So here’s the thing. After I mentioned in “Snide Remarks” last week that I’d been in California for a wedding, I intended to write another column this week about the reception, where my job was to play pretty music on the piano.
But try as I might, I could not come up with more than five so-so paragraphs about the experience. My cousin asked me to play the piano; I did; the end. Nothing funny happened, nor did anything mundane happen that I could make seem funny by means of my scintillating wit and my gift for manipulating the English language.
So there is no “Snide Remarks” this week BUT! If you’re interested, here are the five paragraphs I managed to squeeze out before I hit the wall. Think of them as deleted scenes on the DVD of my life.
* * *
I was in California at some family gathering last year when my cousin Hollie asked if I would play the piano at her wedding reception. Since she was in no immediate danger of actually getting married, I felt safe in saying yeah, sure, someday, whatever. A few months later, she met a guy and got engaged, and now all of a sudden I was being expected to keep my word. What’s up with that?
No, no, of course I was delighted to play the piano at the reception, mostly because that would mean I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. My feelings about wedding receptions are already on the record, and this one was being held in the town I grew up in, so there would be many well-meaning elderly people wanting to know what I’m doing with myself these days, and I didn’t think they would understand when I explained that I work for the Internet. Safely tucked away behind a piano, I’d be in my own little world, unable to converse with the people who so annoyingly care about me and want to know how I’m doing.
The problem was that, were it not for the piano duties, I probably wouldn’t be going at all. I live far away, and plane tickets are expensive. I was 9 when Hollie was born, so by the time she was old enough to be treated like a regular person, I had gone off to college, and we’ve lived in different states ever since. Consequently, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with her lasting more than about two minutes — the longest was probably at that family gathering last year, when she asked me to play at her then-hypothetical wedding reception. She is apparently well into her 20s now, but when I think of her, she is a toddler, crawling around and putting things in her mouth and earning the nickname “Eats-It-All-y Hollie.”
I’m very grateful, then, that the mother of the bride, my Aunt Janna, offered to pay for my plane ticket as compensation for my ivory-tickling services. Janna used to be able to ply me with candy bars when she needed a favor, but that was when I was a teenager, and the rate of inflation is very high in the nephew-bribing business. This time, I wanted a plane ticket AND a Butterfinger. And of course I felt honored that Hollie wanted me to provide music for the reception so badly that she was willing to make her mother shell out three hundred bucks to get me there. Perhaps someday I can return the favor by having my mom fly Hollie somewhere.
[Some other material would go here, explaining what type of music I planned to play at the reception: mostly old “standards” from the ’40s and ’50s, stuff with pretty melodies and jazz chords, none of that rock ‘n’ roll stuff that the kids listen to.]
I’m not the kind of pianist who has dozens of songs stored away in his head. Apart from a few select numbers that I’ve memorized (“Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Meet the Flintstones”), I need sheet music to refer to. (Don’t judge me! Many people need outside aids in order to perform adequately.) Not wanting to bring 50 pounds of music books with me to California — the state has very strict Gershwin import laws — I went through my collection, found the songs I wanted to include in my wedding repertoire, photocopied them, and put them into a binder. I did the copying at my local Kinko’s, where there are signs all over the place telling you not to reproduce copyrighted material — luckily, the company’s interest in enforcing that law extends no further than posting the signs. I stood there for an hour with a huge stack of books, violating one copyright after another, and none of the employees who walked past said anything about it. If they had, I’d have claimed that I was the copyright holder and could make as many copies as I wanted. “Hello,” I’d have said. “My name is Cole Porter III.”
[Here is where I realized the rest of the column could only consist of, “I went to California; the reception was held; I played; the end.”]