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My relationship with my piano tuner has outlasted my marriage.

Like many long-term couples, we’ve manevuered through our quirks, eventually reaching an innate understanding of each other.  He’s battled through and survived prostate cancer, quietly and with dignity.  I’ve battled through a marriage and survived an affair, not so quietly and often with much loss of dignity.  But somehow, through various moves and illnesses and up-and-downs of fortune and fate, we’ve always found time for an annual piano tuning, thanks to his persistence and charm.

He’s a suave older gentleman with a continental flair.  His shirt is always neatly pressed and tucked in, his white hair slicked back, his straight moustache trimmed precisely.  He speaks with a slight trace of his native Polish accent, words rolling musically off his tongue.

Sometimes he annoys me, just as I annoy him.  He’s always finding something wrong beyond basic tuning.  In my less charitable moments, I suspect him of running up my bill. On his last visit, he even insisted, peevishly, that my lighting didn’t do justice to my beautiful piano.  I needed, at minimum, overhead spotlights to wash perfectly over the wood.  And he was serious.  Dead serious.  I’m sure he’ll be unhappy when he discovers I didn’t heed his advice.

But his positives far outweigh his few negatives: he’s punctual, he’s attentive, he’s meticulous.  He gutted my mother’s piano, restrung it, polished up the old ivory keys and made it sing after years of neglect.  He loves what he does and it shows.

As an added bonus, once he’s finished tuning my piano, he treats me to a little concert, usually Chopin; I reciprocate with a glass of juice.  I’ve always tried to be generous to him, sometimes sending him home with food or treats, because I know musicians and piano tuners don’t make a lot of money.

Last Friday, he called:

“[Kimwolhee]?”  he asked, his lilting voice ending on an upbeat.  “It’s time.  It’s been almost a year.”

We  made a date for two weeks from this Friday.  I’ve already got the juice on ice…unless, of course, my kids find it first.

He came to mind unexpectedly today.  I was researching old deeds for a warehouse property in the city where I work; there, listed on one of the deeds, was his name.  More digging uncovered more deeds in his name.  I know it’s him because his name is so unusual and because I send my checks to the address listed on the deeds.

Turns out my piano tuner…this humble, kind, neat, modest man…is a gazillionaire, a gazillion times over.  Apparently, he owned half of my city once, plus a bunch of storage warehouses.  He sold off his properties for more dollars than I will ever see in my entire lifetime.

Gack.

It makes me wonder how much I really know about anyone.  And whether I should begin charging him for juice.  One gazillion should do nicely. Small change in the piano jar, please.

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