by Kerreanna DiMauro
It was only through the amazing flyer that I finally understood my true calling: I was going to play accordion in a traveling polka band! The flyer used words like “accordion-based,” “familiar with the accordion,” “like apple strudel, we desperately want accordionists” and “no, seriously, accordions only.” Yeah. I saw what the flyer wanted. How could I turn my back on Czech folk music? I couldn’t. But I also couldn’t play the accordion. Sure, I could master a harmonica and, on very solemn occasions, a ram’s horn. But I was no squeeze-box genius. No Enigma machine decoder. No Slinky toy legend.
I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I missed the opportunity to showcase my raw talent on the thingie with the air conditioner side panels. With that in mind, I said, FUCKING YES, let’s do this and got my grandmother’s typewriter out and lugged it to the audition venue.
I camouflaged Grandma’s heavyweight typewriter by holding it sideways to duplicate an accordion. I knew the bandleaders would be silently judging me on fundamental musical aesthetics, the subtlety of symphonic textures, and whether or not I realized that my instrument was, in fact, an antique typewriter. I rolled paper into my Wi-Fi-less typewriter and watched as my frantic fingers struck the most frequently used letters, creating the phrase: “Accordion to popular belief, you should hire me!” And “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, eeny, meeny, miny, moe, shit, they’ve noticed my typewriter. Bummer. I’m on trend! Uh. That you mom? Thanks?” I hypnotized the room for a few hours with the satisfying clickety-clack of meandering, sometimes tortuous prose. But I pushed the carriage return with synchronized timing! And I remembered to let out an audible whoosh from time to time for no reason. My experimental playing of a non-instrument was revolutionary. Would they guess that I wasn’t reading sheet music? Would they accept my canine detective drama as a musical composition? Would they forgive the fact that I was drinking half a beer from a Tiki mug and smoking a whole cigarette?
So here’s the deal: they hired me! Sometimes you have to do things a different way. And distract judges with sexy typography. It’s actually my motto. “I’m distracting you with my sexy typography,” I always say. It’s been the kind of band experience that has allowed me so many moments of trickery. My band and I play during those brief NPR interludes, at maple fests, The Earthworm Convention, The Baby & Toddler Mathematics Luncheon and a 16-day hardcore Oktoberfest in Vegas.
There has only been one known hiccup in my illustrious non-accordion accordion career: During “The Maine Stein Song,” I was playing basic scales in my own unique way when I took the time to apply liquid correction fluid to a grammatical error. I missed a big musical cue and the jig was up. Thankfully, the actual jig helped to hide my attempts at erasing the glaring typo. The bottle slipped out of my hands, moved away from me like a rolling pin and plopped onto a high-kicking dancer’s foot. The bottle was launched into the stratosphere! My feeling is that there’s no backspace in my field of musicality. I have no choice, but to play through the inkiness of life. Just concentrate on the groove.
If I’m instructed to play the “accordion” faster, I go thwack-thwack with the old alphabet keys. If I’m told that the next song is unspeakably tragic, I make sure my typewriter hums morosely soft in a gentle pitter-patter. If I’m questioned as to why my accordion spits out continuous reams of poems like a Rite Aid cash register, I change the subject to lederhosen.
When I’m jamming onstage, I get nostalgic about how my proficient secretarial keystrokes got me to where I am today. I know that my grandmother’s typewriter — which, to be honest, is so clunky and unforgiving in size and weight that I have to duct tape my withering hands on either side to prevent me from dropping it — is a beacon of inspiration. I hope I pass on Grandma’s vintage machine to my own children. The truth is, I may not have that parent-child bonding opportunity: my grandmother, who wears an eye patch, calls me every weekend, inquiring about her sacred typewriter. She even has a special nickname for it. Some word that conjures up images of her escaping tyranny or torture devices. I don’t know.
All I know is, there’s nothing I’d rather do than harmonize alongside my modern-day Trapp family and dictate in my rambunctious rhythm section. Some people might say I disrespect music theory. Because I use band time to type letters to my pen pal. I write in this band because everywhere I look, at every underground club I go to, I don’t see a typing pool. There’s wisdom in this tear-soaked typewriter. And it’s my job to share it.
Plus, name another writerly polka enthusiast who can half-sing The Andrews Sisters’ song lyrics with a typewriter strapped to their chest like a bullet bandolier! Unless you took the pretentious approach to your craft by being a classically trained pianist, my position in this traveling polka band is secure.
Kerreanna DiMauro is a writer and screenwriter based in Boston, Massachusetts. Her work has appeared on websites like McSweeney's, FrostedTip, and Points in Case. She sleep-tweets @100HungryMuses with an emphasis in dream sports and fantasy books.