Aug 21, 2014

The story of a bizarre good day

     Do you remember that one time when you went to Nichole’s Fine Pastry with Maddie to celebrate your collective birthdays, and together you had a mango blackberry tower and a coconut tower, plus a clementine Izze and an iced latte and two fancy chocolates that tasted weird? 

     And then you walked around downtown Fargo looking for a bookstore and ended up walking past this random piano on the sidewalk. It was covered in bright colors and painted cats, and it said “Play this piano. Right meow,” and so you did. Why not. And you and Maddie took turns trying to remember tunes and messing up and playing the wrong chords and stumbling and fumbling while people walked by and glanced at you, and your hands kept shaking like they do when anyone is watching at all, but you were both grinning. 
     And then two highschool guys walked up and sat down on a bench nearby and declared that they were going to listen to you play for a while, and you both sort of got nervous and said you were done and were just leaving, but if they wanted to play anything they could. So then one of them started playing and was pretty good and had a cheeky smile and a big weird ring on his right hand and old friendly sandals on his feet, so you stuck around and watched him instead of him watching you. And somehow none of you wanted to leave, so you just stayed. That’s all.
     And then – remember? – an adorable young couple sat down on the curb a few paces away, inconspicuous, but obviously listening interested, with body language that wanted to sidle up to the fun. And then another couple came up, and you asked if they knew any songs, so the guy, tall and hipster, navy blue short-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way up, sat down and played a quick song, and the couple on the curb stood up and came over, and they apparently knew the first couple because they bantered during the song while the rest of us smiled and then clapped. And then the hipster couple left with playful grins, and you – the core group consisting of you and Maddie and these two highschool guys – asked if the curb couple played, and the guy was all, “Yeah, sorta, a bit” and then he sat down and started playing and singing a musical number and absolutely blew you away, and you were like “’Yeah, sorta, a bit’ my foot!” And the girl, with blondish red hair that pulled back and up, and a dress with flowered skirt and striped top, she told you they were musical theater majors. And of course they were. The stage presence and the way they came to life when people were enamored with them. Which you certainly were.   
     And then remember how the girl took her turn? And she played and sang a song about her fat Maine Coon cat that she had written herself, while her big tortoiseshell glasses slid further down her cute nose the longer she played, and you and Maddie were just laughing with delight and looking at each other like is this real life
     And how the guy and the girl kept taking turns on the piano and making jokes and laughing with all of you, and everyone was just themselves – you could feel it – and you leaned your arm against the sticky bright purple paint on top of the piano and just listened to the musical numbers rolling out of them, as if it were a Broadway show just for you right there on the small Broadway of Fargo, as if the show and you were in the same personal bubble, not separated. And the guy, with his sideburns and hairy arms and the leather cuff on his wrist and his genuine smile – that five-year-senior at NDSU who was taking his “victory lap” as he said while chatting between songs – yeah, he was throwing his voice into the street and the people walking by would smile to themselves, or wander closer and then away, and sometimes they would stay.
     There was such openness, remember that feeling? The group of curious friendly people with nothing better to do but stand around a piano all afternoon – a piano in the street that was just odd enough to spark interest, while still being homey and inviting. People who just really liked where they were. No need to leave.
     And you’d smile at strangers welcomingly, hoping they would join this circle of improbable strangers making music and incongruous joy. Why not? 

     Soon another lady came. Remember her? With her bright turquoise blazer and her scarf, her curly top hair and the bright red lipstick that only missed her mouth in a couple places? The one who seemed fine … until she started talking. 
     The way she talked about Maddie looking like Tinkerbell and that Maddie should try out for the new part. Or the orphans, the orphans something at Island Park at 7, and they’ll be teaching us about the thoughts of blue, different shades of blue, like your shirt. I’m going to NDSU for nano technology. 
             - Oh wow, musical guy interrupts. A bit more complicated than musical theater! And we all laugh. - 
     She smiles genuinely, oddly, her eyes crinkling softly like a grandma’s, but she’s young - maybe, can't quite tell - and then she keeps going on about things I don’t understand. To Maddie: You must be part of that one weight loss program downtown. Oh, you’re a dancer? At Gaspers? Oh, Camria. I taught at Camria. I was considering being a flight attendant. I’m too depressed to play piano, I sold some CD’s once though. I play flute, but I can’t play piano now, I’m too depressed. 
     And you felt a sort of concern, like she needed a hug, but then you realized that the music and joy around you was better than that, and maybe just what her confused mind needed. And then she left to go to the gym, except she forgot her membership card so she hoped they’d still let her in. 
     And meanwhile the musical theater couple were still showering you with the best personal show ever, amidst the thrum of passing cars. And one of the high school boys kept jumping up, and going, Oh man, look at that truck. Mmmph. That’s an awesome truck. That one there? Oh, that’s a piece of junk. But look at that one. Wow. 
     And then Maddie looked at you, and, talking about the musical girl: She reminds me of Maddie Gregor. And the girl overheard and said, Maddie Gregor!? I know her! I go to school with her in Wisconsin! What. Maddie Gregor is in Scottland now! Of all the people. Are you for real. 
     But then the musical theater two had to leave, and they did so waving and grinning and it felt like saying See you later! to friends. Almost like you should have been saying, Let’s go to Rhombus Guys for some pizza later! or something, instead of  watching them leave your entire life, full and holding hands. 
     And then it was you and the two highschool boys again. And the one sent the other to his truck – a good truck, presumably – to get his trumpet out. Because he just happened to have his trumpet along, go figure.
     And then he played around on the trumpet for a while. Remember that? And all the while you were becoming better friends, just by sharing that bizarre weird perfect happy day, genuinely comfortable in each other’s company without even knowing their names... 
     And remember how that shirtless guy with the tats walked by, and the trumpet boy said, “Nice tattoos!” and the tat guy turned back around and started telling you how his tat wasn’t worth it, and it had some deep meaning behind it, and sure it was cool but the meaning wasn’t; he had spent years in jail, had seen three hundred people killed, he said, and his tattoo had someone holding a key to his jail – portrayed by bars on his arm – and there was a clock ticking on his arm, to show the wasted  years. And also Minnesota Vikings were intertwined in the tattoo. Didn’t catch why. But it’s not worth it man. I wouldn’t recommend it. And he walked away. 
     Trumpet boy looked at you and shrugged, making a don’t know what that was all about grinning face. 
Meanwhile a scraggly guy on a motorized bicycle had pulled up. Shaggy hair, college aged, perhaps?, with big brown work boots and a guitar slung on his back.
     Somehow you started talking about braces. You hated having braces. Trumpet Boy never had any. But he throws a question out to Guitar Guy, including him in, You ever have braces? he says. Tight-lipped head-nod. Still have them? Asked with a mischievous lilt, because Guitar Guy still hadn’t broken a smile and you really couldn’t tell the answer. Tight-lipped head-shake. Hardly a smirk back. 
     Ok then …
“You a music guy?” you ask, which he is obviously, hence the guitar, so Maddie and Trumpet Boy laugh, but you’re hoping Guitar Guy will join the jamming. He nods. Watches Trumpet Boy playing songs that you don’t recognize but are enjoying. And then he leaves. Too bad. Could have been fun. 
     Remember how that trumpet sounded out across the streets of downtown, blaring between cars? Playing reveille. And some Taps – cut short, but still haunting. The Star Spangled Banner. Random lady shouting out the words as she passed. Trumpet Boy stopping and preparing himself cheerfully, ruefully, for the high notes, neck muscles popping. Then his eyes suddenly getting wide with apprehension, you can’t get arrested for playing in public can you? 
For what? Spreading happiness?? Like, ‘NO! TOO MUCH HAPPINESS!’ 
     He grins and keeps playing, and something about him reminds you of someone else you know. So you think what the heck and ask if he knows them too. His eyes widen. What?? Yes, yes he does! Mutual friends again, like Maddie Gregor and the theater kids. Small big world.  
     So yeah, remember that day? The day when you were having so much fun you only remembered to take out your phone camera once during the entire musical jam session. When you spent hours playing and listening to music, being friends with people you didn’t know? 
     And right before you had to leave, you shook hands with the two boys and finally learned their names.
     Trumpet Boy is Jordan. The other is Zach. 
     Nice to meet you. Sideways grins. Hope we run into you again. 
     And then you and Maddie remember your 90 minute parking with wide eyes and make a run for it, hoping you didn’t get a ticket, running – laughing – away from the strangest most perfect day, maybe never to see those people again, who knows? 
     Such fullness from interacting with those people. 
     Life is weird. But happy.  
     And I guess sometimes it's okay to talk to strangers. 
Best birthday party ever.

Update: I found the facebook page for this piano project! Click here to see a picture that one of the art gallery ladies took of us!


  1. Favorite story I've heard all week. :) I love these kind of serendipitous meetings, as rare as they are. Hope you do get to run into them again!

  2. Such a nice story. It's cool that things like this happen in real life and not just books. (:

  3. See there was a story, and then a storyteller, and a place for stories. Then when they all come together and the storyteller tells her story in the place, that is what makes our single lives into millions.

  4. I absolutely love this. ♥♥ Human nature in all its glory.


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