A Minor Distraction

One day this last fall while I was blazing a new trail through the garage, I discovered one of the old pianos that had gone missing earlier in the year.

“Ah, so there you are,” I said, once again talking to an inanimate object.

I was in the midst of clearing the garage so that at least one of the vehicles could come in from the inevitable snow. I swear the garage has never been this cluttered. True, I haven’t been able to pull the truck into my side for years — not since that first winter when I couldn’t bear to see a snowflake on the hood — but we’ve always been able to squeeze in Pam’s little Honda.

I guess it proves that principle of physics, the one about vacuums.  If you move the truck out of the garage, the space created will immediately fill with piles of stuff and half-finished projects.

The mower needs a tune-up and the outboard motor still must be properly stored. A pile of lumber, enough to build a doghouse, shares the floor with pipes and pieces of guttering. I cut some of that wood a year ago to build a shelving unit. I had sketched it all out on a piece of paper that still might be around here somewhere.

There was painting gear and garden equipment, shovels, brushes and buckets. Buckets! Empty cat litter buckets and plastic pails. Buckets of rags, and buckets of nails and buckets of cords and cleaning supplies. Buckets! They were everywhere, all over the floor and the work benches, and you had to step around them or shove them aside to reach something, anything, over there anywhere.

So I finally got fed up and decided to act. (Plus, remember the aforementioned doghouse? Let’s just say that Pam’s Honda is not fond of snowflakes.)

“Garage,” I said, addressing another inanimate object, “it’s either you or my sanity.”

I dug into that wood pile and didn’t climb back out until there were shelves for all of my tools and supplies, and new storage racks, too, where all those buckets were lined up like obedient little cat litter soldiers. I could actually see the floor in almost half the garage.

My sense of satisfaction lasted for about day, or until I cast my gaze into the dark, foreboding corner, the last bastion of clutter in the garage. This is a region rarely explored, a mostly uncharted land where beat-up old furniture goes to hide. This is where the dreams of a procrastinator wait to be refinished.

This is where generations of spiders have built a metropolis of webs among the clay pots and sacks of peat and topsoil. And this is where I discovered the piano.

“Ah, so there you are,” I said.

It did not reply.

I hacked my way through the suburbs of the cobweb city and removed a strata of dust and looked for the first time in forever at the 600-pound piano that I’d picked up for free off of Craigslist. Pam thinks I got ripped off.

She might have a point.

But I have a vision for this thing. Sure, it’s not a prize. It’s not a Steinway, a Wurlitzer or even a Brunswick. It’s merely a humble Willard. But it’s old, and it has character. And — with a cracked soundboard and loose action, broken pedals and mostly mournful strings — its playing days are long over. But it’s still a cool thing. Unfortunately, it is a 600-pound cool thing.

I have always thought the Willard had promise. Although not as a piano.

I’ve envisioned its harp, the cast-metal innards, screwed to the wall somewhere as a curiosity piece, a chunk of somewhat interesting industrial art. Instrumental art, if you will. I have fantasized about creating sculpture out of the other things, the keys and the strings and the hammers and stuff. Not that I’m an artist. I did mention this was a fantasy.

And the wooden cabinet that encases it all, the actual structure of the piano, could be repurposed as something else. This is not a new idea, for others have preceded me in this. I have seen photos of old pianos turned into computer desks, and I believe I could do something similar. While I’m not an artist, I do possess the rudimentary carpentry skills to butcher a piece of furniture and the twisted pride to drag it into the house.

So I stood there, cobwebs dangling from my nose, pondering the possibilities. My mind imagined a buffet or a bookcase. And the more I thought about it, the more dreamlike my visions. Before long I was hallucinating about liquor cabinets.

It was in this delusional state that I said to myself, who was beginning to resemble an inanimate object, “I wonder what I’d find if I removed that screw and … .”

And so it started.

What I found after removing that screw was another project, one that has grown and migrated into the light, where the piano is now being gutted and the pieces are being sorted and stored. Yes, in buckets.

I’m not kidding myself. I know this project will take awhile, but probably not more than a month or two. Or three… Unless I get sidetracked.

And I don’t think it will demand much space. But there might not be room for the Honda.


Collected written works  |  Gary Marx


Looking for a Chicago

    Dog in Cow Town

In Death’s Waiting


Living in Interesting


Remembering 9/11

In Defense

    of Meandering

O Little Town

     of Mythlehem

Giving the Computer

    the Boot

The Depth of These


Musings on the Plaza,

    and a World at War

The Tale of the

    All-Seeing Bob

Morning Drive

    on the First Day

Fruit Stands in October

Moving Day,

    Oscar Night