Is Anybody Listening?

By Jim Hagarty

I live in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, home of Justin Bieber and where many other fine musicians have gotten their start. To this day, the small city of less than 40,000 souls is teeming with homegrown musical talent.

Amidst us, encouraging fellow musicians every step of the way, is a talented songwriter, singer and instrumentalist named Tom Waschkowski who has also made his mark as a record producer. Tom got his first instrument, an accordion, at the age of three in his native Poland and fell instantly in love with music. It is a passion he has pursued for the past seven decades. And while not a Stratford native, he eventually made his way here and now works hard to give other musicians a chance to shine.

A couple of years ago, Tom set to work on two lifelong dreams. One of them was to record a solo album of original songs and a few of his favourite covers, and the other to write an autobiography. By the end of 2015, he had fulfilled both of his quests. He released both his CD, A Crow By My Door, and his book, Is Anybody Listening? (Chasing Rock & Roll Dreams) at a launch in Stratford in December of that year.

Is Anybody Listening? is a remarkable effort, all the more so given that Tom decided to simply express himself in his own words and style without the use of an editor or ghost writer. He wanted his effort to be raw and honest, and he achieved both goals in spades.

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Tom is not a professional writer of non-fiction, but the reader might be forgiven for not knowing that. Yes there are a few minor errors here and there, but it is a gripping series of very interesting tales he has to tell. He tells his story chronologically beginning with his origins in Europe and move to Canada and weaves in an incredible amount of detail along the way. The reader is left to wonder how he could remember so many details of his life but he gives that secret away when he says he was an avid keeper of journals over the years.

Tom was drawn to rock ‘n’ roll from his earliest memory and has played it all his life, as a member of so many groups it is hard to sort them all out. But he was also a fan of finer music and even folk music, which he sang and recorded in his earlier days as a member of a group called the Folklords.

Over the years, Tom has rubbed shoulders with many famous musicians, and even at almost 70, is still as big a fan of popular music as he ever was. Eventually, he was able to realize another dream, to own his own recording studio, which he and a friend opening in a small hamlet near Stratford. That was in the late ’70s and though that studio is gone, he has continued to produce recordings for others to this day. He also runs a local music hall where he books all sorts of great acts, both local and international.

And while he has never regretted pursuing music as a career, Tom does not shy way from some of the pitfalls of the fields, especially when it comes to touring. He dispels any notions people might have about any glamour attached to travelling from town to town, often in bad weather, and staying in some very basic motels and hotels. And there was also the encounters with drugs and alcohol.

Tom does not skimp when it comes to the personal details of his life, his upbringing, his marriages, and the regrets he has about not always being there for his family. But his is a contented man today and has the support of a loving wife, a son and a daughter.

Is Anybody Listening? is a compelling tale. It is available in the Corner Store.

Car Crashes and Cowpies

By Jim Hagarty
2016

A year ago, one Friday night, I was parallel parked along an empty downtown street after the shops and offices were closed, listening to my radio and waiting for a passenger. No cars parked in front of me, three or four empty parking spaces behind me. A twin-engine Cessna could have safely landed behind me without so much as knocking over a trash can.

Suddenly, a man in a white SUV slammed into me from behind. We both jumped out of our vehicles and he came at me like a wild animal, loudly declaring that I was poorly parked and blaming me for the accident. He was abusive in his manner and his language. He pointed out there was no damage to my car; I didn’t have time, or, in the failing light, the ability to assess that for sure. (In the end, the car was fine.) The truth was, in the greying winter evening as the sun dissolved, he simply didn’t see my car when he tried to park.

I was in shock. Nothing even close to this had ever happened to me. In fact, I couldn’t believe it was happening at all. I protested. He jumped in his SUV, gave me the finger, and drove away. I got his licence number and climbed back into my car.

To recap: A guy ran into me from behind, screamed at me, then gave me the finger as he stormed off.

My mind raced. Should I give him chase? I was so mad, I might have killed him, myself and some innocents in the process. Should I go to the police?

I did some calculating. Chase him or report him invited this unavoidable outome: My fate and his fate would be linked for the foreseeable future. A very unpleasant man I did not know till a few moments before. Was I willing to tie my destiny to his for the next while?

Even though I was vibrating with anger and a thirst for revenge, a few of my more placid brain cells overcame the majority of the boiling ones and ruled in favour of letting it go. I waited to move the car till I had settled down enough to drive, then made my way home, already seeing a trace of humour in the situation. By the time I got home, I had a story for my family. I went to bed later, all the anger gone. I was free from my tormentor.

Had I engaged him instead, I might still not be free, one year later. And that engagement might have affected my life in many negative ways.

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Life sucks sometimes. The pasture field we endeavour to cross is littered with cowpies. With age, I can now navigate the dangers more efficiently and keep my boots relatively feces free.

I remember that night on the street and how later I was grateful that I was not that awful man’s partner or family. Pursuing him would have landed me face down in his cowpie of a life.

Jim Goes Line Dancing

By Jim Hagarty
2014

Checkout lines in retail stores are my little hell on earth but in that I am not alone. I have an uncanny knack for choosing the wrong line, again, nothing unique. But today’s little adventure in Canadian Tire stands out somewhat.

Our Canadian Tire is distinctive in that four of its six checkouts are just decoys, placed there to give the appearance of readiness in the event of a flood of shoppers. In fact, the flood occurs regularly but only two floodgates are open at any one time. So, at least the options for which line to choose are reduced.

Today, there was a long line at one checkout, a short one at the other. Which one would you choose? Exactly. But, like me, you would be horribly, tragically wrong. There was a reason the one line was long and the other short. The smarter shoppers had figured it out. Those whose brains turn to putty in a store never do. And so, I entered the short line.

There was a young couple just finishing their checkout and only one other guy to go through. He had one item. One item. A bike rack for his truck. In a very large box but did I mention one item? A breeze, I chuckled triumphantly to myself as I looked with pity on the long row of shoppers in the next line.

However, as Bike Rack Bob approached the till, he lifted his right hand in which was clutched a four-inch wad of Canadian Tire money. I know those of us of Irish descent are inclined to exaggeration and I have acknowledged that a hundred thousand times, but this wad was actually four solid inches in thickness. Maybe even a touch thicker.

The woman at the checkout freaked out. “Oh no,” she said to the guy, who seemed to be a friend or neighbour. “You’re not going to do this to me. I am done my shift.” But he was not backing down and so the counting began. To complicate matters, Bob turned out to be an incessant chatter and the poor woman had to start over several times as she lost track of where she was.

Other shoppers pulled in behind me, sized up the situation and left for the longer line which was flowing along like lava down a mountainside. But I was committed and I have found from past experience that if I leave the line I am in, something terrible will happen in the other line to make it even worse.

A woman pulled her cart in behind me and we joked a bit before she left for the long line. In a few minutes she gave me a royal wave and smile as she exited the building, her business complete. All the shoppers who had been in front of her, were likewise gone.

In total, the bike rack guy had produced $108 in play money, most of it in denominations of five and ten cents. All that money counted he still owed the clerk $5.11. Had he pulled out a little purse and ventured to settle his account with nickels and dimes, I’m afraid I would have been forced to assault him. As it was, he used a debit card and in a few more minutes was gone. His only salvation was that he was abjectly apologetic.

I hope Bob enjoys his bike rack for many years to come, years I would have also liked to have had but which are now mostly likely gone as a result of the stress placed upon my nerves from having to stand in line behind him today. And all for the sake of a box of cat litter and some toilet paper. Ironically a double case of bummer.