When a piano hits the curb, everyone's a critic

One morning a couple of weeks ago I awoke to something that sounded like an ice-cream truck. Even in my semiconscious state I knew better. Not in November - in Michigan.

Ours is an aurally rich neighborhood. People frequently hammer, run power tools, break up old concrete, or engage in other audible industry, often accompanied by boom boxes. The high school, less than two blocks away, treats us to band practice. Neighbor dogs and cats express themselves freely. Several nearby churches favor us with chimes. And haunting calls of freight trains and Great Lakes freighters carry from a mile or two away.

But that morning's plinkity-plink didn't fit the norm.

When we lived in Taiwan years ago, little garbage trucks navigated the narrow streets, playing music to invite residents to contribute their trash. This distant plink-plink sounded sort of like that - not that our huge sanitation trucks with their noisy hydraulics and no-nonsense demeanor would ever emit such charming lilts.

Anyway, the plink-plink soon stopped. Maybe Ken had started to play a Poulenc CD downstairs and then thought better of it.

I presently forgot about the musical intrusion and got on with my day.

Later, Ken mentioned that an upright piano had appeared on the curb across the street that morning. He told me about watching two guys in a pickup truck stop in the middle of the street. One man stayed in the cab while the other got out and played the curbside piano. (That solved my strange-music mystery.) Then the men had driven away.

When Ken looked out later, he said, the piano was gone.

We have two recycling programs in our city. The official one has weekly pickups, and it provides notices and instructions and little bins to put appropriate items into.

The "underground" recycling program is not on a schedule but is just as efficient. Instructions aren't necessary. Everyone just knows that if you put anything of the slightest value on the curb, someone will take it off your hands.

So it came as no surprise that the piano had disappeared.

What did surprise us was its reappearance about a week later. We've never known the underground folks to return something to the curb whence it came. But there it stood in its old spot, the twice-rejected piano.

We carelessly considered giving it a home, thinking the cabinet looked fairly decent (from across the street), and that in some future state of solvency we might rebuild its innards.

I watched through the window as Ken walked over and examined the oversized waif. He lifted the lid to look down into the action, not realizing that the hinges were missing.

I saw him adroitly catch the top piece to keep it from sliding off. Then he uncovered the keyboard, and even from a distance I could tell that it was in sad shape. Upon closer examination, the cabinet wasn't all that impressive, either. For what it would cost to rehab that instrument, we could buy a new one. And we really didn't need another piano, anyway.

We let that notion go.

The next morning we were lured to the front door by the piano's plinkity-plink against the background roar of a garbage truck. We saw the driver standing by while his colleague plinked away. Then we watched them wrestle the heavy instrument into the street and push it up against the back of their truck.

I observed that in many municipalities a resident would be ticketed for leaving a piano on the curb; but in our friendly town, carting it off is just part of the service.

Presently, another garbage truck arrived and two men got out to help heft the massive piece of refuse into the business end of the vehicle.

We'll probably never know whether it was a good piano that fell into the wrong hands, or a lemon from the start. But I suspect the recycling underground checked it out before deciding to put it back. I doubt its disappearance will be a great loss to the world of music.

A Juilliard student once told us that they call an inadequate piano a PSO (for "piano-shaped object"), and this one certainly fitted that designation. Ken didn't say so, but I suspect he recalled a couple of PSOs he's had to play, and thought this would be a fitting eventuality for them, too.

On about the third heave-ho, in went the castoff, and we watched the mighty jaws chew it up.

It wasn't an entirely somber occasion, though.

In its final moment, the condemned instrument emitted one last plinkity-plink - the closest thing to cheerful ice-cream-truck music we're likely to hear coming from any of our serious sanitation vehicles.

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