General Non-Fiction posted June 9, 2019 Chapters:  ...9 10 -11- 12... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
The Saturday Morning Curse continues

A chapter in the book Lessons in the Key of Life

Lloyd and Joey

by Rachelle Allen

I've been a teacher in the creative and performing arts for the past thirty-eight years. These are the lessons I've learned from the lessons I've taught.
Further evidence that Saturday mornings were cursed when it came to successful piano lessons.

At his initial lesson, Lloyd spent the first ten minutes in the next room with his mother, defiantly insisting that he would not sit at the piano until after he had finished his breakfast.

His mother tried valiantly to assure him that the bagel would stay fresh for thirty minutes and then said that if he would just "be a good boy and a take a lesson," he could have two bagels when he was done. Judging by his round cheeks and bulging tummy, she'd made these kinds of deals with him often in his mere eight years on the planet.

Nevertheless, this time, probably because she was mortified by how obvious it was to me already that theirs was not a picture-perfect household, she relented and let him come in for his lesson clutching the butter-soaked bagel in his plump little hand.

"Now Lloyd," she chided, "when Shelley says it's time to play, you're going to have to put the bagel down."

Yeah, like that was going to happen.

At our next lesson, he came into the room in full Confederate solider attire --brandishing a sword, no less.

"Isn't he a STITCH?!" his mother laughed. "He just cracks us up constantly!"

Oddly, I wasn't nearly as amused. Perhaps I'd lost my sense of humor when he informed me, the minute she left the room, that soldiers don't have to play songs they don't like or take orders from girls.

"They do if they want to get candy at the end of their piano lesson," I informed the little renegade. Mission accomplished.

Another time, he came in with a beret, tilted crisply to the left, and two long curliques, drawn in black pen from just below his nostrils to the middle of his fleshy cheeks. He talked with a French accent for thirty minutes. "Oh, Lloyd, you are such a RIOT!" his mother chuckled on her way out of the room.

"I weel nut be playing zee songs in zeese books," the artiste informed me. "Zay are stuPEED and ugLEE!"

I refrained from voicing the first response that came to my mind: "You mean like your ridiculous fake mustache?" I opted, instead, for, "A true Frenchman can turn them all into musical masterpieces.

The most grueling lesson, by far, was when he'd started off grumpy and belligerent as usual and then, when I'd said it was time to sightread a two-line song, he actually threw himself to the floor and flailed his arms and legs! Never having experienced anything like it before, he was completely astonished when I squawked at once, with vehemence, "Are you KIDDING ME?!"

I sprang from my chair, stood over him, scowling and pointing, and commanded, "You come sit on this bench at ONCE!" I locked my eyes on his until he was re-seated. "Exactly what seems to be your problem?" I asked, casting Teacher Etiquette to the curb.

"I DON'T WANT TO SIGHTREAD!" he bellowed, his teeth clenched for effect, arms folded tightly across himself.

"Well, let's compromise then." I knew full well what he wanted was not to work at all. "How about if you just sightread one line, since that's really all the time we have, now that you've wasted so much of it kicking and screaming on the floor.

"I........................DON'T........................COMPROMISE!" he shouted, getting nose-to-nose with me.

"Then you are going to have a very hard life." I slit my eyes.

Karate-chopping one different note on the keyboard with each syllable, he spat out, "I. AM. VERY. MAD. AT. YOU!"

"Know what?" I now took a torch to any and all Teacher Etiquette I'd ever learned. "I really don't care." He gaped at me, and I added, "This lesson's over. You're dismissed."

He stomped out of the room and was replaced by his gentle, sweet-dispositioned older brother, who gave me a smile of commiseration.

Just then, Lloyd stomped back into the room and actually had the chutzpah to challenge me. "Hey! You forgot to give me my CANDY!"

I said, flatly, "Boys who throw tantrums don't get candy."

He ran back into the kitchen and threw himself to the ground yet again, kicking and flailing. Now, though, he was on his mother's time. Permanently.

Lesson: To "discipline" does not mean to "punish;" it means to "teach." It is the responsibility of all adults to discipline the children in their lives. Shirking that responsibility jeopardizes everyone's well-being.


This sweet boy is still in my prayers to this day, twenty-five years later. "Please take care of him," I whisper. "Please let him be okay."

Joey was a fourth grader when I met him, living in a house where it seemed as if someone had shoveled a six-inch wide path for me from the front door to the piano ten feet away.

The Irish Setter had a half-dozen spots of mange on her back the size of silver dollars, and for the first five months of Saturdays, I watched the same blob of grape jelly on a nearby end table morph from an oval of sticky goo into an ever-burgeoning culture of foamy white mold. Eventually, it became powdery and wafted, with the help of the heating vent, onto the carpet below.

Joey himself, though, was irresistible, and his luminous brown eyes melted me. He was eager to learn piano and had an undeniable ear for music. But patience was definitely not his strong suit. Soon, the novelty of lessons wore off and he forgot about practicing until late on Friday nights, right before bedtime.

He had so much creativity in him, though. Every week, I would marvel at his latest displays of vividly beautiful watercolor paintings. He had a penchant for landscapes.

His creations were exotic places from his imagination: secluded waterfalls with verdant flora that burst forth from the mist below, wooded pathways with variegated carpets of moss and lichen, full of color and form and texture. I never saw such detail and precision from someone so young. It was obvious how loaded he was with talent in the creative arts, and I felt convinced I could entice him back to letting music stoke that side of him again, too.

But then came the morning of the ambush.

The mom, a chronically unsettled, jittery woman, seemed more tightly wound than ever when she greeted me at the door. And my exuberant Joey was unusually quiet and on guard, eyes darting furtively across the floor. Something was very, very wrong here.

Suddenly, from the couch in a dim corner, obscured by the opened door, Joey's father's chilling tone cut through the air. "I'm selling the piano," he said with a punishing antagonism that delighted him. I looked over at him, refusing to seem fazed at all, since watching people flinch was very obviously this man's blood sport.

Unbelievably, infuriatingly, his wife broke the silence with loud, imploring moans and rasped to me, "He's mad because Joey doesn't practice!"

I then watched in disbelief as she actually got down on her knees in front of him, clutched his pant legs, and wailed, "Please, Joe! Please don't sell it! Please! Joey will practice! I mean it! He'll practice! He will!"

"He's nothing but a liar!" the father exploded. "He says he'll practice --but does he? He certainly does NOT! The kid's just a liar! Aren't you, Joey? You're a liar! You're nothing but a LIAR!"

Joey hung his head and cried silently as I stood there, sickened by how ugly this scene was.

"Joe," I began with warmth in my tone that I certainly didn't feel. "This is so typical of piano students everywhere. I kid you not. My own daughter and I go through this, too. Believe me, I know this feeling of frustration. My father even went through it with me. I shirked practicing shamefully often. But it ebbs and flows. There are times when we, as parents, have to nag about practicing, and just as many times when we don't."

"I'm selling the piano," he repeated viciously. "End of discussion."

"Well, that's a shame," I said now with a disdainful bite to my tone, "because your son has talent. You'll be seriously limiting his potential."

I turned to Joey, gave him a really good hug, and said, "I'll miss you, Sweetie. I have LOVED having you for my student. I'll think of you every day. You are a wonderful boy. You're special, and you're talented and you're fabulously creative. These are things no one can ever take away from you."

Before I could even reach the door, the mom ran from the room, crying loudly, leaving her son alone with the sadist he shared a name with. I disdained her even more than the husband.

I blew Joey a kiss from the porch and left, still not showing one sign of fear or stress, until I pulled into an office parking lot a block away. I called the next three students on my roster and canceled their lessons, and then I cried for the next hour-and-a-half.

On Monday, I had an emergency meeting with the principal, psychologist, and guidance counselor at Joey's school to tell them what had transpired and to elicit their help. I knew they meant it when they assured me of how much they appreciated my input and that they would do everything they could to ensure Joey's well-being. They also said that, by law, they would never be able to report any outcome back to me.

I always look for Joey when I attend shows for local arts, and I check the right-hand corner of every watercolor I ever see, landscape or not. Mostly, though, I hope I'll just catch sight of him in the commonest of places --the drug store, a restaurant, the gas pump-- and see someone with him who's obviously on his same page and who adores him and whom he adores right back. He'll look happy and at peace and far beyond the tortures of his childhood.

Lesson: There will be times when, after you've done everything that you possibly can, you are left with no alternative but to pass the baton and trust that the next person will have your same passion and sense of purpose.

NEXT TIME: Car stories.



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