Tony Vagneur: A love-hungry pianist |

Tony Vagneur: A love-hungry pianist

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The call was unexpected and came to the house in Woody Creek. Would I be interested in playing the piano for the day-care service at Aspen Highlands during the upcoming winter? “Wait, before you say ‘no,’ let me explain that the job comes with a ski pass and a free lunch at the cafeteria on the days you work, which will usually be Saturdays.”

Sixteen years old, a junior in high school with a million social obligations and extracurricular activities, it was an offer that required some consultation with my parents, either for support or the expected grinding of teeth. Probably somewhere in the conversation, my dad was thinking there might actually be some return on the piano lessons he’d been shelling out for, even if it wasn’t exactly cash.

It would be the first job I’d ever had off the ranch, other than a one-night, junior-high school stand, setting pins at the bowling alley, a location which was precursor to some good-time bars, including the Shaft, and finally Boogie’s now-erased building.

“When will you have time to do your homework?” asked my level-headed dad when I told him how cool pin setting was. The reality was that I never did my homework, but that’s not the sort of argument you can use trying to influence your father about how responsible you are, and besides, my dad wasn’t about to drive the 12 miles to town every night to pick me up after work. Dad put an end to that very quickly, which in hindsight kinda makes sense.

Nobody wanted me to audition for the piano gig, so it might have been an inside job, although I had occasionally been playing a song or two with whatever band was providing the apres-ski entertainment. Who’s to say, but the first day was rather nerve-racking.

My supervisor, a mid-20s, svelte blonde with dynamite looks, explained that it was my job to play during lunch. Play whatever I wanted, unless there were special requests, which she would try to get to me beforehand. We had this conversation over at the corner of a table, sitting down, our faces about a foot apart, my left eyelid twitching uncontrollably just by the force of her presence. “Go get your lunch and I’ll see you next Saturday.” Whew, she didn’t say anything about that weird eye of mine.

A high school kid tends to eat a lot, especially an active one, so I loaded up my tray with a couple of cheeseburgers, a piece of pie and some kind of drink. The letter I handed the cashier seemed to confuse her so she called the manager over; you might remember him, a bald-headed older guy in beige pants with a big belly who was always telling everyone what to do in a loud voice, and that was my downfall.

Blowing spit in my face, he forced me to look at him as the veins popped out on his neck and face, explaining that “free lunch” meant one entree and one soft drink. Did I think he was stupid, he asked, and it looked like he might come over the counter after me. “That’s kind of a rip-off,” I retorted, a comment immediately regretted, but his look of unbelievability at my insouciant remark fortunately ended the conversation. He later apologized, sort of, but kept me on restricted rations.

There wasn’t much piano playing to be done, although a couple of times we had celebrities in our midst, like Walt Disney’s grand kids and some others. I’d hit a couple of licks and then, as the kids were all busy eating, Liz, the director, would like to visit and talk about issues of the day, like how great the skiing was, how crazy the bars could get and why so many men had an over-abundance of testosterone.

It was one of those days, a guy she had fallen for had turned into a jerk and she wanted a serious woman-to-man talk. We sat at the corner of that same table, face to face, her eyes searching mine for some kind of reasoning, some solace from the brutalities of life. There wasn’t much a 16-year-old could say in those departments, although I’d had a heartache or two by then. Our faces were getting closer together.

And then my left eye started that weird twitching again and I could no longer concentrate. Under her spell, I was a wreck. That’s about the last I remember of my piano gig at Aspen Highlands.

The skiing was good that winter.

Some names have been changed to protect the innocent. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at