11 Feb Falling

I fell on Saturday. Down the porch stairs, about six feet, face first. I was gripping an antique kitchen sink made of ceramic. It was heavy but not too heavy, I thought. Jill, below me, had to leap out of the way. It happened fast, as these things do: I tipped forward, knew I wasn’t going to right myself, said a four-letter word, then I was down.

We had spent the day moving a lot of heavy items – a couch and a stove for our friend Vanessa, then a dual-tub soapstone utility sink, and a grand piano. We bought the piano at an auction to replace the irreparable one that had sat in our living room for five years. Most people think that because it’s big and pretty – and a complicated instrument – an old piano should be worth a lot of money. The opposite is true. Most pianos you see in antique stores are worthless, unless you’re willing to spend a lot rebuilding the thing. It doesn’t matter what they look like. Our piano technician friend, David Hughes, who is nationally renown for his expertise in piano repair, told us it’d cost about $27,000. to refurbish the old one we had. It just so happened that, last week, we spied a piano coming up in a local auction. A 1968 Yahama G-2. So we asked Mr. Hughes to look at it. This piano had hardly ever been played, apparently. It was even in tune mostly. Mr. Hughes said, “Get it.” So we did.

A word about moving pianos yourself: Don’t do it. Let the experts have that headache. The only reason we did it ourselves was because we had all that other stuff to move. Oh, I forgot to mention the radiator. We had to remove one of the two radiators from the living room bay in order to accommodate the new piano – because the dual radiators in that space are really bad for the instrument. You have no idea how much a radiator weights. Really. A six-fin 1890’s iron radiator, about waist high, weighs at least 250 pounds.

We hired our friend, Les, to supervise the move and employed his cousin too. Les is a moving genius. Getting a grand up our front stairs and around our stoop is more than a little difficult. Just as difficult was the two-tub utility sink. It weighs about 300 pounds. The problem isn’t just the weight, it’s the bulk and the lack of hand-holds. Instead of carrying out the old (cracked) concrete utility sink that had been in our basement, I took a sledgehammer to it and broke it up, then we carted it our in fragments. Anything to save our backs. .

So, by the end of the day, we were beat. But I had that one ceramic sink to haul to Jill’s car. As I felt myself losing my balance at the top of the stairs, I didn’t have time to be scared. There was no knife stab of panic. I was simply disappointed. When our species roamed the plains, staying afoot was a matter of life or death. Rarely, if ever, did our kind lay flat out on the ground. So strong is our need to stay on foot that, even in sleep, we are on guard. That’s why we wake with a start when a nerve misfires in our leg and makes us think, in the murk of dreamland, that we’ve just stepped in a hole and are going down. My disappointment at the moment of falling grew from this understanding — some atavistic recollection that told me, “oh no, this is not the way it’s supposed to be.” Then, in that second of recognition, I imagined the great inconvenience of toppling, of injuring myself and breaking a leg or worse.

I’m not sure how I tripped. It could have been a loose shoe string, it could have been that I should have leaned back instead of forward. Between the falling and its aftermath, I can recall nothing, not a single detail of my impact. It was, oddly, a fairly soft fall. I landed on top of the ceramic sink, which shattered. Then I opened my eyes and rolled over, taking a quick inventory of the damage. My eyeglasses stayed on my face. I recalled the time, years ago, when my old car hit a patch of black ice on a Wisconsin freeway, skidding into the Jersey wall, then caroming back into traffic, where I was rear-ended by a truck before I spun to a stop on the shoulder. In that accident, my glasses flew off my face as I was bounced about like I was playing bumper-cars at an amusement park.

This time, as I rose to my feet, I felt a great bruise on my right shin and some other scrapes and scratches. But I was standing. And it looked like I’d walk away. Everyone was most concerned. They were staring at me as if I might be a ghost. You know the way people study you to make sure you’re here or not? They say that those who have been in car crashes won’t know the damage done to them until days later, once the body has registered all that it has endured. I’ve been injured plenty but I’ve never fallen down a set of stairs. Had I not been carrying that sink, I might have hurt myself badly. The next day I was limping but okay.

Now the new piano is installed. Mr. Hughes will be by soon to tune it and make final adjustments, which include the installation of a regulator to diminish the effects of humidity on the instrument. Jill is practicing once again, tuneful notes of children’s songs resounding through the house.