks. Sean plays like his hands have wings. Sounds of hope and love and everything good and possible in the world echo for miles.

I don’t want it to end. I want him to keep playing forever.

Illustration by Tom Dougherty