Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Polly Procrastinator

This is an interactive blog!

My friend Polly has become a procrastinator. It’s an odd development since until now she has been disturbingly driven to finish her class work for her doctorate. She’s been studying and juggling the stress of a full time job and post-graduate work for years and her dedication to the time-honored tradition of “cracking the books” has been nothing less than inspiring. Now, however, she has stalled after trudging her way just one small step from the pinnacle for which she has labored so diligently. She needs only finish her dissertation and she will be done, but with no structured classes and no deadlines…she has sputtered out.

As a fellow procrastinator, I can sympathize. In fact, this behavior is much more familiar to me than her previous M.O. of full-on attack. I can understand the pressing need to do ANYTHING other than the one thing you’d really like to cross off your to-do list.

Polly, however, finds this new behavior disturbing and needs help propelling herself to the summit. In one of her recent emails, Polly wrote, “ I'm enlisting all of my friends to berate me and make me feel shame and embarrassment for not having finished yet, so if you'd like to join in on that bit of fun, it would be much appreciated.”

As a matter of fact, I would, Polly. In fact, I’m going to go one step further and enlist anyone who might be reading this to join in as well. Please take just a minute or two and write a quick response to this blog. I will forward all relevant responses on to Polly. It can be as short as “Get off your butt, Polly!” or as long as the dissertation she is avoiding. It can be sweet and pleading. It can be belittling (although not unduly profane or vulgar). It can funny. It can be pretty much anything you think might motivate a person. Hell, write more than one so you can enjoy the whole range of options. Basically, I’m going for bulk here, so round up your friends and have them motivate Polly as well.
Remember, this is for a good cause. Polly is a great person and deserves this degree. So please pitch in on this educational intuitive.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I’m Goin’ to Graceland, Graceland

Some time ago, Jet got engaged to a wonderful girl who he suggests I call Ducky. Moonshot and I had sent them down to a beautiful bed and breakfast just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas and there, on a rustic cabin porch overlooking an Ozark Valley, he proposed and she accepted. Much chaos ensued.

Wedding locations were selected, tuxes and dresses were ordered, save the date invitations were sent, and a bachelor party was planned. And not just any bachelor party, mind you. As best man, I had been given the daunting task of coming up with a party suitable for my overly popular frat boy brother. I, the introverted book-nerd who doesn’t drink had been tasked with crafting an event that would impress roughly 40 young men who were already jaded with events that I would call pure hedonism. I was nervous to say the least.

So, I went all out. We chartered a bus from Saint Louis to Memphis and booked rooms two blocks off Beale Street for the weekend of April 28. The bus allowed beer and had a bathroom. They’d be smashed by the time they even saw Beale. Word was spread and the 40 seats on the bus were going fast. I was given one additional seat so that I could have a non-sloshed friend along. I chose Duke.

Duke is an odd bird when it comes to things like this. He sits in his house and plays video games. He orders out for food as often as possible and really never leaves a five-mile radius from his front porch if he can help it. However, once in a great while, his slumbering sense of adventure will rear its head and Duke will charge off into the sunset in search of excitement. He tends to blame these episodes on me. So, I was mildly surprised when Duke acted interested in the trip. I was even more surprised when he begged and pleaded with his wife Pinky to have a weekend away. Childcare was planned and he was given the all clear.

Suddenly, I was actually excited about the trip. Don’t get me wrong; most of Jet’s friends are really great guys. Shirt off their back types. One of his friends even helped me change out my kitchen sink a few months ago just to be nice. So I have no problem with them personally. But, I find I have less and less in common with them as the hours progress on their keg-fests. I have no problem with good drunken fun…it’s just that as the only sober guy in the room…I don’t get most of their jokes. Even after they’ve made the same joke four or five times…I continue to miss the humor. So, Duke’s presence would change the dynamics quite favorably.

Everything moving along swimmingly. Mid January had arrived, money was flowing in from the confirmed attendees, and plans were being finalized. Suddenly, the whole thing was thrown into a tailspin. And not just the trip, the whole wedding. With the wedding only five months away, Ducky suddenly found the idea of “til death do us part” more than a bit terrifying. And so, as the Eagles and the Falcons battled for the Conference Championship in the background, the wedding was called off.

No one talked about the Memphis trip for a few weeks. Its status in limbo, no one wanted to broach the subject with Jet until we found out who all was still in. When the topic did arise, Jet was adamant that the show must hit the road. Sure, it wasn’t a bachelor party anymore…but it was still going to be a blast. I agreed, and quickly turned over all control to him. I mean, I’m all for managing the stress of organizing 40 frat boys for my brother’s bachelor party, but if it’s just a fun trip to Memphis…he can plan that himself. I turned over my spreadsheets and contact info and paid my fee for the trip down there. However, many others jumped ship and wanted no part of the expense if the guilt of missing Jet’s bachelor party was no longer to be used as a weapon. The excursion shrank.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t bail, myself. I mean, if Jet was planning a such a rip trip that was in no way wedding related…I doubt he would have even thought to invite me. And I certainly wouldn’t have begged to come along. That many people, that much alcohol, it’s just not my scene and Jet knows it. But I had Graceland I my brain by this point. And Duke had worked so hard to get a weekend away. He wasn’t going to let a little thing like a canceled wedding stand in his way of the adventure he’d finally geared up for.

The trip is smaller now. The large charted bus with the TVs and the bathroom no longer made sense so they downgraded to a school bus. And then when the folks who were once willing to drive up to St Louis from Springfield only to ride back south again on the bus revolted and said they’d just meet us in Memphis…we downgraded to a rented van. But that’s fine. In fact…12 people in a van sounds much more my speed than 40 people and a keg on a bus.

So, this weekend will find me on Beale Street with Jet, and Duke, and a host of Jet’s frat brothers. I will endeavor to allow myself to relax and enjoy. I will try not to mother hen them and if (as last time I was in a situation like this with Jet’s friends) the police are called…this time I’ll just take notes for my blog. Cuz this ain’t my show any more….I’m just along for the ride.

Details to Follow Next Week

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Baby, Red Birds, and Bottom Feeders

Weeks like this are wonderful in an annoying way. And by that I mean that it’s been busy. In my limited experience in blogging it seems the more you have to write about, the less time you have to put it on paper. My complaints to this effect tend to be met with, “You know...maybe you just shouldn’t write four page blogs every time.” True, that would partially solve the issue. But I guess I’d rather have the details on a few issues than a scattershot at everything. Or, at least that’s how I feel today. So, here are the top contenders for my mental processes today.

Pumkin Update

Pumkin continues to expand. His/her thrashing about has now become powerful enough that I can finally feel it. The child and I had been engaged in a friendly game of hide and seek until last weekend. Moonshot would call me over with promises that, “I KNOW you’ll be able to feel these kicks.” The second my hand touched her belly, however, Pumkin would giggle silently and hold perfectly still. Moonshot comforted me with the concept that Pumkin just finds my presence soothing. I know the truth…Pumkin has inherited my penchant for irritation. So, s/he would never kick for me…but would punch out mores code to our dog Arlo whenever he would lie on Moonshot’s tummy. But time has proved me the victor in our game. Pumkin’s ever increasing size has made hiding more and more difficult. The inter-uterine movement can now be seen as well as felt…Moonshot finds herself thinking of Ridley Scott’s Alien a lot. Pumkin is calm most of the time, but really seems to perk up about fifteen minutes after Moonshot eats. The kid is a big fan of food. I imagine arms and legs flailing about in a happy little dance, “Yea!! Food! [Kick Kick Punch]”

We began shopping for baby furniture last weekend. I had imagined that we would just go out and buy a crib. Simple and straightforward. But the options…oh, the options. We selected a semi-reasonably priced model from Babies-R-Us. It wasn’t the color we wanted, but it fit the budget and we weren’t yet picky. Alas, that item was out of stock and would take three months to order a new one. At this point I was a bit peeved. We had waded through the confusing sea of baby beds and made what I thought was a decent choice…only to arrive back at the beginning of our search. So, we decided to jump online for a quick product review search. It seemed logical that there would be useful product information that would help us. But this only made it worse. Every crib had at least one person who had written in to complain about the horrible response time from the company or some tragic story about a child’s foot becoming caught in the bars of the crib. By the end of the reviews, every crib seemed like a shoddily built death trap. So we went to the bookstore and purchased Baby Bargains. At last, one reasonable voice who has waded through the confusion for us. She breaks down every product a baby is likely to use. It’s wonderful.

I must admit that I used to be a huge fan of options. The more options available, I reasoned, the more likely it is that you get exactly what you want. I no longer have such faith in variety. I mean…I’m happy so many options exist…in the abstract. But without some well-defined system for selecting the top two or three options, almost any simple selection process can become stressful. For instance, I had been unaware how much it stressed me out to select a meal from a restaurant menu. It seems like such a simple transaction. And with no long lasting repercussions from the selection, I would have argued that it caused me no anxiety at all. However, upon becoming a vegetarian and having nearly every menu automatically whittled down to one or two options…I’ve actually discovered, in retrospect, how much it used to concern me that I pick the best culinary option. Now, each restaurant meal is as simple as Veggie Meal A vs. Veggie Meal B. Surprisingly, I do not miss the variety, I instead find comfort in the simplicity.

And so it is with baby products. An outside whittler allowed me to sigh in relief. I may not get the very best product every time…but by sticking to the pre-approved checklist, I’m sure I’m getting a pretty good one. Ah, simplicity.

Also in baby news, Moonshot and I went to our first childbirth class on Wednesday. We’re about a month earlier than they recommend, but the later classes are taught on Monday evening…and Moonshot teaches piano on Monday nights. So, we’re going in early. I’m not sure what to think so far. The instructor is a very pleasant nurse and the room is comfortable in a hospital classroom sort of way. However, there is only one other couple in the class with us so far and they are rather surly. Granted, our exposure to them has been limited so far, but their single words answers and basic body language just seem to exude a sense of grouchiness, like it was a big imposition on them to be there at all. Maybe we just caught them on a bad night.

The lesson itself was fine, albeit very general. Moonshot and I have read quite a bit about the process of baby production and liberation (Moonshot more than me). We also find ourselves watching A Baby Story on The Learning Channel quite a bit. So mostly, Wednesday was a much less detailed version of stuff we’ve already read and seen. MoMa, my mother, used to teach childbirth classes when I was young, so she is peppering me with questions about the specific technique they are going to teach. I think the answer is, no specific technique. Just a nice general, here’s what’s happening to your body and maybe you should try to relax. I’m hoping I’m wrong and that next week will be more specific.

Stadium Fever

Jet scored some tickets to Sunday’s Cards game. As a rule, I’m not a big sports fan, but this is opening week at our new stadium and I’m looking forward to a good picture of Moonshot at the stadium. St. Louis is a huge baseball town, and Pumkin will grow up knowing s/he was born the same year as the stadium. So I’d like to let Pumkin know that s/he was at a game opening week. Plus, stadium fever had gripped St. Louis and it’s easy to get wrapped up in it. I’m looking forward to roaming our new coliseum. And finally, a Cards game is always fun…even for non-sports fans like Moonshot and me.

I really don’t have anything else to add to that thought…I’m just looking forward to it and though I’d share.

Our Store

Jet and I finally opened our store! As I may have mentioned here or maybe in the Cast of Characters, my brother Jet and I have been working toward opening a store together. While I may loose some of the readers who don’t really know me at this disclosure, we’re opening a payday loan store. Since the general view of such an establishment is fairly negative, I await groans of disapproval echoing across cyberspace. In order to better explain how a nice little boy like me ended up as a “predatory lender,” I feel compelled to fill in some back-story on this issue.

Back in ’95 or so, my Dad lost most of his retirement due to a lousy broker. He was nearly fifty, working as an electrician and suddenly very scared about his retirement options. He had a small lump of money, but was afraid to throw it back into the market. Enter the man I will here refer to as Mr. Dingus (a self applied nickname). He had been a small-time general contractor at the Lake of the Ozarks and my Dad had wired a few of his houses. He and my Dad had become pretty good friends over the years and Dad had stayed in touch with Mr. Dingus even after he and Mrs. Dingus moved to Saint Louis to open payday loan stores. Mr. Dingus had left the construction business to open his stores by having friends and family put forth the money to open a store. He and Mrs. Dingus would run the store and see to day-to-day operations. For this they would get 50% ownership of the store. He had opened several stores this way with various groups of friends and family supporting each store and at this point, it look reasonably profitable for all parties. He approached my Dad.

I was at my first year of college and I remember Dad being extremely torn about proposal. First of all, the idea of turning over what remained of his retirement to crazy Mr. Dingus was terrifying. Secondly, the business model of a payday loan just doesn’t SEEM like something that should work. And finally, if it DID work…was it moral to leach off the less fortunate?

In the end, Dad made his peace with the industry and decided to take a risk. Together, Dad and Mr. Dingus opened a store in Columbia, MO and Dad crossed his fingers.

The store did well. In fact, the store did better than any of Mr. Dingus’s previous stores and soon spun off enough money to open another store in Granite City, IL (just outside St. Louis. Things were going well.

Then, in 1997, Dad died. Suddenly, my brother and I each found ourselves the proud owner of 25% of Dad’s shares. Suddenly I was wrestling with the same moral dilemma Dad had faced before. Luckily, I got to ignore the question for a few years since the shares were wrapped up in probate until 2000. Dad didn’t have a will and there was some question about the exact split line between the sons and the step-mom (a tale for another time). By the time the shares were issued in our name in early 2000, I had been roaming the country in my post-graduation wandering for about two years. The plan had been to return to grad school, but now that checks were rolling in from the payday loan stores, I couldn’t ignore the moral question of whether or not I was comfortable with this money at all.

So, as I was wrapping up my time down in New Orleans, Mr. Dingus invited me to work for the company in St Louis.

“What would I be doing?” I asked.

“All sorts of option,” he replied. “We’ve just merged all the separate stores that I opened with the various partners. This gives us a bigger, centralized company with bigger cash reserves to work with. We’ll be opening stores and we could always use someone with a vested interest in the company out in the field. Or, if that doesn’t appeal, we can find something else.” I’d known Mr. Dingus since I was 12, so he was willing to give me some freedom. I told him I wanted to spend some time in the stores; I wanted to see what it was really like. See if I agreed with the process.

So I ran a store. For about six months I managed a small store here in St Louis and got to know the industry. And in truth, I really am ok with it. I won’t lie to you and say it’s some great and noble career. It does not fill me with a sense of social contribution. And if I retire having done nothing more fulfilling with my time than make loans, I will be very disappointed with myself. That said, however, I also feel that the industry (when properly regulated) is very fair. There are hard luck stories and horrible cases of abuse that find their way into the papers, sure. But you get the same story from mortgage loans and insurance companies. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that my industry is a moral neutral. A grey fog hovering somewhere between the light of a helpful loan from a friend and the dark depths of a loan shark.

After the six months of running the store, I was pulled up to the corporate office, I ran around the country for a while opening stores then settled down to become the multi-talented jack of all trades for our company. I oversee the development of our proprietary software. I lobby state agencies about our views on issues. I change light bulbs around the office. I manage the IT department and manage the telecom for all the stores. While it keeps my days interesting to wear so many hats, I basically stall when people ask me what I do. I can think of no one term for it. I suppose “owner” come closest to covering the wide variety of tasks I do, but at a meager 2.5% ownership of this combined company, I think the title “owner” properly falls on Mr. Dingus with his 51%. They call me a Director of Operations…but really that’s just a nice term we made up that carries enough weight to seem appropriate. It has no real relevance to my specific daily tasks.

Anyway, the point to all this is two-fold. First, I’m ok with payday loans, but am also ok if you, my reader, aren’t. Secondly, I’ve been out of the stores for a while. I’ve busied myself with all sorts of tasks that are in no way related to the daily operation of a payday loan store. Enter Mr. Dingus’s proposition.

Back in 2004, Mr. Dingus made me an offer. Basically, there was a store location the company had a long lease on but at which we were unable (for rather complicated reasons) to open a payday loan store of our own. However, an independently owned franchisee would conceivably be able to open there. There would be a fight with the local city, but we’d be on solid legal ground.

It was soon decided that Jet and I would open a franchise location of our own. Jet had just graduated from college and was eager to start a new business. So, we began the long fight with the city. And I must say, the city played its hand very well in its attempts to keep us out. They knew they couldn’t legally stop us, but they also knew they could probably delay us long enough to make us go away. The tactic had worked with other would-be lenders in the past and they were hopeful it would work again. It didn’t. In situations like this, I am very patient. Jet and I went to city council meeting after city council meeting. We were screamed at by councilmen, berated by the mayor, and called “bottom feeders,” “loan sharks” and “scum” on local access television. In fact, the council’s behavior was so over the top, my brother and I soon became the victims in the eye of public opinion. We had sweet little old ladies coming up to us letting us know what nice young boys we were, letting us know they were pulling for us, letting us know they were appalled at the council’s behavior. In the end, the council cracked and issued us our occupancy permit. And finally, we opened our doors yesterday. We should do fairly well since in the same ordinance that allowed us to open; the council changed the city laws so that no other loan store could follow us in. Jet and I now find ourselves in the enviable position of owning of a brand new payday loan store in the middle of the St. Louis municipality with the lowest congestion of payday lenders. It should work out nicely.

Hopefully, it will be a great opportunity for me and my family; offering the best of both parenting worlds…enough money to raise my kids, but enough free time to actually dedicate vast amounts of attention to them. Oh, and hopefully, eventually, the financial and temporal freedom to pursue another career…one that isn’t so gray…one that I’ll actually be actively proud of on my deathbed.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

An Unnecessarily Stressful Announcement

I am sitting at a long table with a grilled veggie sub in a basket in front of me. On my right is Moonshot; to my left is my cousin, Caleb. I am so nervous I have to force myself to eat.

Around the table are Caleb’s wife Summer with their infant child Austin. Also in attendance are Caleb’s parents, Bobby and Theresa, and Caleb’s sister Sarah. A neglected Golden Tee machine rests in the corner to my left and the sporting news drones behind me on a big screen, alerting us that George Mason had been eliminated from the Final Four earlier in the day. Decorated with trains and corrugated roofing metal, the Chartroose Caboose is known for having the best Philly cheese steak in the Kansas City area. And it would be a comfortable atmosphere under any other circumstance, but I’m not really paying much attention. I just keep running through multiple versions of the speech I have to make and getting nervous all over again. The feeling is reminiscent of the night I proposed to Moonshot. Now, like then, I know what the response will be. I know I have nothing to be so terrified about, but the overriding “significance” of the moment crushes my self-confidence. The knowledge that everyone at the table will remember this moment makes me want to give a delivery worth of the event. And that makes me very nervous.

Summer inquires about my veggies. Everyone seems concerned that the selection of this eating establishment has been rather unfriendly to the out-of-town vegetarians. I assure them, as I have been since they first suggested this place, that I really do LIKE grilled veggies. I force another bite of food onto my uneasy stomach. It’s actually a fine sandwich and their restaurant selection really was a decent one. It’s just my nerves that make me appear to be less than enthusiastic. But they have no reason to suspect that I’m nervous, so I keep eating to diminish their fears as I wait for a good opening in the conversation. A thought crosses my mind that maybe I’m mildly hoping a good break does not come…because I’m still not exactly sure what I’m going to say.

What the Hell…I’ll just start. Everyone will start listening soon enough.

“You know,” I begin conversationally, “everyone keeps asking me if I’m hoping for a boy or a girl.” I pause. I’ve got about half the table paying attention, that’s fine. “I always tell people I don’t care one way or the other, but the truth is I guess I’m kinda hoping for a boy. Cuz, I’m really looking forward to naming my child after someone I’ve wanted to name my son after since I was about 12.” That was a cumbersome sentence, but just about everyone is looking now. I try not to worry about the bad delivery because I know I can write it more eloquently when I tell the story in my blog. “So, if we have a boy, and unless anyone has an objection…[Moonshot] and I would really like to name our son Caleb.”

A momentary silence sweeps the table as Caleb moves from half interested to confusion to smiling. “Really? Yeah, of course. That’s…wow.” He responds. He is truly baffled. And this moment perfectly highlights one of the many characteristics that make me so eager for my son to carry his name. His humility is such that he cannot wrap his mind around what has been said. He would not have been any more surprised if I had announced that he had won the Nobel Prize, it was so far outside his realm of expectations. He is smiling at Moonshot and me and mumbling, “That’s great,” a lot, but mainly his mind seems to be racing to find some justification for this honor…but his lack of arrogance leaves him searching.

My Uncle Bobby, on the other hand, is out of his chair and moving around the table to hug me with a faint misting of tears in his eyes. He rumbles, “I love you,” in his bass gravel voice as he wraps his arms around me.

“You did a good job raising him,” I reply and return his embrace.

We return to our seats and move quickly into a short discussion about baby names…but the details get fuzzy after this. The slow motion attention to odd details that accompanies my anxiety passes and the Moment slides comfortably into the past. Suddenly, I’m actually able to enjoy my veggie sub.

The rest of the evening passes pleasantly. Caleb and I sit up late in his garage swapping new music we’ve recently discovered and watching as a terrific storm rolls over his city. The wind blowing through the open garage door is chilly, but it’s undeniably spring air… so it is welcome. Caleb seems uncomfortable discussing the name issue, so we cover other topics. He appears genuinely pleased by the honor the name implies, but is not entirely at ease with a discussion that would basically be me listing all the reasons I think he’s so great. And anyway, I’m not always the best at expressing in person the sorts of thoughts that lead me to choose my cousin as my son’s namesake. So I don’t press the issue.

Instead we just enjoy each other’s company, watch the lightning spread across the early April sky and listen to bluegrass.

It’s more fitting this way...and far less stressful.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Monstrous Keepsake

I am a packrat.

And as a packrat, I have a basic inability to let go of acquired objects. This compulsion is fueled by my conviction that the object in question is invariably either a) sentimentally significant in some way or b) sure to be useful in the very near future. I inherited the packrat gene from both of my parents, so I suppose it was inevitable. Luckily, Moonshot suffers from no such delusions. She tosses items into the dumpster with glee. A well-ordered storage room satisfies her in the same way as a room filled with “useful” and “meaningful” items does me. We compromise a lot.

As one who is prone to over-sentimentalize any item once owned by a relative or friend, I stepped naturally into my role as the keeper of the family “heirlooms.” Some big, clunky piece of furniture that used to belong to Aunt Ethel? Unless it just happens to fit perfectly into someone else’s house, odds are that it will end up at Moksha’s house. I’m not complaining, per se. I’ve got some truly beautiful antiques from the deal and I’m generally more than happy to find a place for a piece of furniture that holds some small nostalgic twinge for the family. But I’m even keeping heirlooms that have no family connection to me. The rocking chair in my sunroom belonged to my cousin’s other grandma, but I assume that someone in their family will want it someday…so it waits. With Pumkin on the way, however, Moonshot and I have been rearranging the house. Suddenly, I find myself a bit less generous with my space.

Which brings me to the reason I mention my hording compulsion. You see, my Great-Grandma had a piano. Big, ol’ upright monstrosity that used to be a player. Middle C had a jagged “x” carved into the ivory, an obvious teaching devise from one of the many generations who sat down to this piano. The wood was worn and the high gloss coating had cracked in a thousand tiny fissures, like the skin on the back of your hand. But it was beautiful, an aging movie starlet that still radiated its 1930’s appearance. When my great-grandmother moved into a retirement home back in ’99 or so, the piano moved to my aunt’s basement. It was covered with a blue tarp and forgotten for a very short while. It could have rested there for quite some time, but instead, my aunt moved a year later. There was much debate at this time concerning the fate of this musical beast. No one wanted it…and no one wanted to throw it out. All my aunts and my uncle had fond memories of playing that piano as children. There were pictures of my grandmother sitting at that piano as a six or seven year old. The piano must be saved; it was family they decided. I had just gotten my first solo apartment in St Charles and figured it would look good in the living room. Due to years of neglect, it was unable to produce anything resembling a beautiful sound, but I figured I’d get it fixed up eventually. So, I rented a truck in Kansas City and drove it back to St Charles. I paid two movers far too much to tote the thing through the apartment courtyard and into my living room. It sat in my living room, looking good for a few months and then I moved into my current house. So, I again paid the same movers far too much money to heft it to the dining room of my then new home.

There it sat for quite some time, ignored but adding a certain sense of regality to my dining room…so long as no one tried to play it.

Eventually, I decided the time was right for the ol’ gal to sing again. I had a piano technician come out to take a look. The soundboard was shattered, but he could certainly fix it up for a mere $3000. I was stunned. I calmly asked how much it would be worth after this $3000…investment. He replied matter-of-factly, “$1500 or so.” That didn’t strike me as such a good deal, and the technician seconded my opinion. The piano stayed as it was for another few years.

In 2003, Moonshot moved in and together we purchased a real piano. It was a beautiful Yamaha U1 that went to live in our sunroom where Moonshot could easily use it for piano lessons. And with that, the Gren home had two pianos…one of which was really just a one thousand pound piece of decoration, a half-ton knick-knack.

A few months ago, the piano tech came back out to work on the U1. He was aghast…aghast, I tell you, that we had a Yamaha U1 sitting in that sunroom. “The sunlight!” he cried. “The temperature variation,” he moaned. “This is far too nice a piano to be treated this way!” We shuffled our feet like scolded children and tried to explain that it was the only place to put it. “What about the dining room,” he retorted, “where this other piano is? I’ll help you move it, right now…no charge.” His love for our U1 was undeniable and he had been so honest with me about the cost vs. benefit of restoring the old piano that I trusted his judgment. We agreed.

Our first stumbling block came when we realized, after much measuring and grumbling, that the old piano could not make the turn through the kitchen to the sunroom. We’d have to take it out the front door, down the steps, and around to the backdoor. The tech was not feeling THAT generous. Our plan of swapping the pianos died instantly.

It was decided that we would simply push the old piano to the side and find a new home for it. It was high time some other family member took a turn at keeping this hefty piece of nostalgia. The tech, as good as his word, hefted the U1 through our house. He flipped it on its side and slid it safely through our kitchen and into the dining room as if he had done it a thousand times. And who knows…maybe he has. At any rate, he was amazing. Anyone in the St Louis area looking for a good piano tuner…I got the guy.

I then set about the next step in the plan…finding a new home for the extra piano. Suddenly, however, no one in the family was particularly concerned about the fate of the heirloom. “Toss it,” they all said. “We don’t have room for it,” the spoke in unison. I was disheartened. I now had two pianos in my dining room, one of which overflowed into the hallway in a very un-regal manner, and no good way to get rid of it. Furthermore, being far more sentimental than the rest of my family (obviously), I hated to see it just thrown away. Hoping to find it a loving home, I wasted at least a month posting and reposting it on Freecycle. “Please, someone take this thing…it’s free!!!” I said in only slightly less pleading prose. But alas…no takers.

Finally, last week. I gave in and called movers to haul it away to the dump. They showed up, collected far too much money, and scratched deep gouges into my hardwood floors as they dragged it out. It’s fixable…but we’d have to refinish the entire main floor. So the scratches will stay where they are for now. I should have called the tech back. I have no doubt he could have single-handedly heaved it to the sidewalk without any damage to our home. Then the movers could have been as sloppy as they wanted while pushing it into their truck. Ah, hindsight.

So, every day I walk in my front door, I am confronted with the piano’s final parting shot, a daily reminder that I should try to keep my packrat nature under control. The piano never really had any business in my dining room. There is no need for a half-ton memory. Keepsakes should be small…and portable. They should sit on shelves or hang on walls. And if they are any bigger, you should keep them only because they are useful to you and because you need them for their function. They should never dominate an entire room, cost you a rental truck, three moving fees, and force you to refinish your flooring. So, from here on, if I want to have a little keepsake of my great-grandma around the house, I’ll stick with pictures.

Well, those and the piano bench that I just couldn’t bare to part with.