Tick, Tick, Tick…BOOM

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Mom, Russ
Tags: , , , , ,

I remember Russ’s studio vividly – it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say I grew up there. I even lost a tooth in his studio, as a kid. I was hungry and tired of waiting (I can only imagine we’d been there a couple of hours), and went over to his mini fridge. I pulled out a Pepperidge Farm cookie that was as hard as my head. Not realizing this, I tried to take a big ol’ bite. A tooth that was already loose came ripping out. God, did it hurt.

He had big musical notes – decorations from a party store, I think, over his window and some sort of Christmas garland (gold) made out of little musical notes as well. He had pictures all over the wall – him with Sinatra, him with John Wayne, him with Bobby Darin, Fabian…others. Loads and loads of pictures of students. On his piano he had an old, funny looking dog (or maybe a mouse?) with a black sombrero. I remember him pointing at it thoughtfully and saying “That thing saved my life once.” I’ve always been curious about that story – I never did get to hear it.

As for the man himself, he had shoulder length hair (dyed) that was combed over and wore the same types of black shirts and dress pants every day. I think once or twice in my entire life I saw him wearing blue. He was funny and engaging – he loved regaling me with stories from his life as a musician. When he wasn’t teaching (which was often – hell, he even worked Christmas Eve), he liked to go down to the race track. If a gambling buddy of his walked in, he’d drop everything, hop in his Caddy, and take off. He was basically an easygoing guy, and I had only seen him mad a few times in my life. Once, when he thought I wasn’t being serious about practicing, he got royally pissed at me. He threw me out of his studio in a fury. He pointed to his wall of students.

Russ: You could be better than anybody up on that wall.But you don’t work. Get the hell out of my studio.

I got the point and started practicing – I did love music. It was a wonderful kick in the ass for me, and I’m glad I got it. Sometimes I feel like I need one again.

Anyway, the other time I saw him angry – truly, truly angry – was with my mother one day. He would record piano tracks for his voice students so they could practice. I still remember the song…it was “What A Wonderful World“. He messed up a couple of times on it and had rewound the tape so he could do it over. Mom looked over and laughed.

Mom: You’re obviously a different one today. The Russ last week played piano better.

He stood up so hard he knocked over the bench, and a cassette tape came flying past mom and exploded on the wall behind her. Russ was so pissed he was actually shaking.

Russ: Out. Get out.

Mom: Russ, what did I do? I’m sorry…I’m sorry.

I stood shocked and mute, staring at the scene as Russ herded Mom to the door. She was protesting and apologizing, but not yet blubbering (though I could see it coming). The front door slammed behind us and locked. Mom and I walked back to the car, where she sat and started to blubber. “What did I do? What did I say?” She ran up to his door again and, finding it locked, opened up the mail slot and started trying to talk to Russ through it.

Mom: Russell, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

He had receded into the studio, and if he heard (which he probably did) he met her with silence. She wailed.

Mom: What about Gaffe?

I stood by her while she spent a good half hour – maybe more – trying to talk to him through the mail slot with no success. We returned to the car, and I hoped the episode was finally over. Nope. She reached into the back seat and whipped out a blue Meade notebook. She hiccuped and wailed as she wrote another epic letter to Russ, or the Russes, or whoever. When it was done, she did leave – but only to go to the local drug store for an apology card. After filling the inside (and the back) of the card for good measure, she enclosed her letter and slipped it into the mail slot. She watched it fall to the ground and began to worry he wouldn’t see it.

Mom: Dan, you don’t think it fell too close to the door do you?

Me: I don’t know, Mom, I’m sure he’ll see it. Either way, he doesn’t want to see us. We need to go.

She peered through the glass, and the pink envelope stared blandly up at us from the Berber carpet. I tried a different tack.

Me: Mom, I’m really hungry. We’ve been here all day.

After a long last look, she sniffed and shuffled to the car. We at at Friendly’s, and she let me order whatever I wanted.

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