Brian Keaney

The Two Date Curse

I almost didn’t call her back.  It probably wouldn’t have been a surprise to her.  I didn’t know it at the time, but up until then she was afflicted with what her sister called The Two Date Curse.

Our first date was great.  We didn’t go home after leaving the bar, but instead moved down the street to a second to keep the date going.  We each had one more drink, but then the waitress seemed to forget about us.  We waited, and waited, and then waited some more.  There wouldn’t be time for another drink; at this point we just needed the check.

The hour was growing near when my train would be leaving the station, and I had to get home.  I eventually left her to wait some more alone and, after sprinting through Downtown Crossing towards South Station, barely caught the train.

I paid for the drinks that evening, which was how I knew I wanted to see her again.  If I didn’t want a second date, I would have accepted her offer to go Dutch.  I split the bill on a lot of dates, and it was still costing me a fortune.  I had a line item in my budget for dates, and I even managed to occasionally pull off a date with one girl at 6:00 and another at 8:00.  I even had it worked out how I could have squeezed in a third girl at 10:00, but it never came to that.

On this particular second date, I learned just what a lightweight she was.  We were two beers in, and she was clearly feeling them both.  She was also far more nervous than on our first date, and that manifested itself in a shrillness in her voice.

As we sat in whatever hipster Davis Square establishment we were patronizing that evening, I thought that this might be the end of it and I would be on to the next girl.  Something obviously changed, because this girl has since agreed to marry me.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and not only because she will be the last girl I ever date.  A friend has recently written about how difficult it is to make friends as a post-college adult, and recently The Art of Manliness posted about the 3-Encounter Rule.  That is, you really need to spend time with someone three times before you know if there is potential for a relationship–platonic, romantic, or otherwise–there.

Though I dated a lot of great girls, very few of them got to a third date.  Don’t get me wrong: I am very happy with Lilli and can’t wait to marry her.   Still, I can’t help but to think how my life may have been different if I had given some of these other girls a bit more of a chance.  Lilli’s experience, what with her Two Date Curse, and even Aziz Ansari’s love life for that matter, leads me to believe this is more common than it should be.

Next weekend we are going out with another couple for the second time.  I obviously enjoyed our first encounter, and we will see if there is a third.  I hope there is, not only because I enjoyed the first time so much, but because I need to break my own two date curse.  You can never have too many friends, but I have had far too few third dates.


I really do like foreigners

A few years ago I went on a date with a girl from Nigeria, and somewhere between the appetizer and desert I told her that I don’t like foreigners.   I expected the confused look that came over her face, so I quickly followed up by explaining that I consider anyone south of Connecticut or west of Vermont to be a foreigner.   I don’t simply mean people from Germany, or Mexico, or even Nigeria.

It’s not really true that I don’t like people who are not from New England.  It’s just that I don’t understand them.  And, as a psychology professor was recently quoted, “normal” means like me, while “abnormal” means unlike me.  There are, obviously, a lot of abnormal people in the world.

A few weeks ago I took my dad to watch his two favorite teams, the Patriots and the Packers, face off at Lambeau Field.  On our drive to the stadium we asked Siri for directions to a sports bar, and she took us to what was essentially a double wide trailer backing up to some train tracks in a small town outside Green Bay.

Now I’m a fan of a good dive bar, but in Boston that usually means a little hole in the wall that’s been around for a couple hundred years and was last updated during the Coolidge Administration.  This DePere, Wisconsin watering hole wouldn’t even qualify as a dive in Boston, much less as a sports bar.

While sitting there watching the 1:00 (or 12:00 Central) game, a friend asked via text what I thought of Green Bay.  “Wisconsin has entirely met my expectations,” I replied.  What was left unsaid, but perfectly understood, was that those expectations were pretty low.

The next day David Brooks published a column in which he talks about snobs such as myself, and the growing class divide in this country:

Today we once again have a sharp social divide between people who live in the “respectable” meritocracy and those who live beyond it. In one world almost everybody you meet has at least been to college, and people have very little contact with features that are sometimes a part of the other world: prison, meth, payday loans, a flowering of nonmarriage family forms. In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.”

I very much live in that first world, but I’m not completely insulated from the second.  As the snow starts falling here in New England, I am excited to begin volunteering again with children from some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, teaching them how to ski.  I get a great deal of satisfaction being able to share an activity that I love, and one which puts a strain on my budget, with children who, living in that other world, otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Brooks’ greater point was that the Great Gatsby-ization that we are experiencing has inserted classism where racism once reared its ugly head.  He’s right, but I think it goes further than that.  Pointing a finger squarely at myself, I recognize that somehow I am more comfortable with the urban poverty prevalent a few miles from my own home than I am with the rural poverty common in other parts of the country.

I will empathize with the poor in films like Precious, set in Harlem, but am left with an ick feeling watching Mud, which takes place on the Mississippi River in Arkansas.  Both were phenomenal films, and I highly recommend them both, but somehow the poverty portrayed in the latter is more distasteful.

I also recognize that my discomfort with the way the rural poor live says a lot more about me than it does about them.  After all, did we not just celebrate a child laid in a manger?  Talk about poverty, and rural poverty at that.  Still, any place where “the Cheese Castle” is the biggest attraction for an hour in either direction is likely to remain a mystery to me.

Truth be told, I really liked the people I met in Wisconsin.  To a person they had that famous Midwestern friendliness, and this includes the barmaid in the Clay Matthews jersey who actually turned up the volume when I played “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” on the jukebox.  I particularly liked the pretty blonde who told me after the game that I “would look so hot in green and gold.”  I, on the other hand, have been known to yell “Go back to New York” at people wearing Yankees hats in Boston, although in my defense I’ve usually been somewhere south of sober.

Even after four years of living there I still experience culture shock in that Deep South city in the District of Columbia, and that doesn’t even begin to compare to to the island paradise known as Hawai’i.  (“Why,” I ask myself every time I get on an escalator there, “are these people standing still?  Move!”)

When people ask why I moved back to Boston from my apartment four blocks from Waikiki Beach–and they always ask–I have a ready answer for them:  This is home.  I mean, of course, that this is where I grew up and this is where my family is.  Just as much, however, I mean that Boston is normal while Honolulu, as picture postcard perfect as it is, is abnormal.




Neither weddings nor fires nor unemployment

A version of this was later published in The Boston Sunday Globe.

I was late to my sister’s wedding.  I made it in time for all of the important parts, but I spent most of the day running around trying to jump through yet another hoop in my quest to buy a house in foreclosure.  That day, and of course it was that day, some form or another had to be delivered right away or the whole thing was going to fall through.

And so, with less than an hour to go before my father walked her down the aisle, I forwent the limo ride with my family and took off in my brother-in-law’s car.  Daunted at the prospect of missing the wedding and losing the house, I forgot to take the emergency brake off until I was a half mile from the bank.  Running across the lobby in a sweat-drenched tuxedo caused more than a few people to stare that hot July afternoon and, whether out of pity or fear, everyone stood aside when I announced that I needed to cut the line.

I first viewed the house only hours after it went on the market.  It was a small two family house on a postage stamp lot about a mile from where I grew up, but the rent I could collect would cover my mortgage.  It seemed like a great deal, and I made an offer the next day.  That was the last time anything went smoothly.

The day after the inspection, the last day I could back out without forfeiting the deposit, I lost my job.  When the bank came out to do their appraisal, they determined the house needed repairs before they would give me a loan.  I had to ask my uncle–who quickly hired me in order to save the purchase–for a day off to go fix up a house I didn’t yet own.

Two days after the wedding I turned 30, probably the least fun birthday ever.  A week after that my Jeep exploded while driving on the beach.  My little cousin and I got out safely, but my beloved Jeep spent the night, Luca Brasi style, at the bottom of Cape Cod Bay.  I was fairly certain that the Charles River was going to run red with blood and swarms of locusts would darken the sky at any moment.

Delay after delay pushed back the closing until weeks after the lease on my apartment expired. When I finally got to the attorney’s office, my first task was to sign and fax the mortgage. Before the rest of the paperwork was competed, however, a question arose about whether I was buying one duplex or two condos. When no one had any answers I left in a hurry, only to realize later that I now had a mortgage but no house to show for it.

After the deed was finally in my hands, I discovered the tenants I was counting on to pay the mortgage had moved out.  Their apartment was empty, save for all the trash, furniture, and other assorted junk they left behind.  I not only had to clean it all out, I also had to find a new tenant, and fast.

For all of the headaches endured while buying this house, everything worked out in the end.  After three years of living there with a great new tenant as a next door neighbor, I used the equity I built up as a down payment on a bigger house down the street.  When people ask why I moved just four houses away, I smile and tell them I wanted to be closer to my family.  All the easier, I say, to be with the nephew my happily married sister has given me.

Here’s a tip: Pay a just wage

Originally posted at Millennial

“I’ll tip if somebody really deserves a tip,” Mr. Pink explained in Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s classic film. “If they put forth the effort, I’ll give them something extra. But I mean, this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned they’re just doing their job.”

I have to admit, Mr. Pink makes a compelling argument. However, I part ways with him when he says that “I don’t tip because society says I have to.” As much as I don’t like tipping, I do it. For one thing, I know what Mr. White knows, that “waitressing is the number one occupation for female non-college graduates in this country. It’s the one job basically any woman can get and make a living on. The reason is because of their tips.” (If you are interested, YouTube has the entire profanity-laced discussion, but I recommend the whole film.)

More importantly, I tip because of the social compact. In this country, we have decided that we are going to pay our waitresses (and waiters) very small wages, but that customers will make up for it with tips. Until that paradigm is changed, I am going to leave a healthy gratuity on the table every time I go out.

I believe, however, the time has come for that model to change. Catholic Social Teaching is clear on the imperative to provide a just wage to employees. I’m not sure an employer who expects their employees to depend on the generosity of customers is providing one, especially since it is only after a server has provided the service that the customer decides how much to pay for it.

When LeSean McCoy left a 20-cent tip on a $61.56 bill, he made an argument similar to Mr. Pink’s: “A 20-cent tip is kind of a statement,” McCoy said. “You can’t disrespect somebody and expect them to tip you. I don’t care who the person is.” That certainly is a statement, but I think it says more about the man who has a base salary of $7.6 million than the one who makes $2.83 an hour.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the running back’s server was terrible. McCoy still could have left a tip that respected the waiter as a person and laborer while still indicating his displeasure with the subpar service. For what it’s worth, it probably also would have saved him some negative press as well.

Tipping doesn’t apply only in restaurants. The Marriot hotel chain has implemented a program, probably well-intentioned, known as “The Envelope Please.” From now on, in each hotel room an envelope will be left to remind guests to tip the housekeeping staff. A much better system would be to have an additional few dollars automatically added to the bill at checkout, with that money given to the people who pick up our dirty socks and scrub our toilets.

I don’t know how much a Marriot housekeeper makes, but I imagine it can’t be much. By making an employee’s take-home pay dependent upon the whims of the guest, however, Marriot is passing the buck that rightfully lies with them. Restaurant and hotel owners, like all business leaders, “are responsible to society… to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits” when making all business decisions, including how much to pay their employees.

The great pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes reminds us that “remuneration for labor is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents.” All too many of these housekeepers, waitresses, and others in low-wage, tip-dependent positions are being taken advantage of, much like the immigrant inCardinal Sean’s story. They certainly are not earning enough to raise a family in accordance with the minimum standards set down by the Council fathers.

I have to believe they are also exactly the type of people of whom the Lord spoke when He commanded us to “not exploit a poor and needy hired servant” and to “pay the servant’s wages before the sun goes down, since the servant is poor and is counting on them. Otherwise the servant will cry to the LORD against you, and you will be held guilty.”

Mr. Pink is right. A waitress is just doing her job when she fills my coffee cup. In return for that job, she should be paid a just wage and the tips should be reserved for truly exceptional service. After all, not every waiter can expect Charlie Sheen to continue the chain of love when they get stiffed on a tip.

After an honest day’s work, everyone should receive an honest day’s pay. It should not matter if Mr. Pink or Mr. White or Mr. McCoy walks through the door.

One year and thousands of miles later

Originally posted at Millennial

On Palm Sunday I got out a little bit earlier than I normally would, especially after a decidedly non-Lenten Saturday night.  I wanted to see the Passion play put on by the Life Teen group at my parish, and they don’t perform it at the mass I usually attend.  As it turns out, while the Gospel was as moving as ever, it was the first reading that affected me the most.

Several months ago, during a rare moment of introspection, I realized that I haven’t really forgiven Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving alleged Boston Marathon bomber.  It’s not something I am proud of, but every time I think of little Martin Richard, the 8 year old boy who died, or the hundreds of other victims, I can’t help but get upset.  When I consider that my family should have been standing directly across the street from the second bomb then I—still, a year later—get very angry.  I didn’t set the bomb, but I would have been the one they died waiting to see.  It still weighs heavy on my conscious just thinking about it.

With the anniversary last week, and the 118th running today, the Marathon has been all over the news and the topic of conversation everywhere.  It should be no surprise then that it was on my mind last Sunday when we heard Isaiah say

I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

Sitting in Mass, hearing the words of the prophet and then watching Jesus in the Passion play willingly submit to undeserved scorn and abuse, I could not help but contrast their reactions to mine.  While the passage of time has helped to heal some of the wounds, I would not give my back to the Tsarnaev brothers.  There’s also a very real chance that if you put me in a room with Dzhokhar that his face would need shielding.

I was not physically harmed by the blasts, and neither was anyone I know, thanks be to God.  The bombings had an effect on the whole city, however, and I’ve come to learn on runners all over the world.  So after Mass last week I donned The Burger once again and took part in the last leg of the One Run for Boston.  The One Run was a coast-to-coast relay, beginning in Los Angeles and continuing, 24-hours a day, across the country towards Boston, all to raise money for the victims of the bombings.  I ran a relatively short leg of 6 miles, and I had the benefit of doing it with hundreds of others, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, and with crowds out to cheer us on at the end.

Others, on the other hand, ran near-marathon length stretches through the desert in the heat of the day, and then through the desolate nothingness of a prairie night.  They ran in the rain, they ran after traveling great distances from their homes, and they ran sometimes until it hurt.

These are people, mind you, who have no connection to Boston.  They have no family or friends here, and they didn’t know anyone hurt in the bombings.  They ran, though, to show the world, and especially the people of the great city I call home, that terror will never have the final word.  I couldn’t be more thankful for them.

People often say that running a marathon shows the triumph of the human spirit, and having run one I can tell you that in those last few miles there was little but willpower driving me forward towards the finish line.  What does 26 miles compare to 3,328 miles, though?  Running across a continent to support—financially, emotionally, and spiritually—people you’ve never met but feel compelled to help is the triumph of human solidarity.

The Passion play is heartrending, but it’s not the end of the story.  Yesterday the tomb was opened, and the greatest victory of all was achieved out of the greatest calamity.  I still have miles to go before I can say I am completely over the events of last April, and the real victims have even longer roads to travel.  It helps to remember, though, that Easter follows every Good Friday, and that out of this heartbreaking tragedy has come so much good.

A marathon of emotions

Originally posted at Millennial

Mike Rogers is a better person than me.  I’ve never met him before, and if I was to trip over him I still wouldn’t have a clue who he was.  Still, when I read his open letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, I couldn’t help but contrast his thoughts with mine and wish that my reaction to Dzhokhar’s capture was more like his.

My friends and family were on the way to the finish line to greet me when the bombs went off.  No one I know directly was hurt, thanks be to God.  Deacon Rogers’ parents and sister, on the other hand, were already there on Boylston St.  He had friends on their way.  One of his former students was injured.

As I’ve said before, when it dawned on me that my family could have been injured in the attacks, like Deacon Rodgers’ student was, “I really got pissed off and let off another string of words not repeatable here.”  He, on the other hand, prayed that Dzhokhar may “come to know… peace and love.”

That, I must admit, was not my first reaction when the younger Tsarnaev brother was finally pulled out of that boat.  Or even my second, or third.  Instead, my first thought was that I wanted to be a part of the jubilation and celebration that so bewildered Marcus.

After 14 hours spent in my living room in which my only company was the chattering heads of television news, I wanted to get out and make merry with my fellow Bostonians.  As The Onion so aptly put it, “what could only be described by witnesses as the goddamned week to end all soul-crushing weeks” was finally over, and I could think of few better reasons to raise a toast.

Texts started flying just as soon as the words “suspect in custody” came across the airwaves, and off to meet up with some friends I went.  We ended up at a pub near Northeastern University, but not before witnessing the ebullient mob of students who had shut down Hemenway Street with their revelry.  The joy they were radiating was palpable, and that was before they all hit the bars.

So while Marcus makes some excellent points about the need to be careful in our rhetoric, I do not share in his confusion over the urge to congregate.  A terrorist who killed and maimed hundreds of people was captured, and a day-long region-wide siege had come to a successful conclusion.  That’s not worth three cheers, that deserves 30.

We are, as Aristotle noted so long ago, social animals.  We gather together to comfort one another when there is affliction, to rejoice when there is cause for gaiety, and even for no other reason than because being part of a community is an essential part of being human.  Were the multitudes who spontaneously gathered that night all that different than when we as Catholics come together for a baptism, or a funeral, or even just the weekly celebration of the Mass?

I’m not suggesting that it would be appropriate to drape yourself in the flag, or to hoist your girlfriend up onto your shoulders to lead a rendition of the national anthem in the middle of a liturgy.  On that night, in these circumstances, however, I see it as not only perfectly acceptable, but actually cathartic.

It was a week of anger and sadness, and for all too many a day of fear when SWAT teams armed to the teeth rushed past their children as they searched their homes.  The cheers, chants, and songs that could be heard all over Boston that night were really just a way to take a collective deep breath and to release some of the emotions that pent up over the course of the previous 102 hours.

Even after the lustration of clinking glasses with friends and strangers alike, I’m still incredibly frustrated, more frustrated than I have any right to be given the events of that day, that my first marathon was cut short at 25.5 miles.  I was so close to that blue and yellow line, yet, as I force myself to remember, I was literally worlds away from those who died.

I grieve for the loss of an 8-year old I never knew, and for the others killed by these two brothers.  I can’t imagine the anguish those who had limbs torn off are experiencing, or the pain of those who were hit with shrapnel.  I even feel a little guilt at my relief that my family and friends are OK, when those of so many others are not.

As each day passes though, what I increasingly feel is hope.  Hope that comes from seeing people like my sister run to the victims instead of running away to safety.  Hope that sprang from the spontaneous memorial that popped up at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley and the interfaith service held there on the Sunday following.  Even a popular Boston-based website that often caters to the worst of the collective male Id sold some wicked awesome t-shirts and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victims.  That’s good news for everyone.

I especially have hope knowing that there are people like Deacon Rodgers in the world.  How could you not be hopeful knowing that there are people out there who can find love in their hearts even for those who have caused so much pain and sorrow?

I don’t hate Dzhokhar.  I’m angry at him, I’m relieved he will likely be spending the rest of his days behind bars, and I’m glad that I got to celebrate with so many of my fellow Bostonians the night he was captured.  I even pity him, I guess, but I don’t love him. At the same time, I am jealous that Deacon Rodgers does.

In the closing of his letter to Dzhokhar, the good deacon says “somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end.”  I hope, and pray, that he is right.

How I hope to remember my first marathon

Originally posted at Millennial.

I don’t swear very often.  As I used to tell my students, I think the use of vulgarity is the sign of a poor vocabulary.  I still believe that, but there is also certainly something to be said for Mark Twain’s observation that sometimes “profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”  Yesterday was one such day where it did, and today isn’t much better.  In the course of the last 24 hours I’ve dropped more f-bombs than I have in probably the last 24 months.

Growing up in Boston, it has always been a goal of mine to run the Boston Marathon.  It’s always a special day here, and when the world turns its eyes towards the Hub of the Universe we get to not only show off the best our city has to offer, but the best of the human spirit as well.  After years of saying “next year, next year,” like a pre-2004 Sox fan, this was finally my year to run.

I’d been looking forward to running the race for weeks.  As I passed the 10 kilometer mark and saw my family for the first time, I remembered thinking how glad I was to be running.  I was even more pleased to learn that nearly every girl in the scream tunnel at Wellesley College had a sign giving a reason why you should kiss them and, lest I disappoint, I planted a couple on.

When I passed my family at the top of Heartbreak Hill I even put on a smile, lied, and told my mother I felt great.  After reaching Boston College the crowds became so loud that I took my headphones out and decided to just ride the cheers all the way to Boylston Street.

I was tired, I was sore, and I was less than a mile from the finish line when the runners in front of me all stopped.  I didn’t know what was going on, and it was here that I let out my first expletive.  After all I had been through, after literally decades of wanting it, I was being denied the chance to cross the finish line.

I soon learned that there had been an explosion at the finish and that people were injured.  To be perfectly honest, at that moment I was more concerned about the incredible pain I had developed almost as soon as I stopped running.  After waddling my way back to my parents’ car, and once safely back in the comfort of their living room surrounded by our oldest friends, I began to realize just how lucky I was.

My fundraising efforts were sponsored by a local restaurant, and in return I had agreed to run all 26 miles with a large foam hamburger around my waist.  If I hadn’t been wearing that I would have likely been a few minutes faster.  I can’t say for certain, but there’s a very real possibility that I would have been crossing the finish line just as the bombs were going off.

When I realized that my family would have been standing right there waiting for me, possibly in the blast zone, then I really got pissed off and let off another string of words not repeatable here.  I was already upset that a terrorist had marred one of the city I love’s proudest days, but he may also have injured my family.  Thank God I was so slow.

As we watched the news yesterday afternoon and tried to make sense of what happened, I said more than once that I hoped God would have mercy on the person responsible if I ever got my hands on him, because I wouldn’t.  It was helpful for me then  to read the telegram Pope Francis sent to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston.

Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of violence perpetrated last evening in Boston, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes me to assure you of his sympathy and closeness in prayer. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, His Holiness invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. At this time of mourning the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come.

Almost immediately after getting home we heard that among the dead was an 8 year old boy.  While naturally a tragedy no matter  who he was, just before I sat down to write this I learned that he was a participant in several of the programs offered by the organization with which I volunteer.  I’m even more heartbroken now, and both the pain in my legs and the anguish of not getting across that finish line don’t seem so important anymore.

It also helps me to reflect back to the attacks of September 1th, when I was a college student in Washington, D.C.  After watching the news for a short while, I walked to the hospital down the road and volunteered in the blood donors’ room.  As I wrote on the 10th anniversary of that day,

Of course I’ve seen the footage countless times since then, but ten years ago today I wasn’t focused on evil.  I was too busy trying to make sense of hundreds of people from all walks of life who were gladly waiting hours to give, to serve, to save a life.  I didn’t have time for those who wanted to take, to destroy, or to kill.  I saw those from Capital Hill sitting next to those from Shaw.  The uber-conservative Catholic from my own university chatting with the ultra-liberal lesbian from the campus down the street.  The rabbi leading the gentiles – and likely some atheists – in prayer.

On September 11, 2001, I saw the best of humanity.  Never Forget can be and was used a trite slogan used to justify actions taken that I disagree with strongly.  But as someone who read the numbers on the bottom of the low flying fighter jets’ wings as they flew overhead in the days that followed, I don’t want to remember what happened in the morning.  I will never forget what I saw in the afternoon.

I hope that in time I am able to look back on this day and not think of how upset I was at everything the happened, but instead of how proud I was of my sister.  When she saw the crowds running away from the finish line and learned why, she ran towards them.  When a cop wouldn’t let her past, despite the fact that she is an emergency room nurse, she jumped in a cab and went straight to her hospital where she took care of victims.

Ten years from now I don’t want to remember the bombs.  I want to remember my sister, even if she does have a mouth like a sailor.

I may be drunk but you’re wrong

Lady Astor: “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk!”Winston Churchill: “Yes, and you, Madam, are ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober and you shall still be ugly.”

Having participated in many installation ceremonies in the Knights of Columbus, both as one being installed and one doing the installing, there are parts that I could recite from memory.  For a while I believed that the entire ceremony was a relic of the past.  It once may have provided entertainment, but today it is simply a drawn out affair that could be dispensed with and no one would much mind.

Today, I recognize that while it may not have all the glitz of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, it might be the first time in a long while that the men being installed are being made out to be a big deal.  For 364 days a year he is getting pushed around at work, toiling away at a job and taking abuse from his boss.  On this one night, however, he gets recognized and singled out in front of his friends and family as a leader and a man of consequence.  It gave me a new perspective on the entire ceremony.

There is a line in the ceremony about how each individual excels at one thing  more than his fellow man.  I’m not sure how true this is as I can’t think of anything I can do that plenty of other people can’t do as well, and probably better, but after last night I think I might be on to something.

I went for the first time to Howl at the Moon, a piano bar I’ve been meaning to check out for some time.  It was a lot of fun, and as the night went on the number of musicians grew.  In addition to the two grands, there was a set of drums, a bass, and a guitar.  The musicians were jumping back and forth between each of them effortlessly, so after a song or two at the keyboard they would move to the drums, and so on.  It was quite impressive, and very clear what their special talent is.

I had, shall we say, a very good time, in no small part due to the bottle of Jameson that I smuggled into the bar.  Now I’m not a big texter to begin with, and I’m also not known as a drunk dialer, but for some reason when the band started playing a song from The Lion King I felt the need to tell my sister that I wanted to hear it at her wedding.  Seven months from now.

What followed was largely a series of unintelligible letters and not even I can decipher what I was trying to convey in some of them.  For example, at one point she asked me where I was.  “Awesomeew,” I responded.  Things went downhill from there.

The last text I got from her read: “God your in trouble… Sober up,” and presently we come to the one capacity in which I excel to a greater extent than my fellow man.  Even though my liver was working overtime, I still recognized that my baby sister had used the wrong homophone and I set about to correct her.  In response I told her that the word she was looking for was “you’re,” not “your.”  Of course, in explaining it I said “you ate” and not “you are,” but I’m pretty sure she got the message.

Apropos of last night, there is something that I have long known that I was better at than the majority of people.  It certainly isn’t a skill, and I don’t think I would even go so far as to call it a talent.  It is, perhaps, best described as a favorable genetic trait.  Nature didn’t give me good looks, or considerable intelligence, or great athletic ability.  What I did get, however, is immunity from the hangover.

Two of the friends with whom I went out last night were both far less intoxicated than I and were kind enough to offer me their couch as I was in no condition to get behind the wheel.  This morning I was up and out the door before they were even awake.  I had a full day ahead of me and though I was tired this morning, there was no headache, no nausea, and none of the other classic symptoms of a hangover.

Now I’ll grant you that knowing which witch is which while three sheets to the wind is not as impressive as being able to play nearly any song on command and from memory, but still, it’s something. Perhaps the writers of the installation ceremony knew what they were talking about after all.

A Truly Catholic Political Dialogue

Originally posted at Millennial.

ImageThe presidential election has shown us just how deeply our house is divided.  I dare you to find a card-carrying Republican who has anything good to say about President Obama, or a registered Democrat who is willing to utter a nicety about Governor Romney.  This great political schism has been growing for years and, unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight.

Consider the Cardinal Newman Society, which does some excellent work around the issue of Catholic identity on college campuses.  They have been near-fixated on the issue of the Health and Human Services contraception mandate largely.  This is not, I suspect, because it has a direct impact on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but rather stems from a general conservative bias against the president.

When On All Of Our Shoulders was released earlier this month, the Society attacked it on the grounds that the lengthy list of Catholic thinkers who signed it were “distorting Church teaching in favor of left-leaning politics to take political shots at vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.”

Put aside, for a moment, that the statement begins by explicitly saying that they “do not write to oppose Ryan’s candidacy or to argue there are not legitimate reasons for Catholics to vote for him.”  Let’s also ignore the fact that this is only tangentially related to issues of Catholic higher education in that several of the signatories teach at Catholic colleges.  Instead, let’s take a look at all the places where the Cardinal Newman Society has shown that the statement distorted Church teaching.

Sorry, I can’t find any.

They do not, in fact, cite a single instance where the statement strays from Catholic teaching.  Instead, the Society makes an ad hominem attack on one of the signatories who, in all fairness, appears to have his own issues with dissent from some fundamental teachings of the Church.  Lacking any substantive complaints about the document itself, they attack the credibility of one of the dozens of people who signed it, and in so doing hope to discredit the entire statement.

Like so much of our political commentary today, the Society’s response appears to simply be a Pavlovian reaction by a conservative Catholic organization to a statement critical of a fellow conservative Catholic.  They are attacking our guy, so clearly they are wrong.

I would have much preferred to have read a thoughtful response, something that moved the ball forward instead of just circling the wagons.  Lest you think such a discussion is impossible in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, I will instead point you towards a conversation taking place on what Anna Williams at First Things has called A Truly Catholic Economy.

George Weigel began with a thoughtful essay on how a “robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.”

It is a good start but, as David Cloutier explains, it is missing several important considerations.

Mr. Weigel presents a romanticized view of the work world as it presently exists. We need to take seriously our dependence on exploited, low-wage labor, which we manage to do without too much social chaos only because of a number of subsidies. I’m not saying here that people need to have “cushy” jobs. I’m saying that people who work erratic hours at the local supercenter still need health care and rent, and it’s pretty hard to imagine them raising a child and doing all that without the subsidies. Let’s get real about just wages, and then we can talk about the dignity of work and the need to reduce welfare spending.

Cloutier then engages even further on an informed comment left by a reader.  This is the type of exchange of ideas that we as a nation can benefit from, and I hope other bloggers pick up on the thoughts presented by Weigel and Cloutier and run with them.

There are no simple answers to the problems that we will have to confront in the next four years, and I don’t propose to have any of them.  What I do know, however, is that we are much less likely to find them when what passes for dialogue consists mainly of pointing fingers and calling names.  What we need is a reasoned, rational debate that is all too rare today.

As Americans, we should rise above the current dismal state of political discourse.  As Catholics, this is precisely what we are called to do.

The allegory of the 12 monkeys

It’s not even yet 9 am, and I’ve already experienced my first :headdesk: moment of the day.  It’s times like these that I like to let my mind wander back to islands.  Not for memory of the gentle tradewind breeze that blew across my lanai, or the sight of the sun setting over the Pacific while I sipped on a mai tai, or even for the rush I felt when I was finally able to catch a wave and ride it.  No, it is for a story related to me by perhaps the most cosmopolitan Islander I knew there.  While it does nothing to make the situation any better, it does at least give me a chuckle.

Twelve monkeys were put into a large cage together and lived peacefully enough.  One day a bunch of bananas was placed in the middle of the cage.  Monkeys, being fond of bananas, immediately went for a snack.  As soon as the first of our primate cousins touched one, however, a fire hose was turned on and sprayed all of the monkeys to the far side of the cage.  This process was repeated the next day, and then the next day, and continued until the monkeys finally figured out what was going on.

The following day, when the bananas were placed in the cage, the monkeys who had figured it out went over and defended the bananas, not allowing anyone else to touch them lest the fire hose be turned on them again.  Should another monkey persist, the monkeys who were wise to what was happening beat up the offender.  This continued until all 12 monkeys knew that if they tried to eat the bananas that they would get beaten up.

One day one of the monkeys was removed from the cage, and a new monkey was put in his place.  When the bananas were placed in the cage the new guy, seeing a tasty little treat, went for them and earned a couple black eyes and some bruises for his efforts.  Soon enough he learned not to touch the bananas.  When he learned well enough to leave the bananas alone, another monkey was removed and yet another new monkey took his place.  The lesson not to touch the bananas was quickly imparted to him, and the cycle of replacement continued.

Eventually there were 12 monkeys in the cage who had never experienced the fire hose, and all but one of them knew enough not to touch the bananas lest there be some painful repercussions.  When the 12th and final replacement went to go eat a banana, the other 11 bounced on him and beat him to a pulp.

“Hey,” said the new monkey.  “I was just going to eat a banana.  I wasn’t hurting anyone.  What did you all beat me up for?”

“I don’t know,” replied the other monkeys.  “That’s just the way things have always been done around here.”

I can appreciate when there is a logical reason behind something I don’t like, even if it’s something I’m going to have to do and not like doing.  What kills me, however, is when ridiculous practices persist, even if there is no good reason for it, simply because that is how things have always been done in the past.  What I wouldn’t give, in times like this, to be sipping a mai tai on my lanai.

The photo above was posted to Flickr by Mozzer502 under this Creative Commons license.