Understand, there was nothing overtly wrong with the piano tuner, nothing unprofessional about him (knew his actions, knew his pins), nothing shifty or suspicious; and if there was any hint of malice or madness in his manner, it certainly did not come through to me at the time, dawdling beside the keys. Yet he unnerved me. He had finished examining my piano and, as he spoke in exquisite detail of its deep, incurable deficiencies (action terrible, pins loose), I heard his voice clearly enough. But I also heard other voices as well, as in a ballpark, over a loudspeaker. I heard the voice of the age.
For what he said about my piano, which stood between us on all threes like a big sweaty dog I had dragged to the vet, was that it was all right now , but was nevertheless in a state of invisible yet continuous deterioration, and therefore would not be all right one of these days. In face, one of these days, suggested the piano tuner, when I least expected it, in the middle of Brahms or "Heart and Soul," my piano, which seemed fit as a fiddle, would suddenly collapse in a heap, leaving nothing but shards of elephants and trees.
Which, except for the elephants and trees, is exactly what my dentist said a few months back when speaking of my must-be-removed-or-you're-in-for-it wisdom teeth. And exactly what the tree man said when speaking of my must-be-pruned-or-it's-splinters-pal maple. And exactly what the house inspector said, emerging like Lazarus from the basement:
"IT'S ALL RIGHT NOW. BUT ONE OF THESE DAYS.
Say something more than twice to me, and I'll show you a creed. And the creed I wish to show you -- not merely as one, but as the secular creed of modern times -- is One-Of-These-Days-ism (until this moment unnamed). Where one-of-these-days-ism stands as a body of faith is halfway between fatalism and technology, between voodoo and the electric knife. What it promotes is the idea that whatever you prize (piano, teeth, trees, house and also, by implication, love, marriage, friendship) is simultaneously in excellent shape and about to collapse -- unless, of course, you repair it at once, in which case it may last and may not; unless of course, you don't repair it, in which case it may not last.
In short, what these people -- the one-of-these-days-ists, the fixers of the world, those tree and oral surgeons on whom we depend for every major and minor judgment in our lives -- what they are saying is that the great advances in technological thought have carried them to a point of being able to speak with confidence or superstition. Therefore, my piano must be "overhauled; that is a technological certainty. But as for when its inevitable collapse will occur if it is not overhauled, that date is known only to the capricious god of the one-of-these-days-ists, whose clock of destruction is in private hands.
I don't need to tell you how psychologically damaging this creed can be. I cannot chew; I cannot tickle the ivories; I cannot talk to the trees or pace the floor of my house without thinking: is this the hour?
But the general philosophical problem is more awful still. For the sad truth behind one-of-these-days-ism is that it accurately pinpoints our place in history, a place at least as close to the primitive as to the sublime. Then, of course, there is the added irritation of the cocksure repairman who is cocksure of but one thing: that the absolutely necessary overhaul of teeth, tree, house or piano will cost a bundle, no matter it does the trick or not, and, naturally, that you will pay through the nose, because as imprecise as one-of-these-days-ism is, it's the best we've got, and what do you know with your dumb piano?
"Were you aware," inquired the piano tuner, "that this piano of yours has been reconditioned twice before?"
"If that is so," I told him, "then one never knows how repairs will last?"
"Never," he agreed, "but one of these-days . . . "
At which I showed him brusquely out, surveyed my life, and decided: Carpe Steinwam.
Better to play the piano in a tree house till your teeth fall out than curse the dark.