I’m not sure what terrified me more. The crosses on all the walls or the German accent.
“Sit down!” she demanded. I did immediately. Following the orders of chilly blondes comes naturally to me.
“Put your fingers here! No! Not there! Here!” she barked, manipulating my hands into an unnatural position.
“Now! Let’s play!” she commanded.
My fingers were stiff and twisted into what looked like the paws of a dead raccoon. My brain hurt from the blizzard of my teacher’s stern directives. And there was an enormous crucifix bolted to the wall directly in front of me. The Christ figure hanging from it seemed to be pleading to me with his eyes: “Get out before it’s too late!”
None of this put me in the mood to play. Yet, I did not want to disappoint the exacting Valkyrian perched next to me. So, I punched my fingers at the target, which resulted in a discordant wail.
“Terrible!” exclaimed my teacher. “But it’s a start.”
For my birthday this year, my girlfriend gave me piano lessons and a piano. I had long dreamed of having parties where people gather ‘round a piano and sing old standards. This dream has been the main reason I have befriended so many gay men of a certain age. I assumed that one of them would know how to pluck out a showtune on a piano. But they’ve all disappointed me. So, as in most things, I have to do it myself.
Last Saturday, I attended my first lesson at my teacher’s studio, a gingerbread-like cottage called the Hansel and Gretel Music Academy. This told me two things: a.) that I’d be the only student who had yet reached puberty, and b.) that in keeping with the cheery tale by the Brothers Grimm, I may very well be coaxed into an oven before I learned to master the instrument.
My love of music and singing is both a blessing and a curse. Singing frequently and loudly gives me pure joy. I have a terrific appreciation for the standards and can belt out the most obscure Rodgers and Hart tune even when so drunk I can’t remember my name. So, that’s the blessing part of the equation. The curse is that my “friends” consistently fail to appreciate my melodic offerings. I’m hoping that once I learn to play the piano, they’ll be so distracted by this accomplishment that they’ll forget their distress over my singing voice. This is what I call the dog driving a car theory. Who cares if he crashes into every other car parked on the street. The dog is driving a car! Amazing.
My goal is to surprise my friends at my 50th birthday party in November 2014 by taking over the piano at our favorite cabaret and singing Cole Porter’s Tale of the Oyster, which I consider the story of my life.
Down by the sea lived a lonesome oyster,
Ev’ry day getting sadder and moister.
He found his home life awf’lly wet,
And longed to travel with the upper set.
Poor little oyster.
When I finished my first lesson, my teacher gave me a cookie (to fatten me up for the oven, I assume) and declared, “You are my worst student! A disgrace!” She then compared me unfavorably to her only other adult student—a 25-year-old with Down’s syndrome.
But being German and Christian, she refuses to give up on me. “You are my mission. Let others go tend to the leper colonies! You are my leper! My untouchable! I will cure you of your lack of talent.”
Momentarily buoyed by hope, I glanced up at Christ on the cross. He didn’t look very encouraging. But before I could get too gloomy, my teacher bellowed and I dutifully dropped my fingers to the keyboard.
“Chopsticks!” she cried. “Play! Now!”