Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Move a Piano; or, Why I Didn't Post This Weekend

So two weeks ago, I got basically the best news since Amanda Bynes announced her UN-retirement from acting.  Someone on was giving away an antique Smith & Barnes upright piano!  FOR FREE.  FREE, I say!!!  I emailed as quickly as my fingers could type, because holy-crap-holy-crap-we-just-bought-a-house-and-basically-have-negative-three-dollars-left-for-new-furniture-and-a-piano-is-way-better-than-furniture-anyway!

Well, the lovely woman emailed me back and told me that we were welcome to their piano, which they had gotten from a relative years earlier but had never really used.  We scheduled a time to pick up the piano, on a Saturday when our dear friends from Columbus, Will and Alexis, would be here to help us move it, and arranged to rent a moving van to transport it home.  For about $50, we were going to have a beautiful Victorian piano that was still in really nice shape, considering that it was 115 years old!

So, this past Saturday morning, we woke up, ate a hearty breakfast, and picked up the van from the rental place.  I navigated from my google-maps instructions to get the Husband (who was driving) to the house that contained the piano, while Will and Alexis drove on to meet us there.  I read the directions to the Husband, and everything was going fine, until we were almost there.

Husband: Are you sure this is the right street?
Me: Yes, it's that house straight ahead.  On the phone she said a gravel driveway and a silver mailbox.... oh.

The thing about Pittsburgh is that it is quite hilly.  Mountainous, in fact.  And apparently, our instrumental benefactors had decided to live on the side of one such mountain.  First we met the husband and wife, along with their three lovely children.  Then we inquired as to the location of the piano.  They pointed. 

Up two and a half flights of concrete stairs, a piano peeked around the corner.  An enormous piano.  A piano that could have contained a smallish rhinoceros.  A piano that probably weighed MORE than a smallish rhinoceros.

How could we possibly have thought that eating some bacon and eggs and slipping on our athletic shoes would have enabled us to move this ancient juggernaut of music?  Clearly, we should have been participating in Highland Games, running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Musem of Art, and/or training intensively with Mr. Miyagi to adequately prepare for this day.

We scurried up the stairs, feeling ever scrawnier as we drew closer to the piano.  It surely was a beautiful, historical instrument, with real ivory keys and intricate carvings in the dark wood paneling.  I hadn't taken piano lessons since seventh grade, but my fingers itched to tinker over the keys, playing snatches of "The Entertainer" and "Fur Elise" from memory.  But first, we had to get it all the way down to the truck. 

The following is an illustration of our movements:

1. We attempted first to heft the piano onto the flat furniture dollies that we had brought, in order to roll it about with greater ease.  Our gracious hosts offered us some plywood to ramp the piano down the stairs.  We managed about 1.2 steps before realizing that we could never manage the other 19.8 stairs, and were forced to back it up to the top again.

2. We inquired of the couple how on earth they had managed to get the piano INTO the house when they moved in several years earlier.  They explained that they had dragged it up a series of plywood ramps, up the hill on other side of the house.  We asked if they thought we could manage the same.  They said that it was worth a go, but that they had built up the hill since moving in, and it was now much steeper.  Among the four of us and three sheets of plywood, we managed to maneuver the piano across the back porch and patio to the top of the hill.  Then, David pulled, Will pushed, and Alexis and I steadied.

2a. After about ninety seconds of this, it occurred to Alexis and me that we were standing downhill of the piano, and that it was slowly proceeding to tip over in our direction.  You will note that the pertinent arrow ALMOST reaches the spot marked "DOOM."  Understandably wanting to avoid finding ourselves pinned under about 900 pounds of music, Alexis and I rather shrilly suggested to our menfolk that they move the piano back up the hill, and fast.  It occurred to me at this time that I might very well meet my end by being crushed by a falling piano.  That's the kind of thing you just don't want in your obituary.  It might as well be an ACME anvil.

3. Quickly growing tired, we managed to get the piano back to its original position, where we re-assessed our options.

4. Realizing that our options were limited to abandoning the piano, hiring professional movers, or possibly killing ourselves in an embarrassingly humorous manner, we made one more brief essay toward taking the piano down the stairs.  As soon as we had convinced ourselves that building a piano out of popsicle sticks and chewing gum, using only our feet and elbows, would be easier than moving this goliath, we apologized to the kind (and apparently, very patient) family, and said that we would try to find professional movers who would be less inept than we were.

Well, I could go into greater detail at this point, but it's late and I'm getting a rather funky headache from the fumes from the grout sealer in the bathroom across the hall.  (Man, is this what Joaquin Phoenix feels like all the time?)  Long story short, I found a piano moving company that was able to move the piano earlier this evening, and when I returned from a tutoring session tonight, I found a beautiful, enormous piece of Victorian furniture in my dining room! 

The Husband and I went to work on it with some furniture polish and Old English for the scratches that a wicked cat had made on one side at some point in the past 115 years.  Behold, the fruits of our (preliminary) labor!

At some point amid the high-fiving and squealing with glee, I sat down at the piano and began to tinker with "Fur Elise" and "Chariots of Fire."  Recalling the last piece I learned from my piano teacher in middle school, my fingers drifted through the opening bars of the Titanic theme. 

It occurred to me that the instrument upon which I was playing was made almost twenty years before the original Titanic sank.  In all seriousness, that was a pretty incredible thought.

In slightly less seriousness, however...

I'm just pretty gosh-darned excited.


  1. Love the post Inky :)

    Was wondering if you would like to blog roll with me? If so drop me a line.

    Keep up the lovely work!
    Marsy x

  2. This is a pretty epic telling of the story :) I love the picture of us with the Holy Crap bubble!!

    I'm so glad you guys found some piano movers. It's a really gorgeous piano and looks fantastic now that you've cleaned it up!

  3. I'm so glad you got the piano. I can imagine you'll end up with a few dinner parties in which everyone is standing around piano, singing wine induced show tunes, and wishing they had a friend who could actually play it--and then lo and behold, Joy has taken the time to prepare for this moment and you suddenly bust out "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and everyone is incredibly impressed and discusses your dinner party success for months to come.

  4. I don't think anyone has more adventures than you 2! I think I'm glad I wasn't there to worry you through it!

  5. My parents have a baby grand Steinway piano and while it is absolutely beautiful to look at and hear it is a BEAST to move! So I share your pains with this situation :)

  6. Thanks KXM and Marsy! :)

    Alexis, thank you a million times over for being a trooper and trying to move the piano in your flip-flops. I'm very glad we didn't get crushed.

    Jen, what a terrific idea! I would be delighted to throw a dinner party. Does Our Good Food Life do catering? ;-)

    Mama G - thank you for producing a son who is patient with his wife's harebrained whims to procure a piano that's older than Betty White. Can't wait for you to give it a whirl at Christmas!

    Bob - Yes, the term "BABY grand" is a bit misleading, isn't it? Hopefully they at least live on the flat, flat land of Florida, and not the mountainous terrain of Pennsylvania (or Mordor).