Friday, November 12, 2010

The curse of the accordion

Q: What's the definition of a gentleman?
A: A man who knows how to play the accordion, yet doesn't.

I have two accordions in my apartment. I'm not proud of this fact, yet it is so. How did this happen, you ask? Well, it's a long story.

First, the origin of the accordions. My mother's Uncle Al was a semi-professional musician. While he had a day job as an electrician or mechanic or something, he and some friends had a band that played VFW halls, local dances and the like. At some point they might have even done a few road trips.

For whatever reason, he gave my mom some instruction, but she didn't really take to it. And there, she had an accordion. She can't quite remember how or when one accordion became two, perhaps when Uncle Al died. What we do know is that when she and my dad got married, the accordions left her parents house with her.

I grew up knowing about the big accordion because it was plopped into my bedroom closet when we moved to my childhood home. I guess it ended up there because I was a baby at the time and didn't have many possessions to store. Once in a while I'd pull it out and try to play it; I was a budding musician and had some keyboard skills. Without instruction, however, attempts were futile. Not only did the bass buttons trip me up, the whole thing was horribly unwieldy for a kid who was always small for her age. It's one thing to pick up a big sax or sit in front of a piano, but when you have to constantly squeeze and pull big bellows, it's not hard to lose momentum.

Then, of course, I got older and two things happened (well, three): breasts, and the realization that the accordion is just not cool.

When I left my parents' house, the accordions stayed behind (Not mine! Not mine! Not mine!).

Then recently a friend of mine mentioned he was looking for a decent accordion. He's an accomplished organist and plays at a church and a synagogue, and he thought some of the shabbos songs would work particularly well on an accordion. Cool! Figuring I'd do a mitzvah on two ends, I asked if he wanted to look at the one I knew was still stowed in my childhood closet. He was game.

Now, making offers like that on my mom's old stuff is fraught with peril. Through the years, she's mused about disposing of stuff, only to balk when I find a way to find it a good home. This time, though, she quickly agreed. The parents, you see, have taken on a big clearing-out mindset as they've gotten older. Not that a lot of it is happening. They're just thinking about it. It's got to indicate something about her regard for accordions that she was all too happy to have me haul the thing away, even though it's probably the last thing she has of her uncle's.

By the time I got to the house to pick it up, it had become two accordions: the big one I remembered, and a smaller one whose case has a really cool vintage Eastern Airlines sticker on it. They both look pretty good for their age; though the key veneers are kinda cracked in places, the bellows are in good shape. With a tuning, I think both might be perfectly serviceable.

The question was whether my friend would want either (or maybe both). It took a few weeks for us to synchronize calendars so he could look at them, even though I'd volunteered to drive anywhere, any time to meet him. I was frightened that two accordions might start spawning baby concertinas in my apartment. After all, one had already multiplied to two.

When the day came, my buddy took a good look at them, playing both. Yay, they make music! Sadly, he declined my offer. No amount of pleading would convince him to take one. (Well, okay, I didn't try all that hard.)

So now I'm stuck with two accordions. I don't play either of them. Does that make me more of a lady than the guy who won't play just one?

Just call me Myron Floren.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Big Tree

Every year, the people at Rockefeller Center pick the massive evergreen that will grace the plaza for the Christmas season, and I'm reminded of the big tree that stood in the front yard of my childhood home.

Our tree was a constant in my youth, taking up a larger and larger part of the front yard. While it always loomed big from my perspective, I'd guess that in my own tiniest years, it was probably only six or seven feet tall, just the right size to be decorated. One of my dad's creations with the Super-8 film camera was a stop-action movie of my sister hanging homemade ornaments on it. Dad had saved a bunch of soup and sardine cans, painted them in bright colors and affixed large hooks. He might have even strung lights on its branches.

Over the years, the tree got taller and taller, and people living on the side street of our corner property would use it as a landmark in directions for visiting friends. It got way too tall to decorate properly and grew beyond the height of our split level house, taking up a bigger and bigger circumference of lawn.

At some point after I moved out of the house, my parents got concerned about its health and talked about taking it down before a storm did the honors. Why not contact the Rockefeller Center people, I suggested. How cool would it be to have our tree admired by visitors from all over the world? Mom and Dad dismissed the idea out of hand: the tree's branches were sparse in patches, maybe a bit uneven. The people from New York needed a perfect tree. But who, I always wondered, had a tree that size that was perfect? Were there people out there who tended to these behemoths with the doting care you'd give a prized orchid? Most likely, Mom and Dad didn't want all the attendant fuss that comes with a famous tree, even if they'd get free tree-removal service and some replacement landscaping for their trouble. They're private, self-reliant people. They like it that way.

And then one day I stopped by to visit and the tree was gone. The front lawn was empty, but for a bare spot where the stump had been and roots and shade had prevented grass from growing. I'd had a hard day already, and the absence of the tree set me to tears. How could it just be gone? Maybe it would have been even worse to see it get taken down bit by bit, but it was a massive shock to see it had just disappeared, likely turned to mulch without as much as a grateful farewell. It never got the grand curtain call I'd always wished for it.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and even now, as I watch the TV segment outlining the history of this year's tree, I have a moment of remembrance and regret for our tree. In this year's story, the reported noted that most trees of the appropriate height are reaching end of life, just as ours was. And on my regular December visits to Rockefeller Center, I've seen that several of the trees over the past few years have been a bit sparse at points, just as our tree was.

I guess that as nature warrants, the tree's remains gently decomposed somewhere and have nourished other plants, which is something to be happy about. Nonetheless, in my mind, it'll always be the tree that could have been.