1.24.2015

used piano

secondhand Yamaha PSR-195 keyboard

No matter the downsizing, humans need a certain amount of stuff just to live—at minimum, a roof for shelter, clothing and bedding, various tools, and a cooking pot—it's all part of the bargain for giving up full-body hair and fiddling with fire. And though not yet a minimalist, I'm actually happier with my stuff now that I've pared it down to just the things I like and use most (with the caveat that my entire kitchen is currently boxed up in the garage, waiting for the day I have my own place again).

But the search for used stuff has for me the last few months gotten a lot less interesting as Something to Do on a Saturday Afternoon. It's almost a maxim that the less often one visits thrift stores, the more crap they seem to have, tchotchkes like carved wooden camels missing half a leg, dirty rugs, chipped plates. The flaws magnify, spread. Or maybe it's that after thrifting weekly for years, the offerings all start looking the same—another broken knickknack, another dirty rug, yet another chipped plate. Or it could be I'm just tired of squeezing past the piles stacked here in the hallway between the main room and the bathroom of things still needing to be photographed, uploaded, and sold off.

But I'd like to think this secondhand ennui is because I've evolved, shifting into wanting more experiences than things. If I were charting it, my level of new experiences the last few years has dipped lake-bottom low. Post-divorce poverty and high gas prices haven't helped—no more bed-and-breakfasts in the countryside over long weekends, no day trips up to the mountains or down to the coast in search of snow or waterfalls or sand. Pathetic. Dull.

OPEC to the rescue! Gas prices have fallen to $1.99 a gallon here lately in Portland, an oil refinery desert, because the Arabian sheikhs are so flush with cash they can undercut the market and steamroll over Venezuelan protestations in efforts to hobble the emerging North American fracking industry (which was its own fuck you to the Saudis). But who cares about blowing through the remaining oil reserves, melting the ice caps, and advancing the Sixth Extinction? Low gas prices means as soon as my housemate's burnt leg is back to normal, I might once again be able to head up to the mountains some weekend, possibly for some first-time snowshoeing. (Horseback is no longer really an option under highway conditions and technically I would be carpooling.)

Yet of course objects versus experiences presents a false dichotomy. Particular objects are required for certain experiences: think a whisk and an oven for baking, a surfboard for surfing, a suitcase or backpack and a map for travel, lumps of clay and a wheel for pottery making, a pad and pen (or a stick and some dirt) for drawing, tools and wood for woodworking, and so on.

And since one of the things on my bucket list is playing the piano in a casual, mediocre way—after lazy dawdling instead of practicing over the few months I had lessons as a child (because I didn't want to repeat stupid scales, I wanted to produce whole bright songs) and then tinkering a bit on my own during high school with my grandmother's hand-me-down piano that smelled like secondhand cigarette smoke—I would need a piano. But I have no room for a real piano. My younger sister, who copied my tinkering and somehow turned learning to read music and play the clarinet in band into becoming a church pianist and organ accompanist, all without private lessons, has an expensive digital piano at home for practice. I've secretly been wanting one of my own, for more tinkering. As with daily crosswords, playing music exercises the brain. Plus, like yoga, cooking, or knitting, it just feels good, the body's senses engaged. Our combinations of hobbies make us who we are, don't they? And I've been watching way too many well written, entertaining television series lately for downtime; the problem with TV is its passivity and inactivity. Television in excess lets us avoid life. Tick-tock goes the clock.

So downtown after work one Friday on the way home, after stopping into William Temple House Thrift Store for the first time in weeks, I spotted an electric piano on a stand over by the furniture section. And because my stamp card with them was full, I got the piano for a mere five dollars, after using up a $25 gift certificate. It doesn't have 88 weighted keys or even a sustain pedal (yet), but it is a Yamaha. And after a good cleaning, it's possibly better than new because it was almost free. So here's to using objects for new—or newly dusted off—experiences.



Edited to add: I ended up reselling the keyboard because it didn't have 88 keys. Real pianos are best. Lesson learned.

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