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The Richest Man In Town

By Tim Hayes

It started bubbling up, right on cue, as I knew it would.

As soon as Mary throws open the front door and waves in half the town, with scatterbrained Uncle Billy carrying a large laundry basket full of bills and coins, dumping it onto the dining room table – I can feel it coming on.

Uncle Billy gives Mary all the credit for the miracle about to unspool right there, then fades off to the side, mumbling and weeping with joy.  Oh boy, the dam rises a little higher.

Characters from earlier in the story – Martini the bar owner, Mr. Gower the druggist, the high school principal, and even a telegram from plastics baron Sam Wainwright advancing 25 grand to the cause – cite how their lives benefited by the man they’re honored to help now.  And more cracks start to appear in my emotional defenses.

Then kid brother Harry arrives to cheers, having flown in during a blizzard.  Steady, big fella.

Someone hands Harry a glass.  Here it comes.

“Good idea, Ernie – a toast!” Harry cries.  “To my big brother George!  The richest man in town!”  And, finally, I can’t hold it back any longer, and the tears start to trickle out.

Then, as a final sweetly savage kicker to my heartstrings, our hero, George Bailey, picks up a copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” that has mysteriously appeared on top of the pile of money.  He opens it to read an inscription:

“Dear George – No man is a failure who has friends.  Thanks for the wings!  Love, Clarence”

And I’m gone, awash in a puddle of my own tears, touched, moved, joyous, grateful, and as thoroughly wrung out as yesterday’s dishrag.

Of course, I’m referring to Frank Capra’s holiday classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring the great Jimmy Stewart.  I first saw this film about 35 years ago, when we lived in Jimmy’s hometown of Indiana, PA.  An event screening a number of his movies – intended to raise funds for the town’s upcoming celebration of his 75th birthday – featured this one.

The ending knocked me for a loop that night, and with every viewing since.  Such a beautifully crafted manipulation of the viewer’s emotions, which the great movies accomplish quite by design.  Think of the final moments of “Rocky,” or “Rudy,” or “Field of Dreams,” each of which wipes me out, as well.

I worked as a reporter at the town’s newspaper when Jimmy actually came to Indiana, PA, a year later.  After I got to meet him, watch him, and even interview him one-to-one, well, I had my new all-time Hollywood hero locked in for life.

In fact, the bronze statue of Jimmy that got unveiled that weekend in 1983 – and which still stands today in front of the county courthouse – reflects his appearance as George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  Jimmy even said that George Bailey was his favorite character to play, in a career totaling more than 90 movies, and that it was the first role he played after returning from World War II as a decorated bomber pilot.

We had the chance to see the film at a local movie house on the big screen this weekend.  Charming in its black-and-white photography, and expertly crafted in every frame, this film has endured for 72 years because of its simple, yet powerful and resonant message – relevant at all times, and especially during the holidays – that success comes not from material things, but from how well, gently, and lovingly people treat each other.

As the story begins, and Clarence the “angel second class” receives his assignment to help George, he sees a fancy carriage being drawn by a horse and asks, “Who’s that?  A king?”  To which his heavenly supervisor, Joseph, replies, “That’s Henry F. Potter, the richest, meanest man in town.”

Conversely, at the finale, after all the goodwill George has bestowed on his family and friends over the course of his wonderful life comes back to him tenfold, he has supplanted Potter, and Harry now hails George as “The richest man in town!”  Not in dollars, although that is no longer a concern, but in heart and goodness and respect.

And it’s no wonder I cry.  Every time.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Blame It On the Amygdala

By Tim Hayes

Personal and professional obligations led me to drive past my high school this weekend – a welcome detour, since one week ago I attended my 40th Class Reunion from that very institution, and had an absolute blast.

In one more piece of evidence that my brain has a mind of its own, I completely, totally, unabashedly, and fully loved high school.  All four phases.  From the clumsy stumbling freshman experience, through the tough teachers (mostly in math and science for me), and right up to the numerous leadership roles assumed as a senior, high school represented four fabulous years.

Now, four decades later, about 80 members of the Class of ’78 gathered again to compare notes, stories, hairlines, waistlines, and memories.  What a night.

As one of the event’s coordinators, I had a front row seat as the first classmates arrived.  More than once, a person would come barreling over to me, grab my hand or give me a big hug, crying “Tim!  How great to see you again!”  And I’d respond in kind, while straining like mad to read his or her nametag, because I had NO IDEA who they were.  The same happened to me in reverse, as I welcomed friends from so long ago, whose eyes said, “Who is this guy?” about me.

But after some conversation, the addition of other classmates, and the ongoing after-effects of the cash bar, it didn’t take long for all of us to slide right back into high school together.  And the stories!  Stuff I’d forgotten that made us laugh all over again at what we had gotten away with in our sporadically misspent youth.

I told one friend, whom I hadn’t seen since graduation, that she had been responsible for the most shocking, frightening, funny, and adrenaline-spiking moment I experienced in my four years of high school.  She looked surprised, so I explained.

One day after school, a bunch of us were in the classroom of the English teacher who advised an activity in which we participated.  The teacher was out of the room, when my friend – wearing bib overalls at the time, a fashion choice back then – stood up in front of the group, reached into the front pocket of her overalls, pulled out a joint, and said, “Anybody want to join me?”

Me, being the total square I still am today, instantly freaked out, running to close the classroom door, making her put that thing back in her pocket, and swearing everybody to secrecy.

As I shared this recollection with our group at the reunion, to gales of laughter, my friend said, “You know, I’m not surprised I had a joint on me.  But I am surprised I was wearing bib overalls!”

All night, during dinner and well into the evening hours, friends reconnected and reignited their fondness for each other and the lives we lived together in the ‘70s as unalloyed, unapologetic city punks.  I experienced a bonus benefit, as well.  About 10 other classmates at the reunion had also attended our little parochial grade school together for eight years before heading to high school, so we had a mini-reunion within the larger one.  What an unexpected and wonderful treat.

Naturally, not every moment of high school was sunshine, rainbows, smiles, and good times.  But isn’t it enough knowing that the difficulties and challenges and heartbreaks all helped make us stronger, more resilient, better able to move into adulthood?  I do, and see no need to dwell on those moments.

Plus, there may be a scientifically provable reason why we naturally drift toward the positive, happy memories that flowed so freely at our reunion.  It seems as though the things we remember get better with age, according to research* published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2016.  The study showed that the amygdala – which plays a significant role in emotional behavior in older adults’ brains – was activated equally by positive and negative images, whereas younger adults’ brains were activated more by negative images.

So people with some miles on the odometer of life appreciate and value the good times more than their younger counterparts.  That came through loud and clear a week ago, that’s for sure.

Hey, you can blame it on the amygdala if you want.  All I know is that, after seeing so many friends from my teenage years again, I could not have been happier. Just like we said 40 years ago: ’78 is Great!

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

* https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/remembering-just-the-good-times

Bobby Knew

By Tim Hayes

The alarm went off at 5:15 a.m.  Rarely a pleasant or welcome sign.  But this day, I let it slide.  This day, I had work to do.  A mission to fulfill.

I lumbered out of bed, crawled into the shower, let the hot water and foamy sudsy soap spur the brain cells into a semblance of order, got dressed, and headed out the door to the nearby elementary school – which this day would double as a polling place.

My mission – from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a break for lunch – consisted of handing out hundreds of “slate cards” showing all of the candidates for my party, to voters arriving to perform their civic duty.

The morning began in pitch darkness, a steady rain falling amid an air temperature in the mid-40s.  Layered up, wearing a baseball cap and covered in a waterproof hooded windbreaker, I remained remarkably dry and just warm enough to function.

So many people had arrived by 6:30 a.m. to vote, that the Judge of Elections opened the polls early, and scores of my neighbors and friends began entering the grade school gym.

The Norman Rockwell-ishness of the whole scene filled me with genuine pride.  This is how it’s supposed to work, I mused internally.  Civil, reasonable citizens arriving to play their role in the great pageant, with everyone prepared and ready to live with the results, regardless of which way they pointed.

Lost in this patriotic revelry, I soon also came to realize that I had the “market,” as it were, all to myself.  No one from the other party had arrived at our little corner of democracy to pass out their literature.  I had the floor and could filibuster freely for the first two hours of voting.

Around 9 a.m., though, another fellow arrived and took his spot on the other side of the sidewalk, distributing brochures on behalf of a candidate from the opposite party running for the state Senate.  I introduced myself, and we shook hands.  He never impeded my efforts, nor did I to his.

From the minute he came onto the scene, however, something kept tagging the back of my brain.  Do I know this guy?  In the down moments in between voters arriving at the polls, I thought I spotted him looking at me the same way.  As the morning wore on, we talked and talked – not about politics at all, but about each other’s jobs, families, interests.  I felt as though we had become friends in a very short period of time.

When he asked me what I did for a living, I explained that I provided writing services for business clients.  Suddenly, the light went on in his eyes.  He asked what my name was, my full name, then exclaimed, “You wrote my website about 10 years ago!”

Turns out, a regional incubator working with young companies spun off from research done at Carnegie Mellon and Pitt had engaged me to work with this guy and his partner – who was the candidate for state Senate he was supporting – to write copy for their website and other materials as they got their enterprise off the ground.  It succeeded and got bought out a few years later, freeing my new friend to provide consulting services nationwide, and his buddy to enter politics.

Fact is, I disagreed with just about every position his old business partner espoused as a candidate, but that had no bearing on the fact that this fellow and I spent most of a very enjoyable day together.  Respecting each other’s views and freedom to promote the candidates we supported, safe in the knowledge that the outcome would advance the story of our town, our state, and our nation in ways that couldn’t always be predicted, but that could always be corrected down the line if needed.

Robert Kennedy, 50 years ago, knew the priceless value of mutual respect and reasonable expectations, in pursuit of the common good that lifts all Americans, when he said:

“What we do need, and what 1968 must bring, is a better liberalism and a better conservatism.  We need a liberalism and its wish to do good, yet that recognizes the limits to rhetoric and American power abroad; that knows the answers to all problems is not spending money.  And we need a conservatism in its wish to preserve the enduring values of the American society, that yet recognizes the urgent need to bring opportunity to all citizens, that is willing to take action to meet the needs of the people.”

Here we are, a half-century later, still searching for this type of balance.

I’m fearful in one way that my experience standing outside my local polling place this past week was nothing more than an anomaly.  An exception to the larger, deeper, more brutal rule of conflict and everlasting political fighting.

But in another way, I prefer to see a day spent with someone from the opposition – who actually turned out to be an old client and who quickly became a new friend – as an encouraging sign.  A metaphor of civility, friendship, respectful disagreement, and a willingness to compromise, that can lead us out of this dark period into a new time of progress and hope.

Bobby knew it could happen.  That it should happen.  That it can happen.  And, deep down, so do we.  Let’s make that vision real this time, so that 50 years from now, they’ll look back with pride and gratitude at what we accomplished.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Do Your Duty

By Tim Hayes

Finally, silence.

All of the hum-and-rattle, after all of the doomsday warnings of looming cataclysm, after all of the noise and misdirection carried into our living rooms and car radios by an unending onslaught of ridiculously logic-free commercials – it’s all over.  Finally.

It’s just you and your conscience, alone in front of a ballot.  It’s time to make a choice.  It’s time to do your duty.  It’s time to vote.

Personally, I love to go and vote.  Always have.  Never missed an election since I turned 18 – and that’s 40 years, gang.

But some people – actually way too many people – don’t care whether they vote or not.  That’s inconceivable to me.  I came across a story last week that cited 12 young people in their 20s, mostly, who gave every reason under the sun why they thought voting wasn’t worth their time.

They’re disillusioned.  The candidates aren’t perfectly aligned with their beliefs.  “I hate mailing stuff; it gives me anxiety.”  It’s too hard to print out an absentee ballot.  They just don’t have the time or the energy.

What?  What?!!  Get your face out of the smartphone and join the real world, you unbelievable nitwits, dimwits, and halfwits.  These would be the same people years from now, as they see their rights or their environment or their livelihood being taken from them, whining, “But why?  How did this happen?  Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Comedian Billy Eichner fails to see the humor when it comes to disinterested voters, too, saying, “If you’re 18 or over and you have time to dress up for Halloween, you have time to vote.”  Elections matter.  And every vote matters.  How dare anyone waste his or hers.

Oprah Winfrey spoke to this issue last week, saying, “For all those who paved the way that we might have the right to vote – and for anybody here who has an ancestor who didn’t have the right to vote – and you are choosing not to vote?  Wherever you are in this state, in this country, you are dishonoring your family.  You are disrespecting and disregarding their legacy, their suffering, and their dreams when you don’t vote.”

The percentage of eligible citizens who actually turn out to vote during presidential election years has moved between 48 percent and 57 percent since 1980, with only about 40 percent voting in mid-term elections, according to BBC News and the non-profit group FairVote. In 2016, that translated into 117 million eligible voters sitting out the election.  And with only 200 million people out of the 241 million eligible voters having actually registered to vote, that put the 2016 turnout at slightly more than 51 percent.

For the world’s leading democracy, that’s positively shameful.  In France, voter turnout is regularly more than 80 percent, BBC News reported.

We can do better.  We should do better.  States where early voting is offered have seen results so far showing that we are doing better, and that’s most encouraging.

Ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft pledged to offer free and discounted rates to get people to their voting locations.  Energy remains high for this cycle, so get in there and contribute your part to the momentum.  No excuses this time.

Whether you see the current political scene as enthralling or appalling – vote anyway.

Your candidate may not be perfect, nor is his or her party – vote anyway.

It can be a challenge to make arrangements to get to your polling place – vote anyway.

You may think your single ballot won’t really make a difference – vote anyway.

Again, Oprah says it best.

“The right to vote is like the crown we all get to wear.  Maya (Angelou) used to say, ‘Baby, your crown has been paid for, so put it on your head and wear it.’”

This Tuesday, make the effort.  Make the difference for your local municipality, your state House and Senate districts, your Congressional district, your U.S. Senate representation, and your state gubernatorial leadership.

Wear that crown, indeed.  Step into that booth and enjoy the silence, finally.  Do your duty.  Vote.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The Other

By Tim Hayes

The Other.  Who is it?

The easiest target in the world, that’s who.  It doesn’t require much thought, analysis, planning, or empathy.  Just point and click.  Easy.

Poof!  An enemy has been created, custom-ordered to your own conflicting simultaneous senses of both externally expressed superiority and internally suppressed insecurity.

Instant fear.  Immediate anxiety.  Do-it-yourself animosity, anger, antipathy.

Here “They” come, to take what’s yours.  We can’t let “Them” steal our way of life.  Don’t “They” see how much of a threat they pose to us?

“Us.”  “Them.”  How sad.  How unnecessary.  How far afield from the truth of human existence.

Of all the physical and emotional characteristics that all human beings share, do you know what percentage skin color represents?  It’s so minimal that researchers all but discard it as a significant factor.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health sequenced the human genome, and unanimously declared, there is only one race — the human race, according to an article in the New York Times.*  Those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin color, are controlled by a relatively few number of genes, and thus have been able to change rapidly in response to extreme environmental pressures during the short course of Homo sapiens history.  And so equatorial populations evolved dark skin, presumably to protect against ultraviolet radiation, while people in northern latitudes evolved pale skin, the better to produce vitamin D from pale sunlight.

Tell me it makes sense, then, for someone whose ancestors suffered from a deficit of Vitamin D to pick up a machine gun and murder another person whose ancestors worried about ultraviolent radiation.  No, it doesn’t make sense.  It never has made sense.  It never will make sense.

We are all the same.  There is no Other.

Some have more money.  Some worship differently.  Some need to flee danger in their homeland, pick up stakes, and seek asylum elsewhere.  Seems to me I’ve heard a story about a guy and his wife needing to scoop up their newborn baby son and head into an entirely different country to escape oncoming violence.  That tale couldn’t possibly have any parallels to our modern world, now, could it?

After a week of pipe bombs sent to numerous targets, and the most fearsome military in world history heading to the border to save us all from a ragtag collection of peasants trying to get as far from crime and violence in their home countries as possible, fear of The Other appears to be ramping up.

Then, just hours ago as I write this, a madman with an automatic weapon walked into a synagogue in my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, opening fire and killing, at last count, 11 worshippers.  Why were those innocent families, there to celebrate a service together, seen as The Other?

It is inexcusable.  It is illogical.  It is wrong.  We are all the same.  There is no Other.

In the hours following the synagogue massacre – which happened not five minutes from the apartment building where the late champion of peace and understanding, Fred Rogers, lived for much of his life – an old song came into my head.  I hadn’t thought of this song for years, but it seemed to fit the sadness and madness of the moment.  See if you remember it…

Listen children to a story that was written long ago, ‘bout a kingdom on a mountain and the valley folk below / On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath a stone, and the valley people swore they’d have it for their very own.

So the people of the valley sent a message up the hill, asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they’d kill / Came an answer from the kingdom, “With our brothers we will share all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there.”

Now the valley cried in anger, “Mount your horses, draw your sword!”  And they killed the mountain people, so they won their just reward / Now they stood beside the treasure on the mountain dark and red, turned the stone and looked beneath it – “Peace on Earth” was all it said.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend / Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end / There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the Judgment Day / On the bloody morning after who one tin soldier rides away.

Be that One Tin Soldier.**  Be the one who rides away from violence toward The Other.  The one who recognizes our commonality.  Who lives according to the tenets of grace and goodness.  Who resists and rejects scapegoating and finger-pointing and the words and actions of those who fail to accept responsibility for their own malignancies, and the wider impact they can generate.

For God’s sake, for everyone’s sake, for our own soul’s sake, let’s realize the simple and powerful fact that – at the essential core of it all – we are all the same, and all deserve dignity, honor, and respect.

There is no Other.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

* https://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/22/science/do-races-differ-not-really-genes-show.html

** “One Tin Soldier” Copyright 1969 Bell Records.

Binary Blues

By Tim Hayes

Mary and Joseph rode a dinosaur to Bethlehem.

That sentence sounds ludicrous, right?  Ridiculous.  Crazy.  Insulting, even.  A purposely disrespectful exaggeration.

But let’s think about this a bit more critically.

If one believes, and is convinced beyond any doubt, that the earth is no more than 6,000 or so years old, why not?   If paleontology offers proof that dinosaurs existed, and if Scripture and tradition place the Nativity roughly 2,000 years ago, then is the possibility so far-fetched that the two events could have intersected?

Well?

This scenario comes to you courtesy of binary thinking.  The insistence that there can only be two choices about any issue or question in life.  Black or white, 1 or 0, right or wrong.  No gray areas permitted.

And while binary thinking provides the backbone of all computing and artificial intelligence, its magic fades when applied to the brain cells and electrical synapses that drive human thought.

Winston Churchill once famously noted that, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”  Permit me to extend that observation.  A fanatic is both of those things, but is also a person who feels compelled to change your mind too – and won’t let up in that doomed crusade.

The wonder of this country comes in the Constitutionally protected fact that Americans can speak their minds in open dialogue.  The “marketplace of ideas” concept – as referenced by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in 1953 – holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse.  This legal definition has been most often applied by the Supreme Court in cases involving questions around freedom of the press and the responsibilities of the media.

Simply put, we are each free to state our case, proclaim our version of the “truth,” and advance our arguments.  But when only one source is “selling” his or her own goods, that does not make it a “marketplace.”  If you can have the floor to speak and declare and propose and argue, then so can anyone else.

And that’s where we seem to be getting into some sticky issues lately.

Call it political correctness, call it tribalism, call it blind loyalty, call it whatever you like, but people seem to prefer immediately taking sides, digging in, aiming their rhetorical weapons at the other side, and blasting away.  All without inviting a dialogue.  All before giving an opposing view even a hint of attention, much less analysis and review.

One side is always right and the other side is always wrong.  Binary thinking.  And it’s dangerous because when a society accepts this absolute, take-no-prisoners, complete-victory-or-die-trying approach to solving problems, then that society must and will fail.

My e-mail inbox gets filled every day with messages from both ends of the political spectrum.  I’ve set it up that way intentionally, to get a read on what either side is telling its supporters.  Some of it can be characterized as thoughtful and reasoned; most is nothing more than wild, groundless, infantile hogwash.  And that’s equally true on both sides.

It’s shameful that we have abandoned the middle ground.  The place where shades of insight and truth from either end can mingle and bounce and learn from each other to arrive at a state of compromise – the place where everyone can feel an equal sense of achievement and sacrifice.  Where the best answers usually can be found.

Maybe we can start to steer this majestic old ship of state back toward that middle ground in a few weeks.  Maybe not.  Both sides need to step away from this awful grip of binary thinking.  It’s not helping.  Quite the opposite.

I have faith that this season of disagreeableness and disrespect will fade in time, and that we will find a way to talk with – not at – each other again, for the greater good.  And if we don’t, we might as well climb aboard our dinosaurs and ride them straight off the nearest cliff.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The World at 3 a.m.

By Tim Hayes

It had been an especially intense week.  Not a bad week, quite the opposite.  But an intense one, filled with big events that required enormous and careful planning, and greatly focused execution.

By Friday evening, the thought of collapsing into bed and sleeping the sleep of the dead, as reward for the success and good fortune of that just-ended week of intensity, sounded so very, very good.  And that’s what happened.

Until 3 a.m., when the phone rang.

A medical anomaly had befallen a family member.  She was alone, confused, anxious.  We called 911 and learned where the responders would be taking her, as we climbed out of bed and started getting dressed to drive there ourselves.

It’s a different world at 3 a.m.  Things you think you know and recognize somehow either aren’t there anymore, or appear so different, as to cause you to shake your head in an attempt to rattle your brain cells – and the world itself – back into place.

Like the stillness.  It’s so quiet at 3 a.m.  Nothing moves, nothing feels real.  Where’s the road noise?  The neighborhood rustles?  The sound from the high school, just across the back yard?  Nothing.  Pure silence.  It’s spooky.

And the pitch blackness.  You realize, or are reminded, that the moon reflects the sun’s light and can actually cast shadows.  The stars flung across that enormous black sheet of sky truly are beautiful and amazing.

Once dressed and having gulped down a quick glass of juice, we stumbled out to the car and began the drive to the hospital, about 15 miles away.  In that entire drive, only one other vehicle shared the road with us – and that included about half the distance on a four-lane highway.  During morning rush hour, that stretch of pavement causes clogs and bottlenecks requiring at least 40 minutes to traverse.

At 3 a.m., we made it in less than 15.  But again, even as the unimpeded speed may have been appreciated, the sense of aloneness still felt disturbing somehow.  We realized we were not built to function at 3 a.m.

Parking at the Emergency entrance, we got processed through security and signed all of the required insurance forms to authorize treatment, bill the insurer, and whatever other legalisms health care relies upon today.  Walking back to the treatment bay where our patient had been placed, the nursing staff talked and hustled and bustled and did their work like this was the most normal thing in the world.  Just another day at the office.

Were they nuts?  Had they looked at the clock on the wall?  It’s the freaking middle of the night!  How can people like this function so normally?  We were like the Walking Dead, willing our legs forward, right, left, right, left, while these unbelievable professionals in their uniform blue scrubs carried on without a hitch.

After getting the initial diagnosis about our patient – nothing very serious, they would just watch her for a few hours, and if the situation did not get worse, we could get her home again – we shuffled down to the cafeteria for a bite.

It’s fascinating to watch an enormous enterprise like a major city hospital begin to open its eyes, stretch its arms, and wake up for a new day.  The cafeteria featured a lot of prepackaged cereal and a do-it-yourself bagel toaster, but the stars were two very funny, very energetic ladies whipping up eggs and bacon together.  We got a little plateful and walked into the seating area, where you could have rolled a bowling ball in any direction and not hit another human being.

Quiet and stillness, even in a hospital cafeteria.  Crazy.

Before too long, we got the all-clear and brought our patient back to her house.  By this time, the sun and the city had returned in full.  Lots more traffic in the hallways and the highways, lots more noise all around.  Life had returned to normalcy, and so had our patient.  All of which created a real sense of relief.

It’s a different world at 3 a.m.  I guess it’s good to experience it every now and again.  But, all things considered, I’d rather be asleep, thanks.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

The Writing Life

By Tim Hayes

You ask a seven-year-old boy in the mid-1960s what he wants to be when he grows up, and you’ll get the expected responses – baseball player, policeman, fireman, even an astronaut like Major Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Then you ask me and get something altogether off-the-wall.  “I want to be a writer!”  Yes, I was one of THOSE kids.  The weirdo who liked playing pickup games with his friends, but avoided the invitation to humiliation that was Little League.  The one who enjoyed playing the drums, but saw it as a way to have fun and make friends, not as a real grown-up job.

No, I knew – or at least suspected strongly – from the days sitting in that linseed oiled parochial elementary classroom, that I wanted to write.  Advance the story a few years to high school, when Watergate had reached its apex.  Watching Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at The Washington Post systematically, methodically, carefully, responsibly, and most of all accurately document the many sins and transgressions that ultimately led to the first resignation of an American president, and I was hooked for good.

Receiving top-shelf training and guidance through undergraduate studies in journalism, the writing career I’d envisioned since grade school got launched, first as a general-assignment reporter at a newspaper, followed by a series of posts in government, PR agencies, corporate communications, and finally in my own practice, which is about to begin its 19th year shortly.

Along the way, attitudes and observations about the writing life have been collected.  Like the engineer at a company who, after raking me over the coals for a magazine article I’d written about his project, pointed to the wall of his office and said, “You see that diploma?  That means I’m an engineer with a master’s degree.  That takes a lot of study and skill.  But anybody can be a writer.”

The fact that his jaw remained unbroken stands as testament to my Herculean self-control.  None – not one – of his edits were made to the story.  Jackass.

The fact is, no, not anybody can be a writer.  This craft requires a lot of study and skill, too.  But more than that, I think.  Writers may be made in some instances.  But I think in more instances – the ones where they truly flourish – writers are born.  You have to love it because it’s who you are.  It’s like you almost can’t help it.  You want to write, you need to write, you love to write.

I have made a living and raised a family through writing.  Working with so many treasured clients means no day resembles the next.  I’ve been blessed to be able to meet and support and become friends with so many people over the years through writing.  It has been the doorway to a wonderful professional and personal life.

One might think that, after writing all day to earn a living, some other activity would be the go-to for relaxation and enjoyment.  And yes, sometimes I’ll wander down to the basement and whale away on the drums for a while.  But more often, I stay right here at the keyboard.  In fact, writing this weekly blog is one of the things I look forward to the most.

I’ve told my son for years that, “If you can write, you can eat.”  The world lacks truly skilled, enthusiastic, talented writers, perhaps these days more than ever.  Take a stroll through the miasma of sloppy, errant, syntax-allergic writing on the Internet and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m so proud to say that he has put his journalism degree to work, as I did, working as a professional writer today.

A while back, I came across a piece that crystallized my sentiments about the writing life, both as a way to make a living and a way to live a life.  I share it here with you:

“The joy of being a writer must come from your satisfaction with the work.  Some people might say only a blockhead would write for anything but money.  But they have it exactly backward.  Only a blockhead would think money’s the point.  The writing life is the thing.”

The writing life is the thing, indeed.  My hope is that you have found, or will find, the life that fills yours the way the writing life has filled mine.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

Like a Rhinestone Earworm

By Tim Hayes

Hunched over the keyboard, a deadline bearing down upon me, the search for the perfect word proved elusive.

Even wearing my well-worn Radio Shack headphones, tuned to pure white-noise static to block out any distractions, my brain cells refused to click, connect, or cooperate.

And it sure as hell didn’t help that the last song I’d heard on my car radio – a full 36 hours earlier – was Glen Campbell warbling…

“Like a Rhinestone Cowboyyyy…Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeoooo!”

That accursed tune had burrowed so deep into my consciousness that it postponed falling asleep the night before, and bounded to the front of my cerebral cortex the second I had awakened that morning.  It clung like flypaper, rotating over and over, the whole three-minute aural torture rack, an infinite loop of despair.  Like the boring, boorish last guest at a party who won’t leave and go home, when all you want to do is turn the lights off and go to bed.

Old Glen just kept it up, singing about this poor sap with a dollar bill stuck in his shoe and a subway token to his name, daydreaming about strutting around in a shimmering Roy Rogers getup, who had somehow hijacked my life!

Is there anything more annoying than an earworm that will not, cannot, and does not go away?  I think not, Gentle Reader.

“Oh no, not I…I will survive…oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll be alive!”

Some earworms achieve Hall of Fame status, lasting for weeks on end.  I can remember the Great Siege of 1999, when this little ditty set up housekeeping inside my skull for the better part of a month:

“Hey now, you’re an all star, get your game on, go play…hey now, you’re a rock star, get your show on, get paid…and all that glitters is gooooold, only shooting stars break the mo-ooo-old…”

That particular musical shiv pierced my head so thoroughly almost 20 years ago that, even to this day, when it comes on the radio, I don’t just change the station – I shut the whole damn radio completely off.

“Sweeet Caroline…Bah-Bah-Bah…good times never seemed so goooood…”

The melodic malady of the earworm has actually been examined by researchers.  A 2016 study conducted by the American Psychological Association* tried to determine why certain songs cross the recorded Rubicon into infamy.

“These musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions like we can hear in the opening riff of ‘Smoke On The Water’ by Deep Purple or in the chorus of ‘Bad Romance,’” said the study’s lead author, Kelly Jakubowski, PhD, of Durham University.

That all sounds well and good and completely scholarly, until you get to the official recommendations of how to extract one of the bloody buggers out of your head.  Along those lines, the best that the esteemed Dr. Jakubowski can offer is the following:

  • Engage with the song. Many people report that actually listening to the earworm song all the way through can help to eliminate having it stuck on a loop.
  • Distract yourself by thinking of or listening to a different song.
  • Try not to think about it and let it fade away naturally on its own.

Uhh, yeah.  Okay, so you’re supposed to either listen to the song or not listen to the song.  Wow.  Thanks a lot, Science.

“Hello, Darkness, my old friend…I’ve come to talk with you again…”

And again, and again, and again.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the deadline hasn’t gone away and I still can’t think of the right word for this piece I’m supposed to be writing.  It’s absolutely maddening!

“I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seeeeaaats…”

Damn earworm.  I’d like to do that to its leather seats.  Maybe next time it would think before it seeps.  Into my head, that is.  A man can dream, can’t he?

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

* http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/11/earworms.aspx

That Face

By Tim Hayes

On a warm late August evening, while standing in front of the main auditorium building of my brand-new college campus, mere steps away – unbeknownst to me – approached the source of my first and only heart attack.  Figuratively, that is.

A magician or hypnotist or something would be performing inside shortly as part of a week’s worth of Freshman Orientation activities, to get newbies like me acclimated to college and make some early friends among dorm mates.  One of the only other fellow freshmen I knew was a friend from high school, so she and I agreed to go to this show.

I saw her come walking over the crest of a nearby hill and quickly realized that she had brought her entire floor too.  About 25 girls moving as a pack toward me.  But after scanning the group, it happened.

One face made me gasp.  I forgot to breathe for a moment.  My center of gravity shifted.  I felt sure my heart would thump right out of my chest onto the flagstone terrace in front of that auditorium.  That face, that gorgeous face, knocked me for a loop.

We dated all through the next four years.  Naturally, some semester schedules kept us moving from building to building apart all day.  But when we could meet for lunch or dinner or evenings together, after dealing with professors and classmates and reading and papers and exams – each time I would look up and see that face again, the breathing got shallow, the legs wobbled, the heart pounded.

After graduation, we started our married life together.  Two 21-year-olds with no money, a bucket of bolts for a car, and all the optimism and mutual support in the world.  I was able to start a job in my field, but she worked a series of jobs so far beneath her intellectually, just to keep our heads above water.  We’d both come home in the evening, tired, ready to have some dinner and watch a little TV.  And even though I knew she deserved so much better than the jobs she had, she never – ever – complained or lived with anything less than her usual joyful, caring, loving self.

And that face.  That beautiful face, which grew more treasured every day.

In time, the kids began to show up.  With each delivery, I saw that face in pain, exhausted, and ultimately set aglow when each of our three children was placed in her arms for the first time.  The images of that face, at those moments, may be the most incredible of them all.

I had to have emergency surgery a number of years ago.  Coming out of the anesthetic in the recovery room, I saw my Mom and Dad standing beside the bed, and that made me happy and very thankful for their love and support.  Then, a few seconds later, she came into the room and held my hand.  The best medicine of all, that sunny, lovely, face of my forever partner.

We’ve been together 40 years since that warm August evening as college freshmen.  A few more lines around the eyes, a couple new pounds around the waist, perhaps, but also a rhythm that only she and I can hear.  A way of communicating, anticipating each other, caring for one another.

That nonsense about familiarity breeding contempt?  Don’t you believe it.  There’s no one else in the world I’d rather spend this familiar life with.  She makes it so easy to love her fully, every moment, every day.

It’s the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before closing my eyes at night.  It’s in my mind’s eye all day, every day, whether we’re physically together or not.  And when she comes through the front door after work – from a job that truly honors her intellect, at last – the same feeling hits me all over again.

I forget to breathe for a moment.  My center of gravity shifts.  It feels like my heart is going to thump right out of my chest onto the floor.  That face, that gorgeous, kind, funny, loving, patient, courageous, giving, beautiful face, still knocks me for a loop.  And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes