I had planned on writing about something else today, but that will wait until the second half of the week. Today we need to talk about a grade A jerk.
In January of 2017, I was cookin’ with gasoline. I had a ton of stuff on my plate: vigorously preparing for an upcoming audition for The Voice, trying to transition my gig at another restaurant to three nights a week, possibly having a short documentary made about my tuning business, and, lastly, growing said tuning business up from 10 tunings a month, to 40 tunings a month.
It was amidst all of this that I happened to remember a guy who had a huge warehouse of pianos, because someone I knew shot a music video there once. When the director of the documentary (who later took a job at Netflix and scrapped the project) was looking for locations, this was the place I thought to go to first.
I called the business and got a the voicemail, an occurrence I would later consider the norm. The message featured a listless baritone drawl; the man speaking seemingly already annoyed at the sentence he himself had begun. This was Jerrold Christie, owner of Nashville Piano Rescue.
“If you want to sell or donate a piano, ugh, take a picture and text it to this number. Thanks.”
“Hi Jerry, my name is Allie Farris, and I was wondering…”
I awkwardly relayed my request to shoot at his warehouse, and hung up, expecting nothing.
An hour later, I got an email back. He gave me the address, and said sure, we could come at 2 on Saturday. It was an hour drive north to Scottsville, Kentucky.
When we got there that weekend and toured the huge place, stuffed with hundreds of pianos stacked up in piles outside and inside, like a giant’s forgotten pile of legos, I immediately noticed that the director wasn’t pleased with my choice of location. He hardly shot anything the entire time we were there, while at some point I tuned a few notes on one of Jerry’s pianos. Jerry then asked for my card. What followed was five months of daily tunings, stemming from his referrals.
The arrangement was this: I became Nashville Piano Rescue’s primary tuner, and when a piano was sold, I would go to the location and tune the piano, which was included in the price. Jerry would then pay me for the tuning. It went like clockwork between January and February, with Jerry cutting me a check every two weeks and even pre-paying for tunings that would be scheduled later in the week.
One rainy night, I was at his storage locker in Franklin, 30 minutes south of Nashville. I was stretching the strings of an old upright, getting it ready to be tuned the following week. He was sitting at an antique grand, replacing a few broken hammers in the action and realigning things. Having already posted pictures of it, he was obligated to get it playable before people showed up the next day ready to buy it. That was the thing I eventually came to terms with about Jerry and his business: we were doing nothing but polishing turds. Putting bandaids on foundational fissures. He spackled just enough surface onto the side of the dam so that when it inevitably caved in, it wasn’t his problem.
With his characteristically bored snarl, he told me about how he had had a strong mom growing up, and how it made him realize that women could do stuff--I was flattered. He said that even if these nincompoops in the Piano Tuner’s Guild of Nashville kept giving me a hard time (they were leaving bad comments on a couple of my online advertisements — I wasn’t a guild member and was in business for myself), he’d be the one to hire me for $50,000 worth of work in 2017. This claim I cared much more about. He followed it up with paying me for that week’s tunings, always adding a little extra on top.
By May, it had all started to go downhill. I would be reminding him daily about my check, until he would eventually meet up and hand me one. The last time he did, he pretended not to know the location I was referring to until I tracked him down in a Kroger parking lot. I was 45 minutes late to a photo shoot, but it was $2,000 worth of work. He cut me a check, and laughed at my colorful outfit (this was the photo shoot for the very first FM promo photos), and I was on my way. Two days later, Bank of America informed me that the check had bounced.
Never in my life had I felt so conned into trusting someone. Desperate attempts to call, email, plead and beg yielded negative results: Jerry began to make up false claims that my clients were actively complaining about me (despite the fact that I was now teaching two of his clients piano lessons and had a five star rating on Yelp). I would always reply with facts, and save the messages. By the end of it all, I had 6 months of pitiful, fruitless emails and texts, a barrage of hateful, maligning replies (and even a few emails from aliases, fancy!), and a falsely proven claim of bankruptcy. I kept all correspondence, and with the help of an advisor that was a regular patron at Tartufo, I sent a strongly-worded letter to Jerry and the attorney he claimed he was working with. She immediately replied that she wasn’t affiliated in this matter, and had only previously handled his divorce. She said that after this, she may drop him entirely. I sent the package containing copies of all correspondence and the final notice letter via certified mail to Jerry’s home address: he evaded the package and it was returned.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because, after this all went down, and I finally worked up the courage, I drove to the General Sessions courthouse of Nashville and filed a small claims case against Jerry and Nashville Piano Rescue, to the tune of $2,000 (plus any court fees). I set the date for the 19th of this month, and got a call this morning telling me that Jerry had evaded his summons.
The clerk said that despite this, the court case would still go on as planned, and I should show up and plead my case on my set date. Should I win (which I feel strongly that I will), the authorities will get the money from Jerry, or possibly seize his assets. I’m not sure either will happen, frankly. But at least I’ve done something.
This is just a cautionary tale, about one jerk and one reason for me not to be so naive going forward. I guess a positive spin would be that I now know how to file a small claims court case.
I know this much is true: I will never again be the kind of businesswoman who thinks polishing turds is a respectable way to make a living. You can roll around in it for a few months, but after a while it’s a stink that’s impossible to wash off.