His name is Lanny Petrushka.
Always at the open stage in the 1980s at Fat Alberts, tinkering on the piano before the regulars arrived. Seemed not a pianist because the way he touched the keys was overly careful, like they might be too hot to touch. He was in his 40s, dressed in clothes that didn’t fit him and never spoke to anyone but more memorable were the loud sighs or short bursts of laughter at inappropriate moments, in the middle of a quiet song or a compelling story. Angry looks from strangers did not have their desired effect. He sat at the front and left for the evening following the break. I sort of liked the tension between performers and him for his inconsiderations. Often people were quiet when I played my piano pieces. I was a peculiar addition to the line up of mostly guitar singer songwriters. I wasn’t distracted by his unexpected sounds because he was oblivious, what’s the point? Having worked in group homes, my intuition said he lived somewhere like that and this was a weekly night out, some free entertainment before curfew. Yesterday, he walked by me on the subway, incredible, last seen in 1989.
Flood of memories. The odds are such that this chance sighting will be the last time I ever see this guy, who I don’t know yet do. Got up and walked down to where he took a seat, wondered if he can communicate or if he would remember me. There was a seat open next to him. I sat down and asked him,
“Do you still play the piano?” He recognized me immediately and held out his hand to shake.
“Lannie Petrushka. Yes, if I can find one but mostly accordion now, I transcribe romantic piano music for accordion.”
I never knew he spoke English or played accordion or understood theory. Told him Mary stopped hosting, Bram died, Sam died, Doug died and Ray too.
“Did Larkin die from a physical condition?” he asked.
I thought to myself everyone dies from a physical condition. Told him Fat Alberts moved to the Steelworkers Hall every Wednesday night and there is another good open stage at the Tranzac on Mondays.
“Do they charge money?”
“No, and they have a piano and you could even play accordion if you want.” His eyes looked away while I spoke, as though his attention was on other subjects, as if I never sat down in the first place. That was more in keeping with my memory of him, so was the beige trench coat, navy blue flood pants, brown dress shoes, 50s hair cut – nothing changed but wrinkles. He must be 75-ish.
“Did you stick with the piano? Did you ever go places with it?”
“I stuck with it.” I said.
“You played experimental piano, the world moves on from the romantics, melodic music is sweet but you know the female spider eats the males after they screw.”
“I’ve heard about that”.
“Sweetness is overrated.”
“It is natural but so are volcanic eruptions and lava swallowing every scream it can embrace.”
“I like lava like winter, they are the reset buttons.”
“I know what you mean.”
He got off at St. George without saying goodbye. I liked this ending better than if I remained in my seat.