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Piano Lessons , part one 

Notebook Recollections


Our clinic had an outside piano. Three actually, Minnesota weather being what it is. 

Number one was a 1926 Raudenbush upright player piano, with a kaput “player.” The keys were appropriately yellowed. Real ivory. Some wood-finish scrapes and dings from the years of course. One caster wheel was slightly kitty-wompus. 

But it was our piano. Refurbished even. Courtesy of St. Paul’s “Music at Work” initiative and our Clinic Director Melissa Parker’s soulfulness. Our piano stood outside the clinic main entrance, under the carport at 1026 West 7th. 

There wasn’t exactly a mad dash to the keyboard. Some plinking here and there. Staff and patients. 

Our Raudenbush didn’t come with a piano bench. We contributed an overturned, slightly used, brown plastic 20 gallon barrel that worked just fine. 


Windy, 25°. Walking in from the parking ramp I saw and heard Edward, a Dr. Ravi patron sitting on the bucket bench playing. A sweet, large man. A rough sleeper. He was wearing a black T shirt, beige Bermuda shorts and fluffy green slippers. He could chord. 

“You sound good,” I said. 

“I’m going to try to play every day now,” he said. 

I asked him how work was. 

He kept playing and said he was washing dishes at Dorothy Day and he was also renting out oxys to users so they could pass pill counts at their doctor visits. 

“And I get to sleep on the floor of the shelter at night. And shower.” 

He stopped playing and stood up. 

“Say hi to Dr. Ravi for me please,” he said. “I’m prayin’ for him. You too” 


1 p.m.. 16°. It’s been a cold November even for Minnesota. A new, blue, crumpled tarp is sitting on top of the unattended piano. 


7:30 a.m. Still cold. As I enter the parking ramp, I stop by the piano. 

I roll down my passenger window.

Edward is dressed warmer, still green-slippered. He’s playing “Canon in D.” 

“Nice!” I say. 

We trade thumbs-up. 


No Thanksgiving hoopla. 

Windy as heck. Grey sky, 1 p.m. 

The piano is tarped but the wind blows it straight outward. 


5 p.m. The piano stands naked, unattended. The wood is surely 

Shivering. The keys clacking. The blue tarp is gone. Probably camperd. That’s better than just blown away. 


West 7th all-star livery driver, Tex Dubois is in to see me at the clinic. He has a business opportunity for me and Dr. Ravi. One of his brainstorms. 

Munsingwear warmers. Just in time for Christmas. Next year. 

“I’ll be mailing you both a prospectus,” Tex said. 

But Tex didn’t look well. A little out of it. Pained. 

“Something’s off with the neck glands,” he said. 

I asked him how the piano looked today. 

“Would that help my sore throat?” 

“It’s got real, actual ivory keys.” 

Text let that linger for a moment. 

“Walrus, Narwhale?” 

“Probably elephant,” I said. 

“Are YOU OK, Doctor?” 

“Do you play piano?” I asked. 

“Negative. I like Monk… Thelonious.” 

“He’s cool. I like Jerry Lee Lewis, Booker T. and Carole King.”

“Do you mind if we talk about my neck glands?” 

We did. I looked in his throat. felt the neck. Tested lab.

Tex had mono. 

“The kissing disease?” 

“You’re gonna be OK,” I said. “You’ll need rest, throat lozenges and a whole lotta liquids.” 

“I’m not kidding, I am worried about you,” Tex said. 

Then he gave me a very cleanly cut, half-apple in a Saran Wrapped bag. 

“To keep the doctor away. Just a little.” 


Our piano didn’t celebrate Christmas or New Year’s that first season. Not that anyone could tell. But how many carols and Auld Lang Synes came out of that Raudenbush player piano alone in the past seven or eight decades? 


7:25 a.m.. 12°. Three inches of snow globe snow on the ground. It looked fake. Fluffy, dusty. 

I pull up to the clinic in my Bronco. I can hear music. It’s Anthony. Rich White boy on the down and out. I haven’t seen him for a year. He was tickling the keys with red knit gloves cut off at the knuckles so he could play. He is very good even though he was just messin’ around. 

 There’s a sprinkle of fluff snow on top of the piano. I call out to him. 

“How are you doin’?” 

“I am back at Skinners,” he said. “Working.“ 

“Way to be.”  

Anthony said he and his buddy,l Mark, are going to share a room in a West 7th boarding house. “Cool piano,” Anthony said. 

“Come back and see us again,” I said. “In the clinic. Dr. Ravi or me.” 

Anthony shrugged and turned back to his piano playing. 

To be continued…

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