Life, One Sip at a Time: The Piano Man
©2021 R.G. Ryan
I sat on the patio of my favorite beachside coffee shop. You’ve been here with me a time or two before, so you know the drill: across the street deep indigo water set against an azure sky that hadn’t seen a cloud for days on end; salt air tickling your nose ever so slightly; an easy camaraderie with the regulars, even those whose names I do not know.
The patio was packed with people afforded the luxury of easing into their day. There was the aging Hippie whose obnoxious dog incessantly wanders from table to table begging for whatever largesse may be solicited from the assembled patronage; the “morning crew”, an eclectic group of friends gathered around the fire pit animatedly discussing politics; the German tourists from the Inn next door who couldn’t decide whether to sit inside or outside; everyone’s favorite barista, now on maternity leave, who had come by to show off her precious treasure; the lawyer who routinely and generously dispensed legal advice to anyone who inquired.
I was savoring my medium cup of coffee, with room for cream, and possibly the best chocolate croissant on the planet (the croissant whose origins date from Budapest in 1686, not France as is so widely supposed).
Off to my left I heard a man and woman talking.
She, a middle-aged woman of some means, as evidenced by her quite stylish attire; he, a man of the same age-group dressed in what could be kindly referenced as “shabby chic.”
I heard the woman say, “So, are you a musician, or something?”
He replied, “Yeah, I’m a piano player.”
“Professional? said she.
With a detached air he said, “If by that you mean, do I make my living at it, then, yes.”
“Huh,” she said. “My daughter is getting married next month and we haven’t been able to find anyone to play for the reception. Are you interested?”
Peering at her from over the rim of his reading glasses, he said, “Sure. When is it?”
She told him the date, and looking off into the distance as if consulting a calendar in his mind he affirmed that he was, indeed, available.
“Wonderful! the woman said excitedly. “What do you charge?”
“Two thousand dollars,” he said without expression.
Caught completely off-guard by his reply, the woman stammered and stuttered before managing, “Two-thousand! Why that’s, that’s—“
“A lot of money,” he said, finishing the sentence for her.
“I…I can’t believe you get much work at that price,” she said rather indignantly.
With a Cheshirean grin he said, “At that price, I don’t need to work much.”
Rendered utterly speechless, the woman stood there as if not knowing what to do or say.
“So, you going to hire me?” said the man.
A big breath, as if in preparation to speak, and then she turned and walked away toward a Tesla Model S, got in, slammed the door and drove off in a huff, nearly taking out a Mini Cooper in the process.
Turning in my direction, the Cheshire Cat grin still in place he said, “Happens to me a lot.”
Suddenly, the grin melted away from his face as he stared off into the distance in obvious remembrance, or contemplation. I couldn’t tell which.
Turning back in my direction, his mouth twitched a bit before he said in a voice thick with emotion, “Looking at me now you might not notice—“
“But I’ve had my moments,” I said, completing his sentence. “Emerson Drive. I love that song.”
“Yeah,” he said nodding slowly. “Me too. Story of my life.” After a pause he added, “I really did have my days in the sun.”
“I’m sure you did.” Craning my neck to see beyond the overhang, I glanced at the sky. “Seems to me the sun’s still shining.”
He followed my gaze, staring once again off into the blue. “I…well, I’d like to believe that. But reality is an ofttimes-cruel teacher. And my reality doesn’t look a thing like that!” he said gesturing at the sun swept landscape.
Turning around in my chair so I was facing him, I said, “The thing about reality, is that it’s largely a matter of perception.”
He waved his hand dismissively, saying, “Yeah, yeah…perception IS reality. I know. Heard that my whole life.”
“But what if it’s true? Henry Ford said once that, ‘Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.’”
He laughed, and then laughed a little more.
“That’s good. I mean, that right there is really good. I’m going to remember that.” Standing abruptly, he scooped his belongings into a backpack and said, “Sorry to bug out on you so quick like, but I’m gonna go talk to that lady.”
“But she’s gone.”
“No worries,” he said with a laugh. “I know how to get in touch with her. See, the only reason I quote ridiculous prices like that is that it’s about the only self-esteem I’ve got left. I need that job, so I’m gonna go talk to her, see if we can work something out. No time like the present to start believing in myself again. Thanks! Thanks a lot.”
And with that, he was gone.
“Looking at me now you might not notice…but I’ve had my moments.”
Man! Can I ever relate to that. But, I believe that there are many more “moments” to come for the Piano Man.
For you…for me.