By Tim Hayes

Making a living as a self-employed entrepreneur has its advantages. Freedom, variety, exciting engagements, continually keeping abject terror at bay, to name just a few. But ranking near the top, for me anyway, comes the dress code.

When with clients, of course, it’s business appropriate. But when working from my home office, it’s comfortable all the way. If the day has no call for dress shirts, pants, and shoes, then it’s jeans, cotton shirts, and tennies.

The realization came to me recently as to why I think of business attire as a need-only option – eight years of Catholic education.

Every day for eight years, guys like me wore dress shirts, dress pants, and dress shoes to school. The only exception came during a 10-week reprieve in eighth grade, when we could wear jeans on Fridays because we got bused to “shop” class, run by the Pittsburgh Public Schools district. Other than that, though, we looked like little businessmen, traipsing by foot to school in the morning, back home for lunch, back to school again, and home after 3 p.m.

And perhaps the craziest part of all this came during the 25 minutes or so between the moment we arrived back at school after eating lunch at home, and when the bell rang to start afternoon classes. Why, you ask?

Because that’s when the entire student population – from first through eighth grade, guys in shirts, slacks and penny loafers, girls in blouses, skirts, and Mary Janes – ran amuck on the “playground.” A term used extremely loosely, since our “playground” consisted of an asphalt half-acre – on a slant, no less – bordered by a cyclone fence and two brick walls.

You ever try to play Tag on a slanted field of asphalt? The opportunities for mayhem, injury, and lifelong scars – both physical and emotional – ran high. The only patch of grass anywhere near the school or the adjoining church surrounded the rectory, and Father wanted none of this nonsense outside his window. Looking back now, can’t say I blame him.

The school provided no balls, no painted hopscotch or four-square diagrams, no basketball hoops, no benches, and damn near no supervision. Think “Lord of the Flies” with about 300 pre-teen kids running wild in business clothes. If nothing else, it sure as hell toughened us up for high school.

The trick for me came in sticking close to a small group of like-minded guys who didn’t like conflict or contact. We’d just sit off to the side and tell jokes or trade baseball cards. Peaceful coexistence, like those bumper stickers with all the religious symbols, you know? Even though we obviously were all Catholics, in this instance.

Every now and then, though, we got corralled into a game organized by the class bullies – with Red Rover the pinnacle of bulliosity. Gosh, I hated that game. Two teams, with one team forming a long line by holding hands side-by-side. You called out a challenge to the other team, shouting, “Red Rover, Red Rover, dare send Timmy over!” Then, that poor victim had to run at full speed at the other team’s line, trying to break through one of the hand-holding links in the human chain.

A vicious game, where you were virtually guaranteed to file back into school with either a gash on your face, a ripped pair of pants to go with your scraped and bleeding knees, or a really sore arm and a possible dislocated shoulder. As the runner, you faced one of three scenarios. One, you broke through the line successfully, which meant you got to join the smug cadre of hand-holders. Two, you failed to break through, which sent you back into the pile of teeth-chattering rabble to await the next dare. Or three, the kids you tried to break through let their hands go just as you braced for impact, and you went sprawling, spoons over teacups, across the black tar.

Red Rover, played on an asphalt hill in shoes not made for running, made for some memorable childhood moments. As hard as one may try to forget them. No wonder the bullies loved it.

So today? Yeah, it’s jeans and tennies whenever possible, baby. That way, if the neighbors want to start a pickup game of Red Rover, at least I’ll have the right equipment and a fighting chance.

Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes