Timothy Hayes-El, 1962-2014

I am deeply saddened by the death yesterday morning of Timothy Hayes-El, a well-known and much-loved Newburgher who attended and spoke at virtually every City Council meeting.

His first name, Timothy, comes from the Greek meaning, “Honored by God,” and surely he was so honored, as he devoted his later years to God’s children here in Newburgh. His last name at birth was Hayes, but he adopted the suffix –El, which is one of the Hebrew names of God. God indeed suffused Timothy Hayes-El’s being; he was as striking a person as any prophet. With his tall, erect bearing he resembled a Maasai warrior, and his large, shining eyes could draw the attention of everyone in the room. His voice was as commanding as a preacher’s, and he used that voice often and well, to promote his passion: increasing job opportunities for city residents.

He first impressed me when I was working for the TH-Record under the editorship of Mike Levine, and the paper did a series called something like, “How Do We Fix Newburgh?” Timothy was part of a focus group Mike led on that subject. Timothy gave us a great quote, in which he said something like, “I’m not a ‘resident of Newburgh’; i AM Newburgh.”

He was right: Newburgh is missing a great part of itself today. His passion for this city led him to offer himself as a perpetual candidate; most recently, he ran for the Ward 1 City Council seat in November, losing to Karen Mejia. Two years ago, he ran for Mayor, losing to Judy Kennedy. His activism also inspired many young city residents to register to vote. He served time in prison as a young man but returned to Newburgh determined to keep other black youths out of trouble by helping them get jobs and by advocating for them before the City Council.

Timothy had a variety of health problems and had been on kidney dialysis. He had felt ill on Sunday and did not go to church (a rarity for him); instead, he walked the few blocks from his home on Johnston Street to St. Luke’s Hospital, where he died too soon, too soon, on Monday morning at age 52.

Rest in peace, Timothy Hayes-El, Honored by God.


New Maus Fan

Never one to jump on a bandwagon until it has rolled by and disappeared over the horizon, i just this week read Art Spiegelman’s great masterwork, Maus and Maus II.

Published from 1986 (Maus) to 1991 (Maus II), these works won Spiegelman a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. For those few of you who don’t know, Maus is a comic book about the Holocaust.

OK, i know that doesn’t sound good. But it’s wonderful. Here, Spiegelman is a cross between Hannah Arendt and R. Crumb, combining riveting, gut-churning horror and suspense with great cartoons (black and white), while telling the story of what happened to his Polish-born father during WW II.

The Jews are all drawn as mice, the Nazis as cats, the gentile Poles as pigs, the French as frogs. Mercifully, he intersperses his father’s you-are-there story with “present-day” updates showing how he went around tape-recording his very ill father in the latter’s old age, and we see how grumpy, cheap, and hard to get along with the old man was.

We also learn that shortly after her suicide in 1968, the father has destroyed his wife’s (Art Spiegelman’s mother, who also survived the Holocaust) wartime diaries —  an act that Art Spiegelman considered a kind of “murder” and for which he never forgave his father (i think).

Anyway, it is all you ever need to read or see about the Holocaust, and both volumes are also beautifully produced. Go read them, please!

Take Care of Yo Mama

Today there’s a wonderful op-ed piece in The New York Times about the possibility of life existing anywhere but on earth: http://nyti.ms/1de78Cb

As for me, I like Michio Kaku’s thesis in his 1997 book “Visions,” in which he posits that the reason we still haven’t discovered extraterrestrial life despite all the probes, satellites, broadcast radiation, etc., that we on earth have been shooting into space for decades, may be very simple: Intelligent life may have arisen elsewhere eons ago, many times and in many places, but then as on Earth, these creatures poisoned their planets’ ecosystems with pollution or got caught up in nationalistic, religious, ethnic, or political-power wars and destroyed themselves. Thus the reason no one in our galaxy has as yet responded to all of our “Are you out there?” messages is: They WERE out there, but now they’re dead! Three take-aways: 1. Develop longer-range probes and keep trying; 2. Be open to the probability that intelligent life elsewhere doesn’t look like us. Evolving in a different environment, after all, aliens may look like a used tire, a stick of raw spaghetti or a mole rat. And 3. Revere our own beautiful planet and treat her well. As Robert Frost said: “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

Block That Metaphor!

Watching sports on TV this month, and turning 64 too, has stuck a metaphor in my head like a basketball wedged between the backboard and the rim; I shall relate it here in the hope that some pointed words, properly flung, may poke it loose.

“Is it a basketball analogy then?” you ask, trembling.

NO! Worse: It’s football. Go sit on the bench and listen.

Reaching 64 is like entering the Red Zone of Life.

I mean, if life (as I suspect) is a journey towards G-d, then you embark from your own end zone, unable even to see the goal line that seems so far away.

You face a long, difficult and sometimes painful path, but as the game wears on you gain more confidence. You feel that you’re the quarterback here, and can call the plays.

At the same time, you also become more and more invested in reaching that goal line, seeing that you have teammates who have put their own efforts into the game and seeing how your life has depended on them in so many ways – and theirs on you. You know how indebted you are to them, and you know that if you fail, you’re letting them down, too. This realization is a tremendous burden, but it also increases your determination to keep going. (And even if you’re the best, smartest, most athletic player on the field, in many situations you need good luck. The great American philosopher Jimmy Dean once said, “You gotta try your luck at least once a day. Otherwise, you might be going around lucky all day and never know it.”)

As you make your way downfield, sometimes you make progress through luck and sometimes through your own skill. You suffer many losses, but somehow you keep moving and, if you’re lucky enough to still be playing when you reach your mid-60s, you begin to see the Big Picture. You start to understand what your role has been, and to gain the wisdom to evaluate how you’ve been doing, what plays have worked best for you, and why, who your most reliable teammates are and who you’ve most liked having on your side.

In my own case, there have been precious few spectacular, long completed passes (I did win a ticket to see the Beatles in Shea Stadium in 1966, after which I promised G-d I would never ask Him for anything again; I did, while pregnant, break that vow and through grace alone did indeed give birth to a healthy child). Many times I have been thrown for a loss (my mother died when I was 9; I was divorced when my daughter was in first grade). But in general, it has been three yards and a cloud of dust on every play, after which I rise bruised, confused and weary. Overall, I’ve done about average.

But dear G-d, it’s been fun! And now, the goalposts are just ahead. The long, long field has become a very short one. Things are much simpler here; everybody’s bunched up together. Extraordinary speed and long passes are unneeded; just plow ahead and don’t fumble.

It’s also much more exciting now than it’s ever been; more is riding on each decision, because you have so few left to make.

How do I want to be remembered? Have I forgiven everyone? Will my teammates think of me with a smile when I’m gone, and say I gave it everything I had?

The funny thing is, I have never figured out the game plan. I’m not even sure there is one — if one is ever needed. As I embark on my 65th year of life, I’m getting the idea that maybe just grit and luck is all you need.

And, as the Beatles said, Love.

Two Truck-Stop Stories

i’m just back from visiting my daughter in Columbus, Ohio, and from the long drive out there i gathered two truck-stop stories i must share.

1. Somewhere in mid-Pennsylvania there is a Pilot truck stop with an attached eatery called “Country Kitchen.” Seeing its name along with McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s on signs just before an exit, i decided to try to find that one, on the theory that i could sit down and be served at a table, and spread out my map and figure out how far i’d come and where i was and how far i had to go, and just be more comfortable. Big mistake! i was indeed seated at a table and given a menu, but ninety percent of the food was the fried stuff you get at a roadside ice-cream stand, and it all came in a plastic, fake-wicker basket lined with waxy white paper and in the photos on the menu it looked absolutely vile. I asked the waitress “What’s good here?” and she immediately recommended something that was not on the menu: a meatloaf sandwich. She said she loved it “because it doesn’t have any onions or anything in it; it’s just pure meat.”

Big sigh, but i figured, how many times am i going to be in the middle of Pennsylvania, so i said, well, that’ll be fine, i’ll try that.

And then i asked her what they had to drink, and she said they have homemade iced tea. i asked if it was sweetened or unsweetened and, after this long buildup, her reply is why i sat down to post this today: She said, “We have it both ways, but i like the unsweetened kind better because the sweet tea makes my lips stick to my teeth.”

p.s. Both the meatloaf and the gravy they slathered on it even though i’d asked for no gravy had an oddly sweet flavor. Maybe they moisten them with their iced tea.

2. My other truck-stop story occurred in a place called, if i remember correctly, Ellinton, Pa., where i saw a place with a sign in scrolling lights that said, “Eat here and get gas.” A joke from the 1950s or earlier, to be sure, but i figured, well, they have a sense of humor about themselves anyway, so i pulled in. After i’d parked and was headed inside, i noticed over the entrance another, truly intriguing, sign, painted in huge letters: “Home of the WORST apple pie in America!” Only the word “WORST” had been crossed out and above it, at an angle, was written, with a caret pointing up to it, “BEST.” i used the bathroom and bought myself a pack of gum and a Milky Way but, before i left, i couldn’t resist asking the cashier about the sign. She said ever since they opened about 10 years earlier, all the truckers used to come in and say they had the worst apple pie they’d ever tasted, so they decided to have fun with that and put up a sign saying so. And it worked: Word spread among the truckers, and a lot of them came in just to try their awful apple pie. (Why was it awful, i asked. She said, “I don’t know; it just didn’t have any spices in it, like it didn’t have any sugar, or cinnamon, or anything, i think.” Odd.) But then two years ago, she said, they had a “Food Festival” in downtown Ellinton, and this local woman whose actual name is Mrs. Best won the prize for the best apple pie, and they asked her for her recipe, and she gave it to them, and ever since then, they’ve boasted the “BEST” apple pie in the U.S.

And there we left it. And there you have it.

One Kudo, Two Kudos

In today’s Times Herald-Record is a story i must hide from my husband, to avert his early death from apoplexy. It says a local barber could soon get “another kudo” from the Guinness Book of World Records.

You and i hate mosquitoes; Tim hates back-formations from Greek words.

To Tim, saying a man deserves “a kudo” for something is exactly like saying he deserves “a pray,” on the grounds that “praise” is more than one “pray.”

We’ve all said,  “Kudos to you!” to someone who done good, meaning “Congratulations!” and so, whenever we’ve been forced to think about it (which is, mercifully, quite rarely), we figure one instance of them there kudos is a kudo.  So, like, if you win a martial-arts match, that would be a judo kudo. (Sorry.)

Actually, as Tim has been all too happy to remind me over and over and over and over and over again, “kudos” is a singular Greek noun meaning  “honor,” “glory,” or “acclaim” — recognition for something positive.  But that “s” sound at the end (Tim insists it should be pronounced like the “s” in “son,” by the way, not like the “s” in “nose”) throws everybody off. We assume it’s a plural, and that there must be a “kudo” around here somewhere. My Webster’s College Dictionary lists “kudo” as a synonym for “compliment,” adding: “Back-formation from kudos.” But as Tim would say: That doesn’t make it right.




This Is About Love

On the gay marriage issue, let’s pray that the Methodists live up to their ideals.

Copying the short link below will take you to today’s NY Times story about how the Methodists are about to prosecute a pastor for officiating at his son’s wedding to a man … which, thank G-d, is legal in New York, where the ceremony was performed. The problem is, the denomination has a rule that forbids its pastors from performing same-sex weddings. Copying the longer link takes you to the response from a some devout Methodists who are trying to fix that rule.

I’m with them.

Doesn’t Galatians say there is neither “Greek nor Jew,” and neither “male nor female,” but that all are one in the eyes of Jesus? Isn’t the Methodist slogan “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors”? Didn’t G-d say “It is not good for man to be alone”? Why, then, prosecute a pastor for joining his own son in holy matrimony to a man who sweetly swore to support him in sickness and health ’til death parts them?

In this case, human ethics and understanding have evolved faster than the Methodist Book of Discipline. It’s a civil-rights case, yes, but more importantly, it’s about love.

Come on, Methodists: This is a good time to remember who you are, and who G-d wants you to be. Drop the charges against Tom Ogletree.



You Make the Call

Discerning readers, please decide: Who was the more important woman who died this week?

Margaret Thatcher: Best known for: making millions of people miserable. 2 greatest achievements: Being Great Britain’s first female prime minister and abolishing the nation’s free-milk-in-schools program. Best friend: US President Ronald Reagan, promulgator of the failed “trickle-down” theory of economics. Friendship began in 1981, when he was 70 and she, 66. Quote: “I stand before you … the Iron Lady of the Western World.”

Annette Funicello: Best known for: making millions of people happy. 2 greatest achievements: Being a Mouseketeer in the first year of the “Mickey Mouse Club” and starring in the carefree “Beach Blanket” movies with Frankie Avalon. Best friend: Shelley Fabares, singer of “Johnny Angel.” Friendship began in 1955 in catechism class, when they were both 13. Quote: “Beauty is as beauty does; that’s what wise men say.”

A lot of ink was spilled praising Margaret Thatcher this week, to which I say: Rest in peace, Annette.