Matthew Keenan

Kansas City Star columns

Someone help me figure out my cat’s age (published KC Star July 16, 2014)

by on Jul.13, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

How long do cats live?

This is not a rhetorical question. It’s an important piece of information I need urgently. Our cat is at least 15 years old, maybe older, and at this rate Sunshine will be my last living heir. And when they read my will, the only one present will be listening from the top of a brown leather chair, staring out the window into a bird’s nest.

I’m willing to accept for the moment all that we don’t know about Sunshine. His/her gender for starters. But I go with her because it fits her personality — meaning she is a big thinker and doesn’t speak unless it’s important. Like “I’M HUNGRY,” conveyed in loud meows.

But her age is what’s most pressing right now. She was a rescue and came with a fair amount of maturity. I’m guessing she was at least 5 then. But that was 13 years ago. Which puts her at 18. And there is zero evidence she is aging.

She navigates furniture like a Wallenda, is prone to disappearing for days at end, when she shows up at the back door it’s not a desperate “let me in” but rather a cool, disinterested, “if you open the door I might come inside but I’m fine either way.” One year we moved and Sunshine returned to our old house and stayed on the front porch until the new owners welcomed her in.

Remember in Homeward Bound when the dogs returned home and everyone was bawling their eyes out? That’s not what happened here.

Bernie, meanwhile, at age 12 hobbles from spot to spot with surgeries on both knees. The Mission Med Vet has a wing dedicated to all the money I’ve paid them. She has a pill drawer that rivals, well, me. When Bernie gets excited, well, remember I said she is old?

Under the search criteria of “cat books” on Amazon, I found 145,000 books. But books on “determining my cat’s age” — nothing.

Consider Sunshine’s lifestyle choices that have prolonged her life:

She’s very well rested.

Has amazing focus factor staring outside the window.

Doesn’t acknowledge anyone until 4 a.m. when she is thirsty or hungry.

Disappears for days while in the house and meditates.

Vocal chords go unused for weeks.

Can’t overeat due to Bernie invading her food bowl.

I thought I would go to YouTube for guidance. There, my search for cats found 23 million hits. I watched a couple and was shocked. Things I’ve never seen — cats playing with kids, adults, even dogs. I did find one video of “how to estimate the age of your cat,” which suggests you check the cat’s teeth. I’m not inclined to inspect her mouth but I know her teeth are sharp. Just ask my toes.

Supposedly the oldest cat ever is Creme Puff, who lived 38 years. If Sunshine lives another 10 years look for her driving around town in a 2002 Saab. And don’t even THINK ABOUT CUTTING HER OFF.

So if anyone is knowledgeable about cats, and can help me answer my question about feline life expectancy, contact me and I will be in over ten minutes. We can visit and maybe you’ll have room for another member of your family.


I’m leaving Sunshine at home with the kids. She was their idea.

Would you have room for a dog too?

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Kansas City Press Club awards Keenan first place in non-news category (June 14, 2014)

by on Jun.15, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Kansas City Star staff members won top honors in 11 categories, including investigative reporting and deadline reporting, as the Heart of America journalism awards were handed out Saturday.

The contest, sponsored by the Kansas City Press Club, honors print and broadcast journalists working in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.

The Star won newspaper of the year based on points earned in the competition. Star police reporter Christine Vendel was named journalist of the year for the second straight year.

The Star’s gold winners, in the category of daily newspaper over 50,000 circulation: staff for deadline reporting the night of the JJ’s restaurant explosion; Laura Bauer and Judy L. Thomas for investigative reporting; Thomas and Bauer for public service project; Steve Paul for feature; Rick Montgomery for profile; Keith Myers for breaking news photojournalism; Jill Toyoshiba for feature photojournalism; David Eulitt for sports photojournalism; Matt Keenan for non-news column; Sara Smith for entertainment reporting; and Ben Unglesbee for magazine story.

Star staffers capturing silver awards were Bauer and Thomas for deadline reporting/breaking news/spot news; Dugan Arnett for general reporting; Edward M. Eveld for business reporting; Sarah Gish for feature; Gish for profile; Cindy Hoedel for news column; Hoedel for non-news column; Hoedel for magazine story; Smith for entertainment reporting; and Eric Adler for public service project.

Staffers earning bronze awards were Vendel and Glenn E. Rice for general reporting; Hoedel for feature; Emily Parnell for non-news column; Hoedel for entertainment reporting; and Eveld for magazine story.

In the nondaily category, Gish and Eulitt received a gold award for a magazine story that appeared in Ink.

Read more here:


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Mom’s definition of family reached far, wide and deep, KC Star May 7

by on May.09, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Mona and larry


Last weekend, I went to my hometown. My trip included a visit to the Great Bend Cemetery, where I took flowers and spent time at my mother’s grave. And for that time, my mind cleared and I reflected just how fortunate I was.

My mom was born and raised in Kingman, Kan., by Jacob and Olga Goering. Jake and Olga were devoted to three things: their Mennonite faith, their German heritage and their children, son Victor and daughter Ramona Jean.

Mom had one sibling, Dad had 11. Dad was Irish Catholic.

When my parents met on a blind date in 1950, no one could fathom eHarmony and certainly never entertained the notion of comparing scores on 29 dimensions of compatibility. Their upbringing was worlds apart, but they didn’t need a 10-page questionnaire to discern what a wonderful future they had ahead of themselves.

My parents had complementing and contrasting personalities that found a balance in the mix. While dad built his law practice with his older brother Bob, mom ran a more complicated business called home. She was the yin to his yang: Mom was the nurturing, reassuring presence who managed day-to-day events at 3616 17th Street.

Like all mothers, she was a constant presence. But she was there for everyone else, too. We lived on a lake and constantly had an entourage stopping by to fish, swim or do what today’s kids would describe as “chill.” Everyone was welcome. Our basketball goal saw furious pickup games. Our front yard was an invitation to home-run derbies, and football games would spill over to the adjoining convent grounds. Mom knew not just everyone’s names, but their parents, and in some cases, grandparents. “How’s your mother doing? Is she feeling better?” I heard similar inquiries all the time.

She was a great listener.

For most of 1968, we had three cousins from Alabama live with us and attend our schools while their mother — my dad’s sister — recuperated from a heart attack.

It was 1973, when mom and dad opened their doors to their 19-year-old niece, Kema, who had given birth to a boy in Wichita. She gave him up for adoption. The adopted parents named him Scott. “Your mom and dad let me stay with them at their house after Scott had been born and I had left Wichita. Mona was such a caring parent (yes, she was my parent during that time) and we talked and talked about Scott’s leaving and the chances of ever seeing him again. She did so much to comfort me during that trying time.”

Twenty-three years later, in April 1996, with mom’s help, Kema was reunited with Scott at his home in Dodge City. Kema and Scott have remained very close ever since.

In August 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the communists, our parish adopted five families, 27 in total, who came to our city. One of the children, Huang Mai, had a severe cleft lip and palate. He was a teenager. It hurt mom to even think about how much pain he endured growing up with that condition. She made his cause her cause, dedicating countless hours to his surgical repair, taking him to Wichita and ultimately, with the assistance of surgeons there, helping him gain normal speech and appearance.

Huang learned English, and then went to KU to study engineering. When I was a senior at KU I was entering Watson Library one day. My head was down when another student grabbed my arm and said, “Matt?” It was Huang. We reconnected and he said, “How is your mother? She was so good to me.” I remember calling mom that night and recounting the story. Her reply, was, typically, to deflect any credit. “He had wonderful surgeons,” she said.

On Sunday, my thoughts will return, once again, to Ramona Jean.

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The day my birth date fell into the hands of the AARP … published KC Star Jan 14 2014

by on Feb.15, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Next month I turn 55. And whoever said aging is a state of mind didn’t live in the digital age. Because somewhere, someplace, someone got a hold of my birthdate, put it in a database and then sold it to companies with this tag-line: “HE’S OLD! PUSH THE HEARING AID PACKAGE!”

It started with the AARP. I got on their mailing list five years ago. I laughed it off. But the plastic cards kept coming.

And it has continued.

When I checked in at a hotel late last year, the desk clerk pulled up my “profile,” then looked at my disheveled appearance, gray hair, the bags — under the eyes and over my shoulder — and then hit a couple key strokes. “Here you go — Room 312,” which took me to the room with the handicapped accessible bathroom. A shower like you’d see at John Knox Village. This room also featured a button to push for an “emergency.” I wondered who would appear — the bellman? A Visiting Angel? The room looked last occupied when Tony Orlando was with Dawn.

Other things have happened. On the web, I get the pop-up ads featuring Pat Boone pushing walk-in tubs. Plus the ads for escalators that go up the stairs. Endorsed by a 90-year-old declaring with a smile: “I can stay in my house!” Google — make them stop, please.

When Lori and I went to the Red Bridge Theater to see “Blue Jasmine” recently, the ticket clerk asked me about the senior discount.

I don’t feel old. I really don’t. Sure I fall asleep on the couch on some Saturdays and Sundays. I say “what” a lot. The TV blares. I watch it up close. My knees ache with every cold front. Sometimes I suppose I act old. At Wal-Mart, I check my blood pressure, which is located in the Depends section.

Honestly, I’m fine with my age. I see no purpose for a personal trainer named Muffin who wears Lulu lemon pants. I don’t walk around the yard shirtless chopping firewood. If I did, someone would call the police, I’m sure.

Sometimes I get the urge to take a long walk — inside Metcalf South.

I look better than other guys my age. Tim Burton, for instance, is 55. I definitely have one up on Dennis Rodman, who is 52. In my hometown, no one tried to look young. My mother shopped at JC Penney, not Victoria’s Secret. Aging was cool. You were knowledgeable, trustworthy.

Amazon shows 26,000 books on looking younger. They all have one recurring theme — be strong, fit and sexy. I found one called “The Life Plan: How any man can achieve lasting health, great sex and a stronger, leaner body.” I’m not interested. My sex drive pulled over at a rest stop and is still resting. Raising four kids does those things to you. Some of the over-the-counter testosterone supplements that promise better performance? Who cares about this? Some divorced guy who eats at Hooters?

My body has a Jello-like appearance that allows it to fit in tight spaces, like my pants. I’m fine with it. So I’m old. Just don’t try to sell me anything.

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Calling all telemarketers: Please keep dialing me (published in KC Star Feb 4 2014)

by on Feb.15, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Last month I spent some time in my hometown and stayed at my dad’s house. This is the home where I grew up, across the street from the pastoral home of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, and even today is a stylish, comfortable place that still feels like home. The phone number has been the same all those years, but in the digital age doesn’t ring very much. But all that changes when the clock strikes 5:35 pm.

“Good evening! This is Janette from the Diabetes Foundation. I’m calling for Larry Keenan.”

“Good evening! This is Pamela from the Sheriff’s Relief Aid. I’m calling for Larry Keenan.”

“Good evening! This is Julie from the Police Retirement Fund. I’m calling for Larry Keenan.”

“Good evening! This is Denise from the American Cancer Society. I’m calling for Larry Keenan.”

According to something called the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index, the United States is the most charitable country in the world. And based on these calls, they think my dad is one reason. Before the Leawood Keenans enrolled in the “do not call” registry, we used to get these at our house. When we did, my experience is that they typically have an amateurish sound to them. As if they are calling from a tin can attached to a string from an island in a much different time zone.

These callers were not like that.

They were from the A team of phoners, sounding like Richie Cunningham’s mom from “Happy Days.” My dad, happily at age 84, has never had diabetes, cancer or, as a lifelong attorney, hasn’t been particularly partial to law enforcement. Charity callers, the bane of senior crowd, have had a PR run that would make Dennis Rodman blush. An investigation into commercial telemarketing fundraisers in New York state showed, as reported in the New York Times, that less than 40 cents of what they raise on average actually goes to charity. So naturally some might get angry and declare something like “stop calling my dad!”

Not me. For a phone I once used to call my fourth-grade girlfriend (and hang up if her mom picked up), this was a rare time for conversation. So I seized it.

Hi Janette. This is his son, Matt. Larry is out of town climbing Mount Everest.

Hi Julie. Larry is in Paris right now spending money so you won’t get it.

Hi Denise. Larry moved away and I’m his son. I’m recording this conversation. Tell me what percentage of your money you actually give to charity and send me the proof. My address is in Washington, D.C., at the FTC.

Larry is in the Holy Land. No, he’s not dead. I mean Jerusalem. He’s meeting with Jesus.

Larry is out of town driving on the NASCAR circuit — do you watch ESPN? Maybe you’ve seen him.

There were other replies more preposterous, inspired by the cold beer held in the other hand.

And this much I learned: The callers are trained, “Get the nondonor off the phone immediately! Terminate the call!” And they do. No one is interested in actual conversation with a 55-year-old who can see through the charade.

So after receiving a couple of these, I found the website that shuts these down. It’s so simple. You just type in the phone number. I started and then stopped. Dad moved out of the house nine years ago and keeps it for me and my siblings when we come to town to fish, hunt, and most importantly, hang with Larry at his new abode. So there is no chance these calls are going to find a deep pocketbook.

So keep calling, all you charities. I have more conversations to share with you. I understand Larry is going skydiving in Monaco and I can’t wait it tell you about it.

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A sure-fire recipe for cooking up a disaster, published KC Star, October 2013

by on Nov.02, 2013, under Kansas City Star columns

(this is a reprint from a column published in 2005)

Over the last 15 years my wife has organized roughly 40 birthday parties with our four children.

Thirty-nine were huge disasters.

This is no criticism of my better half, mind you. Rather, it’s an inevitable fact of all birthday parties. Parties for boys have the largest potential for Titanic-like outcomes, but girl parties have their own “issues.”

Here is my recipe for birthday flops:

10. Raise your child’s expectations. Tell your child early and often: “This is going to be the best birthday party ever. Better than the party with the hot air balloon ride. Better than the party at the riding stable.”

9. Invite the entire class and subdivision. A large turnout will demonstrate just how popular your child really is. Toss them all in the basement and watch time stand still.

8. Pick unusual venues to outdo everyone else. Skating parties can create fun memories when toddlers fall and chip their teeth. Petting zoos can be interesting, especially during goat-mating season.

7. Set aside several hours for the big event. Encourage parents to go shopping and be inaccessible. Accede to your son’s demand that he can open all the presents first, not last. Dead time will encourage the brats to get creative.

6. Serve candy and sodas with loads of caffeine. It’s a potent one-two combination kids love.

5. Coordinate with the Chiefs schedule. Schedule the party during a Chiefs game so dad can give his undivided attention. Let him drink a couple beers to “loosen him up” for when he needs to fill time with a couple makeshift magic tricks.

4. Invite scary clowns. Nothing can freak out toddlers quicker than a strange man with a bad wig, a red nose and shoes that curl up like those worn by the Wicked Witch of the West. Encourage the really shy ones to “go sit on his lap and get a special treat.”

3. Get siblings involved. Brothers love it when their sister steals all the attention. Have ample water balloons, sling shots and BB guns around when they get bored. Use those special candles that you can’t blow out. Converting the cake into one big spitball will add to the special memories.

2. Leave the dog and the cake in the same room alone.

1. Forget about record keeping. Sort out later who brought which gifts.

Put a fitting end to the day by driving everyone home when it’s over. Depend on the 9-year-old guests to help navigate the cul-de-sacs and dead ends found in most subdivisions.

This will extend the party another couple hours and improve your disposition considerably when you finally get home to pick up the mess.

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These on-line questions make no sense. Here are my suggested questions … published KC Star, September 4, 2013

by on Sep.07, 2013, under Kansas City Star columns

The biggest lie ever told was by the person who claimed technology was going to simplify our lives. That guy never had to change his security code every three months and be denied the right to use 123456 and abc123 as passwords. That pointy-headed know-it-all never had to read a word off a website written in a blurry twisted angle and then retype it to buy tickets to Sesame Street Live. No doubt he’s a 22-year-old who wears an earpiece, drives a Subaru and watches MTV. He’s never folded a map or used the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Technology was supposed to make things better, right? Then someone explain what is now the biggest epidemic: security questions. Follow me here. I had logged into my 529 site to pay my son’s college tuition, so my mood wasn’t pleasant to begin with. Plus I was in a hurry. I was late leaving from work.

I guessed my name and password. But then the site told me they were upgrading the security and I needed to complete security answers. Thirty minutes later I was on the verge of throwing my laptop against the wall.

The idea, one might think, is relatively defensible. You have three sets of questions to choose from, and then answer them as they are correct to you. But since it’s a joint account, I need answers that my wife would know, too. And instead of asking something simple like “what’s your name?” the exercise was decidedly preposterous.

Here were two of the first four questions: “Your childhood best friend’s first name?” And, “Your current best friend’s first name?” Generally speaking when I’m trying to retrieve information from a website that has my money I don’t like a computer asking me questions. Isn’t that what HAL did in “2001 A Space Odyssey”? And asking about best friends 45 years ago doesn’t improve my mood much.

After thinking about it and choosing the name John, I had to type the answer twice — which wouldn’t seem difficult except the letters were replaced with asterisks — something called “masked passwords.” So you type but can’t see the letters. This may shock the nerd-guy who creates these rules but when you can’t see what you are typing mistakes happen. And when mistakes happen I get mad. And when I get mad I write columns.

I finished and got this message: “Security answers must be at least six characters.” News flash. In 1964 everyone’s name was short — Gus, Joe, Tom, Kurt, Bill, Alan, Marty, Tim. Nobody on the planet had names like Hunter or Jeremiah or Alexis.

I came up with something and moved on.

The next round included questions like, ‘What hospital were you born?” followed by, “In what city did you honeymoon?” The last set of questions asked me, “Who is your favorite athlete?”

And, “What’s your favorite hobby?” Who has time for a hobby when you have to answer stupid questions like this? By now I was just picking one and typing things like “who knows,” “who cares” “get me out of here.”

I clicked on “enter” and got this message: “Your second security answer and the retype of your second security answer do not match. Please retry.”

So I have a solution. Fire nerd guy and let me come up with the questions for people like me who can’t remember what we did last week, not to mention a honeymoon that was 26 years ago. Here they are:

• Where were you when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon?

• Where were you when President Reagan was shot?

• Where is the nearest pharmacy to your house?

• What day is the senior discount at the grocery store?

• Where is the comfort shoe store?

• What theaters have matinees?

• Why haven’t your children had grandchildren yet?

• When was your last bowel movement?

Bill Gates — call me on the landline.

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What could possibly be better than please someone you love? published in KC Star … August 21, 2013

by on Aug.24, 2013, under Kansas City Star columns


Pretty much every Friday I enjoy the same routine. I load up Bernie and take her to Red Bridge Kennel for her cut and color. About two blocks from our destination, her tail moves with a force capable of disrupting the Earth’s rotation. When I park and open the car door, she dashes down the stairs to the kennel and waits for another door. When opened, her feet spin on the linoleum floor like Barney Rubble. To bring joy to someone who brings you joy — life has few equivalents.

But a week ago Friday was different. Instead of driving four miles east we traveled 200 the other direction. The time had arrived for Bernie to gain redemption in my hometown. You see, 11 years ago, the last time she entered Barton County, things, well, didn’t go so well. No sooner had our family pulled into my parents’ driveway and we opened the mini-van, Bernie was exploring my parents’ backyard — rich in vegetation with a large lake on the north side of the property. Bernie had darted into the backyard and discovered a hen mallard and her nine baby ducks. Two minutes later there were eight ducklings. Lori dispatched scolding, harsh language and other discipline. And that was just me.

Now I was taking just one passenger. Just before I backed out of the driveway Lori stepped outside. “I guess this is our future. You, me and her” — nodding in the direction of the backseat companion. “Yep. See you Sunday.”

Hollywood loves the outdoor dogs — Lassie, for instance, was famous for running in from the country and then holding a pose for the camera. You never saw him perched over an air-conditioning vent gasping for cool air or getting a blow dry at the kennel. Harold Ensley’s dog Country Squire was the canine equivalent of Michael Jordan for us growing up: Adept at plowing through heavy brush to hold a point on a covey of quail and then retrieving the game once downed. A Wheaten, especially one raised in Leawood, is not at that level. So this trip was fraught with hazard.

Our ultimate destination wasn’t my parent’s house. It was 800 acres our family owns 35 miles south of Barton County — Rattlesnake Ranch — named for the creek that runs along the northern-most edge of the property. It is home to two fishing ponds, a cabin and pastoral confines across the road from Quivira National Wildlife Refuge —named after an American tribe Indian that lived in the area when Coronado visited in 1541.

We pulled up early afternoon Friday at the Snake, and Bernie instantly went on a sniff hunt for Bigfoot. It was a rare occasion where she was unconstrained — no cars, fences, streets, other dogs or baby ducklings. She got busy, and I did too. In no time I had three poles out, a folding chair filled, cheap cigar, cold beer and a disabled phone. Experts say that meditation results in changes in brain activity — with a focused attention to internal experiences. That was my feeling — total tranquillity. As the fish were hitting, the quail were sounding off, the shadows grew longer and no one was asking me for money or car keys. I drifted into a transcendental state.

And then Bernie showed up on the dock. She was intensely curious about my worms, eyeballing my minnows, honing in on stink bait in my tackle box and barking loudly with every fish that splashed its way to the dock. She found her way around my poles, lines, hooks and came close to knocking over my beer. I went from Maharishi to Clark Griswold.

Time to move, I said. I grabbed a pole and we walked to the south pond. That’s when I turned to the west and noticed what froze her — roughly 20 large heifers gathered at the fence row, maybe 30 feet away. Bernie tried to bark. It was like her throat closed halfway through the delivery. I was very entertained. I reached down and rubbed the top of her head: ‘It’s OK Bernie.’ Cue the tail wag.

An hour later we were joined by my dad and older brother Tim. A bonfire followed with brats, more beverages and more fish. At dusk the sounds of coyotes filled the air as temperatures cooled, winds calmed and the grill blazed. Bernie found a spot on the concrete porch and entered her own transcendental state. And life was very good.

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Excuse me while I embarrass my children … published in KC Star July 17, 2013

by on Jul.20, 2013, under Kansas City Star columns


Our family just returned from a family vacation. And I need a vacation. Alone. In a dark soundproof room, with my wallet locked in a safe.

These days it seems the time, effort and money to get six Keenans to embrace one idea, one calendar, one plan, 10 pieces of luggage, five phone chargers and six computer cords and then execute it is, well, exhausting. Military invasions involve less planning. And no yelling.

It didn’t used to be this way. Larry and Mona tossed their five kids in the Plymouth Station wagon and our destinations were often not shared until we hit Interstate 70. East meant Kansas City. West meant Colorado. We rolled around the back seat, fought, shared one bottle of Dr. Pepper while the wind howled and no one ever said “buckle up.” AM radio blared with the corn futures. I miss those days. Sort of.

And so while I was waiting for our connection in MSP, I found a story on the New York Times entitled, “The secrets to a successful family vacation.” The writer offered tips to making the vacation successful — he described things like checklists, vacation games and finding ways to get the kids to buy into your concepts.

That guy operates in an alternative reality.

For us, our adult boys spend 51 weeks of the year avoiding me and tolerating me only when they need something. And then for one week it all changes when we travel together. Whether it’s riding in the car to the airport, on the plane together, sharing adjoining hotel rooms —we are on top of each other.

I embarrass my family. I admit it. So sue me. They do anything to avoid acknowledging my presence. Text, tweet, pretend to call someone. Pull a fire alarm, find a tornado shelter, cave, sink hole. I’m still a foot away. Sorry.

What’s my biggest sin? I talk to people. Not intrusive, annoying talking like the guy did to you on your last Southwest flight. Not “I see you are using an iPad, how do you like it?” type of questions. I mean friendly conversation that starts with “Good morning. How are ya?” If the spirit moves me, I will greet the gate agent, the TSA guys, the airline attendants and always the pilots. After every flight — every one — when I depart thank the pilots: “Good job, guys!”

Often in five minutes I’ve learned where they are from, how many children, what they do, and how their day is going. These are not long “let me tell you about my life” type of conversations. If there are three degrees of separation of most people, I can find them.

So why does this make me Satan? Someone help me with this. Old-school vacations were an exercise in Larry Keenan introducing us to people. Anywhere, anytime we could be subjects to a two-hour cross exam that in reality lasted 30 seconds. Anyone in the clergy got our attention. “Father Finnerty, meet our children.” We didn’t drop to the fetal position, roll the eyes or feign a seizure. Sometimes Larry would say things like, “Father, what’s your confession schedule” just to push our buttons.

I can say, with 100 percent certainty, that I never told my parents they embarrassed me. Did they? Sometimes. But every awkward moment was an opportunity for my own brand of humor. And I threw bullets Larry’s way with comebacks, one-liners and zingers that brought chuckles.

But then everything changed. Someday the archeologists will write a treatise about what happened to the art of conversation. And they will conclude one thing: The cellphone did it. From stories on Sunday morning television to best-selling books like “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle.

Is there any reason today’s youth is a mess? So I guess this is our reality now, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I could go on longer but just noticed someone who wants to talk to me.

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Memories a life lost too soon … published in the Star June 19, 2013

by on Jun.22, 2013, under Kansas City Star columns

Matt Keenan — A missing link in the chain of memory

Special to The Star

My wife handed me the photograph. Her expression was a foreshadowing of what awaited me. “We found this in the tub too.” The tub was a large collection of pre-digital photographs Lori had been organizing. I grabbed it, moved to the couch and sat down. It was a photo I took at Cub Scout Day Camp, with second-grader Thomas McCord, standing with his father, Dan. That summer I was the cubmaster for Troop 3096, Day Camp coordinator and chief photographer.

It was June 2001. Our son Robert had finished second grade. Thomas was his classmate.

The day before camp, it rained three inches. Johnson County was in a flash flood watch. No matter — camp was on. For some moms, this was their first introduction to Scouts, and they had their index finger firmly on the panic button. Moms were asking — “Is it safe?” “Are the campgrounds flooding?” “Are you crazy?” And that was just my house. On that Monday morning, as our bus pulled out of Nativity, Indian Creek at 119th Street and Mission Road was over its banks, which forced a detour of the bus route. Moms who sat in their SUVs as the bus made a sharp left had an urgent need for smelling salts. The next two days we got two more inches each day. Camp Naish — thick with trees and heavy vegetation — became the world’s largest mud playground.

The McCord/Keenan tandem’s introduction to inclement weather was just beginning. We returned to Naish in July a couple years later for Webelos camp when the temperatures peaked at 106 degrees, a record high. The maternal panic button was, once again, engaged.

Robert and Thomas played on various teams. In sixth grade someone politely asked, correction, ordered, me to coach the CYO basketball team. This was the castoff team — the rejects from the A to D teams. I loved that class, those boys, but particularly Thomas, whose sweet disposition made him a favorite with pretty much everyone who knew him. But I was partial to him for another reason — he was on a perpetual growth spurt — settling at 6’2” in eighth grade.

This didn’t surprise his mom, Therese — at birth he was just a few ounces shy of 10 pounds and was over the 100th percentile at every medical checkup. “He had enormous feet from the time he was born,” Therese said. My whole family gave him wide berth in the pews at church because when he stepped on your toe you felt it. They finally stopped growing in ninth grade at size 15 . His football cleats were special-ordered and freakish looking. His flip-flops were like boats.

Through all these adventures Thomas coped with juvenile diabetes, diagnosed in first grade. You never really knew it, except for those times when he self-administered shots.

Thomas and Robert were teammates on a baseball team that played in Blue Valley and, yes, they knew that coach too. We won a few, lost a lot more, and along the way had lots of pizza and pool parties where supposedly one parent broke out a Speedo.

But Boy Scouts was the thread that connected all those years, tracing the trajectory from adolescence to adulthood, and they were rich with memories. At Bartle they spent time carving weapons, chasing skunks and hanging out in exclusive tent enclaves. The rest of their time they wasted.

In October, while a sophomore at K-State, we lost Thomas. He died from diabetes complications at age 20. His funeral included photos depicting a life full of adventure, including many of his days as a Scout. To Dan and Therese, the photo of their son as an Eagle Scout is no doubt among their most treasured, but I have my own.

We miss you, Thomas.

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