Of a Sunday Afternoon, Pupusas & Elvis

Life sometimes has a strange way of surprising you when you expect little, and touching you when you least expect it.

Such was my past Sunday.

A Sunday surprise in Canoga Park

A Sunday surprise in Canoga Park

My daughter, Willa, has been taking piano lessons. Except we don’t have a piano. So we needed to get something for her. My wife was out and about, and somehow wound up at a piano store. She called me and said she’d found an electric piano. I asked how much, and she said $900.

“Don’t you want to do a little research and see if you can find one used?” I asked. She is the consummate comparison shopper. This was unlike her.

“It is used,” she said. “But the guy says it’s a $3,000 keyboard. I totally trust this guy. He’s from Switzerland. We were speaking French together. He’s an Elvis impersonator.”

Of course — how could you doubt that. I told her to do whatever she felt good doing, I didn’t particularly care. So she bought the piano.

Sunday came, and I was to meet her at the piano store to pick up the instrument. The store was located in a suburb a dozen or so miles from us called Canoga Park — a low-rent square of mostly apartments home primarily to Latinos in the San Fernando Valley. Here, on a strip of boulevard boasting antique shops and strip clubs, sandwiched narrowly between a Spanish-language check cashing business and a pawn shop, was the piano store.

The pupuseria

The pupuseria

Leslie and the girls weren’t there yet, so I took a walk with my son, Flynn. We found a Salvadoran pupuseria called Sonia’s — a place that makes pupusas, the staple of the Salvadoran diet. Three plump women behind the counter, one of whom was Sonia, the owner, were slapping beans and cheese and a kind of flower called loroco between fat wads of masa. I ordered four pupusas to take home for dinner since I didn’t feel much like cooking. A smiling Sonia told me it would be 15 or 20 minutes. Most pupusarias you order your pupusa and they give it to you immediately, kind of like when you order a taco at Taco Bell. This was going to be good.

While the pupusas cooked, we went back outside toward the piano shop. There was my wife out front with Elvis — think late-period Elvis: the period Elvis didn’t make it to. His name was Armand.

Armand Kay

Armand Kay

“How long have you been doing Elvis?” my wife asked Armand.

“Longer than Elvis did!” I chimed in to the roaring laughter of Armand’s wife, Adina (“That means ‘delicate’ in Hebrew,” she told us. “Armand likes to tease me that I used to be delicate.” I told her to tell him he used to be a young Elvis. She liked that.)

I picked up the pupusas, the transaction was done, there was no reason to linger. Except that Armand was clearly not done with us. I had mentioned that I was a guitar player, so there would be guitars to look at. One particular custom number had Elvis’ face carved right into the body. I needed a photo. (See above.)

Next we needed to see some of the pianos in the back, and the workshop where Armand takes the instruments apart and rebuilds them. There were anecdotes and tidbits of personal history at every stage of the tour. (For example, Armand was once the head technician at Steinway in Germany — a fact born out by several photos of himself with Mr. Steinway.) Adina offered us water and suckers for the kids. Their friends arrived, they pulled out chairs. We would be here awhile.

And then the most remarkable thing of all happened:

Armand turned on a PA system and picked up a microphone. “Let me do a song for you,” he said.

*    *    *

We hugged our new friends, we hugged their friends, took our electric piano and our leave. “Wow,” I said on the way home. “That afternoon was worth the price of the piano!”

Back at home, we took the pupusas out of the container and dug in. They were warm, hearty and satisfying — the dough fluffy and light, offset perfectly by the crunch of curtido cabbage salad and a thin, tart tomato sauce. Made by the chubby hands of happy Salvadoreña women. Some spicy Mexican squash blossom soup I’d cooked up earlier that morning provided the perfect accompaniment.

Queso & loroco pupusa

Queso & loroco pupusa

On an afternoon that could get no better, Willa sat at her new piano bathed in the light of the fading sun, and tapped out a slow, Satie-like version of Mozart’s Nachtmusik.

And with that, we ourselves faded out…

Willa at the keys

Willa at the keys

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrea Cleall
    Jun 06, 2014 @ 00:15:02

    I’ve always thought Canoga Park worth a semi annual visit.

    Flynn has his usual ‘I’m not sure of these parents of mine’ look.

    Reply

  2. Michelle
    Jun 06, 2014 @ 00:24:30

    You can’t top that: “There was my wife out front with Elvis — think late-period Elvis: the period Elvis didn’t make it to. His name was Armand.” Hooray for Willa. She’ll ever regret it. And you better start making room for a real piano.

    Reply

  3. Ant Patty
    Jun 06, 2014 @ 04:11:26

    What a beautiful photo of Willa – she really knows how to concentrate when she’s creating…

    Reply

  4. Jessamine in PDX
    Jun 06, 2014 @ 06:38:47

    Oh! That pupusa! It looks SO SO SO good. I’m severely jealous by your dinner and your entertaining afternoon. Out of curiosity: Have you ever done much cooking with loroco? I have seen it in pupusas, and I’m sure I’ve eaten it in pupusas, but besides that it’s kind of mysterious to me.

    Reply

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