I’m not sure how it happened. I said: “Let’s put our house on the market.” Then it sold. I don’t think the sign was ever fully planted on the front lawn. But we were moving.
We packed boxes, had a garage sale, and on moving day a five-man crew showed up. They were headed up by a giant named Little Mike, who appeared eating a burrito of such monstrous proportions that I hesitate to call it a burrito, and a skinny guy with a clipboard who introduced himself as Skinny Nick.
The first thing we did was a walk-through. “If it is impossible to move,” said Nick, “we can’t move it.” Mike shrugged at this, his mouth full, as if to say he couldn’t be responsible for the way the universe had been set up.
I pointed out beds, bookshelves, a dining room table. After each item, Mike took a bite, nodded and Nick make a check on his clipboard.
Until we got to the piano.
Nick said: “We know about this?”
I confirmed it. The piano was more than 100 years old, solid wood, taller than me. The man who’d owned the house before us had passed away, and we inherited it. It was now a member of our family.
Mike walked off without a word. Nick said: “We’re not moving the piano.” I opened my mouth as if to object. He raised a hand to stop me. “Listen,” he said. “You want this thing moved, call piano movers.”
By the end of the day everything except the piano was in the new house.
I started making calls. The numbers of the first three piano moving companies were disconnected. The fourth was a florist who did an arrangement called the piano. I was about to give up, when Dan at Blackjack Piano Movers answered the phone. He could fit me in, he said, in two weeks.
“Please,” I said, “there’s no one else.”
I must have sounded desperate. “We can do it,” he said after a long pause, “if you can help. The last job took out the last guy. We’re a man down.”
“I’m in,” I heard myself say. It was only after hanging up the phone that it occurred to me I had made a rash, maybe dangerous, decision. What happened to the last guy? Would my life insurance cover my death by falling piano?
But it was too late for second thoughts. The Blackjack Piano moving crew got there 15 minutes later. Dan was about my size, bearded, bespectacled; he looked more like someone about to give a seminar on the piano than move one. With him was a man named Jerry, who refused to shake my hand because he was suffering with something he called “waltzing pneumonia” and another guy who was halfway through his first day on the job. “I guess you’re the new new guy,” the new guy said to me.
I showed Dan the path the piano would need to take. It was a route that went down one flight of stairs, around the back of the house, then down a gentle incline and into the truck. Dan was unfazed. He said something that sounded like “muster the shuttlecock,” and in a flash I was helping take out wooden boards and ancient, obscure metal ramps from the truck to construct a makeshift runway from my house to the back of the truck.
“This is where we need you,” Dan told me, indicating the last corner, where the descent to the truck began. It was at that point that everyone except me would have to let go of the piano. My job was to keep it upright, and steer it into the truck.
There are certain immutable laws in the universe. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. You only take one sample at Costco. Bananas do not go in the fridge. And this: Pianos are like people in that they do not want to move, but once they’ve started, they do not want to stop.
Dan counted to three, and we all pushed with all we had. Abruptly, the piano began to move—slowly at first but then more quickly. As it rounded the first corner, it had picked up so much speed that I had to sprint to get to my place. Just as it reached me, the piano hit a bump and leaned over, precariously, in my direction. “This is you Steve,” shouted Dan, and I reached up, grabbed the top of it, and straightened it. “Muster the shuttlecock!” said Dan (maybe), clapping me on the back as he ran over.
What amazed me was how light it felt, how I’d only needed to touch it to point it in the right direction. It was like the piano was walking a tightrope and just needed a little reassuring. A moment later it landed in the truck with a thud. I threw my weight against it and waited for Dan and the crew to strap it in before it could roll out and back where it had come from.
I paid Dan in cash, and he handed back a quarter of it. “If you’re looking for a steady gig,” he said, “call me.”