THE HAMMOND 100 EXTRA-VOICE
¥ou can hear it, can't you? the sung-along sigh
of a few hymns in a Baltimore hallway next to
furled umbrellas and gappy overshoes?
Right next to the steam radiator?
Oh, there was no room for the new organ in the
living room; that's for the sofa, the collection of
souvenir pitchers, the end table with the ashtray,
The dog in the deeplap chair, the pricey
Wood-toned console with a three-speed record
player, (even a spindle for 45s),
an ocean of radio waves,
a little television screen, with a
picture tube in the back smelling of hot dust.
All fully paid off too, about 1957.
So she played out there in the front hall on
not-yet-radiator-faded indigo, tan, red
bakelite keys. Quietly, at night after supper,
one streak of light from the lightpost outside
shining through the transom on the
polished fold-up music rack
(she didn't need to use sheet music), with the
pocket door pulled between her and her
parlor husband. Even so: "Hey, turn that down,
wouldja?" when a game was on; she'd reach over
and turn the Extra-Voice knob a little more
to the left. After he died one night on the sofa,
the organ stayed out there in the hall.
She liked it out there.
The organ-player passed away suddenly,
about 25 years ago in early August.
it was awfully hot that summer.
Her daughter came back to the house and
pushed two keys, center C, and B sharp,
without even turning on the switch,
and then she gave that old organ away.
To a man up the street. He was always saying
Sure wish I could play the organ,
Boy, that'd be nice, but then he passed
and his landlord came in and sat down and
picked out the notes to something
he remembered from his childhood,
and then paid a guy five dollars to
carry it to the curb.
The organ was on the street for about
two hours, and then a young man who liked
old cars and typewriters and plastic toy ray guns
and cast aluminum electric drills,
lugged it inside with the help of a guy walking by,
who refused to take money, or even a cold beer.
The young man had his ups and downs.
The organ stayed in his living room, a parlor,
where people are supposed to talk to each other.
Having sat there for so long, the organ's tubes
were wheezing inside deep space, so when
the young man turned it on, they
expanded with heated gas that might have
smelled of percolated Maxwell House coffee
or Max Factor face powder, or Chesterfields,
or Tide-washed sun-dried housedresses and
aprons -- that is, if they had exploded.
like milkweed pods do to let out their seeds.
Sometimes the young man pulled a chair over
and turned the organ on, and waited for the
Pop! of the speakers, and faint siren calls
of the tubes heating up, and he'd
turn up the volume on the Extra Voice knob
as high as it'd go, and play Rock of Ages
by ear, like his Grampa had back in Toledo.
Then the young man had one of his downs.
When he was evicted, all his stuff, the organ too
-- with its radiator-faded keys, the soul of
E. Power Biggs, and echoes of organ concerts
broadcast Saturday nights out of Detroit
in the sixties--was thrown out.
A woman in a truck saw the organ at the curb--
under bags of trash and broken chairs--
and so she stopped and called a writer friend
in the neighborhood. Then a man who had
biked across the continent came out of his house,
bouncing with energy, and a friend of his who
loves Billie Holliday came out, and the writer
who had left his punctuation marks and
walked 14 blocks to help -- he arrived.
They all looked at the organ.
Two of them lurched the organ across the street.
It was so heavy they didn't even lift it out
of the gutter until they saw if it worked.
The woman could see that while she liked the idea
of an organ, let's be realistic about this...
would she ever play it? Probably not.
Well then somebody plugged it into the
extension cord, and everyone waited
for it to warm up. They bent over to
look at the tubes. A light came on,
and the speakers popped.
The woman, having first dibs, played
standing up, with her right knee up
against the lever, treading a maroon and black
octave. Deepest voice she ever heard --
deeper even than the original Platters'
bass singer. (Later she thought it was neat she
was wearing her old cotton pedal pushers.)
The bass notes groaned out through the golden
mesh underskirt that hid tubes and innards, and
it was one helluva
Bellow of Jubilation.