Brian Keaney

Tag: the great gatsby

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.





Perchance to dream

A couple years ago I made a concerted effort to read all the books I was supposed to read in high school.  I was never a big fan of homework, and I got by all right simply by paying attention in class.  I don’t know that in four years I ever read an entire book in any class, but English was always one of my better subjects.  I’ve since come to learn to love to read, but one book I have not yet finished is The Great Gatsby.  I’ve picked it up once or twice, and even though I think I would enjoy it I’ve never made it all the way through.

Particularly after seeing Tom Hiddleston’s performance in Midnight in Paris this summer, I think I would also really enjoy the company of F. Scott Fitzgerald.   Seeing the lifestyles they led in 1920s Paris makes me wonder what his definition of “rich” is, but I have come to discover the great truth in his statement that the very rich are different from you and me.  Then again, not only am I glad that I am unlike the very rich, I also take a small amount of satisfaction in that I am different from most other people.

This winter I am volunteering with a great organization that teaches kids they can literally conquer mountains.  Youth Enrichment Services takes inner city kids to ski resorts across New England and teaches them to ski or snowboard.  While I don’t ski nearly as much as I would like to, I am on my K2s enough to know that rarely do you see someone with skin darker than mine on a chairlift.  Giving low-income, largely minority children the same opportunity I had as a kid growing up to feel the rush of racing down a mountain is better than that rush itself.

After breaking the fast with Senator Paul.

Last weekend I was in New Hampshire learning how to become a ski instructor (and inviting myself to breakfast with a United States Senator – but that’s another post) and, unlike other training trips where they stayed in a chalet, we were being housed in a local hotel.  It was nice enough, but particularly after a couple locals got a little too familiar at the bar across the street, my fellow volunteers all decided it was time to return to their rooms and crash.  Seeing as there were several hours left in Saturday night, not to mention several prime socialable hours in Sunday morning, I was not ready to retire.

In a hotel with little to do, however, I had to content myself watching the 4th quarter of an NFC game I was only partially interested in, reading a couple articles I’d been saving on my phone, and then turning out the lights well before midnight.  It was the earliest I’d been to bed in some time, and it resulted in the most sleep I’ve gotten in a while.

Each night when I go to bed it almost feels like a personal failure.  I don’t like it at all.  My tasks list never gets any shorter, and even if I was caught up there would still be plenty to do.  I’ve got a stack of books I want to read.  There are a million places I’ve never been, countless movies I’ve never seen, billions of people I’ve never met.  Not only do I not know anything about any number of subjects, there are fields of study that I don’t even know exist.  People are suffering all over the world and crying out for help, yet I am expected to spend a third of my life unconscious.

How, with all that is out there, can I possibly spend any more time than I have to asleep?  I fight it each night, even long after I have ceased being productive.  I click around in Quicken, as if I am suddenly going to gain some magical new insight into my finances by looking at the same graph 10 times.  I’ll check the same dozen websites as if anyone is awake and updating them at 2 a.m.  I search in vain for anything worthwhile to watch on TV.  I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid turning out the lights until finally, out of sheep boredom more often than not, I submit to the downturn in my circadian rhythm and close my eyes.

A few hours later I am battling the alarm clock and starting all over again.  The pile of books only grows, the to do list only gets longer, and my ignorance only decreases but slightly.  No matter what dreams may come, there is still plenty more left to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil.  I will sleep when I’m dead.