We certainly cannot remember everyone we meet. But there are one or two who haunt our dreams in the sense that, even if we don’t see them or speak to them for years, they permeate our unconscious because they have made an indelible mark on our souls.
Tim Rinaldi is one of those people.
About one year ago, I applied to A&E’s Unscripted Reality Pipeline Competition. I knew I could shoot a teaser. Five minutes of footage that captures the premise and structure of the show. But I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to shoot.
The winter of 2014 was certainly no picnic. It snowed often. The streets of Manhattan were often left slick with ice and slush. As 6th Avenue and 33rd Street loomed up outside the window, my cab would slide whenever the driver hit the brakes a bit aggressively.
I focused my attention on the seat-back TV monitor in order to distract myself from the possibility that we might be sliding into the intersection, where I would be crushed instantly by an oncoming truck.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but it was not the only piece of good fortune I experience in that moment. There was an ad running on the seat-back tv. Whether it was for a TV show or a documentary or something else entirely I cannot recall, but it captured my imagination. There was a woman, an athlete and an amputee, swimming competitively though she was missing a leg.
I thought to myself, how extraordinary! And then it clicked.
I knew what I wanted to pitch – This Ability. A reality show that would highlight how people with severe disabilities make the average Joe seem aware of his, perhaps the polite word is . . . banal, existence.
My goal was to inspire.
I called the local paper to run an ad describing who I needed — people with disabilities who have, in some way, excelled at something. The person taking the information thought the ad was interesting enough to be run as an article. I was both photographed and interviewed for The Somers Record, our local paper. I was grateful for their help; I received about sixteen calls within a week of the article’s publication.
There was one call, however, that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Tommy Rinaldi called to tell me about his brother, Tim, who had no use of his legs yet rode hot rods and motorcycles. Tommy explained that someone should follow his brother around with a camera.
And so we did.
Jon Bedard, an old soul of a young man and a talented videographer, and I arranged to meet Tim. We planned for interviews with family members later in the day and then set out to capture the tent pole footage that would be edited down to the teaser.
It was a drizzly, cold March morning. An eeriness hung about like a Poe poem.
Jon, Tommy, Tim, and I exchanged hellos. Jon set up the camera and took some internal shots of Tim’s shop on a makeshift dollie. Soon after, Tommy left to go about his day, and it was the three of us.
We started taping, and Timmy needed no direction. He just started talking. Two words accurately describe him: magnetic vortex.
The cars were going by outside, but nothing seemed real – not the trees, not the mist lingering on the dewy grass – there was only Timmy and his story.
He was mowing the lawn one morning in June at his parents’ home in Armonk, NY. The riding mower malfunctioned, it toppled over a five foot retainer wall and onto Tim’s back, which broke instantly.
His spirit was fractured, but not broken.
Bikes — excuse me, motorcycles — motivated him to return to living. I don’t know much about bikes and hot rods, but I didn’t need to to recognize that I was seeing something truly remarkable. Tim can fix or build any bike or car. He brings them to life.
If it has wheels and a motor, Tim and his crew will make it run better and look better. As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
I soon discovered that the story I sought was secondary to the nature of the creature that is Tim. He is not an ordinary man, and I’m not talking about being in a wheelchair either.
Tim’s eyes aren’t brown, they’re black, which is very cool to look at, but more importantly, I saw those eyes and looked into them. They were looking deeply into me – they were looking deeply into everything.
He emits a vibe that is metaphysical, tangible; that reads through you, past your eyes into your spirit. If a person is not a good soul, he or she will not feel comfortable around this man. Kids gravitate to him. No surprise there.
So what is Tim?
He’s a man, he is disabled. He needs help like anyone. He has a network of amazing family and friends who are there for him one thousand percent. There is no ‘little bit’ of Timmy. You’re in completely or you’re out.
Perhaps what struck me most, though, what I most desire to share is this:
Timmy is living truth.
He does not speak or live a lie. There’s no filter or falsification in either his words or actions. You cannot bullshit him. He will know, and, depending on who you are and if he cares for you, he may or may not call you out on it.
His face is truth; his work is truth. When he touches mechanical vehicle parts and coerces them to cooperate, he produces the truth that one can make beauty and inspire others from tragedy. If you saw him work the metal as I did, you’d know he coerced it for sure.
Timmy is courage.
I think he faces fear every day, but to me this fear, plus zero, is not a constant threat of losing the race to competitors as he describes in the teaser. To me, it’s God, or if that’s not your thing, a higher power.
Tim is a spiritual enigma residing in the flesh of man. You want to be near Tim to feel that you could be more than you are. That’s what he does.
I don’t think a person could ever feel bored with Tim. Emotionally and physically exhausted, but never bored. He is missing the ability to use his legs, but he is a man most complete.
This Ability didn’t make it into the finals, which is truly any network’s loss. One producer told me, “I can’t pitch it to the networks.”
That’s bullshit and its cowardly. Why do the networks dictate what we should watch?
I want to see more people like Tim. The hypocrisy of reality TV neither nourishes the heart nor inspires the soul. It leaves us in a state of deception, not reality. Did we ever ask to see our programming hours filled with naked selfies and celebrity divorces? Do these things make our lives better? Do they make us better?
I don’t think so.
I don’t believe we are that catatonic. We have choices, whether to be saturated beyond nausea with crap or to fill our lives and our media with people who inspire us to be more. To me, the choice could not be clearer.
I want to see more Tims. Humans need to see more Tims. We all make the world go around and we all count. There’s room for everyone.
About Patricia White
Patricia White is a New York based poet, playwright, and full time high school English teacher. Her extensive repertoire embraces art forms ranging from prose to video production and more. (Read more…)
(Patricia White, 2015)