.journal 2002.07.07


Pianos and the way things were

Now listening to: Michael Jones, After the Rain
Now reading: Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems
Now playing: Xenogears (Playstation)

If there’s one casualty of the fire that I haven’t mentioned that much, that you think I would have, it’s the piano.

Our piano was a Grinnel Brothers piano, a tiny little upright with remarkably decent sound. Unfortunately, the thing wasn’t exactly the best built, and it didn’t help that it spent its entire life at the house real close to a heating duct. Every year it seemed like three or four rods would get broken, and we’d have to call upon our local piano tuner to come in and replace them. Also, one of the front legs had been broken off a long time ago, and had to be nailed back in. All in all, when you looked at it, it wasn’t exactly much of a piano.

But still, that was the piano my mother always played when I was younger. That was the piano I always practiced on, through my first insufferable piano teacher through my self-training. That was the piano my father plunked the melodies to his songs on. (I don’t think I’ve ever told this story on the .org, but my father wrote “comedic” songs for a while — emphasis on the quotation marks — although one of his songs did get airplay on the Dr. Demento Show back when I was at Antioch.) So there was a lot tied up in that piano.

The piano got waterlogged as a result of being against a supporting wall when the fire hit. Making matters worse, when ServiceMaster was moving our stuff out, they not only re-broke the front leg that had been broken before, but they broke the other one, too. The thing still stood on its own, but I sure wouldn’t want to play it. Finally, when we were getting moved back in here, we just decided to have our contact at ServiceMaster sell the piano for us, since we really didn’t have room for it in here, and the thing was in bad need of repairs.

I’m sure that not having played piano for a year has diminished my skills. Just the other day, I went to UT to check out their facilities, see if they had practice facilities I could use. Well, they have practice facilities. But anyone who isn’t a Department of Music student or professor, or doesn’t have written permission from the Department Chair, could get charged for using those facilities. So say the stickers posted on the doors of all the training rooms. Buggered again.

So I got to thinking. There’s a mall called Spring Meadows that’s pretty far south of here, but only a half-mile away from the Residence Inn we stayed in while the house was being rebuilt. We went to that mall a lot back then, and there was a Mars Music store in there that I’d stopped in at once. They had good keyboards, although if I were to get something to practice on I’d need 88 keys (full piano range), and 88-key keyboards don’t go for any cheaper than $800. I went onto Mars Music’s Website, though, and found out that they did both rental and rent-to-own deals. So I thought, hey, why not go back and check the rental prices.

Well, I tried to do that yesterday. The only thing is, I got there about 1830, and Mars closes at 1800 on Saturdays. Foiled again. So I wound up drowning my sorrows at a pizzeria on the way home that’s remarkably close to the recording studio where my father had all the post-production work on his music done, and came back here still not knowing what to do. I have to go to UT on Wednesday for a meeting, so hopefully I can swing my Mars on the way back from there.

If that was all that happened, it wouldn’t quite merit its own journal update. But Mars’ hours got me to thinking. I mean, I know music stores aren’t the kinds of places where they get enough business to warrant being open long hours, but even so, 1800 seemed real early to close. The thing is, though, I don’t know of another store, other than Mars Music, that caters to that aspect of the music scene here in Toledo.

At least not anymore. Back before Mars Music came into town, though, the story was different. There used to be a music store out by the Media Play I like so much, called Penguin Music. Penguin went out of business a few years ago, and now a Shell station stands where Penguin, and the hair salon that used to occupy the same building, used to be. Too bad I can’t go in there anymore.

I’d been at Penguin a few times in my life, and it seemed like a really cool kind of place. Back then, though, their digital piano lineup was mostly confined to Yamaha’s Clavinova line, and while Clavinovas are top-of-the-line, they have a price tag to match their quality. Still, I remember picking up a Clavinova brochure from there once, and drooling over the pictures in the months that followed. We did get a four-track recorder from Penguin once, but I never found much use for it, because back then I was only interested in writing piano solos.

I’ve never spoken with a Mars Music salesperson, but somehow I get the feeling that buying from there just won’t be the same experience I would have had with Penguin. I can appreciate the convenience that I get from a Meijer, but sometimes I wonder what I lose in not being able to go to a real mom-and-pop type grocery store. There are still locally-owned CD stores and bookstores here in town, but more than often than not, if I’m looking to buy something, I’m going to go to Media Play or Best Buy. At least I have a choice there, though; when it comes to buying a digital piano, Mars Music is the only game in town. And my shopping experience may be the worse for it.

One thing I really remember about Penguin Music is the building it was in; it was one of those buildings that was clearly divvied up so that the stores were on the bottom, while the owner’s living quarters were above. Talk about a sign of the times. Still, though, my father and his father both own(ed) their own businesses, so I can appreciate the dedication and devotion it takes to run a business like that. At that recording studio I told you about earlier, there are actually showers, for those all-night editing sessions. (It’s also the only building I know of where they actually incorporated the location for the Velvet Elvis into the blueprints. Now you know why my father liked going there.)

I can’t think of too many buildings like that in town anymore. There was a Chinese restaurant by the highway that was like that, but that restaurant got shut down years ago after accusations that they were taking cats off the street to use in their cooking. Now it’s another car lot on the biggest auto strip in Toledo. The only building like that that’s still being used in its intended form is across from my local Best Buy, holding a myriad of antequated but still active businesses, including an upholstering shop (or “upholsterng” as the neon sign in front says).

In between that Best Buy and that Media Play is the only successful mall left in Toledo (Franklin Park Mall), a Catholic girls’ school most notorious for producing Katie Holmes, the only real celebrity Toledo’s turned out since Jamie Farr, and some other places. When I was younger, there used to be a drive-in theatre between the two places, but now it’s a Chuck-E-Cheese. I can’t remember if I ever went to the drive-in, but I sure do miss it. I’ve never been in the Chuck-E-Cheese, for obvious reasons.

I know things will change over time, but I can’t help but harken back to the past. If you took me down to the main intersection by my house, I could point to each corner and go, “Okay, that area by the K-Mart used to be a Centre supermarket, but then they got bought out by Food Town, then Food Town abandoned there when Meijer came into town. That Speedway used to be a Gastown, and it used to be there was only a tiny building for the cashier, and you had to look inside to see what candies and cigarettes were being sold. There used to be a good Greek restaurant over there, but it got torched by a fire a few years ago. That Radio Shack next door? My father used to give Colour Computer lessons there. Over there, that used to be a Sohio gas station, but then they got bought out by BP, then BP abandoned the station and now it’s a Magic Wok. There used to be a car stereo store where that Rally’s now stands. Over there, that mall used to house a Woolworth’s which became a Hills store which became an Ames store, before they left. Next to it used to be a fabric store that just got bought out. Next to that was a Lane’s drug store which became a Rite Aid, but they left when Meijer came in. Over there used to be a Kroger, before they moved down the street to their own building. Now the whole thing’s being torn down, and a Wal*Mart and Farmer Jack are going in in its place.”

And I skipped details in that description, if you can believe it. That’s one of the curses of having a memory like mine; I can remember all this stuff so easily, so vividly. I guess that’s one of the problems I’ve had since the fire; I can remember all the good times so easily, all the happy emotions, all the places and things that used to bring me joy. And a lot of them are things that I can’t get back in my life. Like Penguin Music.

Hopefully I can get an electric piano from Mars Music here soon. Maybe with it, I can try to create some new happy memories for myself. But when you can remember the joy of past times so easily, it can be so difficult to let go of them, to allow yourself to make new memories. I’ve got to try, though. I know I have to.

Everyone take care and be well. I’ll see you all around.

— Sean

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