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Phobia is tied to watching westerns on television

Jed Cooper was in trouble. The bad guys were about to lynch him from a sturdy branch on a tree in the middle of nowhere.

It was a cowboy movie starring a new guy named Clint Eastwood, and it quickly became obvious that he didn’t have much in common with Roy Rogers.

For one thing, there were some swear words. Granted, they were mild by today’s standards, but they were enough to make a 1-year-old giggle.

Despite being left hanging from that sturdy branch, Jed managed to get free and spent the next two hours seeking revenge.

The movie was called "Hang ‘em High," and I had bad dreams about the hanging scene; it must have been scary, having something twisted that tightly around your neck, kind of like when your mom wrapped your scarf too tightly on a cold winter morning, forcing you to tell her in a muffled whisper, "Mom, you’re cutting off my air."

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More than anyone else, Jed Cooper is responsible for my aversion to wearing a tie.

I haven't been able to avoid them altogether. Some of my most notable tie moments have been preserved on film:

• My hair was slicked down with a little dab of Brylcreem, my hands were folded devoutly, and Sister Jessica was posing next to me on the morning of my First Holy Communion. I was wearing black cotton pants, a crisp white shirt and a narrow black tie. It was my first clip-on.

• Fast forward to a high school graduation photo that should come with a built-in apology: I was wearing the kind of thing you would expect to see in the mid-1970s — a powder blue leisure suit over a dark blue shirt and a white tie. Another clip-on.

It’s not that I’m totally opposed to wearing a tie: I wear one every Easter, and to most weddings — the rule is that a tie isn’t required if the temperature is 85 or higher on wedding day or if the reception is held anywhere with a drive-through window.

Somehow I have amassed a collection of 23 ties, most of which I’ve never worn. The majority of them are hand-me-downs from friends and relatives, and if style is any indication they’ve apparently been handed down gradually: they range in width from an inch-and-a-half (the Ward Cleaver tie) to six inches (the disco tie).

I quickly learned that tying a tie like it's a pair of shoelaces only works if you’re Col. Sanders, so I got a book from the library and taught myself to tie a half-Windsor knot. The tail end usually comes out too long, but if it's less than a foot, I can often hide it by tucking the tail inside my shirt. More than a foot requires a "do-over."

My record is 13 do-overs.

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While I don’t own a tie with a hula girl, a battery-powered tie that blinks "Merry Christmas" or a purple and yellow tie with diagonal rows of Viking helmets, I do own a silk tie with all the Loony Tunes characters. It was a Christmas present, and I wore it during a couple of brief engagements as a host of public television fund drives. (They didn't ask me to come back; they apparently didn't need funds that badly.)

I was so overcome with a feeling of benevolence one night that I offered the tie to the first person who pledged a minimum of $100 to PBS. Despite reminding viewers that operators were standing by, no one bid on the tie. I’m still convinced I could have gotten the hundred bucks if we’d tried to sell it during Lawrence Welk.

I occasionally take good-natured kidding from co-workers about my reluctance to wear a tie, and usually just explain, "I’m not a tie guy."

I’ve come close a couple of times to telling the story of Jed Cooper, but they probably wouldn't understand.

Still, if more of us watched "Hang 'em High," we might be doing Casual Friday every day.

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