For the second time this week, I am struggling across New York City with a dangerously unwieldy piece of musical equipment.

The first time was Saturday, when Anna and I met at Guitar Center to purchase a long-anticipated keyboard. We’ve been playing on a shoddy Casio with keys that bounced back like overzealous bed springs; not enough resistance for comfort. After much banging on store models, we landed on yet another Casio: the CDP-100 armed with only a few bells and whistles, but in possession of 88 firm and gleaming keys. From here on out, only the keyboardist (me) can be blamed for the botched arpeggio, the chord that sounds false. And so Emily – who was gracious enough to help even during her city holiday – and I made the hundred-plus block pilgrimage north, taking turns with the packaged keyboard, which swung maniacally at fellow pedestrians like a cardboard sarcophagus with a death drive.

But here’s the rub: we were entitled to a complementary Proline PL400 Keyboard Stand with the purchase of our Casio — an attractive feature, considering our last stand met an early end when a screw disappeared into the shadowy corners of our last show at the Lit Lounge. Unfortunately, G Center was out of stock on Friday and, while our unnecessarily talkative salesman “Nino” attempted to con us into buying a more expensive version, we held out: we are businesswomen, sir, and we will have that stand.

And, after calling to confirm the keyboard stand is restocked, I find myself plodding north yet again. I choose my trains strategically: the 1,2,3 will be crowded so I opt for 125th rather than 116th, and the local, at this hour, is roomier than the express, so I have several seats to myself and my box and my sensationalist historical fiction novel — but it’s a long trip.

Finally, emerging into the night, I attempt to shift the box’s weight from my right arm to my left. The box is too wide across to be carried on one side or the other but must be embraced full on, therefore obscuring, in part, both my vision and my ability to walk. I have never had a more awkward dancing partner, and my purse slides from my shoulder to my elbow.

“Are you sure there isn’t a better way to carry that?”

I peer over the top of the box to my left. A short man walks beside me; he is in his fifties, I’d guess, with rough knuckles, a blue satchel, and a full head of nicely coiffed black hair. At first I think he’s making a joke, but he doesn’t look like the kind.

“You could punch two holes in it, make a hand hold,” he offers. I laugh politely, say something about how it’s just a few blocks (even if my forearms are going numb from the strain), and he nods, walking ahead. But when I set down the box to rest instants later, I see him bending over by a dumpster, plucking a strand of twine from the ground. In that moment, I admit defeat. He deftly ties the twine around the box and, though the cord cuts into my palm, life gets easier.

Where am I going? 122nd. Ah, well, he’s going 120th, he’ll walk with me. And so we start talking. Am I musician? Yes, I answer, the word reverberating falsely in my ears. He is too, a guitarist, plays in advanced life care facilities. When he moved to NYC, he thought he was going make it big — they said he was another James Taylor. He had his two songs, and he was going places. But, with time, he adjusted his dreams. Better to have luck than talent! There all kinds of talented people out there, talented people like you and me, but it’s true what they say about right place, right time. And you have to meet someone who’s in his right place and right time too and plug into a whole string of luck for anything to happen.

He offers to take the box for a while. At this point, I know we are friends. I gratefully let the stand thud the ground, he hoists it onto his back, one hand grasping the twine, the other balancing the box.

As he speaks, I realize, this is the first dream I’ve had for myself. When I wake in the morning, I think about our songs — what can I play to emphasize Anna’s pivotal line? In the shower — what if we waited a little longer before coming back in after the solo at the end of that song? Walking to work — the third week of June would be good for a DC show. At my desk — I need to straighten my bow arm, must review in front of mirror. Coming home — how can visual narrative be incorporated into our oeuvre? Before sleep — and the music fills my inner ear, whether I wish it or not. For the fist time, I am dreaming, dreaming big, or maybe it’s dreaming me, but whatever the case, it’s thrilling, and it’s terrifying.

He continues: In the end, it’s about the process. It’s not about being successful. The proess. What’s success anyway? Success is about finding peace in your own life. He feels this peace. And he feels very lucky, really, enormously lucky. We reach the corner of 122nd and Amsterdam.

Thank you so much, I say, and we shake hands, finally introducing ourselves. His name is Tony. I tell him we’re playing tomorrow night, at the Lit Lounge, 10 pm, we’re called Soldier On Dear Friend. He takes out a pen, writes it down in block capitals. Thank you, thank you, I say again.

Ohh, I do this everyone. I’m what’s called a — d’you know what this means? — a mensch.

(Do I? Oh, do I ever.) Yes, I say. Yes, an echt mensch.

Oh, so you do! Well, a very good night to you.

You too! Thank you!

And so Tony disappears, and I heft the box onto my hip to cross the wide Amsterdam, just where it sweeps down from Morningside Heights into Harlem before rising again, lights aglitter, to the Bronx.

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