Ask Me About Music Lessons

When I moved to California in 1997, my bankroll was about $100,000. That was the barrier between floating freely on the breeze, and crash landing in the dank underworld of employeedom.

Of this $100,000, $40,000 of it was in the form of cash, $20,000 of it was money that credit card companies said they would lend me, $10,000 was how much I thought I could borrow from my brothers if I was about to move onto a park bench, and the rest of my bankroll was tied up in my rather fine piano. (I didn’t know if there were park bench dwellings in the area that could accommodate my piano, so I was uncertain which of those last two pieces of my bankroll would be drawn on first.) Given that I was going to have easy access to 24-hour-365-days-per-year mid and high stake poker games for the first time in my life, and given that I tended to sometimes play too long at stakes that I couldn’t really afford, my bankroll was in jeopardy from the instant I disembarked at San Francisco airport with my one way ticket to pokerdise.

So, I devised some backup plans, some ways that I might generate income without actually having to get a jjj…, a jjahhh… you know, the J-word. One of them was to give music lessons. I knew I would be meeting hundreds and hundreds of new people, many of them over and over, in the most intimate setting there is for clothed people: a poker table. To break the ice, and advertise, and maybe even build a little client base just for fun, before I even needed to, I had a custom hat made that I wore to the poker games now and then.

Five years later, I had not taken on music students, and it had been several years since I wore the hat. I was doing some packing, preparing to move. I was rummaging through dark corners of closets and ancient boxes with the excitement of an archaelogist — one never knows what one might find, and when — and I came across the Ask-me-about-music-lessons hat. I put it on my head, for no reason. A short while later, I headed out to the casino to play poker.

I was sitting there at the poker table, just sitting there, just playing, and I noticed a fellow looking at me with a frequency and intensity that told me there was something about me on his mind. I soon learned that the thing on his mind was not so much about me as it was above me. It was my hat. He looked at me with a cautious smile, and he said, “Okay. I’ll bite. Go ahead and tell me about music lessons.”

Instantly I remembered the text on my hat, and I replied, “I think they’re a really good idea.”