The Pianist

It’s the mid 1980s, probably December, early evening, dark, very wet and very cold. I was picking up a typositor font from an unknown supplier. The entrance to his big apartment building on the northwest corner of Amsterdam and 72nd St. turned out to be some distance up the side street. No doorman, an unprepossessing foyer and only one elevator. When the doors opened, I turned right as instructed and froze: a Chopin étude was roiling out of one of the apartments off the narrow hallway ahead. Sure enough, the Chopin was coming from my supplier’s apartment.

I stood at the door. The bass rumbled through me while the melody’s longing turned into plangent defiance. I refused to allow guilty thoughts of my 2-year-old and the babysitter at home detract one iota from the music’s searing immediacy. Please, don’t stop. But he did, of course, and reality settled in. I pushed the bell. The lid dropped over the keyboard, the deadbolts retracted and the door opened.

“Hi. Berling, right?” I handed him a check; he gave me a little white box. All business. “Thanks. Good night.” I seriously considered leaning on the doorbell and begging him to let me sit under the piano for the next two weeks or so.

How does someone who can play like that end up making alphabet filmstrips for a living?