When I was almost seven, a door-to-door salesman rang our doorbell. The man was promoting accordion classes for children. My dad happened to be home early from work that night. My parents let the man in and listened to his spiel. The salesman sat me down and gave me a tiny accordion. I pushed on a few keys on my right hand, opened the bellows, and pushed a few buttons on my left hand. Magic unfolded! I was a natural! Or at least that is what the salesman told my parents. My dad was no dummy and he knew that it was all just a sales ploy. But seeing little six-year-old me with a little accordion, which is in the same wind-instrument family as the bandoneon, made my parents nostalgic for their mother-country. They signed me up for lessons! I was elated!
Truth be told, I really was a natural. I learned to read music and play really well, really quickly. I went to mini group lessons once a week and larger group band sessions once a week. The owner of the place was a big Italian guy named Mr. Palermo. His son, Alex, was my instructor. I thought Alex was handsome. He had curly hair (maybe it was a perm?) and he looked like Jack Tripper from Three’s Company. He must have been a big fan of Saturday Night Live because he was always imitating Steve Martin’s skit of “Two wild and crazy guys”. I didn’t know what it was at the time but I figured it out when I got older. I digress. Sorry.
Back to my accordion…
The accordion eventually became my enemy. What had started out as a fun after-school activity turned into a source of dread and agony for me.
When I first started playing, I bragged to my classmates about my mad accordion-playing skills. This would certainly elevate my “coolness” status, I thought. And it did for a while. Eight-year-olds think it’s pretty cool if you play the accordion (or the harpsichord or mandolin for that matter). But as I got older and continued to play, I learned that 12-year olds do not. It became a source of ridicule and lots of comparisons to Lawrence Welk. I would try to negotiate with my mom to sign me up for piano lessons instead. I explained to her that I was already halfway there with the piano since the accordion has piano keys on the right side. But she wasn’t having it. What I still don’t understand to this day is why I didn’t just lie to everyone and say that I no longer played! They never would have known the difference!
|1977 - My public debut at my 7th Birthday Party|
Now picture this….you’re walking through the parking lot of Target and you hear the sweet sounds of an accordion playing live. As you walk closer toward the store, you realize the beautiful melody is coming from a motorhome parked near the door. You ask yourself: Who the hell is playing an accordion? And why are they playing inside of a motorhome in a Target parking lot?
What the kids at school didn’t know is that we didn’t actually go home in our motorhome after school every day (as I mentioned in my previous post, Tioga Times). No, we went to my dad’s key shop in the parking lot of a big store called Two Guys which later became FedMart which later became Target. (My dad owned about 10 key kiosks all in the parking lots of these stores throughout Southern California.)
|Mom making "mate" (an Argentine tea) in the parking lot.|
My mom suffered from anxiety and she didn’t like to be alone at home. Learning to drive the motorhome changed her life. Anxiety problem solved! She would spend most of the day while I was at school in the motorhome – knitting, reading, listening to the radio, even cooking – while my dad worked in the key shop. After she picked me up from school, most days we would go back to the parking lot. I would do homework and practice the accordion in the motorhome. She was also a drill sergeant when it came to practicing. I was supposed to practice an hour a day and boy did she make sure I did – even if it meant doing it in the motorhome. After I was done, I was free to go roam inside the store alone. The employees knew me by name. When I got hungry, I would go to the snack bar inside the store and order a chili dog and a Coke for $1.01.
Sometimes, we would have to go directly from my dad’s key shop to my accordion lessons. The parking lot of the music studio was in the back of the building and the driveway into the back lot was very narrow. My mom had no choice but to park her RV about a block away in a residential area. In case you don’t know, an accordion is a pretty heavy instrument; too heavy to carry in a carrying case for a whole block. So, my mom would have me wear it as I walked down 17th Street in Santa Ana. Cars would honk at me sometimes and I’m sure everyone did a double take when they drove past a small child with an accordion hanging in front of her walking down a busy street.
I didn’t fully realize then just how completely abnormal my childhood really was. I knew I was different but I was ok with it most of the time as long as I was with my mom. She made me crazy and she embarrassed me and made me do things I didn’t want to do but I loved her to pieces anyway and she was all mine.
|1981 - Mom's English School Christmas Party|
|1981 or 82 - Playing in Argentina on a borrowed Accordion. Even there, I couldn't escape this thing!|
|1982 or 83 Playing at the Argentina Club Anniversary Party|
trying to hide my face into the keys
|Playing at home for the family|