As you may or may not know, a few months ago I bought a violin. It should be noted that I am not an accomplished violinist by any stretch of the imagination. The word “novice” seems a bit generous to describe my skill. So my goal in purchasing said violin was to find something cheap but functional. I ended up buying one off Craigslist1. And for someone who knows nothing about violins and just wants to be able to play Greensleeves marginally well, it worked fine.
Until it didn’t. As the seasons changed, the pegs that hold the strings in place inexplicably refused to do their job. It didn’t seem like a big problem, but also not something I could fix on my own.
So a few weeks ago, I Gogglged violin repair. The first place that came up had both a high Yelp rating and was located near my school. Great, I thought, I have to pick up my diploma anyways. So I strapped my violin case to my back and set off.
What I failed to notice was that the shop was located next to the symphony hall. And if I had noticed this, I might have realized that this probably meant they were accustomed to a certain caliber of clientele. Namely, not wannabe Craigstlist-trolling slightly-less-than-beginner violinists.
I approached the shop door and found myself greeted by a sign that announced in large, firm-looking letters NO WHISTLING. That’s weird, I thought. Maybe it’s a joke and these lovely violin-fixing people have a great sense of humor.
As soon as I opened the door, I realized immediately that this was not the case.
Inside, I found a room with fancy red carpet and walls lined with framed newspaper clippings and magazine covers, fancy art2, and only a few violins. As someone who used to get a lot of enjoyment out of walking into fancy stores in Europe and pretending I was rich, I know that the emptiest stores are always the most expensive ones. This shop was very clearly very expensive. The only furniture was a table so shiny you could see your reflection in it, surrounded by three straight-backed green leather chairs, and a desk at the opposite end of room with a tiny man and a tinier woman bent over it, neither of whom looked up when I entered. And stretched on the floor in the center of it all was a massive blonde dog. My parents have a St. Bernard, so I know a thing or two about big dogs, and this dog was BIG.
I hovered in the doorway, debating whether or not I should bolt. The giant blonde dog seemed to be the only one who noticed me, and he trotted up and sat down at my feet. I scratched him behind the ears.
After a few uncomfortable minutes, the man behind the desk acknowledged my presence by calling, “Yes, what is it you need?” He had a very thick accent that I can only describe as Bond villain-esque.
Tentatively, I edged across the room towards them, and began with a confident, “Um, hi. I have a violin and it has a problem, and I didn’t buy it from you guys3, but I was hoping you could maybe fix it for me.”
“Where did you buy it?” the man asked without looking up.
“Uh, Craigslist,” I said.
Slowly and simultaneously, they both raised their faces from the desk and gave me what can only be described as “the look.”
“Craigslist?” he repeated. I lost a few inches of height under his glare and nodded. I half expected him to raise one long, bony finger and use it to point me firmly to the door. Instead, he pursed his lips, removed his spectacles4 and said, “You may place your violin case on the table and wait for me.”
Oh really? May I? I thought.
But I was too intimidated to be a smart ass. So as instructed, I wordlessly placed my violin case on the table and sat down in one of the very straight chairs. The massive blonde dog wandered over and put his head on my lap. I opened my case and waited.
After a minute, the violin man came over and peered inside. And he cringed. Actually cringed as though I had opened my case to reveal a clump of festering human organs rather than my slightly battered violin. “My God,” he muttered, then removed my violin and began a doctor’s examination of it. I watched. The massive blonde dog drooled gently on my lap.
After a moment, the violin man put down my violin and gave me “the look” again. I wilted. “Come here,” he commanded. The dog and I both stood and came to his side. “Hold out your hand,” he commanded. I disentangled my fingers from the dog’s fur and showed him. “You are a pianist,” he said. I was a little freaked out by whatever voodoo powers had granted him this knowledge I had definitely not volunteered, but I nodded. Then he said, “You are not a violinist.”
I began to babble senselessly about how that was definitely true, hence the crappy violin, because I didn’t really need anything nice and I couldn’t afford anything better, I just wanted to learn because I’d always wanted to learn and sometimes you have to follow your weird dreams—
Thankfully, he cut me off. “I can fix it for $10.”
“Great,” I said. “Great, great, awesome, great, thank you.”
The massive blonde dog and I sat down again and waited while the violin man took my violin into the back. I tried and failed to regain my cool. The blonde dog sat as straight as the chairs. I scratched him.
After about ten minutes, the violin man brought me my violin back and started showing me how I should be tuning it, and why the way I had been tuning it had apparently compromised its internal structure. At one point, he made what I thought was a joke about what a mess my violin was. I smiled and said something like, “Ha ha, yeah, I know it’s a terrible violin,” and thought to myself, maybe this man has a sense of humor after all.
He did the slow look up again, and I realized immediately that he didn’t. “That is not a joke,” he said. “You should not laugh, you should be crying.”
I shut my mouth.
While in the process of showing me all the ways I was slowly murdering my already corpse of a violin, a young man walked in. The violin man stopped his diagnosis of my dying violin and gave the young man the same critical eye he had given me. “Excuse me,” the young man said in a thick accent. “I am in the States for sixteen days and while I am here I wish to purchase a violin from you.”
“What’s your budget?” asked the violin man.
“No more than five thousand dollars,” the young man replied.
I snorted before I could stop myself. They both looked at me, and I chose not to explain that I had paid one hundred dollars in cash to a man out of the trunk of his car for mine. I should not even be there.
The violin man told the young man he could wait in one of the straight backed chairs5, and commenced his free lesson on how to make my crappy violin less crappy.
Turns out, the violin man was not humorless. When I handed him my credit card, he asked me how I survived with a last name like mine6. We had a good laugh over that. Or rather he laughed and I nervous giggled. Then he looked me very seriously in the eyes and said, “You can still take good care of it.”
I told him I was going to. And then I skedaddled out of there without asking why patrons were so vehemently prohibited from whistling.
- Literally bought it out of the trunk of a man’s car down a dark alley. I am a Dateline special waiting to happen.
- And three more “no whistling” signs
- You guys! Surely no one had ever referred to these very upright people as you guys.
- Nope, not glasses. Spectacles. The word spectacles was invented to describe this variety of eyewear.
- The blonde dog abandoned me for him at that point, since his lap was more available.
- It should be noted my last name is not Lee. It is in actuality a Dutch monstrosity that consists of fifteen letters, six syllables, two capitalizations, two words, and a space.