Staash picked me up in his beater and we drove downtown to Jerzy Nojinski’s trial, if that’s what you want to call it. Staashu spotted Sabina right away and headed over to the seat beside her. I thought oh Jesus they’re going to make a big scene here in the courtroom but she gave him a hug and held his hand as Jerzy pleaded guilty to defrauding the union. White collar crime in a blue collar organization. 5 years. Guilty Your Honour, and that was all she wrote.
The New Polka Kings were done. Our manager Bananas Foster abandoned ship, disappeared as if he had never been around. Nobody would book the band – we were poison on the music scene. It seemed that everybody was afraid of the record company. Advice to up-and-coming musicians: punching out your record producer is a bad career move. Still I didn’t blame Staash and neither did the others. It was time to move on, whatever that meant.
Maggie took a bartending job at Ruby’s to make ends meet for a while. I was spending plenty of time there so I saw her around most every day. Ndidi and Boom Boom took over our practice space in the old Polish Hall and started rehearsing an Afro-beat band. Much to my surprise, Staashu and Sabina got back together and took off on a road-trip somewhere down in the southern States. I didn’t see him again for months.
After a couple weeks drinking too much and feeling sorry for myself, I realized I didn’t want to stop playing music. Nobody was rushing to hire me, so I picked up the big accordion and hauled it down to Kensington Market to do some busking. I set up in front of a suit discounter and played every day until my fingers swelled and my bones ached. When the market was busy I did pretty good in tips. I liked the routine too, and started referring to my little piece of sidewalk as my office.
That’s where Dakota tracked me down. She came walking up Baldwin and around the corner, big smile on her face. I thought she was beautiful. Still do.
Lazy Goddam Allen.
The bartender at Ruby’s told me where to find you.
Oh you mean Maggie? So what brings you to Kensington Market looking for a washed up bellows-shaker?
Can I buy you lunch?
Sure, I can use a break.
You sound damn fine by the way.
I dropped my tips into the little rucksack I carried around and stuffed the accordion back in its case. I couldn’t help but notice Dakota was carrying an accordion case with her as well, hers considerably smaller than mine. Bet it’s a triple-row diatonic, I thought to myself. We found a café and ordered up burgers and beers.
I learned Dakota was fronting a band doing some kind of blend of Swamp Pop, Zydeco and Tex-Mex, and her squeezebox of choice was indeed a triple-row. Vintage Hohner Corona II.
We’re just starting out, playing around town. You guys paved the way for us, you know. Before NPK nobody wanted nothing to do with squeezeboxes.
I had no idea.
100% true. I got a bit of a problem though. Bad reed on my Corona.
The guy up on Eglinton is the best in town. He’ll fix you up.
He’s all backed up Lazy. It’s going to be a week and a half before he looks at it. I got a gig Saturday and I can’t afford another box. I started asking around and your name kept coming up. Any way you help me out?
Back when I was playing the polka circuit, I did all my own repairs. I still had all my tools and a bunch of reeds packed up in the basement somewhere. It was going to be a pain in the ass to pull everything out, though, and anyway I hadn’t worked on a diatonic box in years. I took a deep breath.
I’ll try. Bring it by my house tomorrow noon.
Really? That’s awesome. Thanks so much Lazy.
Don’t thank me yet. It’s been a long time since I worked on one of these.
Dakota showed up at noon on the dot with a six pack and sandwiches. I’d spent the morning digging things out and setting up a little workbench in the basement. Taking apart her instrument was the easy part. Besides the broken reed, some of the waxes holding the reeds in place had gone brittle and were starting to break off. The wax job was easy. The reed was another story. I had plenty of piano accordion reeds but nothing that was going fit this little diatonic box and there was no place to get one on short notice. There was nothing to be done but cannibalize another reed and make what we needed. For me, that was some tricky work.
While I was busy trying to fashion a new reed, Dakota was like a kid in a candy store, messing about with my accordions and other instruments. Turns out she could play anything and play it well. A real natural. I was already crazy about her.
It took me hours to replace that damned reed. While I was at it, I replaced some worn bellows tape and fixed the action on the button board. Those old Hohner Corona IIs are great little instruments but there’s a bit of a design flaw. When you play, the buttons sink too deep into the framework, making them noisy and too slow. I used some thick felt to restrict the action so that each button sat flush with the button-board when depressed.
Dakota watched me reassemble the instrument.
I handed her the accordion. Dakota strapped it on, tested the new reed (it sounded true and good) and started right into Shake, Rattle and Roll. I pulled on my big accordion and started playing along, tentatively at first, finally finding the groove.