Maybe it’s because my father played the piano while I was living in my mom’s belly. Maybe that’s why. He serenaded her on their first date. Music lived in his fingers, and it lulled me to sleep when I didn’t yet know what sleep was. I have cassettes that start with my giggly toddler voice introducing my dad as a great piano player. And then a full SIDE A of him scooting his digits over the keys. I don’t remember what I did while he played. I imagine myself bored or making my He-Man dolls fondle Barbies, but maybe I loved watching his fingers. Maybe I listened then, and maybe that’s why any bit of piano makes me weak now.
(Sidenote: Check out this photo. I was a baby pianist. Note the ‘A Chorus Line’ song book. I mean… I definitely acknowledge my mom for not listening to stereotypes, but ‘A Chorus Line?’ That’s a pretty gay bunch of show tunes. I’m surprised I didn’t see that when I was two and tell my mom he was gay [inner side note: My dad was gay. It was a surprise.] [inner side note #2: I look horrible in overalls.].)
There is a pianist I love now who plays down my street. He makes me think. He rolls his heavy wooden piano onto the Venice Boardwalk every single day . He puts out a tip jar, but I’m not sure he plays as much for money as he does for pleasure. He wears a dirty white ponytail and a collared shirt, and he plays. He plays into the night. I see him when I get a morning coffee, and I see him when I take a stroll at dusk. He plays, hunched, letting notes free into the sky. And I can’t walk past him without bursting into tears. No matter what! I’ll walk with my back to him, but his notes pierce my ears, and out come the tears. Sometimes I sit in the grass next to him because I like crying and I like knowing he’s there. And there I’ll stay while salty drops drip into my coffee.
I sob and I can’t help it.
I’ve tried to analyze why these tears jump out of my eyes like Olympic divers. Like lemmings. Like ants. They crawl all over me.
At first I thought the pianist reminded me of my dad.
And I felt sorry for myself. I imagined how many songs my father’s fingers would know by now. But that wasn’t it. So, I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
The more I see this man and the more I cry, the more I realize it has nothing to do with my past or my dad or me at all.
I can’t stop my tears simply because it is so moving to watch someone do something he truly loves. Not for money (he doesn’t even notice when people give tips!). Not for recognition. But for love. This guy loves playing the piano. I don’t know him, but I know that. I see that. I see it in how he breathes out notes. I see it with my eyes closed. In the air. In his songs. Even the blades of grass know it, as I drown them in my tears.
Surrounded by men who hold signs asking for weed money or men who walk around in Speedos for picture money, this man has found a venue for an art that he has mastered out of love. And it makes me cry.