Matthew Keenan

Archive for June, 2016

We are empty nesters!!!! Again!!! KC Star, May 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

Comments Off on We are empty nesters!!!! Again!!! KC Star, May 2016 more...

Fathers Day comes early … KC Star, May, 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

I know Father’s Day is still a couple weeks away. With my own dad still very spry and fun at age 86, it will be a special day for my brothers, sisters and me.

But I’m pretty sure my Father’s Day came early. It did not come in the form of a handwritten note. Neither was it an expression of appreciation from a long-lost son. It wasn’t planned; it just happened.

This all came down on Saturday, May 14. That was the first Saturday Maggie, our daughter, moved back from KU. “Dad, I need to go to Verizon,” she told me. “My phone is fine but it’s three years old. They’ve come out with a couple models since I got mine.”

This was an unprecedented announcement. A Keenan kid trading in a good phone. A working phone. A phone that has never been found the bottom of a pool, bounced off a sidewalk, misplaced at The Wheel, dropped down the crack of an old suede couch, lost in a cab, immersed in a beer.

This is obviously the daughter’s phone. She was due. “Sure,” I said. “But afterward I need to go to J.C. Penney’s at Corbin Park.”

We headed to the store on 135th Street. Generally speaking, Verizon stores are highly efficient operations. An employee greets you at the door and when it’s your turn, they are adept at problem-solving. I should know. I’ve taken many problems there, including two named Robert and Tommy. And I’ve learned among the waiting customers that there are two distinct demographics — the teens who know about P-Diddy and those who think it’s a urological condition. To the flip-phone crowd, Drake is a duck, not a rapper.

On that Saturday we strolled in at 11 a.m. The store was empty. No customers. Not a one. Just behind the counter were five employees, ready to go into action. Maggie got the first one, a young man in his mid 30s.

“Let me look up your account.” I knew this drill. It takes about five seconds for the tech guy to understand that I’m no regular customer. With six phones, two iPads and enough extra data charges to prompt a Verizon stock split, I tend to get concierge treatment.

I watched him pull up my numbers. His eyebrows arched a bit and he looked up. “Yes. Mr. Keenan. I have it here.”

“I know. My account is big.”

“I’ve seen bigger,” he said. I held the rejoinder to myself: “Who? Bieber?”

In a couple minutes Maggie had a phone. “It’s going to take a while to upload your photos and music. Come back in a couple hours and it will be ready.”

For the next three hours I had my college daughter with no phone. How many parents living outside of Amish country can say that? Our next destination: Penney’s.

Long before Penney’s became a darling, and then a devil, of hedge fund managers, it was the jewel of small towns like mine. In Great Bend, Kan., it was a Saks Fifth Avenue, Dick’s Sporting Goods and pre-Walmart Gibson Discount all rolled into one. It had the first escalator we’d ever seen — and that was so cool. They sold men’s suits, top coats, bedding, fishing lures, Ping-Pong tables. It was across the street from my dad’s law firm, so we would wander over there when bored. I remember one Easter they sold baby chicks, which in a moment of weakness Larry and Mona decided would make an appropriate pet. It did not end well.

So even today Penney’s is my go-to resource for undergarments.

So imagine father and phone-less daughter in the men’s boxers section of Penney’s. And then throw in one more aspect of the day — I talk to people, particularly strangers. My kids think it’s weird, creepy, awkward. And so I’m gabbing up a storm. I read once in The New York Times where researchers concluded that kindness to strangers improves your mood. And my mood was euphoric.

Maggie couldn’t do anything other than stand by and listen. There was no escape to text, tweet, Snapchat, Facebook, plug in headphones and pretend to zone out. She wasn’t going to escape to the ladies fashion section to find Tory Burch shoes. She was mine. We had a deal.

The salesman in the men’s section shared my devotion to conversation. He and I talked about men’s boxers, waist sizes and other random topics. He was helpful, interesting and flattering. Like Dale Carnegie only better. I bought shirts, socks, undies and a pair of jeans.

Mission accomplished. Next stop: Land of Paws.

Like Penney’s, LOP also occupies a special place in Keenan history. It was the first home to Bernie. On this day, however, we didn’t see any Wheatens. Instead they had all kinds of Aki-Poos, Terri-poos, Cockapoo mixes — everything was miniature. Looking for a pitbull-German shepherd mix with a bad rap sheet? This is not your place. But if you want a lap dog that guarantees a billion likes on Facebook — this was pure gold.

Staring into the pens were children on the verge of an emotional breakdown when their parents declared, “Not today.”

They sold dog treats more elaborate than any cupcakes or cookie that I’ve had in my life. I was about to taste the icing myself, before Maggie reminded me that it was, in fact, for dogs. They had a selection of official Royals uniforms for your four-legged pet that would put Rally House to shame. We inspected cat condos with carpet that lacked something from our own carpet at home: pet barf.

There was a furniture section. I noted a handful of stair steppers: not for your toddler learning to crawl, but for your aged animal who can no longer reach your bed. I was amazed at the expansiveness of the store, with even a frozen dinner section for pets with paleo or gluten-free restrictions. Meanwhile, the lively lap dogs occupied the back corner of the store.

Maggie and I laughed. And laughed some more. And in the couple hours that remained where Maggie was phone-less we did a lot of talking. Actually I did the talking.

All in all, a five-star day.

Comments Off on Fathers Day comes early … KC Star, May, 2016 more...

Coming of age with scouting … KC Star March 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns


Keenan, Bill Niederee, John Holt, circa 1968

Anyone over the age of 45 remembers the network soap opera “Dark Shadows.” In the 1960s, it was carried on ABC and that was one network signal our TV could receive in the middle of nowhere. And my brothers and sisters were hooked on it. Our television diet then was “Batman,” “Perry Mason” and “Dark Shadows.” Barnabas Collins, a vampire, flashed his fangs and was always searching for fresh blood. He was the spookiest thing we had ever seen. And blood became something of a fixation for us.

A couple years later Darren McGavin starred in another vampire show — “The Night Stalker.” Also super creepy and it further ingrained our fascination with blood, life and death.

Our dad unwittingly contributed to this. From time to time over the dinner table mom would say, “The hospital called and asked your dad to come down. They needed his blood.” My brothers and I would exchange glances. “They needed dad’s blood! That is so cool!” Dad, it turns out, is O negative. A universal donor — which is precisely the type craved by vampires. And, I suppose, patients in the ER.

Right about this time, Truman Capote entered the world stage with “In Cold Blood.” It would be only a modest exaggeration to say that the Clutter family killing and Capote’s later work changed everything, but particularly in small-town America. And most certainly small-town Kansas. In fact, convicted killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith stopped in Great Bend en route to Holcomb on that fateful night. And the movie is faithful to this — the A&W scene was filmed just two miles from our house.

And in the middle of this teenage obsession came Scouting. And yes, the blood line continued. For example, this was our first introduction to ticks. It was May 1972, and a young Scout discovered one on his scalp. One of the adult leaders gathered us around. “Boys, this is a tick.” We all grew close to the kid’s head. The critter was bulging. “See, it’s full of blood! Ticks wait on trees for years and years until an unsuspecting Tenderfoot walks by. Then they strike and start sucking your blood.”

Most everyone was terrified. Not me. I knew all about that five-letter word. The leader then fired up a match to burn it out, singeing gobs of hair and likely inflicting second-degree burns in the process. Today any adult attempting such a thing would be in Leavenworth.

There were other things. We learned how apply a tourniquet — sacrificing a limb to save a life. We experimented with rubber bands during religion class. Turning your finger purple while Sister Mary Rose lectured us on the Holy Trinity was essential to becoming an Eagle Scout.

But the pot of gold was the opportunity to acquire a pocketknife. Knives were the stuff of Daniel Boone, The Lone Ranger and adult movies we could never watch. With a pocket knife, a switchblade wasn’t far away. And then you could be a blood brother — cutting your finger and mixing your blood with your friend. This was the coolest of all cools.

But to get a knife you first needed to demonstrate knife safety. This determination rested entirely in the hands of the Senior Patrol Leader, a.k.a. the SPL. When you are 11, the SPL knew everything. He did everything. The SPL was typically a Life Scout, which to a Tenderfoot was like a five-star general. He had a girlfriend, sideburns and absentee parents. Our SPL drank coffee, put mustard on his hotdogs and told outrageous stories. He was a man. In truth, he was maybe 15. But he had a knife, a hatchet and knew how to acquire a switchblade.

Part of the training required learning something called the “blood circle.” This is an exercise involving swinging the knife in a circle around you to ensure no one is close enough to be harmed. In theory when executed, the blade is supposed to be closed. In reality it was always fully extended and accompanied with a loud declaration: “my blood circle!” This was the Shangri-La of Scouting — to be allowed to wave your knife among your peers while using the B word.

You now had power to defend yourself against a grizzly, copperhead, or if necessary, your older brother or sister should they get out of line. You were also instructed to never, ever, cut down any living plant or tree. So of course that’s exactly what we did.

To prove your safety ethic, they awarded you something called a Totin’ Chip badge. You carried it in your pocket. It was the most important thing you ever owned.

As you might have gathered, the kids in our troop would never be confused with a Mensa convention. Like the cast in the movie “Sandlot,” we had buck teeth, bad hair, clunky shoes whose strings were never tied. Everything worn was hand-me-downs from our older brothers except for the Scout uniform. That was yours. It had your badges, your awards and your patrol name. And your scarf, which you hated because it choked and constrained you, especially when carving that green branch into a spear.

We threw the knives in the dirt, against trees, into the air. But if caught doing any of these things, the SPL made you surrender the Totin’ Chip , which meant, like the movie “Branded,” he took your knife. Life had no greater humiliation. To be knifeless was like a gelding.

Shockingly through all this, no one died. But every single Scout got defrocked. Over and over again.

Comments Off on Coming of age with scouting … KC Star March 2016 more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!