I like our little music soirees. A bunch of us get together and play whatever we’ve been working on–mostly classical. I do have a problem with performing in public, but it’s getting better, and I hardly ever have to change my underwear anymore. I’m not unmusical: in fact, I have my moments. Unfortunately they’re well-marbled with all those other moments. But I have contributed something significant to our get-togethers: I have introduced The Mulligan.

Usually you hear about a mulligan in golf. You take a mulligan when your tee shot goes awry. Maybe it goes into the bushes, or into the water, or you don’t know where the hell it is. But you give yourself a second chance, for free. It doesn’t count against you. It’s your mulligan.

More likely your initial tee shot didn’t go into the bushes or the water. It just didn’t go where you sincerely wanted it to, and didn’t look good doing it, either. It was sucky, a lot suckier than you deserved. You take a mulligan because you know, deep down, that you’re a much better golfer than your tee shot would seem to indicate, and also the one before that and the one before that. You’re MUCH better than all those. And you can prove it with your mulligan. Sometimes it takes two or three to really drive the point home.

Professional golfers do not employ the mulligan.

Anyway, I discovered that mulligans are very helpful when playing piano in front of people. Because there’s this weird thing that happens. You can sit down at someone else’s piano and prepare to play the very piece you’ve been working on every day for six months, but something’s wrong. The piano doesn’t look right. The keys are a little closer together, or further apart, or something. In fact you can’t really even recognize it for the same basic instrument you’ve been using.

It’s as though you’ve come ready to play Chinese checkers and the host pulls out a Monopoly board. You try to adjust, but your marble keeps rolling off Marvin Gardens and onto Baltic Avenue.

Or you’re going golfing after all but when you get to the course it turns out to be a rodeo. And there you are right in the middle of it with your putter, and it just pisses the horses off. It’s disconcerting.

In fact, the starting chord of your piece isn’t even on the keyboard. You think it starts over here, on this note, like it has every day for the last six months, but you can’t be sure. At some point you realize you’re nuts and everybody’s waiting and you go ahead and vault right into your piece. And sure enough it goes straight into the bushes.

You take a good whack at the opening chord and totally top it and miss the runs altogether. You hook the whole first measure into the bass clef. Shank the opening theme into a completely different key. Then you have to hack at it to get it back on the fairway and you slice an arpeggio, completely overshooting the top note. It’s time for a mulligan.

Professional musicians do not employ the mulligan.

But if they came to our soirees and played, we’d all feel like shit. That’s why we pay them. We pay them to go play someplace else.