The Hairdresser and the Piano: a Parable

A chemist, a psychologist and a hairdresser were moving a piano. I am the psychologist in the story. The chemist is my sister’s husband, Bobby, and the hairdresser is Ben, Bobby’s brother. Dispel any stereotypes you have of a male hairdresser. Ben is quite masculine and loves women- so much so, that he has married several of them (concurrently, not simultaneously). Our story begins at the end of Ben’s first marriage.

As I understand it, when Ben divorced, Ben’s ex-wife got most of their assets, but Ben got the piano. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the piano. It was an old upright, seemingly unused and in need of tuning. I don’t know what the logic or calculation was for this apparent inequitable division of assets, but Ben needed to get his portion of the estate out of the apartment that day and had borrowed a pick-up truck.

Among the motley lot of us (a chemist, psychologist and hairdresser, remember, without any particular qualifications as movers), we were able to move the piano to the parking lot. However, getting the piano onto the truck was a more difficult proposition.

We had several options to consider. Should we angle the piano into the truck? No- the soundboard needed to remain upright. Where on the truck should we place the piano? In the center of the truck bed? The center of gravity might be good, the three of us collectively deduced, but there would be nothing to keep the piano stable. We ultimately decided to wedge the piano in the corner of the truck bed, between the cab and the wall of the bed. We did not have anything to secure the piano, but given our understanding of physics and resolve to drive v e r y slowly, we felt confident in the plan.

The first 300 feet of the drive went without incident. But then we approached a small hill, which we had to descend while going around a curve simultaneously. Miraculously, we cleared the hill and the curve, only to encounter a speed bump at the bottom of the hill.

(Seriously, who puts a speed bump at the bottom of a curving hill? Certainly not anyone well-versed in physics or piano-moving.)

This conspicuous display of the misallocation of taxpayer dollars proved to be too much for the piano; as soon as the front tires of the truck reached the apex of that speed bump, the piano lurched and began to tip over the side of the truck.

The piano was in motion – it was going to fall – but there was a car directly in its path. Ben slammed the gas pedal and the piano teetered for a moment on the edge of the truck and then-barely missing the car- fell, hitting the ground with a thunderous 88-note chord, accompanied by the sound of splintering wood.

The piano let out its last gasp, a painful, terrible, audible shudder. My memory of this moment has a dream-like haze to it; time slowed down as the dust rose and pieces of ivory and splinters of wood floated in the air, which reverberated with the sound and impact of the piano’s destruction, slowly receding as the air cleared.

Bobby recalls hearing that sound one other time – the distinctive, unmistakable sound of another piano’s demise.

As the dust literally settled, we learned two things. First, a piano falling from a pick-up truck completely destroys all parts of the piano, except the soundboard. And second, all the weight in the piano is in the soundboard.

The little pieces of wood and ivory were easy enough to pick up and dispose of, but it was nearly impossible to move the incredibly heavy, awkward soundboard, now flat on the ground. With as much effort as you would imagine that a chemist, psychologist and hairdresser could muster, we managed to coax the soundboard upright and joggle it to the nearest dumpster.

We considered trying to heave it into the dumpster, but exhaustion and a moment of clarity dictated that we lean the soundboard against it. We figured the garbage truck operator was a disposal professional, unlike us amateurs. We propped it against the dumpster and left.

Though we could have undoubtedly been better prepared (gotten some rope or straps to secure the piano, say), we did not know that the speed bump would cause so much disruption.

The moral of the story is that balance in life is NOT about how well you load your cargo. Inevitably, there will be times you encounter a curving hill and a speed bump at the same time and drop your piano. Balance in life is recognizing that sometimes you will inevitably lose your proverbial load. There will be messes you cannot avoid. Balance is about cleaning up the mess, avoiding getting stuck in the mess, not berating yourself or others that you/they did not plan better, and doing what it takes to clean up the mess.

Balance does not mean that you can avoid hardship. It just means that you have the wherewithal and psychological resources to confront it, learn from it and move forward without damaging yourself or your relationships- even when it comes crashing down like a falling piano.

Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.