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Brother

By Tim Hayes

The first time we met, I didn’t even know he was in the room.

Sophomore year of college, sitting in a small auditorium in an administration building at the far corner of campus, listening to the new editorial staff of the school newspaper describe plans for the coming year.  As a raw journalism major, I’d written a handful of stories as a freshman, but knew my output needed to increase.

When the editor-in-chief asked if anybody had a question, I raised my hand, stood up, and declared, “I’m sick of getting lousy story assignments.”  Even as the words escaped my lips, somewhere inside my head a voice screamed, “Shut up, Stupid!  You’re blowing it!”

The other kids laughed and the editor promised to try harder.  I sat down, red-faced but somehow proud of stating my case so bluntly.  What I had no way of knowing, though, was that another journalism major, sitting a few rows behind me, witnessed that declaration and made a mental note of it, thinking “I’ve got to get to know this guy.”

That fellow, also named Tim, would become my closest confidant, my college roommate, and a lifelong best friend to this day.

A year later, he became editor-in-chief and I moved up to news editor of the school paper.  We made a good team, surrounded by a lot of other highly driven j-majors.  The university’s student co-op provided a small salary, but at one point during the year, our pay became a possible target of cost-cutting.  Tim and I swooped into action, writing editorials supporting our side of the story, and calling on the entire student body to back us up by taping the front page to dorm windows and classroom buildings.

When exactly no one did, we took matters into our own hands, staying up all night with stacks of newspapers and rolls of Scotch tape, manufacturing our own grassroots protest in support of our still getting a check for date money every other week.  Our salaries were saved – not by our half-ass PR stunt, but by some backroom deal cut by the paper’s business manager and the co-op.  Sure was a fun night of self-delusional failed activism, though.

As roommates in an off-campus apartment, we shared stories, worked on assignments and projects, and accumulated what may have qualified as the Guinness world record for the hairiest bathroom in the western hemisphere.  My girlfriend absolutely refused to use it, walking the four flights of stairs up to her apartment in the same building whenever nature called.  Couldn’t blame her.

Dubbed “Tim” and “Tim Jr.” by my future father-in-law, we lived above a pizza parlor that sold thick cheesy slices for a dollar, the aroma filling our second-floor apartment constantly.  Digging into sofa cushions, jeans pockets, and behind stoves for enough dimes and quarters to run downstairs and get a slice took up almost as much time as studying.  Probably more.  Well…yeah, definitely more.

After graduation, we both ended up writing full-time for the newspaper in that college town, me on the news desk and him on sports.  Helping him move into his first apartment after college (I was married by then), we tried for over an hour to hoist a seemingly 10-ton, massively unwieldy and uncooperative sofa up a flight of steps, trying every angle, every position, to no avail.  Sitting on those stairs, hot, drenched in sweat, exhausted, and laughing at the hopeless, ludicrous situation, I looked at him and said, “One more try.”  And, wouldn’t you know it, we got that damn couch to the second floor in one shot.

In the years to follow, we both pursued our careers that took us in different directions and different locations.  One Thanksgiving, when my wife and I lived in eastern Pennsylvania and couldn’t make it home to Pittsburgh, Tim and his family invited us to spend the day with them near Harrisburg in the center of the state.  During the meal, his mom asked about my family, and I told her about my parents and two younger sisters.  She said, “Oh, so you don’t have any brothers?”  To which I leaned over, put my arm around her son, and said, “This man’s my brother, right here.”  I know he felt – and still feels – the same.

In time, my career brought us back home to Pittsburgh, where Tim and his wife also had settled.  Not long after our return, I learned that I had cancer.  Caught very early, I went through surgery and a regimen of radiation treatments, before eventually being declared cancer-free.  Within five years of my experience, Tim went through the cancer gauntlet, as well.  His took a tougher road to overcome, with chemotherapy and radiation, the loss of strength and hair, but he too came through healthy and whole.  The night he told me the diagnosis, I jumped in the car and drove to his house where we sat outside and talked for hours.  Didn’t think twice.  Had to be there for him.  To let him know he could get through it, like I had.

I served as his best man, and he ushered at my wedding.  He honored me by asking me to be godfather to one of his daughters.  As more kids came along, we’d bring our families together at Christmas and other times during the year.

We have been the keeper of each other’s secrets, a mutually empathetic ear and reliable shoulder to lean on, the one guy in the world who will always be honest and supportive and just plain old there to have the other guy’s back.

For nearly 40 years, he has been the best friend in the world, but so much more than that.  He’s been my brother.  Thanks, Timmer.  Love you, Bro.

= = = = = = = = = =

[I encourage you to check out Tim’s first book, available on Amazon.com at:

https://www.amazon.com/My-Boxes-Nostalgic-Collection-Stories/dp/1539826902/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491528619&sr=8-1&keywords=my+boxes+tim+wesley]

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Taking One for the Team

By Tim Hayes

We all know one.  The dad who misses the first inning of a big game to park the car and walk to the field from a distance.  The lineman who sacrifices his body to protect the quarterback so that the team can score.  The mother who spends that Wednesday shopping and cleaning, then cooks a turkey and a bounteous meal that special November Thursday, while everyone else snacks and talks and watches parades and football.

These people rarely get the credit they deserve and have earned, but they’re not looking for credit.  They’re not looking for glory or fishing for compliments.  They’re the great unsung heroes, and they carry out their heroism humbly.

I was an unsung hero once.  But I demanded some credit.  I longed for glory and compliments.  I was not humble.  I was mad, and wanted restitution for my sacrifice.  Here’s how it went down.

Age nine, Cub Scout den meets at my house, Mom serves as Den Mother, the big Halloween Pack Meeting looming and our little den wants to blow those other dens’ doors off with something spectacular, unrivaled in the annals of Scouting.

Before long, eureka!  We will recreate the (then brand-new) Peanuts story of the Great Pumpkin!  And not as ourselves as recognizable Cub Scouts, but with actual 3-D recreations of Charlie Brown and everyone in the TV special.  Hah!  Take that, you sorry other dens.  Prepare for epicness at the local Moose Hall in three weeks.

We actually had a spitting chance to win first place in this talent competition, unlike my cursed luck with the Pinewood Derby races, where no matter how fast my little “Yellow Lightning” car zoomed around my bedroom, when it had to perform in front of more than two people it forgot how to run in a straight line.  But this Peanuts thing felt like a stroke of genius.  A sure thing.  A slam dunk.

Mom performed above and beyond with this project.  She took the leap and led 10 little male doofuses into the tricky, sticky quicksand of papier-mâché.  Bless her heart, she’s the most courageous woman I know.

If memory serves, we started by blowing up some really big balloons, then dunked long, wide strips of newspaper into the goop and draped them over, around, and under those balloons, ending up with pretty good “heads” for the characters.  A week later at the next den meeting, the papier-mâché had dried, so we popped the balloons and started paining on faces, poking holes so we could see out, and making an opening big enough to get the things over our noggins.  All the main Peanuts characters had a part—Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, Pig Pen, the Great Pumpkin himself, and…Lucy.

LUCY?!

Hold the phone here, Mom.  This is a gaggle of Cub Scouts.  We can’t have a Lucy!  We are of one mind on this point, right guys?

Well, we not only ended up with a Lucy—who was pretty integral to the story—but guess who got to play the role?  Yep, yours truly.  Taking one for the team.  The unsung hero, that’s me.

Some are born to perform in drag, others have it thrust upon them.  But I did not go quietly into that papier-mâché performance.  I had some clauses built into my contract to protect myself from the avalanche of Monday morning abuse this Friday night fiasco would surely produce in class, should word get around who was inside that big round female head.

My terms.  One: I would absolutely not wear a dress.  Two: No dialogue for Lucy.  She would work in mime for the first time ever.  Three: The whole troupe would enter the Moose Hall’s big meeting room together in full giant-head regalia and nondescript sheets, and leave the same way.  We would accept our applause once we had returned, completely out of costume.  Four: Everyone in the den would swear to keep his big trap shut about this forevermore.  These conditions were accepted, and the show went ahead as planned.

Fact is, we killed at the Pack Meeting.  No one saw it coming.  We won the competition, hands down.  We blew their doors off.  A theatrical triumph in every way.

I had it made in the shade Monday morning as our class settled in for the day.  Or so I thought.  Just before the morning prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, the kid behind me leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Nice wig…Lucy.”

So much for Scouts honor.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Newsprint and Maple Syrup

By Tim Hayes

One of the best experiences of high school never took place in our high school.

It would happen four times each academic year, 75 miles away from the high school building, when a bunch of students working on the school newspaper would pile into one car and drive to the tiny headquarters of a rural weekly to spend the day.

I never got it straight in my mind why this peculiar arrangement had been concocted.  The assumption was that this little town’s publisher would make a few bucks, but how our faculty advisor ever found this place remained beyond my detective ability.

We attended Carrick High School, part of the Pittsburgh Public Schools system.  Our school newspaper was named The Carrickulum.  I know, clever, right?  Our sojourn took us to the offices of The Meyersdale Republican in the heart of that quaint borough tucked in a faraway corner of bucolic Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Believe it or not, besides a carful of kids from Carrick showing up every couple of months to liven up the place, Meyersdale also became known as the “Maple Syrup Capital of Pennsylvania,” with its annual Maple Festival that draws tourists—seriously—from far and wide.  In college, in fact, my wife had a roommate who had been crowned the Maple Queen one year in Meyersdale.  Heady stuff, and high praise indeed.

With each visit—after securing clearances from the teachers whose classes we’d be missing that day—this jolly caravan of budding journalists would drive the 90 minutes south, arrive at the paper, pencil out each page’s stories for that issue of the Carrickulum on layout sheets, and then the real fun started.

In Meyersdale, PA, in the mid-70s, computers remained in the realm of cheesy science fiction movies playing down at the Bijou.  Real people—real newspaper people—instead used these hulking, cast-iron behemoths known as Linotype machines.  We would retype all of the approved article copy we had brought with us, hearing the great Linotype lining up the words in order, filling the ancient production room with clinks and clanks.

We’d write the headlines in larger type, with the Linotype assembling all of this inside a wooden frame containing thousands of tiny chunks of raised letters on metal for each page.  Photos got sized by hand to fit their available spaces, then transferred to a series of microscopic dots in reproduction.  Once each page—each box—had been proofread by two people, we tightened the box so that nothing fell out or got misplaced, then fit the box into another large cast-iron machine to be inked and printed on newsprint.

It took hours to complete this process for an eight-page newspaper, but we did it and loved every second of it.  There were few moments for me as satisfying as picking up a finished, flawless newspaper that you personally helped to write, assemble, and print.

At the Republican, a couple of old hands hung around to help us figure things out, but mostly to make sure we didn’t destroy their irreplaceable equipment.  Those machines had been around, probably, since the turn of the century.  In between their smokes, those guys couldn’t let a bunch of city punks from Pittsburgh do anything too stupid to their printing house.

The rides to and from Meyersdale had a few interesting occurrences.  One time, driving down a lonely two-lane blacktop out in the country, somebody saw a deer not far from the road.  Having grown up in the city, we hadn’t seen a deer since—well, none of us had ever seen a deer at all, actually.  And here one stood, looking at us, standing perfectly still, as if to say, “Yes, please come over and be my friend.”

What a bunch of mooks we were.  A couple of the girls walked up to the animal to pet it, confident that they would be met with gentleness and affection.  But when they got within two feet, the deer grunted, stomped its front hooves, and ran like lightning away from us—all within a second and a half.  The girls shrieked, the guys froze, and we all stumbled over and pushed each other out of the way—just like in the Scooby-Doo cartoons—to get back in that car.

Then came the time that the guy driving his dad’s car for the trip stubbornly left Meyersdale in the wrong direction—despite the rest of us telling him so—and kept going until we saw a sign across the roadway reading, “Welcome to West Virginia!”  Mortified, he turned the car around.  Twenty minutes later, we ran out of gas.  And none of us had any money.

Somehow we made it home from that trip and all the others.  Each one loaded with its own stories, adventures, frustrations, and friendships.  It lit the flame for me to pursue a life in journalism that still burns today, nearly 40 years later, as a professional writer.

The Maple Festival is coming up pretty soon in good old Meyersdale.  Maybe I’ll wend my way down there to see the old Linotype and tap a tree or two.  Making a run at Maple King is not out of the question, either.

Narrowing the Gap

By Tim Hayes

Each of my kids had braces.  Each of my kids needed to have their wisdom teeth pulled.  Retainers, tightenings, chipmunk cheeks, twilight sedation, and some loopy re-entries when that happy juice started to wear off.

We did our part – more than our part, if you ask me – helping one local oral surgeon’s cash flow over the years with the wisdom teeth extractions.  We got off a lot lighter with the braces, though.  My cousin, the orthodontist, put us on the family plan, and I will be buying him drinks at any bar he chooses for the rest of our natural lives in gratitude.

But why did all three of my children require all this toothy attention, when I never needed braces and never had one wisdom tooth even make an appearance?  Not one.  Ever.

In fact, my stupid mouth actually has two baby teeth that never left.  To this day, there’s a tooth on either side that I’ve had since toddlerdom.  They moved in when the neighborhood was brand new, and there’s been a lot of turnover.  They’ve made friends with the bigger folks on either side of them.  They haven’t looked for something better after all this time, and it looks like they have no intention of ever leavin’.  No adult teeth ever came in behind them, so they’ve been successful squatters for 50-plus years.

I think, when my parts were being put together before being born, they ran out of teeth – a couple grown-up samples, and four wisdoms – at the DNA store.  There are worse things.

Another anatomical anomaly.  While growing up, my two front teeth had a gap between them so big, it looked like the Batcave.  Adam West could have driven the Batmobile right through the front of my face.

Here’s the difference between dental care in 1967 versus 2017, though.  If I were a seven-year-old kid today, there’d be no question about getting braces.  There’d be so much metal in my mouth, I’d look like I belonged on an MTV rap video.  I could pick up radio from Saskatoon.  With every sneeze, garage doors in a two-mile radius would open inexplicably.  Orthodontists in 2017 would be breaking down the door for a shot at my David Letterman-like dental Grand Canyon.

In time, my Mom talked with our dentist – an older, no-nonsense gentleman named Dr. Ratchinski or something (this was a long time ago) – about narrowing the gap, as it were.  This dentist had been around a long, long time, and was not about to ship me off to some high-flyin’ orthodontist.

“All of his other teeth are right where they should be,” he declared.  “It’s just those two front ones.  So here’s what we’re going to do.”  He rummaged around in an adjacent room, came back and placed a tiny object in my hand, no bigger than a dime, if that.  A tiny rubber band – but one that had very little “give” to it.  It took a lot to stretch it, in other words.

“Now listen, Sonny.  You put this around the outside of those two front teeth every day,” he told me.  “Push it up as high against your gums as you can.  Nobody will be able to see it.  You do this every day for a year, and your teeth will be perfect.”

And you know something?  It worked like a charm.  It felt weird at first, but I learned how to move it up and down with my tongue, which gave me something to do when class got boring, if nothing else.

The point is, there’s no school like the old school.  For the price (free!) of a handful of “gum bands,” as we called them, this neighborhood dentist saved my folks thousands in bills for braces.  He relied on tension and time, instead of big-ticket tinsel.

How many other practices and products could be replaced with simpler, easier, less expensive options?  More than we realize, is my bet.  Thanks, Doc.  Been smiling ever since.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

The Truth Always Wins

By Tim Hayes

We’re hearing a lot about what’s real and what’s fake these days.  It’s a ridiculous argument.

There may be things you’d like to be real, that you wish were real.  But that’s not reality.  Something either is actually, verifiably true and real, or it isn’t.  And the truth always reveals itself.  How could it not?  The truth is just another way of describing what’s real.

I knew a guy in college who proved this point in an unforgettable way.  He lived on my floor and I got to know him pretty well.  Or so I thought.

Sitting in the dorm room or study lounge, working on papers or reading for classes, the other students on our floor would talk about things as any group of college kids might do.  This fellow, we learned, had led an incredible life.  Class valedictorian, homecoming king, winner of state and regional debate competitions in high school.  A song might come on the radio, and if someone said they really liked it, he would tell us that he and his steady girlfriend back home had sung that tune as a duet at their commencement ceremony.  Amazing, unbelievable stuff.

Little did we know how incredible and unbelievable – literally – these tall tales would turn out to be.  This went on for a year and a half, until other groups of this guy’s friends would bump into each other in the cafeteria or other places around campus, and start repeating some of the remarkable stories they’d heard from him.  Eventually, the discrepancies, contradictions, and outright falsehoods became too glaringly obvious to ignore.

He had concocted a completely different life story in front of different groups of friends, driven – we surmised – by those friends’ interests, likes, and preferences.  In his deep need to be accepted, he created multiple narratives for himself out of whole cloth.  Most of what he had said turned out to be utter lies.

Can you imagine the pressure of trying to sustain such an existence?  Keeping straight which people knew which “facts” about his story?  Keeping each autobiographical train of thought headed in the same direction, independent of two or three other, totally different, trains of thought?  And hoping to heaven that the people who heard these separate stories never talked, traded notes, or realized what a house of cards he had built?  It had to be torture.  And every bit of it self-inflicted.

When his parents would come up to campus to visit, they always seemed overly thankful to us for being his friends, almost uncomfortably appreciative.  After we realized what had been going on, their actions made more sense.  I never saw him again, after that semester.  I hope he got the help he needed and is happy and healthy today.

The point here, again, is that you can’t escape the truth, because the truth is what’s real.  To try and deny reality simply is not a sustainable strategy.  When everyone operates according a shared reality and you don’t – it doesn’t take long to figure out who’s the odd person out, Sherlock.

In high school, one guy, a trumpet player in the marching band, never could stay in step.  Never.  Ever.  It just was not part of his DNA to go left/right/left/right in time with the music like everybody else.  His mother called the band director one day to ask, “Why is my William the only one in step?”  And she was serious.  That would explain the DNA thing.  But it also explains the difference between what’s real – what’s true – and what is not.

William and his mother remained convinced that the whole band – 200 other marchers – had it wrong, and he, God bless him, was the only one doing it right.  That sounds nuts, and it is.  Everyone else knew the truth, because it was the shared, verifiable, irrefutable reality of the situation.

So we’ll keep hearing about what’s fake and what’s real, I’m sure.  And plenty of people will keep buying that argument.  That’s human nature, I suppose.  But just keep in mind one simple rule – the truth always wins.

It may take a while, and it may get uncomfortable along the way, but never fear – the truth always wins.  Always.

Copyright 2016 Timothy P. Hayes

88 Little Keys

By Tim Hayes

She couldn’t have been older than second or third grade when it magically appeared in their house.  Made of dark wood, with gleaming gold pedals and a playing surface of shining white, just waiting for her.  Only her.

So she clambered up on to the padded seat, marveling at this gift, so unexpected, so wonderful, placed her hands on the keys, and started to play.  Very simple, rudimentary melodies at that point, but in time this little girl – my mother – would make music on that piano that filled our home, our lives, with memories to treasure.

A George Steck upright model, with a “birdcage” system of hammers and strings inside the body, that piano served as the centerpiece of some great family sing-a-longs when all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on my mom’s side would come over on a Sunday afternoon.  Mom would be on piano, Uncle Ed would bring his banjo, and the rest of us would sing our heads off together.  Neighbors be damned, we were having fun making music.

“The Impossible Dream,” “Mississippi Mud,” “Shine On Harvest Moon,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” – we knew them all.  In fact, I think I was the only kid in my class who understood the joke when Jane Jetson sang, “Won’t You Fly Home, Bill Spacely?” on “The Jetsons,” because the old standard, “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” always remained in our family repertoire.

My mom is a great lady, very petite, with smallish hands.  How she was able to play some of those chords and songs, where the notes were pretty far apart, baffled and amazed me.  If she wasn’t exactly breaking the laws of physics, she sure was giving them a hell of a stretch.

As kids, we would tinker around on the keys, trying to figure out that catchy Charlie Brown Christmas song.  I’d work on the lower notes, the rhythm, while my sister pecked out the melody.  We got it going pretty good a couple of times.  Eventually, my sister began taking piano lessons and became quite accomplished herself.

In time, as we left for college and careers, the piano stayed in its designated spot along the wall in the dining room for many years.  Not sure how much Mom played it while we were off building our lives, marrying our spouses, populating the family with kids of our own, but I hope it was more often than not.

After a few years, it made more sense for the piano to move to my sister’s house.  But a few years after that, it came to my house, where my daughters could learn to play in preparation for their music degrees in college.  It remains in our family room today, where it still gets played fairly frequently.

The keys may not shine quite so white, the body looking a bit weathered, the pedals worn from years of being pressed.  But it still makes the same magical sound it did when that eight-year-old girl discovered it, the gift of a lifetime, a lifetime ago.

When I think of everything that piano has seen and been a part of over the past almost seven decades, it’s impressive.  All of the family history, the highs and the lows.  The endless hours of practicing.  Dozens of toddlers smashing the keys to make that big crazy sound.  The women of our family, playing, when the house was empty, just for the sheer joy of creating and experiencing music for herself.

And, mostly, when all of us – this wild, wonderful, extended Italian family – would crowd into that tiny dining room to sing old songs at the top of our lungs.  As a family.  You can’t buy that kind of love, a love that has bonded each of us ever since.  All it takes is 88 little keys.

Wont you come home again, Bill Bailey?  The piano’s right here.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Walls

By Tim Hayes

Negotiations had hit a snag.  The two sides needed to walk away from the bargaining table for a while.  Good thing, because their respective mothers had begun calling them to dinner anyway.

I had three shoeboxes full of baseball cards, purchased at the local family-owned corner store, quickly looked at, then unceremoniously tossed into those boxes over the years.  Now, this being the summer between grade school and high school, those cards seemed like kid stuff.

I’d pulled out all the good Pirates players and kept them for myself.  I wasn’t a complete idiot.  But the rest of them?  Who cares?

Who cares?  Stanny, the goofy kid five doors down, that’s who.  Two or three years younger than me, Stanny loved all things baseball.  ERAs, batting averages, career strikeouts, on-base percentages – he knew them all.  When I bought a pack of baseball cards, if there weren’t any Pirates in there, then the stick of bubble gum became priority one.  Not Stanny.  He was one of those kids who looked at the back of the card with all of the statistics first, not the picture on the front. The pasty little weirdo.

And he wanted those three shoeboxes of mine something fierce.  Hence, the high-stakes negotiations.

He made some half-hearted offers.  Stickers, photos, refillable pencils, all sorts of crap he didn’t want – and so he thought I would want it?  Things got heated, then we had to break for supper.  When bargaining started up again that evening, I finally said, “Stanny, you need to give me something I want as much as you want these baseball cards.  That’s how this works.  Quit goofing around.  Do you have anything like that or not?”

Dejected, rejected, resigned to failure, he halfheartedly walked out of his living room, went upstairs, and came back down with something folded under his arm.  “I don’t think you’ll like this, but it’s the only thing I could think of,” Stanny said, with his hangdog expression.  “My brother got it at a concert or something.”

He handed it to me, a red and blue cloth of some sort.  Fully unfurled, I saw it in all its glory.  Not an American flag, but a banner with the logo of the band “Chicago” on it.  My favorite band of all time!  I shoved my baseball cards at Stanny and without saying “thanks” or “goodbye” or “take a hike,” I ran out his front door, up the street to my house, where I found a hammer and some nails and immediately tacked that Chicago flag into the wood paneling on the wall above my bed.

Mom and Dad weren’t all that thrilled with the redecorating job, especially the nail-pounding part, but that banner stayed there all through my high school years, as did two other notable mementos.

One featured a poster of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.  This may sound strange to anyone who knows me well as a lifelong diehard bleeding-black-and-gold fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, since my team met – and defeated – the Cowboys in two classic Super Bowls of the 1970s.  How, then, could I possibly commit such heresy, as to have a 24 x 36 inch poster of their cheer squad on my bedroom wall?

Because I was a 14-year-old hormonal American male with no real-life prospects.  Duh.  I think, by today’s standards, the sexy quotient of my cheerleaders poster would rate no more than a 3, maybe a 4.  But back then?  Wow.  Wow.  Wowee wow-wow.

The other wall-mounted treasure came as the result of hero worship.  I’d gone with a friend and fellow high school band drummer to see a Buddy Rich concert one evening.  Buddy played those drums like no one I had ever seen.  His sticking so unbelievably fast, his meter perfect, his ability to drive the rest of his jazz band through number after number simply amazing.  He gave my friend and me something to shoot for as jazz drummers.  We never quite made it, to no one’s surprise, but we sure had something to shoot for.

We hung around after the show, walked up to the foot of the stage, and hoped to say hello and shake Buddy’s hand.  But we ended up with more than that.  He not only talked with us, but he gave my friend the drumsticks he had used that night, and he gave me his sweaty towel – complete with his autograph!

I suspect Mom wanted to tear that thing off my wall a thousand times and toss it into the washer, but never did.  It remained there through high school, too.

The night I ran out of Stanny’s house was the last time I ever saw him.  My Chicago flag, my Cowboys Cheerleaders poster, and my autographed Buddy Rich towel all have disappeared into memory, as well.

But I bet Stanny held onto those baseball cards for the next 40 years and has probably cashed them in for millions.  The little creep.  I never was too sharp of a negotiator.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

The Right Girl

By Tim Hayes

“Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she’ll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she’ll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she’ll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she’ll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her.”

I wish I knew who said that.  Some may read a touch of sexism into that quote, but I see and hear it more as a grateful and appreciative ode to the female of the species.  In my experience, it’s the women who most unselfishly prove courageous, who most unfalteringly speak the truth, and who most unerringly know the right thing to do in any situation.  Almost to the point of stunned disbelief on my part.

Of course, the two women I’ve seen in action more than any others have been my mother and my wife – two ladies to whom I owe damn near everything, my mom during the formative years of keeping me safe and showing me how to be a responsible person of faith, and my wife as my trusted, beautiful, and beloved co-pilot for going on 39 years now, since we met the second day of college as freshmen.

I love to hear stories of how couples met, especially long-time veterans who have been together for decades.  There’s something about meeting the right girl that changes everything.  For some couples, like my wife and me, it happens like a bolt of lightning – you just know.  I may have given her a ring after more than three years of dating, but I had asked her and she agreed to marry me after three weeks.  We were 17 years old.

For others, it happens differently.  I think of the movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” which follows the ups and downs of two people who meet in college, then drift apart and cross paths over many years to follow, before realizing they were made for each other.  At the end of the film, we see them sitting side-by-side, talking to the camera.

“The first time we met, we hated each other,” Harry says.  “No, you didn’t hate me, I hated you. The second time we met, you didn’t even remember me,” Sally replies.  “I did too, I remembered you. The third time we met, we became friends,” notes Harry.

“We were friends for a long time,” Sally remembers.  “And then we weren’t,” Harry reminds her.  “And then we fell in love…three months later we got married,” Sally sighs.  “Yeah,” Harry says.  “It only took three months.”  To which Sally corrects him, saying, “Twelve years and three months.”

You never know how or when or why that one special “who” will arrive.  But when she does, you’d be nuts to let her go.  I’m living proof, but you don’t have to take my word for it.  Check out these other testimonials.

In his wonderful biography of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson reports on a visit to Jobs, who was near the end of his life at the time, by his longtime rival and occasional friend, Bill Gates of Microsoft.  Isaacson writes: “They talked a lot about the joys of family, including how lucky they were to have good kids and be married to the right women. ‘We laughed about how fortunate it was that he met Laurene, and she’s kept him semi-sane, and I met Melinda, and she’s kept me semi-sane,’ Gates recalled.”

It’s not very hard to believe that it would take two such strong-willed, brilliant, loving, patient, BS-resistant women to corral the colossal brainpower and Herculean egos of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, to create safe havens of love, support, and accountability on the home front.  Those ladies have never received the credit due to them.

Then there’s the incredible story of Chuck Noll, the late head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  As described in “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” by biographer Michael MacCambridge, Noll had been plagued since childhood with a mild form of epilepsy, and during his days in youth and high school football, he would occasionally experience seizures.  Noll earned a tryout at Notre Dame to play football there, but once head coach Frank Leahy witnessed one of those seizures, Noll was sent home to Cleveland on the next bus out of South Bend.

Before long, Noll met the girl who would be his wife of more than 50 years before his passing.  But here’s an interesting fact about that fateful meeting – from the day he met Marianne, Chuck Noll never suffered another epileptic seizure for the rest of his life.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.  He’d found the right girl.

On this Valentine’s Day, every guy who has found the right girl needs to shower her with love and appreciation.  Guys still waiting to find her, fear not – she’s out there, and your day will come.  The right girl makes all the difference, in all ways, on all days.  She deserves our best effort to make her life easier, happier, safer, more comfortable.  Anything less just won’t do – something to remember, as the quote from earlier is repeated here, but with the final line included this time.

Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she’ll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she’ll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she’ll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she’ll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit.

Fellows, you have 48 hours.  Don’t let her down.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

Betcha By Golly Wow

By Tim Hayes

Back in the day, long before music got downloaded from a computer and billed to a credit card, back when a weirdly shaped chip of plastic snapped into the big hole in the middle of a 45-rpm record so that you could play it on your family’s stereo, getting your hands on – and your ears around – a favorite song took a little bit of work.

In my little hometown, that meant scraping up the dollar or so it would take to buy the record, then hoofing it to the three-block-long business district almost a mile from our front door, and stepping right into my favorite merchant – the Mt. Oliver Record Shop.

The store couldn’t have been more than 20 feet wide, but it went back pretty far, with rack after rack of records – vinyl records that you listened to with a needle riding the grooves of each song, decades before vinyl suddenly became cool again.  Albums and album covers lined the walls above the racks of stereophonic merchandise.  For a kid who loved listening to the radio, and “American Top 40” in particular, you couldn’t beat spending as much time as possible in the record shop.

Too bad the old guy who owned it didn’t feel the same way.  He made it look like every second spent in the place caused him untold pain and aggravation.  It took a while to get used to seeing an angry old guy with hair coming out of his ears, standing behind the cash register giving you dirty looks, when next to him stood the coolest of the record shop’s prized attractions – a stack of tiny brochures from “13-Q,” the city’s leading bubble-gum music station.

Those 13-Q brochures came out fresh each week, with a picture of a DJ, the Top 10 songs for the week, lyrics to one of the most popular songs, and a lot of Peter Max-type artwork.  If I got a hold of one of those 13-Q brochures today, I’m sure it would look like absolute garbage, but back then?  They were like gold.  And the grumpy-puss running the store treated them like gold, too.  He used to try and force kids to buy a record before he’d let them take a brochure, but when you summoned enough guts to call him on it, he’d let you slide, even as he narrowed his eyes and tried to make you feel like a crook in the process.

One sunny 1972 Saturday morning, I walked down to the record shop to buy a 45 that I really liked.  New record and 13-Q brochure in hand, I couldn’t wait to get back home and flip it onto the record player.  On the way back to my house stood the little family-owned corner neighborhood store (years before 7-Eleven or anything like that came along), where some of the older, tougher kids would hang out, playing pinball and generally getting up to no good.

One of these local hoods – let’s call him Brick – carried some extra pounds, and had a reputation for pushing younger, scrawnier kids like me around for fun.  He had an Achilles’ heel, though.  In the corner of his left eye, a strange greenish mark stood out.  It never went away.  Nobody ever told me what it was or how it got there, and I sure as hell was never going to ask.

But the goofy green mark wasn’t what got to old Brick.  The thing that would set him off, vowing to pummel anyone stupid enough to do this, was starting to sing the old Sugarloaf single, “Green-Eyed Lady.”  He would go absolutely berserk, sort of the like the Hulk in the comic books.  What is it about the color green and anger issues?

Anyway, I had to walk past the store on my way home with my new 45, when Brick shouted, “Hey!  Whatcha got there, you little jerk?”  “I bought a new record.”  “Oh, well let’s see it!  Give it here!”

And as Brick snatched the paper bag out of my hand, he pulled out the record, paused for a second, then started laughing his head off.

“What the hell kind of stupid song is this!  ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’?  Haw-haw!  What are you, some kinda dumbbell?  That’s the dumbest name of a song I ever heard of!  Haw-haw!”

Then he started tossing my freshly minted Stylistics record around like a Frisbee to the other juvenile delinquents hanging around the store, all of them laughing as I jumped and lurched, trying to intercept it without it breaking into a hundred pieces.

Then it happened.

Some brave – or was it foolish – kid came walking down the other side of the street, saw all the commotion, and began warbling, “Green-eyed lady, lovely laaa-deeee!”  Brick snapped his enraged head in the offender’s direction, threw my 45 back at me, and took off, threatening to kill that kid in short order.

I tore home in the opposite direction, ran straight to the record player, and started enjoying my new purchase, the 13-Q brochure from the record shop safely ensconced in the pocket of my Sears blue jeans.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t encounter Brick after my next venture to the record store, when I bought “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu.”  I might have never gotten that one back.

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes

An ‘Alternative’ Biography

By Tim Hayes

I was born on a sultry summer morning in Baton Rouge.  Mother enjoyed a crisp autumn sunrise in Seattle that same day.

Life on the plains was hard.  Tending crops in the rain forest, and all.  But Father, being a jeweler, always knew what to do.  I used to walk the long way to and from school, to avoid the inner-city gangs.  Mother made all of our clothes from Sears, Roebuck & Co.

I attended P.S. 104, an exclusive private academy.  Classmates included Art Deco, Chuck Steak, and Dick Van Dyke.  What a rollicking time we all had, taking turns counting the student body, which numbered in the millions.  You’ve never seen such a student body.  It was the biggest in recorded history.  Believe me.

Before long, it was off to college.  I attended the main campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located in Toledo, Ohio.  As a freshman, I met my wife, Britney Spears, who was in the middle of pursuing her doctorate back then.  The age difference never bothered me, Brit being 48 to my 13 at the time.  We somehow made it work.  Until, happily, it didn’t, I’m sad to say.

After college, I started working as a freelance writer on the full-time payroll of a major international conglomerate garage-based startup.  There I learned some of the basic lessons and truths about communications – pillars of integrity, accuracy, and credibility that have stayed with me all this time, can you tell?

My first boss, Jimmy Fallon, taught me to never stop digging for the facts of a story until you think of something else that sounds better.  Working for Frankie Valli, my first boss, showed me that it’s always better to be fast and loud than to be right.  And of course, who could ever forget the wisdom of my first boss, Carly Simon?

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  How can one person have possibly achieved all this?  It’s crazy to believe it, but it’s insane.

Over the years, as Lady Bird and I watched our four children – Moe, Larry, and Shemp – grow into fine adults and make their own mark on the world, it’s always been such an awkward comfort to come home to the Holiday Inn at noon each evening, spending quality time completely alone, surrounded by the warmth of family.

But don’t you worry.  There’s still a lot of steam left in this old kettle.  I’m so exhausted.  Knowing that there’s so much more left to pursue, so many dreams still to fulfill, makes me want to puke.  I’m so happy.

Well, this looks like as good a place as any to bring this thing to an end, as we get under way.  It’s been a real joy working on this pain-in-the-ass essay.  Just want to make absolutely certain you know that, but you didn’t hear it from me.

Most of all, I want to thank all of my wonderful friends and treasured mentors working diligently away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, those wacky scamps.  They are showing all of us that “alternative facts” are the best facts, even if the fact of the matter is that there are no such facts as alternative facts.  There are misdirections and intentional exaggerations, which can be sketchy enough — but let’s not call them facts, okay?  Maybe this D.C. double-talk can be chalked up to growing pains, and once everybody settles in and settles down, we can get back to dealing in verifiable, validated, actual, factual information.  Let’s hope so.

But in the meantime, here’s wishing for the next Golden Age of Journalism to burst forth in relentless, fearless, tireless pursuit of nothing but the truth.  The Founding Fathers placed such trust in a free, vigilant, probing press that they made its protection the first – not the third, not the eighth – but the First Amendment.  The nation is counting on journalists to rise up to their responsibility, perhaps now more than at any other time in living memory.

As a final thought, here’s a real fact – a quote from the brilliant mind of Thomas Jefferson, a president who disliked the press but who understood and supported its critical role in a well-functioning republic.  He said, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”

Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes