Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Problem Solver

Everything was gone from my house--all our crap from the first two floors, overflow items from the vacant basement apartment, plus ancient stuff from a 70-year-old attic...even detritus from the backyard shed. But there was one implacable object that wouldn't budge.

The piano....an upright motherfucker that a pro piano tuner had years ago declared untunable and unworthy of further investment. It was my mom's favorite inanimate object of all time, but really--unsentimentally--it was literally the 400-pound beast in the room.  I needed some added muscle to get this sucker out of the house.
<img src="Bronx-piano.jpg" alt="Bronx piano" />
That yellow harp inside can break a man.
When I moved out of the house a month earlier, I hired immigrants standing outside Home Depot; they walked out on me. Two Ecuadorians: one tall, around 30; the other perhaps a little older, short and chubby. They wanted $130 each, but I wouldn't budge...$100 for five hours of labor--two of those hours being travel time. After 10 minutes of haggling, they agreed to take the hundred bucks. They hopped in the 16-foot rental truck, and we were off. I was relieved; I could only afford the truck for one day, had taken a risk on unknown labor and besides, the forecast was for heavy thunderstorms. It looked like it was going to start pouring any second.

I speak pretty decent Spanish, and tried to make conversation on the way to my house, asking where they were from, how long they'd been in America and how they liked the Bronx. They merely looked down, muttering curt responses. Finally, I gave up. After all, I didn't have to be buddies with these guys. That's when they started complaining...

"I don't know, Señor Charlie...not a lot of money...."
Their attitude and overall shitty vibe was starting to irk me.
"We haven't even started yet! Stop complaining, we made a deal."

I showed them the work to be done. After making two trips down the steps with bureaus, the tall one said, "We can't continue for less than $130."

I looked him unflinchingly in the eye; I didn't like these guys at all. "I'll go right back to Home Depot and get two other men. I'm not paying you any more money."

The chubby one handed back the gloves I had lent him. The tall one said, "We want to work tranquilo."

They walked off without another word, leaving my daughter's chests of drawers in the middle of the sidewalk, the heavens about to open. I stood there in absolute shock, watching them disappear down the street. On the drive over, they had been discussing how far we were from the subway...I figured that's where they were heading. There was no easy way to get back to Home Depot...they were going home, probably to watch soccer on satellite tv. They never had any intention of doing real labor on a Sunday.

How I made out the rest of my moving day is an inspiring testament to perseverance, strength and sheer will--in other words, it's boring--so let's revisit the friggin' piano...

<img src="trash-piano.jpg" alt="trash piano" />
Awaiting the grim reaper/NYC sanitation dept...
I wasn't thrilled about another go with immigrants, so I tried the opposite route--hiring not only legal workers, but specialists. I called a piano company in the South Bronx that had a moving department and warehouse for storage and disposal. They wanted $500 to take it away, even though I told them they didn't have to be polite with the instrument, could throw it down the stairs for all I cared. Didn't matter to them. $500, dead or alive...

The next day I was back at Home Depot, but with a different purpose...

I explained to the guy in the rental department about the monster in the living room.

"Know what you need?"
I shook my head. "A guy with muscles bigger than my head?"
"A problem solver. Know what that is?"
"A guy with both brains and muscles bigger than my head?"
"Sledge hammer. No messing around with one of those."

I pictured myself clumsily swinging the  crude tool, launching splintered shards of wood into my calf muscle. However, the chain saws on display were sleek and powerful...

A half-hour later I had the chain saw at the ready, waiting to tear into the tender flesh of polished mahogany. Once I touched saw teeth to piano there was no going back. The instrument would never play Chopin or Chopsticks again. I pushed the thought out of my mind and squeezed the trigger. The deed was simultaneously effortless and brutal--in less than a minute the piano was cleaved in two.

I examined the remains. The upright part of the piano contained a cast iron harp, which held the strings taut. It was machined into the backing with about 30 screws, most of which refused to budge. The sucker was still too awkward and heavy for me, even with the hand truck I had rented. The beast had gotten the best of me.

I was standing outside beside the keyboard half, a defeated look on my face. My neighbor pulled up in his van, asking what was up. He took pity on me, calling his 22-year-old son and bringing over a furniture dolly from his garage. Together the three of us grunted, groaned and coaxed the upright spine down to the street, step by step. When we dropped it on the pavement, it emitted one last, cacophonic crescendo...

The long arm of the memory.
I cried a little on the way home, thinking about how much my mom loved that piano. But I did keep a memento...

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