Brian Keaney

Month: February, 2011

Three roads diverged in a Dedham wood

In the third grade I was very jealous of my two best friends.  Once a week or so they would get pulled out of class to attend TASK, a program for Talented And Special Kids.  I, being an average and mediocre kid, was left behind with the teacher who had to draw her eyebrows on every morning.

Both of them were far, far smarter than I was.  Neither one made it past the 10th grade.

I thought of them this weekend as I finally got around to watching Mystic River.  In the film the lives of three boys diverge after a tragic event when they were 11, and though nothing nearly as serious happened in our lives, that’s probably about the time we began going our separate ways as well.

In high school I would occasionally check under a nearby railroad bridge for one of them as I knew he would stash and drink skunked beer there, but I only ran into him once.  The last time I saw him was several years ago when his pregnant wife drove past my house and he spotted me in the driveway.  He said he had forgotten to renew his license, but I suspect that wasn’t the real reason he was in the passenger seat.  He was living in Rhode Island at the time, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.

The last time I saw the other was a few days before I left for college.  Not so long ago I found him on Facebook, but I just discovered he has defriended me.  I don’t know why he did, but I distinctly remember the time in his bedroom when were about 9 or 10 when he articulated the fact that we were best friends.  Of course I knew that, but it sticks out in my mind because I thought it was so odd to hear him actually say it out loud.

There is a line in the film about how simple choices can dramatically effect the direction your life takes.  It really should have been either one of the two of them who got the Ivy League education, not me.  I’m still sometimes reminded of the fact that I did the least amount of homework of anyone in my 5th grade class by the half of the parent-teacher conference responsible for making me do it.  Funny how things work out.

Of matters less personal and wistful, I thought the movie was excellent and well deserving of all the praise it got when it came out and since.  I had forgotten that it was directed by Clint Eastwood, though I should not have.  He is one of my favorite directors – second only to Scorsese – but he overuses light and darkness more than any other director I’ve ever seen.  It is always very effective, but also sometimes overdone.  I have and do argue that Million Dollar Baby is an anti-euthanasia picture based on the way he uses light and, particularly, darkness, in the penultimate scene, though many disagree.  Mystic River is a much darker film, but Eastwood uses the same techniques.

Relatedly, I don’t know how I first came across the book Sleepers, but I enjoyed it a great deal when I first read it in high school and have ever since.  It deals with a similar subject matter – the paths of childhood friends parting after a tragic experience – and the varied lives they lead as adults, but it is notable in my mind for a different reason.  It was the first movie I ever saw that was as good as the book.  As I write this, I can’t think of another off the top of my head.  I haven’t read it in a while so it might be time to pick it back up, and, perhaps, maybe the telephone as well.


Pick your knees up, step in time

I have a large scar on my left knee that I blame in equal parts on John Jameson and Dick Van Dyke.  It was Mother’s Day 2003  and I walked, unannounced, into the one building on campus where booze was prohibited with a case of beer over my shoulder.  This was the student ministers’ residence, and when one of them mentioned something about being a dry dorm, I brushed him aside without missing a beat and headed straight for the staircase.

After a couple hours and more stupid actions – several of us urinating off the ledge of a 6 story building while others held onto our belts stands out in particular – someone mentioned that the 19th century rooftop reminded them of the chimney sweep song from Mary Poppins.  Someone else then lamented that they couldn’t click their heels.  I offered that I could, and set out to show them.

With a few steps head start I went up and clicked to the left like a pro.  My feet came down, I took a step, and I clicked to the right.  This time, for whatever reason, my feet decided not to return to their rightful place below my shins, and I landed on my knee.  I was too drunk to really feel any pain, but it produced a large gash.  When I got back to my dorm in the wee small hours of the morning, I called my girlfriend and convinced her to come over and clean me up by informing her, again and again, that I was “bleeding profusely from the knee.”

I thought of this last night while hanging out with a couple of guys from Stonehill College.  I enjoy their company for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that while in their presence I don’t feel quite so old.  They got sidetracked into a conversation for which I lacked the context, but then one turned to me and said, “You should definitely come party with us at our Cape house.”

It turns out that at Stonehill during Senior Week the students rent out houses all across the Cape, and then take over a bar a night to party in.  My attempt at playing Bert (minus the cockney accent) also took place during our Senior Week, that magical time between finals ending and the rest of our lives beginning where we have nothing to lose and all the beers in the world to drink.

I reach that dreaded milestone birthday this summer, so I’m actually considering taking the guys up on their offer and partying with them as one last hurrah before I join the AARP.  Sure I might be seen as the creepy older guy hanging around, but I know all the best bars in the mid-Cape area, and I can still pick up college girls.  Maybe if I’m lucky, I can get another scar with a cooler story to go along with it.

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Here’s looking at the Oscar, kid

Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Image via Wikipedia

“Please excuse my drug use,” she said to me

“Hey,” I replied, “you do whatever you need to in order to get through a dinner with me.”

Such began my dinner last night at Casablanca, a nice but overpriced restaurant in Brattle Square.  I enjoyed the murals and the company, but two glasses of wine and an appetizer do not usually cost me $36 in the type of establishments I tend to frequent.  It actually could have cost me $10 less but, being the fine, upstanding citizen I am, I told the waitress she had given me the wrong change and returned it to her.

Dinner was followed by one of my all time favorite films, Casablanca, next door at the Brattle.  I think this particular movie is a rare case when I’d rather watch it  at home than at the theater.  It has some very funny lines, but I found the laughter from the audience off putting for some reason.  Usually I enjoy watching movies in the theater precisely because the reactions of the crowd make a movie funnier, scarier, or more dramatic.  Maybe it’s because I know it so well that I didn’t want to hear the guy in front of me laughing, but to focus on the reaction on the screen.

I know a fair bit of trivia about the film, but one of my favorite facts is that no one had any idea that it was going to be anything special.  Warner Brothers produced 50 films a year at the time – one a week – and this was just supposed to be one of 50.  Compare that to The King’s Speech, which I saw the night prior.

Once again, an excellent film, and Colin Firth’s performance in particular was extraordinary.  He certainly deserves the Oscar, and of all the nominees for Best Picture that I’ve seen this year I think this is probably the best.  That said, this wasn’t just another film the studio was putting out.  They clearly had an eye towards the Academy while shooting it.  Normally I’m not a fan of this technique; I’d much prefer to see a director make the best possible film he can, a film designed to appeal to the masses as well as the snobs, and then let the awards come.

In this case, however, Tom Hooper, Firth, and Geoffry Rush did such a fantastic job, regardless of the audience Hooper was making it for, that I don’t mind so much.

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My dad is cooler than your dad

It takes me a little bit longer than most people to peel an orange.  When I was in high school I was on a camping trip with the Scouts, and one of the guy’s father took an orange and removed the peel in one piece.  It was universally agreed that being able to pull off a feat like that was a Dad Thing.  Though I don’t have any children of my own and really no reason to do so whatsoever, I almost always try to get the peel off in one piece as well.

I thought of this last weekend while up skiing in Maine.  My sister was complaining that her boyfriend didn’t do as good a job as our father in putting her mittens on her, either unaware or more likely just uncaring of how ridiculous  that made her sound.  As I walked by I said something to the effect of “He’s just better than you,”  to which the other sister asked, “at what?”  I replied, simply, “everything.”

I don’t recall the boyfriend who was struggling to put mittens on a grown woman saying anything, but the rest of us universally agreed that my father was better at just about everything.  Over the course of the weekend a couple more examples of how he was better than us organically came up in conversation.

The other boyfriend – an engineer – told of how he struggled for hours to fix his heater last winter before my sister broke him down and made him call my father who correctly diagnosed the problem over the telephone.  I mentioned how in 20 minutes he fixed something for a woman in my building who the repairman said was broken beyond repair and would cost $11,000 to replace.  She was literally in tears.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the old man pull off an orange peel and keep it intact, but I’ve got no doubt he could do it.

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