Brian Keaney

Category: Uncategorized

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.

Crackheads, drunks, more or less the same thing

In honor of the great saint, and without further commentary, I want to share perhaps the least Irish (the man with the flute excepted) – Irish related video of all time.


The best sentence ever written (by me)

While paying far too much for drinks at a swanky bar with a friend and his girlfriend a few nights ago, we discussed their upcoming trip to the land of aloha.  The lovely doctor is to serve as the maid of honor at a wedding, and I offered to help her with her speech, so long as she didn’t want it to be mushy.  Sentimental I can probably handle, but when I thought I was going to have to say something at my own sister’s wedding I debated whether I should open with a quotation from The Godfather or one from The Princess Bride.  Needless to say, I’m never going to be a romance novelist.

In the course of conversation, and partly to prove that I am at least a decent writer who won’t completely screw up the speech, I told them that the opening line to one of my graduate school admission essays was the best sentence I’ve ever written.

I have what I like to call a homo-non-sexual crush on the lead singer on U2, Bono.

Not only did that essay get me into grad school, and thus later admitted into the Fellowship of Educated Men, but it also had nothing to do with Bono.  I’m simply used Bono, who I really do admire, as a jumping off point to discuss a book for which he gave an endorsement on the dust jacket.  As any reader of this blog knows, it is not an uncommon for me to open with something completely unrelated to the body of the text.

One of the reasons I enjoy the sentence as much as I do is that I think it works as well spoken as it does on the page.  I’d like to hope that when the admissions officer in Cambridge read it he was taken a bit aback, or at least found it somewhat original in a sea of papers written by prospective students far smarter than I am.

When I trot it out with friends in bars, it is almost always good for a laugh.  Part of the reason is that it also has a cadence when spoken that I think it lacks in print, which only adds to it. Mark Twain, whose worst sentence was undeniable better than the best of my best, made this point to a reporter who interviewed him thusly:

The moment “talk” is put into print you recognize that it is not what it was when you heard it; you perceive that an immense something has disappeared from it. That is its soul. You have nothing but a dead carcass left on your hands.

In the grand scheme of things my sentence is perhaps little more than, as Mr. Twain put it, “pure twaddle.”  That my sentence has life both in print and on the tongue, I hope, gives it something that ol’ Sam Clemens would be proud of.

Bachelor pad

The other day my roommate told me that he planned to spend the rest of his days as a bachelor, and also that he was going to spend his Sunday mornings working while wearing a funny looking collar.  While comments about his choice in attire and profession are better suited for another time, I think the lifelong bachelorhood might suit him.  Maybe even me, too.  Either that or it is proof positive that we both need the sort of saving that women have been giving men for millenia.

Yesterday I threw out no less than three items in our fridge that expired in 2009.  I last cleaned it out about six months ago, and obviously did a bang up job.  We now have little more than beer, pickles, and leftovers.

Jesus was a party animal, and other things I learned on blogs

For those of us with an interest in social media, we know that it is here right now.  For those of us immersed in it, however, it helps to remember that not everyone is.  My grandfather says with great pride that he wouldn’t even know how to turn a computer on.  He’s being slightly facetious, but just last week I saw a woman at Staples struggling to use a fax machine.  We are now several generations beyond the fax machine, but there are still those left behind.

There are plenty who get it, though.  At my alma mater, the Campus Minister has a blog and a Facebook account.  He will usually  post his homilies on the blog, and this week he began with an account of how he is using social media to keep tabs on his flock.

Recently I saw a facebook announcement for a 5 keg party and I thought to myself ….. that’s a lot of beer.

(Sometimes people obviously forget that when they “friend me” I see all of their status updates.)

Like any good fisherman, Fr. Bob goes to where the fish are.  When you are dealing with college students, the fish are on Facebook.  He’s not the only one.  On Twitter, the person I am most proud to be followed by is His Holiness the Dalai Llama (@OHHDLInfo).  Not to be outdone, the Pope is on YouTube.  Plenty of other religious leaders are also increasingly turning to social media to engage and evangelize.

I can no longer stand in the back of St. Vincent’s Chapel and listen to Fr. Bob preach any more than I can listen to the Pope at the Vatican or the Dalai Llama in Asia.  Through social media I can continue to be enriched by their teachings, however.  How else would I have known that Jesus was an even bigger party animal than my classmates?  As Fr. Bob told the students,

Being an inquisitive soul, I asked myself how many gallons 5 kegs would make?

The incredible internet told me that each keg has 15.5 gallons so 5 kegs is 77.5 gallons of beer

It sounds like a lot but a five keg party has nothing on the wedding feast of Cana.

With his first miracle Jesus made 120 gallons or 444 bottles of wine…That’s a real lot of wine.

You have to reach your audience where they are.  That means both in a place (Facebook)  and with a message (keg parties) that they can understand.  Fr. Bob gets it.  If only more did.

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In high school I had a teacher who made us write for the first few minutes of every class.  It didn’t matter what it was about, we simply had to write.  This will be a space where I can do just that.  Don’t expect any rhyme or reason – these are just the random thoughts that enter my head and the fun or interesting things I find around the internets.