Piano Tales

One of the Laurel and Hardy short comedies features them delivering a piano. The hook is that when they arrive at the address, they find mailbox at the bottom of a very long flight of stairs. Slightly cowed by all of those stairs, they begin the long trek to the top with the piano. As in all Laurel and hardy movies, things never go smoothly and the piano gets away from them several times, rolling back down the stairs and into the street, narrowly missing pedestrians and traffic. At one point, they reach the top of the stairs, only to lose control of the piano and watching helplessly as it rolls back to the street below. It is then they discover that there is a road to the top. Their struggles have been in vain. The film is anticlimactic at this point and ends with the destruction of the piano as well as a good portion of the house to which it was being delivered. And the person for whom it was bought didn’t want it anyway.

The film reminded me of an incident in high school. It was a gym class and we were, I think, playing dodge ball. A safe guess, anyway, since in all of my years in gym class in elementary and secondary school, dodge ball was the most prevalent activity. It was in December and as we were playing, the music teacher came out and asked the coach something. “Gather around, boys,” he said, clapping his hands to gain our attention. “The Christmas Concert (we could call it that in those days) is coming up and we need to move the piano from the stage to the gym floor,” we were told. The stage was set about three feet above the gym floor, not an impossible distance, but far enough considering the weight of the piano, a massive upright.

We had no real plan on who was to lift what from where; just 20 or so 14-year old boys swarming the piano and heaving it over the edge of the stage. At this point, some of the boys jumped to the gym floor to receive it from those handing it down. It was at this point that disaster struck. Something slipped or someone lost their grip and the piano tumbled to the gym floor, landing flat on its back. BAM! The sound of 88 hammers striking the strings at the same time was, um … impressive. Accompanying this vast chord was the sound of our laughing. It was sort of funny, you know, and we must have carried on for about a minute when one of the boys said “My foot!” in a loud voice. We all turned to him and saw the toes of his foot (the left one, I think) pinned to the gym floor by the top of the piano. It was no longer funny and we lifted the piano away in silence. He hobbled away with the help of the coach and the music teacher. Gym class was over for the day.

Not a lot was made of the incident. The piano, which came through with minor damage, was played, if somewhat off key, at the Christmas concert. The victim of the incident was back in school a few days later on crutches as several bones had been broken. No counselors appeared to ask if our psyches were bruised by the trauma of dropping a piano on a classmate. I am fairly certain I didn?t mention the incident to my parents. ?Hey mom and dad, guess what? We dropped a piano on Bud in gym class today.? It is probable that they never knew, the lines of communication between town folk and country folk (the fact that I grew up on a lake, and not strictly rural, was beside the point) being almost non-existent in those days. What with Christmas and Christmas vacation, there was no further mention of the accident until the following fall. At the beginning of the new school year, Bud?s injury, along with some other, less dramatic ones, was highlighted as an excellent reason to buy the accident insurance policy offered by the school. Because he had a policy, it was pointed out, his parents did not incur any needless medical expenses. This seemed imminently fair to everyone. How times have changed.