My father plays the drums. He also tells stories. When I was a child, he entertained our family at dinnertime with colorful observations about playing in symphony orchestras, jazz clubs, and burlesque theaters, mesmerizing us with pitch-perfect tales about fall-down drunks, stuck-up divas, and exotic dancers with names like Irma the Body. Fantasizing about my future as a performer, I listened to the rhythm of my father’s words and dreamed that someday I’d be seasoned enough to tell a few stories of my own. But first, I had to learn a bit of piano playing, memorize hundreds of songs, and spend years negotiating the touchy social situations familiar to most musicians.
Here’s what no one told us when we moved to a far-away land clutching a bag full of youthful dreams for our future: One day, members of our original tribe—our oldest friends and family members—would begin to die, and we would be brought to our aging, creaking knees by the guilt we feel for living so far away and the distance we must travel to get back home.
Kids and drunks have a lot in common. They’re brutally honest, totally unpredictable, and anxious to be noticed, even if it means jumping up and down on a red velvet seat and pouring the remains of a beverage down the collar of any guy who happens to be in fun’s way. With this in mind, it’s not such a stretch for me to go from lounge pianist to musical director of a touring Sesame Street show.
As a child, my brother, Curtis Rawsthorne, liked to chase insects, moths, and butterflies. I have an image of him on a random ridge of state park, sporting a blue swimsuit and giant sneakers, and carrying a large net on a long stick. Pre-pubescent, scrawny-chested, tow-headed, jutting elbows and knees, he stalked his prey—sneaking up on unsuspecting Monarchs, Painted Ladies, and Zebra Longwings. He looked like an insect himself during those years—a nine-year old human, net-toting version of a Praying Mantis, graceful in his awkwardness, laser-focused on his winged victim. During his butterfly years, he mounted a few of them and displayed them on the wall of his tiny bedroom, but most of the time he set them free.
Lovely to see so many members of the press corps here today. I know how busy you are covering Omicron, Ghislaine, and Harry and Meghan’s Christmas plans. Allow me to introduce myself: I am the great Plinka Kochovitch, award-winning director of such spectacles as Fauci: The Musical and the current Metropolitan production of the woodland animal opera Thistles and Whistles. As director of this year’s Nativity Scene on the White House Lawn I’ve faced my greatest casting challenge to date.
Another song lyric comes true. I shouldn’t be surprised that sixty-four sneaked up on me, but since I’ve spent most of the last three decades assuming I’m still thirty-two, the idea that I’m a year away from taking my musician union pension seems a little extreme. In honor of this milestone, I’ve composed a list of thoughts on growing older:
I stopped drinking a year ago. Those of you familiar with my tales of debauchery and hijinks from the piano lounge might find it hard to believe that I could soldier through a five-hour solo piano gig without a glass of Sancerre on the little marble table next to the Steinway. But here we are—Piano Girl 2.0, steady and secure in my newfound sobriety. Hold the sauvignon blanc. Pass the lemongrass-infused green tea, please. Shoot me now.
I do so love a good costume drama. Did you watch Bridgerton? I did, and I am bothered by the heaving bosoms, not because I find them unsanitary, sexist, or offensive, but because, after watching a few episodes, I made a serious attempt to make my own bosom heave and failed miserably. Even if I crank my breasts up to my chin, I can’t get the heaving thing happening. I think there’s something wrong with me.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
With Trump on the loose I expected a scene ,
I hadn’t slept soundly since 2016.
My mother made excellent Thanksgiving pies. Stripey the cat thought so, too. No store-bought piecrusts for mom, but homemade masterpieces that involved chilled butter, shortening, Grandma Rawsthorne’s secret-weapon multi-generational aluminum pie pans, and a big dusty mess in the kitchen. One year, Stripey leapt to the counter and, as cats do, walked across a pumpkin pie, an hour before guests were due to arrive. Without missing a beat, mom grabbed a spray can of whipped cream, covered the incriminating paw prints with an inch of white fluff, and swore me to secrecy. In her defense, the catwalk happened decades before the discovery of toxoplasmosis, so her cover-up was hardly a bioterrorism act on the level of the Pilgrim smallpox blankets, but still. She could have offed the entire family, which may have been exactly what Stripey had in mind.