December 28, 1999
On The Twelfth Day


Yeah, you heard me correctly. My true love gave me a piano for Christmas.

He surprised me with it on Sunday, after I got home from the trip to TicTac. He picked me up at the airport at 9 a.m. that morning, then dropped me off at The Castle while he went out for a few hours. That gave me a little time to relax and recharge and eat chocolate and snoop around in the closets, looking for my Christmas present. (I couldn't find anything. Hmmmm.) Later that afternoon I was in the bathroom when I heard a knock at the front door. I opened the door and there was David, asking if I've "been a good little girl?"and holding an enormous Casio box in his arms.

It was my piano.

I burst into tears. (Naturally!  I'm ALWAYS bursting into tears lately. But usually in a good way.)  And then I sort of flung myself into his arms, and the next few minutes were a soggy blur of hugs and thank-yous and oh-my-gods and frantic box-opening.

It was a merry moment.

Two days later, I am still reeling from the surprise -- from the enormity -- of the gesture. It is easily the most magnificent Christmas present I have ever received, on the twelfth day of christmas, my true love gave to me ...not only in terms of extravagance, and generosity, and HEFT -- bigger, even, than the purple Sting Ray bike from Daddy, circa Christmas 1968 -- but in terms of pure emotional significance.

In other words: the man scored. BIG time.

I suppose that technically you can't really call it a piano. It's an "electronic keyboard" ... one of those super-deluxe six-octave 73-key models, with bazillions of sound effects and synthesizer functions and multi-track recording capability, plus a built-in drum pad and four-speed dual-quad posi-traction. (In other words: all the bells and whistles. And then some.)

But hey. If it sounds like a piano -- which it does, with a clarity that's almost spooky ... and it looks like a piano  ... it's a piano.

Right now it's somewhat unceremoniously plunked on our sofa. It came with a folding stand, but as most of you are aware, there isn't really any room in our little Ant Farm for it to stand upright on a permanent basis. (Hell. There is barely enough room for US to "stand upright on a permanent basis." Maybe when we move to a bigger place ... please god,sometime in 2000.)

So for the time being it remains portable. Which is fine.

The first night we dragged it into bed with us  --  that was our belated *Christmas celebration*  --  and spent a mirthful couple of hours playing with the sound effects and figuring stuff out.  We discovered that we can create our own compositions! But we're going to have to buy some extra parts first -- like a DECENT COMPUTER, for instance -- before we can transfer our creations to MIDI and inflict them on our trusting unsuspecting Internet audience. But that'll be down the road.

The second night, I tiptoed out to the living room while David was asleep, knelt beside the sofa, plugged in the headphones and quietly practiced scales for an hour. It felt a little like I have always imagined Communion must feel like: sacred and sweet and scary, all at once.

It was like reconnecting to something I'd forgotten I needed "reconnection" to.

I do have to admit something here. I had a teeny tiny *inkling* that David was planning to do this.

Call it "girlfriend's intuition."

We have been looking at keyboards, in various music stores, for months and months. Usually it went like this: we would pop into Guitar Center or Yamaha or The Thin Man, ostensibly to buy David a new A-string, or to look at guitar straps, or to check out the latest sheet music. After 3.4 seconds or so of listening to him argue the merits of metal bridge pins vs. plastic with the sales clerk, my eyes would sort of glaze over, and I would wander off to look at something more "interesting" ... like pianos.

David would find me, a few minutes later, standing there lovingly fingering the keyboards. We would then have our usual discussion of "Wouldn't this be nice?" and "Maybe after we catch up financially" and "Think of all the fun stuff we could do!" (I believe he has secret plans to form a band. That's fine with me, as long as I get to be Laurie Partridge. But that's another story for another day.)

David knows that the piano is something very near and dear to my heart ... something that I used to love but abandoned years ago, for various reasons.  He has always said that part of our recovery from alcohol and drug abuse involves getting back to doing things we used to love. For him, it has been playing the guitar.

For me, maybe, it is playing the piano again.

I'm not the greatest pianist in the world. It doesn't come naturally to me, the way writing does. And there were definitely times in my life -- early childhood, especially, practicing every day after school for two hours -- when I hated the piano more than Kimberly Houk, saddle shoes and P.E. class combined.

But there have also been times in my life when the piano has soothed me, thrilled me, emboldened me, comforted me, like nothing else.

Two weeks ago we were at CompUSA in Emeryville, placing the order for the Tots' Christmas computer. As we were leaving the store, a display of electronic keyboards caught my eye. They were conveniently *parked* right next to a display of guitars and amps, so while David entertained himself (and assorted fellow store patrons) with his blistering rendition of "All The Young Dudes," I did my usual standing-there-longingly-caressing-the-keyboard thing. It was sale priced at $199, and even though it wasn't quite the model I had in mind -- I think it was only four octaves, and I really wanted six -- I seriously thought about buying it for a moment or two. "It would be my Christmas present to myself," I said. But David said no, let's wait until after the holidays and look for something better ... and I grudgingly agreed. I couldn't REALLY afford it, anyway.

But I was disappointed.

At that exact moment I happened to glance at David's face. There was something in his expression ... a sort of determinedness, a gleam in his eye, nothing I can actually describe ... that said, This is a dream I am going to help her realize.

And from that point I just sort of *knew.*

But even "knowing" in advance couldn't fully prepare me for the thrill of that moment, last Sunday, when I opened the door and he was standing there holding my DREAM in his arms.

Tonight after work we're going straight to Berkeley,  to Moe's Bookstore,  so I can load up on the piano books from my childhood ... Bach and Beethoven and Mozart, and all of Clementi's Sonatinas ... maybe some of the Vivaldi I learned for high school choir ... as many of the old John L. Thompson "Teaching Little Fingers to Play" series (remember those? in the red covers? ) as I can get my hands on ... and basically anything else that catches my fancy/tickles my memory/doesn't completely wipe out what's left of my post-holiday bank balance.

In other words: all of the music I wept over, as a little girl, then as a teenager, during those tortuous afternoon practice sessions.

It's ironic, isn't it? I loathed practicing the piano when I was a kid. I wanted to be anywhere, ANYWHERE, except sitting in front of that hateful upright piano, under Grandma's watchful eye. (More specifically, I wanted to be upstairs in the attic with Anita Brown, gnawing on a contraband Big Hunk candy bar and watching "Dark Shadows.")  I swore that once I was old enough to exert some independence, I was going to quit piano lessons and stop practicing forever ... AND toss every single one of those horrible music books into the nearest bonfire, while I was at it.

And now I'm going back and buying those books, all over again. What's more: I'm going to treasure them this time.

Even more amazing: I'm going to use them.

I expect to be really terrible for a while, and that's probably going to frustrate me a little.  It's been how many years, since I played for real? ... since 1986, the year I tearfully sold Grandma's piano to my next-door neighbors for $150. (Ray and I had just separated: the kids and I were on our own, and I needed the money for a deposit on an apartment.)  Except for the occasional *noodling* on the Tots' toy instruments -- and the recent music store visits -- these fingers have not touched a piano keyboard in thirteen years.

The past couple of days I've played around with the new keyboard, of course ... mostly just trying out all the groovy sound effects, figuring out which buttons do what, adjusting to the key tension, etc. ... practicing scales ... but I haven't actually sat down and PLAYED anything yet. Part of it is memory loss: except for "The Spinning Song" and one-half of Bach's Minuet in G, I appear to have retained absolutely nothing from eleven years' of piano lessons. I'm really going to need that sheet music. (And maybe some ginko biloba.)

Part of it is shyness: the first time I play something *real* for David, I would prefer that he not run screaming in revulsion. (And yes, I realize how utterly stoopid this is. The man would love anything I played. Even if it was "The Spinning Song" ... played with my NOSE. And I know it.)

And part of it is good old-fashioned ego. What if I suck even worse than I remember?

Oh well. There's only one way to find out, isn't there?

Gentlemen ... start your metronomes.

self-important blurb #1 will go HERE: he's just the best. what can i say? he is just the BEST ... and i am one lucky woman.

thank you, david. i love you, i love you, i love you all over the place ... you big adorable wonderful delicious intuitive lug.

self-important blurb #2: want to hear something really ironic?

my christmas gift to david this year was a fifty-dollar gift certificate ...

... to guitar center.

special *howdy* to: lind boyd and bernard witte, my piano teachers from 1965 to 1975. i went through a lot of john l. thompson -- and a lot of kleenex -- in their chilly rehearsal studios ... but now i'm beginning to think that maybe it was all worth it.

and another special *howdy* to grandma vert ... who is undoubtedly smiling at this very minute [and waiting for me to come inside and practice] ...

more or less a year ago

here's where i'll ask a *relevant* question:

any requests?

if it's "the spinning song," i don't wanna hear about it.

amazingly profound thought of the day: "Music is the art of thinking with sounds." ~ Jules Combarieu ~