Baxter Black: Thrifty
On the Edge of Common Sense
Sharon had hauled the old piano home in a stocktrailer. It came outta the Miner’s Club in Mountain City where, according to the bartender, it had set since the early thirties. It was in sad shape and one end of the ancient upright was full of holes. Bullet holes! Considering it had never been outta the bar, the piano player musta needed lessons!
Sharon gave the piano to me and I hauled it home where it sat in my garage for a year.
Brother Steve came to visit. He’s a talented musician with a craftman’s ability. He’s also one of the thriftiest humans this side of Ebenezer Scrooge! He asked me if he could try and get the old piano in workin’ order. “Of course!” I said, “I’ll pay for the parts…whatever it takes!” I blocked out 3 or 4 hundred in my mind, “Just save your receipts.”
I came home that afternoon and the garage floor looked like an orchestra had exploded! He had dismantled that piano down to wire! The harp lay naked on the concrete.
Over the next several days I watched the rebuilding take place. Steve would go out on parts runs and return with a replacement hammer, just the right set screw or a used, but serviceable piece of ivory. He took particular pleasure in makin’ a shrewd trade. “Whatever the costs,” I’d say, but he enjoyed finding a bargain.
One day he took me along on a parts run. We drove down the tracks, behind a big nursery, down a dusty road and pulled up to a dilapidated house with a few outbuildings. I was struck by the fact that nothing was painted. There was one unspectacular sign that read PIANOS-TUNED AND FIXED. We went inside and were greeted by the proprietor who obviously knew Steve. He was a sad lookin’ man. The house was full of pianos! Even two in the kitchen. There was an empty can of tomato soup on the sink. I wandered through the rooms amongst the piano landscape, leaving Steve and the owner to do business. From the looks of his home, he lived alone and probably not very high on the hog. Pianos in various stages of repair filled every available space.
I heard Steve and the man dickering in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” Steve was saying, “I can’t give more than five.”
“I’ve got to get ten. It’s surely worth ten,” the old man pleaded.
I’m thinkin’ to my self, “Steve, we can be generous. The ol’ feller probably hasn’t eaten in days. What’s five bucks. Besides, I’m payin’ for it!’ But I knew better than to interfere. The bartering continued for several minutes. The old man finally came down to seven, but Steve wouldn’t budge. Finally, with a whimper, the old man gave in. He had met his match.
As we climbed into the pickup to leave I asked Steve what he had bought. He held up a little ribbon of red felt, maybe six inches long. “For the hammers,” he explained.
I said, “Man, that don’t look like it’s worth five bucks!”
“Five dollars?” he said, “No, I gave five cents for it!”
The final bill for rebuilding my piano was $18.34!