The Peppermint Waltz

I have pre-inherited my elderly father’s piano, which used to also be, by extension, my piano when I was a child. I always figured I would inherit the piano when my father passed away, but recently he decided that he wanted me to take it sooner than that. It was the first thing I ever loved. When I was tiny, my folks bought me a toy piano with the colored key code that you set above the small keys. I very quickly outgrew it. Wanting to imitate Daddy, I climbed up onto his piano bench and placed the colored key code over the big keys. I immediately figured out that I didn’t need the key code. I could play.

This piano has ghosts. Someday I’ll write about them.

I’ll never forget the day I was learning to play the Moonlight Sonata. I had to learn the first movement, you see, because it was the theme music on the TV show Cliffhangers, for the serial “The Curse of Dracula.” The oh-my-god amazingly delicious Michael Nouri played the sulking bloodsucker who for some reason wanted the moderately attractive Mary Gibbons by his side for eternity. An even bigger mystery to me was why Mary didn’t want to be bitten. Nouri was so hot, so romantic, so dashing…what the hell was wrong with that woman? So what if Dracula had killed her mom. Big deal! How could she possibly prefer her not-nearly-as-hot boyfriend, Kurt Von Helsing?

And Kurt? What the hell is that? Why didn’t they just name him Jeff? Jeff Von Helsing. There you go.

This was my first exposure to vampires and I was totally enthralled. I liked playing the Moonlight Sonata very, very slowly — in part because I was a terrible pianist. I’d only had a few piano lessons, you see, so anything that complicated was really challenging. But I also liked playing it slowly because it allowed me to brood excessively over each note. Hunched over the piano keys like Schroeder possessed by Nosferatu, I squinted at my father’s weathered copy of the music and let my fingers stumble hesitantly over the morose triplets. As the dark notes dribbled from the Chickering, I pressed the foot pedal that made the notes bleed loudly into one another. I imagined Dracula coming to possess me, his true love…

That’s when my father came crashing into the den.

“Play it faster! You’re playing it too goddamned slow!”

Silence, unworthy mortal! “Daaaaad! You’re ruining my concentration!”

“Sounds like a damned funeral march!”

And this is bad, why?

Anyway, while I never became very good at the piano and never had any more lessons, I did use it extensively in high school, especially in my music theory and jazz performance class my senior year. You’d never have guessed from my Moonlight Sonata obsession that I’d write a piece just before Christmas called “The Peppermint Waltz” — a jazz waltz based primarily on Major 6ths and 7ths. I got the highest compliment of my short-lived musical career when Mr. Roy Fulmer, my illustrious band teacher, jokingly accused me of stealing it as he struggled with the bouncy alto sax line.

I beamed.

My much anticipated musical career ended with high school for seriously fucked up reasons that I won’t bore you with. But now, having her here in my house, this ancient piano with a broken hammer on the upper B flat, it’s like getting back a lost wallet with the leather scuffed but all the credit cards and money intact. It arrived early last Tuesday morning on Day 2 of the Mongolia Death Cold. I’d forgotten the piano was coming, I was so sick.

As soon as I was up to it, the first thing I found and played was not the Moonlight Sonata, nor any of the pieces in my Tori Amos piano music book, but rather “The Peppermint Waltz.”

Once I’m feeling back to normal, I’m sure even more joy will be had. Meanwhile, Robie contemplates all 88 new opportunities for mischief…

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