Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

Now It Can Be Told (or: How I Landed My New Client)

A Quick Note

June 13, 2007: More than five years have passed since the events in this story took place. I’ve decided to make some small changes, namely:

  • Cleaning up some of the formatting,
  • revealing the real names of the people involved, with the notable exception of my date, who’ll go by the name “Maura”,
  • adding a new section at the end, explaining how the date ended.

A Lovely April

I’ve been sitting on this story for a couple of weeks, for reasons that will become apparent as you read on. It’s the story of how I got a really good client, a client for whom I begin full-time work this morning.

Like all good stories, it begins with a girl. Like many of my good stories, the accordion plays a role.

It was the start to particularly beautiful weekend in April. The weather was gorgeous, with cloudless skies every day and temperatures that would be the norm for July. My neighbourhood responded in kind, with the sidewalks packed with people in short sleeves, shorts and short skirts and the patios filled with people drinking beer late into the evening. I spent my days programming on my laptop with a wireless connection in my back deck under the the shade of a large tree with a cooler of Diet Coke at my side and The White Stripes on the stereo. I spent lazy summer-like evenings playing the accordion near the patios in exchange for beer, watching cute bands and getting drunk with my friends Will and Tina. Best of all, I had a date with someone very cute that Friday.

Dating and the Accordion

People have asked me if I actually bring along the accordion on dates. I do. It may seem like cheesy romantic comedy behaviour, but it’s been my observation that people actually like being serenaded, even if only for laughs. (I’ll admit that only one person has ever done the same for me. She spent a week learning to play Happy Birthday on the harmonica, and I damn near cried at the end. I’m a big ol’ sap sometimes.)

Good things happen whenever I bring the accordion, and if there’s a time when you want good things to happen, it’s on a date. My luck, if you haven’t noticed, tends to run to the bizarre. While I’ve had some really memorable someone-should-turn-this-into-a-movie dates, I’ve also had some absolute nightmare outings, including one where my date ended up in the fetal position, screaming her lungs out right in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario as a busload of horrified tourists looked on. Although it’s very unlikely that something like that will ever happen again, I still try and shift the odds in my favour by packing a little accordion mojo.

Smokeless Joe

My date, Maura, in addition to being cute and hilarious, was a cervisophile — a beer connoiseur. Knowing this, I suggested that we visit a specialty beer bar after dinner, and she agreed. There were a dozen bars from which I could’ve chosen, and from these I chose Smokeless Joe’s.

It wasn’t the closest choice — Smokeless Joe’s was a cab ride away — but that’s what popped into my head at the moment. I hadn’t been there in a dog’s age, they had one of the most extensive collections of exotic beers in the city, and it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

We were hoping to get a seat on the patio, but Joe told us that he was having some troubles getting it licensed. We took two stools at the end of the bar and proceeded to drink some expensive beers from the French section of the menu. I was having a great time, telling her stories about Burning Man and listening to her stories about her trips to the U.K.

As the end of the night drew near, the bartender, an Irish exchange student, asked if I would play the accordion after he announced last call.

“Go ahead,” Maura said, “I haven’t heard you play all night.”

“If you insist,” I said, unsnapping the two straps that held the bellows shut. I played a quick riff to warm up the valves and broke into Roadhouse Blues. Joe (I’m referring to the bar’s owner, not myself in the third person) favours bluesy music, followed by Born to be Wild.

The bartender and patrons sang along, while Maura couldn’t stop laughing.

After I was done, the bartender slid me a pint of draught (“on the house,” he said) and Maura nodded her approval.

Caught up in the moment, I didn’t see the woman walking towards us.

The Other Couple

“That was great!” she said to me, completely taking me by surprise, as my back was to her.

“Uh, thanks!” I replied.

She turned to Maura. “Your boyfriend is so cute and so talented,” she said to her, “How long have you been going out?”

The fact that she thought we were a couple amused me to no end.

Maura answered “I’ve only known him three weeks.”

“Three weeks? You’re just starting out! That’s so cute!” she exclaimed, with increasing giddiness. She turned to face the other end of the room and call to her boyfriend. “Shen! Come over here!”

It was all falling into place. She was caucasian, with dark hair and Eastern European features, while her boyfriend was Chinese. In seeing Maura — who was also caucasian — on a date with me, I guess that she saw in us an earlier version of her and her boyfriend.

This was squeezebox synchronicity, and I recognized it immediately.

I introduced myself to Shen, and then his girlfriend, Yvonne, introduced herself to me and Maura.

“You guys make such a cute couple!” said Yvonne I threw a sideways glance and smile at Maura, who returned it.

“Well, cute couple,” said Shen, “please come and join us. I have an office just two doors down the street, and I’ve got more beer.”

“Yes, please come!” said Yvonne.

I looked at Maura and asked her what she thought. She nodded. “Sounds like fun,” she said. “And hey, more beer!”

The After-Party and a Job Opportunity

Yvonne and Shen called to the other people who were sitting with them at the opposite end of the bar. We walked en masse out of Smokeless Joe’s and into a brownstone two doors south. Shen unlocked the door and let us in.

I looked around. It looked as if they’d moved into the place recently. There were signs of recent renovation work, and the carpet looked new. The place was clean and sparsely furnished; being a recovering dot-commer, I immediately recognized the furniture as being from the IKEA Office line. Each desk had either a late-model Toshiba laptop or a desktop computer with a large monitor with a red Buddha statue perched atop it. I saw a copy of Visual Studio .NET on a desk, a couple of programming manuals on a chair and a skateboard leaning against the far wall.

This place has all the earmarks of software development house, I realized. I wondered if they were looking for contractors.

“We’re working on some trivia games for Maxim,” Shen said, as he opened a closet to reveal a refrigerator full of beer. “If you’re a contract programmer, we might have some work for you.”

“Give me your card,” I said, trying to give the appearance that I was taking all this improbably good fortune in stride. “I’ll give you a call on Monday.”

Getting to Know You

One of Yvonne’s friends turned on some music. Shen introduced me to him as Bryan, and Bryan’s fiancee, Kirsten. While Kirsten and Bryan asked me the standard set of questions (“How long have you been playing the accordion?” “Why accordion, anyway?” “Do you always carry it around with you?”), Yvonne was hitting Maura up for some details about our “relationship”, asking about how we met, what I’m like, and so on. I was trying not to burst out laughing at how absurd this entire thing had become.

While conversing with Shen, I found out that he and I had both gone to Queen’s University. He graduated in 1995, and thanks to my Van Wilder-esque seven-and-a-half-year stint there, our academic careers overlapped for three years. He’d probably read at least one of my cartoons in the paper and attended at least one function where I was the DJ. The coincidences were piling at an unrealistic rate.

Meanwhile, Yvonne was getting Maura’s phone number. “I want us to stay in touch,” she said to Maura, “I think it would be fun if the four of us went out together sometime.”

She hasn’t known us ten minutes and already she’s scheduling a double date, I thought. Still, no one’s screaming the the fetal position, so I’m still ahead of the game.

Maura turned to me and said “Doesn’t that sound like fun, Joey?”

I put my arm around her and replied “Sure does, honey.” I hoped I wasn’t pushing my luck too hard.

We were both trying not to burst our laughing, and nobody else in the room seemed to notice.

Shen turned to Kirsten and said “Don’t you think they make a handsome couple?”

“They do, Shen. Really cute.”

Shen’s eyes narrowed a little and with a little grin, he said “Kirsten, use your woman’s intuition. Look at Joey and Maura long and hard. They’ve been going out for just three weeks. D’you think they’ve had sex yet?”

Oh, sweet Jesus Christ.

Maura and I looked at each other with a “Huh?” expression. Kirsten leaned forward and squinted at us, as if focusing her sex-ray vision.

“I’d say there’s been some fooling around, but I don’t think they’ve technically had sex.”

Technically?” Maura and I said, almost at the same time.

I raised both my hands. “Wait, wait, wait. I don’t think you understand. Maura and I…well, this is a first date.”

There was a second’s silence followed by a group “Ooooooooooohhhhhhh.”

Shen saw an opportunity and slid beside Maura, putting an arm around her. “So,” he said, “a first date, huh? What would you say the odds of Joey getting kissed tonight are?”

I smiled, but thought If Shen has completely ruined this date with that idiotic fucking question, I thought, I am coming back later tonight with a fucking can of gasoline and fucking torching this fucking place right down to the fucking ground.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Maura said.

I was glad she had a sense of humour.

“Well, I think you should,” said Yvonne. “He’s handsome, he’s talented, and he looks like a keeper.”

Damn, I’d never had a cheering section on a date before. The double-date idea was sounding better and better all the time.

We all talked for another ten minutes, after which Maura and I excused ourselves. We bade them goodbye and walked out into the cool night air.

“I swear,” I said to Maura, between laughs, “I did not set that whole thing up.”

She laughed.

The Job…

I dropped Shen a line on Monday, thanking him for his hospitality and made an appointment to meet with him and his CTO later that week. We had a couple of meetings over beers, and as a result, I have a steady client with lots of future work, all thanks to a little accordion-powered serendipity.

…And the Date

Halfway through a rather nice goodbye kiss, Maura gave me a gentle punch on my right temple.

“You’re weird,” she said, “but fun. Call me.”

With a wave, she disappeared behind the door.

I rubbed my temple and walked home, smiling all the way.

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