Brian Keaney

Category: Dedham

Bourgeoisie oblige

A couple weeks ago I attended the Dedham Food Pantry’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Night.  I felt a little awkward being there and would not have walked in the door had I not been expressly invited.  My Food Pantry volunteering is limited to co-hosting a telethon for the cause once a year, while most of the others at the party spend far more of their time, treasure, and talent on this worthy enterprise.

A woman I know socially told me the reason she volunteered at the Pantry on the regular was that it makes her “feel so good inside.”  While I’m sure she didn’t mean to, she instigated a period of self reflection for me.  I might not give a lot of hours to the Food Pantry, but I would like to think that I put my fair share of time into serving my community, broadly defined.

I knew then and now that I don’t do it because it makes me feel good, but I had to give some serious thought about why I am out four or five or six nights a week at various events and meetings and causes.  The best answer I could come up with is that it is because I can, and since I can I should.

Some of the time I spend, quite honestly, is selfish.  The organization I spend the most time volunteering for gives me something back that is, to me, far more valuable than any warm and fuzzy.  I get to relive a bit of my youth, or at least taste it again for a couple hours.  A few times a month I find myself on one of several college campuses where my position – and, truth be told, my personality today – makes me cooler than I ever was when I was a student.  I’m proud of the work I do there, but it would be dishonest to say I don’t get anything back from it.

The others, however, are not for fame or glory, or for a chance to drink from the fountain of youth that vanishes like a mirage every time I leave campus.  I do it because it is a categorical imperative for me.  My primary moral imperative, perhaps.  For example, because I believe that every kid deserves a Christmas, I will spend more than I can comfortably afford to help make it a reality.  Though I own a home (It may be said that I’m the the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege) I have not yet moved into, I will still give up a Saturday morning to work on someone else’s who needs the help more than I do.


Though I have not subjects, servants, children, nor wife, I agree with Mr. Banks that noblesse oblige.  I may not be a poor widow either, but it if it is expeted of her then it must be expected of me as well.  Bourgeoisie oblige.



Sir, I disagree

I saw some football players running in the rain tonight, no doubt training for the upcoming season.  I have high hopes that this is the year the program will turn around, what with a new coach and new athletic facilities, and it was good to see them out as a team getting in shape.  By the looks of several of them without shirts on, this was not their first run of the summer.  In an entirely non-homosexual (and, more importantly, non-pedophile) way, I was quite pleased to see them.

I’m also hoping that a combination of a better team, a better stadium, and Friday night games will put more rear ends in the seats, particularly those of students.  I’d love to see as many or more students at Stone Park as I saw at Needham High’s gym for basketball games last year.

During those games I, and many around me, did more than chuckle when one or two of them would yell “Sir, I disagree,” at a bad call.  They were using the most respectful possible language, but the sentiment underneath it was the undoubtedly the same as mine when what I yelled at a ref was enough to cause a Franciscan priest – who, it should be noted, daily prayed “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” – to resort to physical violence.  It was funny because we all knew that when those kids called the ref “sir,” they really meant, “you asshat.”

I don’t know why I was thinking of this, but I did when Brian Keaney the writer mentioned today that his barber calls him “sir.” In a blog post that mentions the riots that ripped apart large chunks of Britain in the past few days, he writes

Nobody in London can talk about anything else. Western power is draining down the economic plughole but that’s too large a concept for people to really come to terms with. But a bunch of thugs in hoodies kicking in shop fronts and helping themselves to phones and watches – that’s something that everyone has an opinion about.

To the older Brian Keaney I must say, “sir, I respectfully disagree.”  Obviously I am far too removed from the barbershops of London to know what the local scuttlebutt is, so it is with his assessment of the first world that I take issue.  Sure, the Mexican standoff the Congress engaged in with our economy resembles a bloody Tarantino film more than, say, the filibuster of Mr. Smith (not to mention left our representatives looking unworthy of the venerable institution in which they serve).

Sure, the markets collapsed when one of the same companies that did such a bang up job determining the relative safety of mortgage securities determined that the Isle of Man posed less of a threat than US T-bonds (though, in a delicious irony, may have made them even safer).  Sure, we are still rebuilding a country we broke when we went to war based on lies, a war that has left us broke and up to our eyeballs in debt.

Still, I don’t see anyone rushing for the exits.  How many of those shopkeepers who had their livelihoods destroyed by some skunk smoking hoodlums are going to moving to Syria, or Egypt, or Tunisia?  How many of those who are privileged enough (in the same way that 56 men were privileged enough to put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line) to be making positive changes in the Arab Spring would give their left arm to get a visa to live in Greece or Portugal or another country dealing with a debt crisis of their own making?  Hell, even if Hollywood has given up, the nonsense they produce is still filling up theaters better than anything coming from Bollywood.

We know that history did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That said, western states admittedly do not today hold the same power – diplomatic, military, economic, social, or otherwise – they did in the post-war period, just as NBC News and the New York Times do not hold the same power or influence they did in the pre-Twitter era.  Times change, and the world along with it.

This thought was hammered home last night when I finally got across the street to see Midnight in Paris. What I wouldn’t give to spend a night drinking at a Parisian cafe with Hemingway (who, unlike The Most Interesting Man in the World, I would have to battle the irresistible urge to thank should he punch me in the face) while Cole Porter played in the corner. As Picasso’s mistress illustrated so beautifully, however, there is no such thing as a Golden Age.

[Rather than give this blog entry yet another sharp right turn into a new topic, I’ll simply add apropos of Midnight in Paris that I watched Out Cold on TV again tonight.   It had even more Casablanca homages – right down to the white dinner jacket – than I had remembered, but for the first time I noticed that it had several actors who had minor roles in The Office.  I really hope David Koechner isn’t such a creep in real life.  I think I might like him if he was normal. Also, it took seeing Owen Wilson in a Woody Allen film to see the similarities between them.]

No, the type, way, and amount of power the president or the prime minster wields today is not the same as it was when the elder Brian Keaney was my age.  It won’t be the same when I am his age.  I don’t expect to find an empty basin when I get there, however.

My life is very different today than it was when I spent nights sitting in the bird’s nest rooting for the Cards.  Even at the outset of the China Century I wouldn’t trade those days for all of their tea, however.  With that in mind, I do not hesitate for a moment to say that whatever my personal or nation’s problems may be, no matter how severe the  setbacks we face are, I have no doubt that our best days are ahead of us.

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The greatest childhood ever

A bunch of the MSC kids last night

Growing up in my neighborhood you left the house at your own risk.  It wasn’t criminals you had to worry about – it was the neighbors.  If you went away for a weekend you might come back to find your house had been painted a different color, that someone wired your front walk to look like a runway at Logan, your car had been turned into a tank, or that they had broken in and riffled through all your personal belongings.

As if that wasn’t enough, they  videotaped all their shenanigans so there would be a record of their illegal but good hearted behavior.  This was just the way things happened when you lived within the territory of the Madison Street Committee.  This was no normal civic group with dues and bylaws and higher purposes.  It was simply a collection of lunatics who somehow all moved into the same stretch of road at the same time.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Jack Williams moment

Last night I was privileged to once again play a small role in the annual Holiday Harvest Telethon to benefit the Dedham Food Pantry.  Normally I prefer to give to charities that address the root causes of a person’s misfortune instead of just treating the symptoms, but it’s pretty tough to teach a man to fish when all he can think about is his growling stomach.

My role was to interview some of the guests and to accept a couple checks.  There are only so many ways you can ask people to call in, but fortunately my mother and sister, who were watching at home and laughing at me, gave me some good material to work with.  I stumbled over a couple of lines, botched our most famous guest’s last name, and at one point had a guest take the  microphone away from me because she wasn’t ready to leave the stage and I wasn’t prepared with another question.

The station has a new director, and she’s been a godsend.  She’s the one who recruited me to do a show, and there’s been a lot more activity overall in the months since she’s taken the reigns.  A couple weeks ago I was talking to her about the Telethon and she was telling me about her time at WBZ.  She said that whenever Jack Williams would get on and make an appeal the phones would start ringing off the hook.

At one point during the night I was standing there, waiting to go back on the air, and the intern working the camera poked his head out around and said to me, “This is your Jack Williams moment.”  He didn’t have a clue, but I knew exactly what it meant and from whom it came.

A minute later the red light in front of me lit up and I was on.  I had stumbled at a couple points throughout the night, but not during this segment.  I don’t know if it brought in any more donations, but I nailed it.  Though was easily my longest monologue of the three hour broadcast, and even though it was completely extemporaneous, it flowed smoothly throughout.  I was pretty pleased with myself, and the director even commented on how good I was after we were done and back in the kitchen finishing up the wine.

I don’t know whence that performance came, but I wish I could bottle it.  I think Jack Williams would be proud.

Better teachers make for better students

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Since news broke on myDedham last week about the Avery School being identified for improvement by the federal government – and parents subsequently being offered the choice to transfer their kids to other schools – its been a hot topic of discussion around town.  Traffic to the blog has been way up, and when I ran into an Avery parent at a bar on the Cape last weekend it’s all we talked about.

It’s also got me thinking about the research I did in grad school.  My Master’s thesis was on what cities and towns in Massachusetts can do to improve their education systems.  My single biggest surprise was reading over and over again about just how critically important teachers are. Obviously everyone understands that they play a crucial role; without them a school is just a building full of books and kids.

However, teacher effectiveness is the single biggest variable when you look at how successful students are. It’s more important than poverty, language spoken at home, parents’ education level, and the like.  A disadvantaged student with a great teacher will leap ahead while a student with everything going for her will likely fall behind if she is stuck with an ineffective teacher.  Studies show this over and over again.

To mention one recent study, a Harvard economist has found that by age 27, students with good kindergarten teachers are earning about $1,000 more per year than students who had average teachers.  In fact, they “estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year.  That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers.” Read the rest of this entry »

I’m kind of a celebrity

As some of you may know, I am the official Dedham cousin of the good people at b.good.  This prestigious appellation entitles me to one free hand-ground hamburger a day for as long as I shall walk the earth.  I take advantage of it about once a week, often getting some of their delicious, hand cut fries as well.  When they are fresh out of the oven (as they are baked, not fried) there is nothing better.

Tonight when I walked in I saw a friend standing and waiting for his meal.  As we were talking, he asked if I had ever been there before.  I laughed and said yes, my photo is on the wall.  It’s a pretty bad picture, actually, but there I am on a plaque next to the cash register.

There was a new girl behind the counter, and she heard our conversation.  “That’s  you?” she asked.  I told her it was, and her responce made my night.

“You’re kind of a celebrity around here,” she told me.

I have achieved celebrity status in a fast food restaurant at the local mall.   It can’t go anywhere but downhill from here.

O, Christmas Tree

I’m known for many things, not all of which I’m proud of and many of which I’m not so foolish as to put here online.  However, this morning, I couldn’t have been happier that my reputation preceded me.

Today I finally bought my Christmas tree, a week later than I normally would have.  I wanted to buy from the Dedham Community House again this year for two reasons.  For one thing, they are only two blocks from my place, so getting it back is cake.  More importantly, I wanted to support an organization that does some great work in my hometown.

I could go to a big megastore, but why send my money to stockholders in other states and countries when I can keep it here doing good work for my friends and neighbors?  Although it is only slightly further from me than the Community House, I am boycotting Lowe’s once againuntil after Christmas.  Not that I spend a lot of moeny there anyway, but it is ridiculous when they start putting Christmas items out a month before Halloween.  As Suldog reminds us each year, Thanksgiving comes first!

In any case, the Community House only sells on Saturday and Sunday, and I thought they were worth waiting a few extra days for since I couldn’t get there last weekend.  When I walked up this morning I immediately heard someone call out my name.  I turned around, and the director was asking if I was back to buy the biggest tree on the lot again.  I assured her I was, and asked where I could find it.

There were two early contenders, but in the end it was easy to choose the right one.  It’s nine feet tall, and has a terrific shape.  There was another tree that looked slightly bigger, but the shape wasn’t nearly as good.   I don’t get too particular about too many things, but when it comes to Christmas trees I am a complete snob.

Not to ruin this with a complaint, but I left off on a rather disappointing note.  As we parted ways a volunteer wished me a happy holiday.  I know people use this expression to avoid offending anyone, but for Pete’s sake I just bought a Christmas tree.  It should be pretty clear by now that I celebrate Christmas!  I think it would have been safe to wish me a Merry Christmas.

As I was bringing in my tree I put the radio on to listen to Christmas music.  The first song that came on was Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song, Part II.”  Granted it’s meant to be funny, but I still took no offense at it.  Maybe that’s easy for me to say, being in the majority and all.  After all, Sandler wrote his series of songs for those kids who feel like they are the only ones in town without a Christmas tree.

However, I spent a year in Honolulu where I was an ethnic minority.  There really wasn’t a majority, but we hoales were not even a plurality.  One of the great things about that city was all the street festivals they threw.  It seemed like once a month they were blocking off streets to throw a party.  I marched in the Martin Luther King Day parade and had a blast at a Chinese New Year party.  I wasn’t offended by anyone else’s celebration, and no one was offended when I wished them a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

As I said, I wasn’t going to mention his comment as I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset anyone by it.  However, I just read about a city councilman in North Carolina whose election is being challenged because he is an atheist.

When Mr. Bothwell was sworn into office on Monday, he used an alternate oath that does not require officials to swear on a Bible or refer to “Almighty God.”

That has riled conservative advocates, who cite a little-noticed quirk in North Carolina’s Constitution that disqualifies officeholders “who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and was not revised when North Carolina amended its Constitution in 1971.

The vast majority of people celebrate this holy day, and only a very small percentage don’t.  Even if you don’t, the sentiment behind the greeting should be evidence enough of the goodwill towards men they intend to impart.  I’ve always wondered what those who don’t celebrate any holiday at this part of the year feel when they are greeted with “happy holidays.”  Do they get offended?  Should we instead be wishing each other “non-denominational, politically-correct, seasonal tidings of winter cheer?”  Somehow that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

And, not for nothing, but have the good people of Ashville, N.C. not heard of the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution?  I don’t care if he Decks the Halls or spins the dradle with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, or doesn’t observe any religious occurrences at all (curiously, the atheist councilman not only celebrates Christmas but also attends a church).  I would much rather have an atheist who is right on the issues in office than a fellow Christian who is wrong on them.

Anyway, my tree is up, my apartment smells fantastic, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.  Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!

I’ve got a face made for radio

Tonight was the second annual Holiday Harvest Telethon at Dedham Public Television to benefit the Food Pantry.   It was a great time, and there were quite a few good acts performing.  My favorite were the Irish step dancers, with a very close second being Dedham High’s own Diverse Motions.  They performed a hip hop dance routine, and I was quite proud to have them as the single act I booked for the show.  Those five guys are quite talented.

I also had a bigger role to play than I thought I would.  When I get there around 6 it was just to help out behind the scenes and do whatever was necessary.  At 6:50, only 10 minutes until we were live on the air, one of the on air personalities called in to say he wouldn’t be able to make it.  Justin Cowley, DPTV’s producer extraordinaire, was all in a fluster and asked if I could fill in.  I thought there were more talented (and certainly better looking) candidates available, but they all took a pass.  The show must go on, as they say, and so I agreed to jump in.

I interviewed the 4 selectmen present, asking such hard hitting questions as “What do you want Santa to bring you this year,” and “Your wife really let you out of the house wearing that tie?”  I was even requested by the firefighter and police officer to interview them on air and accept their donation checks.  I didn’t look at the amounts on the checks, but officer Ron Pucci assured me that the police gave more.

By far my favorite was talking with Jack and Eric of Jack and Eric’s Pirate Lemonade.  These kids set up a lemonade stand at the farmers market in Dedham Square this summer and raised nearly $300 for the Food Pantry.  I was a little worried as sometimes kids can clam up in situations like this, but both were plenty talkative for me.  Must be the ease at which I put those I am interviewing.

The final tally at the end of the night was over $17,000, and I hope a few  more checks roll in as people watch the repeats in the days and weeks to come.   Last year more than $20,000 was raised when all was said and done, and that accounts for more than 50% of the Food Pantry’s budget for the year.  They are seeing more need than ever before, and there’s no better time to donate.

After the telethon a group of us went out for a couple of drinks, and it turns out that a couple of us speak a little American Sign Language.  While we were talking this video came up, and I thought it was good enough that deserved sharing here.

I really wish I could speak more ASL.  Actually, I’d be happy just to remember most of the little I once knew.  For now I am going to have to be satisfied remembering dirty words and trying to pick up more from Miley Cyris songs.