Pickup Truck, Piano, Chinese Food

Jonathan Bellman

I thought I wrote this anecdote up already, but I can’t find it.  I apologize if I’m repeating myself (an ever more common occurrence).

Terminaldegree has a nice story here about her acquiring a piano and the strong student backs that moved it to her place.  Having done my pre-Thanksgiving cleaning, I’ll contribute my own cognate memory:

It was, I think, early fall quarter 1979 at UCSB, on a Friday night.  A fellow music student, Paul Lewis (later known as Pablo Luis, doing missionary work and singing in Mexico), needed to fetch an old upright piano his sister had left with friends in Santa Barbara proper, years before.  He would put it in the apartment he shared with some other guys, including my friend James.  They recruited a group of us to help, with the following plan:

Everyone except one roommate would go and somehow get this thing in a borrowed pickup truck and bring it back.

Brilliant!  Even more brilliant was the fact that the other roommate was one Tom Tong, an incredibleChinese chef who made this killer dinner for everyone to share when we returned with the piano.

So we arrive at the piano’s current location.  No problem, the people were nice and cooperative, except that the casters were (of course) ravaged, there was a gap in concrete walk to the car, and an awkward incline from the home.  Things looked ugly, until one of our company, the Taiwanese conducting student John Lau, says, “We will make a ramp.  Very Chinese.”  He used just a tiny piece of wood to connect the surfaces the piano needed to cross.  I told him not to be ridiculous, it would never work, and he insisted: “No, let me.  Very Chinese.”  Of course, it worked.  I think he also used telekinesis, magic, and rearrangement of molecules, but however he did it, between our backs and the toothpick-type piece of wood, we got the piano to the truck.  After heaping suitable adulation on John, we piled in and drove back.

Waiting for us maybe the most splendid Chinese meal I’d ever eaten.  Being Christians, they all did this big grace, Jesus this and Jesus that (you know what I mean), while I waited patiently.  I looked at the wine in front of me, remembered it was Friday night, and when they finished and before anyone could eat I picked up my wine glass and announced “Excuse me—equal time,” and chanted the full Kiddush, the prayer over wine.  Everyone was astounded and thanked me (I gathered they’d never heard it done), and a sense of utter bonding pervaded the entire evening.  I still glow to think about it; what more worthwhile experience then a cooperative effort to redeem a musical instrument to give it more of a future?

Two special moments:  when we arrived back in Isla Vista, the student community where the apartment was located, everyone got out to help with dinner, except…James, who was driving, commanded “All right, Bellman, in the back, NOW!”  No explanation was necessary; I sat on the side of the truck (at a certain amount of risk, I should say), improvising ragtime while he drove slowly around Isla Vista business district, at that point peopled mostly by stoned casualties from the 1960s.  “Whoa…jam on, man!” called one such—weakly—as we tooled deliberately by in the twilight.  I wonder what that…well, visitation must have looked like: ghostly ancient pickup rattling by, longhaired kid rattling on the piano in the back, disappearing in the mist.  The poor man’s Flying Dutchman…

At the end of the evening, we were warmly bidding each other good evening in the way that new blood-brothers do, and the girls upstairs (also friends; two were music students) came out of their apartment to see what the noise was, the familiar voices, etc.  One insanely beautiful one hung on the railing and opined that we/they (it wasn’t my apartment) should have invited them along for the evening, which was sort of awkward, but look, we were moving the piano, and, y’know, and…

Anyway, the two of us got better acquainted, and some years later I married her.  At the moment—as I write this—she’s preparing to feed some guests and our wonderful teenage son and my sorry tail also.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  I’d better get back to cleaning and helping, don’t you think?

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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5 Responses to Pickup Truck, Piano, Chinese Food

  1. MJ says:

    This is — by far — the best blog post I have ever read.
    I really thought the Stan Getz post was the best ever until I read this.

  2. You’ve made my morning, Jonathan. Thanks for this story.

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing your piano moving story. It’s much more heart warming than my story of moving a piano… having just got married, I had my piano (the tool of my piano-teaching trade!) moved from my parent’s home to the modest little basement suite my new husband and I proudly called our first home.
    After the professional movers picked up the piano from my folks’ house, I followed them to our new home. Parking on the side of the road, I sat in my car and watched attentively as the movers began to unload my precious instrument onto the lift on the back of the truck. Once the piano was on the lift, the mover placed the bench, upside down, on top of the piano. On top of the bench, he placed my antique piano stool. I suppose he must have been thinking he was killing three birds with one stone.
    It sort of happened in slow motion – as the lift began its descent, I saw the stool begin to teeter. The mover saw this, too. So what did he do? He let go of the piano in order to grab the stool. Not a good idea. The piano fell face-first off the lift onto the hard asphalt of the road, landing on the mover’s toe. (Have you ever heard a falling piano? It is a sound that even Schoenberg could not have replicated!)
    Needless to say, I was livid, and frantically called my tuner. The mover’s toe ended up being broken, and the moving company “graciously” offered their services for free the next time I needed a piano moved. (Yeah. Right)

  4. Phil Ford says:

    Best story ever!

  5. Peter Alexander says:

    What can I add? This is wonderful, Jonathan. Copshow!! You rock.

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