SMARTY AIN'T STUPID
So I'm in a bar called Bar watching perhaps the three
most important heart-pounding minutes of one horse's
life-Thoroughbred Smarty Jones-previous underdog go
for the Triple Crown. Being of superstitious nature,
I convince myself that all Smarty needs me to do to
help him win is to grip my beer tightly, sit on the
edge of my seat, hold my breath and think only the
most positive of thoughts. 'Go Smarty go!"
My plan was going smoothly until out of nowhere a bad
breathed tool in a yellow shirt pulled up a seat to my
left and proceeded to spew negative comments towards
the TV for the last crucial remaining minutes of the
"Ain't gonna happen. No way. No way in hell. Not
gonna do it. No way Smarty will pull it off. Ever.
Nope. Not happening. See....see...Hell no. See...
see...SEE!!! AWWWHAHAHAHA! Done! Loser.
See-what did I tell you?!!!"
I felt his pain. The deflated mood in the bar aside
from this one man flashed me back to a most unpleasant
time-my sixth grade piano recital where I was to perform
a complicated number against my will titled, 'China's
I played music all my life starting at age seven
but the piano never came naturally. My mother
sensing this changed my teacher from the strict
Russian woman who balanced quarters on my knuckles
to a more feel-good hippie piano teacher/proffessional
potter named Annie Welcome.
Each week my mother
drove me to Annie's solar efficient dome shaped
house in the woods. It was like playing piano in
an octagon Rubik's cube. Each note I struck sounded
full bodied and powerful. I felt like a fine wine.
Liberace. 'Wonderful sound! Wonderful!' Annie
would say encouragingly while walking around
watering her various enormous house plants hanging
from beaded Macramé holders.
Unfortunately, despite Annie's pleasantries, I
still remained the underdog in piano playing. I
felt so confident in my lessons but when I returned
home I drew a complete blank the minute I opened
my 'Best of Billy Joel' songbook. All it took for
me to really choke was my old man with his feet
up on the coffee table, the paper and a scotch in
one hand saying, 'Why don't you play your dad a
little ditty'. No matter how hard I tried-this
scenario always ended up the same way-a sad
and meek little two-fingered rendition of Chop
From the day my teacher Annie suggested 'China's
Green Dragon' as a possible number for me to play
in our upcoming recital at her house I knew in my
gut it was a bad idea. Each week for a month I came
to my lesson and struggled to keep up with the wild
tempo. What was Annie thinking? This piece was for
a more advanced player, someone well traveled and
mature. Someone who had maybe read up on Asia or
dragons. I was thirteen and had only gone so far
as the neighboring town's 7-11 on my bicycle.
The day of the recital, I waited in Annie's bedroom
nervously with her other students ranging in all
ages. My parents among the others were stuffed in
Annie's living room on a combination of folding
chairs and colored beanbags. Annie's husband Jack
had built a little platform for the piano. I was
third up and when I took the stage the room was
quiet as a mouse except for the slight suckling
sounds of someone breastfeeding a baby in the
I sat at the bench. My plams were sweaty and I
instantly turned bright red. I opened the China's
Green Dragon booklet and finally gathering enough
strength I plunged forth to play the opening portion
of the piece. It was going smoothly and I was feeling
quite confident until I turned the page and paused.
My mind went completely blank. The notes looked blurred
and confusing. Had Annie accidentally given me the
Chinese version of the piece? I paused and looked out
into the audience for any kind of encouragement. My
parents had their eyes cast down and Annie had her
eyebrows raised as if to say, 'Keep going!' So I
And again-until painfully on the seventh try the baby
now free from the breast let our a massive cry and so
did I. I ran off the stage and straight through Annie's
beaded curtain bedroom door.
Like Smarty Jones the horse, I was perhaps pushed
beyond my means. There is no pressure greater I've
learned than having an audience hold their breath,
supportive of everything you do, believing you can
accomplish something great when you struggle to
think so yourself.
In the end Smarty Jones may not have been the
'world's next Seabiscuit' nor I pegged the next
Beethoven, but perhaps the guy screaming at the
TV in the bar had it all right.
After all a kid is just a kid.
A horse is just a horse-but of course.
And Chop Sticks...is mighty fine tune.