Friday, March 20, 2009

A First Lesson

I want to learn to play the piano.

I should have taken it up years ago, but as a stubborn child, refused. I still resent my parents for not forcing me to sit and plunk out Greensleeves repeatedly, and feel that if Renaissance Woman is my ultimate goal, sing-shouting in my car to old Lauryn Hill songs really doesn't fulfill my musicianship quota.

The ad glowered at me from the back page of Willamette Week until I called the number. "Piano Lessons, $10/hour" was all it said.

After an extensive phone conversation with the instructor, who frankly seemed a bit dotty, I got an address, and a multitude of landmark references: kitty corner from Ray's Ragtime, right across from the Old Galleria mall, take MAX and get off at the public library, etc.

My lesson was to be at 6 PM yesterday, and I left work with plenty of time to arrive puncutally. However, I realized I misplaced the paper with the instructions, and, being a product of a GPS/Google Maps/texting generation, decided, as I often do, to wing it.

This proved a poor choice, as I ended up parking kitty corner from Ray's Ragtime...in a Smart Park. No piano studio to be found, there. I inquired at the Made in Oregon store. I wandered around the Galleria. I walked down a block and asked at my favorite art supply shop, Art Media. One employee there pointed me next door to a shabby performing arts building with a giant rambling staircase inside that took me past floor after floor of dance studios, but no pianos.
Flustered, I pulled open a door, and to my absolute bewilderment, practically ran into a guy I know.
"Aaron!?"
"Whoa, hey. What are you doing here?"
"I...I'm looking for my piano lesson." This sounds ridiculous. "What are you doing here?"
"Remember Jared?"
"Sure." Did I ever. Biggest crush ever when I was 12.
"Yeah, I'm here for his wedding rehearsal. He's getting married on Saturday."
These guys were my camp counselors at church camp, oh, 10 years ago. They would have been about my age and I was in middle school.
I eventually became a counselor with Aaron, but never saw Jared again after he dated another leader of ours, Jamie, and then weirdly and abruptly broke up with her after dating seriously for 2 years.
"This is SO weird," I said. "I just went to Jamie's bridal shower on Sunday!"
The weirdest part? Jamie is now engaged to ANOTHER guy that we all knew from camp.

We exchanged minor pleasantries, as I slowly backed my way out the door, as if to disappear before anyone could see me, so I could process what I'd just wandered into. I feel like these things only happen for a reason, but any and all reasons other than serendipitous coincidence evade me.

Onward continued the search for the elusive piano studio.

I stepped into a men's clothing store, and then finally Brooks Brothers- another men's store. There, a nice man by the name of George was extremely chivalrous in his efforts to assist me in my quest to play the piano. We got out a Yellow Pages. He walked me around the block and into a building to help me inquire as to the whereabouts of this stupid piano studio.

I thanked him profusely and bid him good evening, as the time was approaching 6:45. I could have just given up, but didn't have anything else going on, and was sort of enjoying this treasure hunt around Portland. I wondered whom else I would encounter.

And then, I found it. Nestled *next* to Ray's Ragtime Vintage Clothing: The Fine Arts Building. Ms. Ferrara: Ste 303.

Still in my work attire and heels, I sprinted up the stairs and to her studio. The lights were off. She was not there. But the door was ajar.
I stepped in, cautiously.

It was a small room, maybe ten feet by ten feet, and cluttered in the way that only a lover of the world can fill a space. Books- countless tattered books- doilies, and sagging sofas, and threadbare Oriental carpet, and busts and framed portraits; pillows, countless leaves of sheet music. A solitary poster of Bach sat magisterially above the room's guest of honor- an old wooden piano.

The molding around the windows was thick, and one window was open enough to hear the rain, and feel the March evening in the city street below. I breathed in- the scent of old things and learning- and decided that this would be where I learned to play the piano. If I could come back to *this* space, and soak up the palpable passion, and absorb the dust of music dictionaries - just sit and be, in this room, I would certainly give Ms. Ferrara my ten dollars each week.

I am sure I will be getting lessons of much more value.

The teacher found me minutes later, sitting patiently by her studio door. I began to apologize profusely, and she said, "Oh, that's okay. I went to the library. Those people there...they aren't good anymore like they used to be."

I liked her immediately. We talked each other's ears off for an hour and twenty minutes (topics covered: the healing properties of the Ocean, the depressing nature of Portland and Albert Camus, Romantic vs. Baroque music, family illness and responsibility, the terror of coping in a world with exponentially advancing technology and the resulting sadness at feeling left behind), we briefly talked piano, and then I offered her a ride home, to the hotel she is living in nearby.

Yes. These are going to be important lessons.



If you'd like to take piano lessons in Portland, let me know, and I will give you her name.
If you'd like to buy a suit or a tie or a nice men's coat, I recommend buying from George at the downtown Brooks Brothers.
If you'd like to buy a paintbrush, canvas, or other art tools, do so at the Art Media store on 9th and Morrison.
If you'd like to get married, or take lessons at a nice dance studio, you can do so at the Pyrithian Building, between 9th and 10th and Morrison.

If you'd like to wander around this city with me, give me a call.

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