The Saddest Sound in the World


Our Daily Correspondent


Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme au piano, 1876.

Not long ago, I happened to pop into a candy store to buy a bag of Dutch licorice shaped like wooden shoes. “That’s a big bag,” said the girl who works there, indicating my burdens. “What’s in it?”

“Oh,” I said, “some antidepressants and a Snuggie.”

I think it was the saddest sentence I’ve ever uttered. The Snuggie was for my dad, but even so.

The next weekend, I went home to visit my parents. We went to some concert they wanted me to see. It was a rainy, blustery day, and I was dressed in my favorite pair of high-waisted windowpane-check wool trousers, which I got at a thrift store about five years ago. My dad met me at the train station. “What interesting pants, Sade,” he said. “They look like something from a nineteenth-century minstrel show.”

The concert in question was part of a free series at a local mansion, endowed by an elderly eccentric. My parents are regulars, but this was my first time. The mansion was liberally sprinkled with oil landscapes and filled with old people. The loner who’s always shooting hoops at the local playground was there. The pianist, who was quite the consummate entertainer, entered in white tie and tails and played some very bravura Liszt. Then he exited and returned in a red velveteen jacket—he played popular tunes, Liberace fashion, in a variety of jazzy styles. He cracked wise and delighted the assembled company.

Afterward, there was a small bar serving wine and iced tea. The hungry crowd attacked a few poor waiters every time they emerged from the kitchen bearing miniature spring rolls and tiny ham biscuits. My mother engaged the pianist in intense conversation about the new organ in Alice Tully Hall, which saga my mother has followed closely and about which the pianist, having inaugurated the original organ, cherished passionate feelings. A couple of people remembered me from the time my mom roped me into a panel discussion at the local library titled “What the Heck Is a Blog?”

Back home again, my father called me into my parents’ room, where he was watching baseball. He pointed to the foot of the bed where, sure enough, the Snuggie was. “It’s become a very important part of my lifestyle,” he said.

“It’s true,” concurred my mother, coming in behind me. “It’s risen to the top of the pantheon, with Big Boy.” (Big Boy is a large square pillow favored by my father for TV watching.) This was high praise indeed. And I was glad to see her mouth was rimmed with the telltale remnants of a Dutch licorice wooden shoe. I, for my part, was on antidepressants. So, something for everyone.