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Piano lessons – finale

Notebook Recollections

Ever since the first piano – outside – the UFM clinic column in December’s “Community Reporter,” letters have been pouring in. Well, three. One congratulatory, one asking about a “rash down there” and one cease and desist note begging for a “column about anything other than another piano.”

Got it. This really is the last one. Even though technically, there would be two more outside Clinic pianos.

Because this is the last Clinic piano column, we’re going to overlay a few dates from last month.

2–15–17. Monday. An uncommon 40°. Outside campers Mark and Anthony were at the piano today for an hour playing and sometimes singing. Anthony has started seeing Dr. Ravi at Clinic. Mark was just hanging around the outside piano area. Sleeping on the black wrought iron “to serve and teach” bench by the carport door.

2–17–17. Wednesday. Tex emergency-cabbed in Cowboy and his mom. No cowboy hat, no piano plunking. Cowboy sprained an ankle and badly skinned an elbow. No mention of shots or signs of clinic aversion.

2–21–17. Sunday. 9:30 a.m. Really foggy out. Ravi and I were dictating and charting. On the computer! Modern medicine had arrived last month.

An hour into our electronic record carnival, Ravi went to answer a pounding at the clinic main entrance. Piano Mark. Ravi let him in to wash up and use the “lav.” Then he gave Mark a vending machine bottle of OJ and a three-count Oreo cookie package before letting him out again.

At around 1 p.m., Ravi and I heard a massive sound – blast.

“Sounds like the foghorn from the Titanic,” Ravi said.

I had to laugh. We used that as a sign to end the charting.

Here’s the thing. It was the Titanic fog horn. Not kidding. I read it in the Monday, St. Paul Pioneer Press. Our science Museum of Minnesota had it for a day or two. Part of a traveling exhibit. The actual, recovered Titanic foghorn was blown outside at 1 p.m. Sunday for all St. Paul to hear.

2–22–17. Tuesday. Tex is in clinic to see me via a borrowed bicycle. He asked right off if it was OK if we didn’t talk about the piano today.

I said, “of course.”

Tex said he was feeling pretty down. I could see he wasn’t the everyday fired up guy we all knew.

Tex said he felt like the clinic piano looked. Cachectic, anemic. Down in the dobber.

We had a solid 20 minute talk all about Tex. And no piano chat. From me.

3–1–17. Wednesday. 51°. Early morning, pre- clinic. A handsome, thin, older, black man is jazzing the Clinic piano. A lit, long ash-cigarette was hanging out one side of his mouth. Bare feet. Blue jeans. Good. Really good.

I gave him  a thumbs up.

He called out. “Thanks, Dr. Toso.”

I said, “I’m Rumsey. But you have a good doctor there with Toso.”

“I do. He plays classical guitar. I’ll see him next week. Inside.”

3–20–17. Outside fellow, Mark, was becoming troubling. And he now had two black eyes and a limp. He was becoming very possessive of the piano. He was basically living around the clinic. Paper towel bathing in the men’s washroom when we were open. Demanding to have his phone charged whenever the public outlets were plugged. He was asked to leave about every other day. Front desk had to call the police once to assist him out the door.

Over the past three months of the piano outside the clinic, no one saw more or knew more about it than Tex. He cabbed by it daily. He let off people in front of it. Heard people playing it.

Tex told me the piano was in the category of seeing Carl drive by on his festival three wheeler in the pitch dark of night. A spirit encounter. Or like Carl shoveling all the front walks on his block.

Our piano is majestic, he said.

3–27–17. Thursday. What happened today was bound to happen. Piano Mark exploded. Couldn’t find his phone in the packed waiting room. Got humiliated by a vending machine. Yelled and howled. Then he locked himself alone in the women’s room.

It didn’t help that through all this he had been attired in just his underpants.

The poor front-deskers had to call the police. Again. Man berserk in clinic. Barricaded.

This time a fleet of cop cars arrived. The women’s room door was removed surgically by the police emergency unit. The police were crack – professional, efficient, successful. Mark was tranq-darted. A policewoman still had to calm him down. Help robe him and slipper him. At that point he went willingly with the officers to United emergency room. Five hours later he was committed to locked psychiatry.

Dr Ravi and our medical residents looked in on Mark regularly during his hospital stay.

Five weeks later, Mark was transferred to Family Style Homes, the West 7th refuge for persons with chronic mental illness. He agreed to see us in clinic. As a real patient.

At the end of June, piano #1 was finally relieved of its duties. Hauled out to Woodbury for clean landfill.

After clinic that day, I had to walk over to see the now piano – less landscape. To pay my respects. A replacement piano was coming in a week or two.

Astonished, I noticed something against the outside clinic wall where our Raundenbush used to rest. A single piano hammer. I placed it in my palm. Touched it, sniffed it.

There will be no other Clinic piano like Clinic piano #1. I have that piano relic on my home writing desk to this very day,17 years later.


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