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On The Edge Of Common Sense
by Baxter Black, DVM

Sharon had hauled the
old piano home in a stocktrailer.
It came outta the
Miner’s Club in Mountain
City where, according to the
bartender, it had set since
the early thirties. It was in
sad shape and one end of the
ancient upright was full of
holes. Bullet holes! Considering
it had never been outta
the bar, the piano player
musta needed lessons!
Sharon gave the piano
to me and I hauled it home
where it sat in my garage for
a year.
Brother Steve came to
visit. He’s a talented musician
with a craftman’s ability.
He’s also one of the thriftiest
humans this side of Ebenezer
Scrooge! He asked me
if he could try and get the
old piano in workin’ order.
“Of course!” I said, “I’ll pay
for the parts…whatever it
takes!” I blocked out 3 or 4
hundred in my mind, “Just
save your receipts.”
I came home that afternoon
and the garage floor
looked like an orchestra
had exploded! He had dismantled
that piano down to
wire! The harp lay naked on
the concrete.
Over the next several
days I watched the rebuilding
take place. Steve would
go out on parts runs and
return with a replacement
hammer, just the right set
screw or a used, but serviceable
piece of ivory. He took
particular pleasure in makin’
a shrewd trade. “Whatever
the costs,” I’d say, but he
enjoyed finding a bargain.
One day he took me along
on a parts run. We drove
down the tracks, behind a
big nursery, down a dusty
road and pulled up to a dilapidated
house with a few
outbuildings. I was struck
by the fact that nothing was
painted. There was one
unspectacular sign that
read PIANOS-TUNED AND
FIXED. We went inside and
were greeted by the proprietor
who obviously knew
Steve. He was a sad lookin’
man. The house was full
of pianos! Even two in the
kitchen. There was an empty
can of tomato soup on the
sink. I wandered through the
rooms amongst the piano
landscape, leaving Steve and
the owner to do business.
From the looks of his home,
he lived alone and probably
not very high on the hog.
Pianos in various stages of
repair filled every available
space.
I heard Steve and the man
dickering in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” Steve was
saying, “I can’t give more
than five.”
“I’ve got to get ten. It’s
surely worth ten,” the old
man pleaded.
I’m thinkin’ to my self,
“Steve, we can be generous.
The ol’ feller probably hasn’t
eaten in days. What’s five
bucks. Besides, I’m payin’ for
it!’ But I knew better than to
interfere. The bartering continued
for several minutes.
The old man finally came
down to seven, but Steve
wouldn’t budge. Finally, with
a whimper, the old man gave
in. He had met his match.
As we climbed into the
pickup to leave I asked Steve
what he had bought. He held
up a little ribbon of red felt,
maybe six inches long. “For
the hammers,” he explained.
I said, “Man, that don’t
look like it’s worth five
bucks!”
“Five dollars?” he said,
“No, I gave five cents for it!”
The final bill for rebuilding
my piano was $18.34!