July 2007

Laurel and Hardy deliver a pianoThe Steinway piano is to pianos what Rolls Royce is to cars. It may not be everyone’s favourite, but its’ name is synonymous with the best that money can buy. And so it was with great anticipation that we music students awaited the arrival of a Steinway grand at our college. We already had a Yamaha grand piano, but this—a Steinway—this was something else altogether.

The big day came, and the piano, still in its’ crate, was carted into the music building. There were several of us hanging around that day, and we were keen to help the college facility guys un-crate the piano. The piano teacher would have none of it, insisting that we must wait until a local piano technician is available to oversee the whole procedure. We assured her there was nothing to worry about. We were just going to help these guys get it out of the crate and mount it on its’ legs, and since there were so many of us here today, it was a good time to do it. Maybe when the technician arrived, there wouldn’t be so many people around to help him. She fluttered around like a bird whose nest is under attack, a picture of nervous anxiety. We men got on with the job, and she left the room, no doubt to track down the piano technician at once.

If you’ve ever seen a grand piano delivered in a crate you’ll know that they’re delivered with the legs and pedals detached. The piano is stood on edge in the crate, and that’s how they’re able to fit them through doorways.

The facility guys got a crowbar and started pulling off one side of the crate, revealing the dull black lid-side of the piano. When the side of the crate was completely removed, they walked around to the other side. All of the students walked around to the other side too, to watch the work in progress. Except for me. Something told me it just wasn’t a good idea, with the piano on its’ side like that, for everyone to be standing on one side of it. So I stood there, hands in pockets, while the un-crating continued on the other side. Suddenly after one vigorous jerk with the crowbar, the piano did a little bounce and flopped—if you can imagine a Steinway grand “flopping”—my way. I was about to be crushed by a flopping great Steinway.

In an instant, my hands came out of my pockets and came up between me and the Steinway. Time stood still, more or less. I stood pretty still, too, palms pressed against the lid, knees bent, back swayed. Everyone stood there motionless, silent, like they were expecting me to just push it back upright. Finally I gave out a little grunt that meant “hey, could use a hand over here” and a bunch of guys rushed around to my side and we got the piano back. What happened next was a real guy moment. We all stood looking at each other, and it was understood that we had just had a real close call, and a silent pact was being made that we would absolutely not mention this to the piano teacher or any of the faculty.

Finally someone said to me, “I have never seen someone move so fast in their lives”. Having to catch a piano will do that to you. You will move faster, be stronger, than you ever thought you could. But like any hero, I just did what I had to do.

BBC story on Lennon

A few years ago I got past the denial stage and finally acquiesced to acquiring eyeglasses. I hadn’t read CD liner notes (anyone remember what a pre-recorded music CD from a store looks like?) for a couple of years before that, and no kind of squinting was working any more. I could not see the small print, but I did see the writing on the wall.

Without my glasses on, I now notice a lot of design elements that I never did before. It’s been surprising to discover just how many gadgets and packages come with such small printing, directions, instructions or interfaces, that without my glasses I have no hope of operating them. I cannot tear along the dotted line, I cannot plug the headphones into the hole marked headphone symbol because the symbol is just slightly raised off its’ same-coloured background and I cannot make it out any better than Helen Keller could have. I cannot open this end only, see details below, and read the fine print that all smart shoppers are applauded for reading. In short, without my glasses, I have to live in the macro world. The micro has become, if not invisible, very fuzzy to me now.

As a kid in the summer, I typically spent a lot of time outside. This was OK because back in those days the planet was protected by something we used to call the “ozone layer” (feel free here to make quotation marks with your hands, a la Dr. Evil). And spending all that time outdoors, we became acquainted with bugs and insects, and the details of things growing in the garden. A big treat was to look at anything, and I mean anything, under a microscope. As a kid, it’s easy to live in the micro world. The macro world is for grownups. Cuban missile crisis? Whatever, kids want to know how rockets work, and whether we can build one in the back yard.

As grownups, we are encouraged to see the big picture, plan ahead, think globally whilst acting locally and all that. Very macro stuff. (Sing with me, “Macro macro man, I want to be a Macro man”). I think this has something to do with that saying of stop and smell the roses. It’s back to a micro world, where little things mean a lot. When you watch folks even older than me, many of them seem to have found their way back to that micro world, at least part of the time.

Once in a while, I guess, it’s good to sweat the details, read the fine print, and take a close look at the bugs outside your house. But whether you find yourself living large or small, macro or micro, stay curious. If you’re not learning, you’re dying.