Blood Isn’t Always Thicker Than Water: A (Preliminary) Tribute to Scott Keating
This seems to be the season of death for me.
First good friend Jack Galvin died in July, then my 98 year old dear Aunt Mal at the end of August, and now, on Sunday evening at 11:35 at the Lutheran Hospital intensive care unit, one Scott Keating, friend and companero of 35 or more years. In their final hospital stay, all three struggled with life, seemed to have experienced a bit of a recovery toward the end, only to suffer an irreversable relapse again, and leave us. A cruel process, to give a hint of hope, just before the end. Jack and Scott were particulary close and I couldn’t help thinking that Scott just `went ahead’ to join Jack to organize that great union in the sky, lobbying so the rest of us might head their way later on. Yesterday some one asked me how I felt. Actually it’s quite simple: it’s like being psychologically amputated.
I am not sure of his age because I never asked him but believe Scott was a mere 56 or 57 years old. He had been ill on and off for some time with his condition slowly but persistently deteriorating in recent years. His father, Paul H. Keating, a former POW in a Nazi concentration camp, was an artist of some repute, a member of a group of post-war (WWII) artists referred to as the `Denver 5′ who had a national reputation a new generation of modern artists. Paul H., who on occasion would come to my classes and tell students of his POW experiences (and his opposition to war) always carried a trade mark milk carton from which he drank to sooth his ulcer. He would also casually – as if 50 students weren’t watching in amazement – smoke (of course it was a `no smoking’ room) and flick the ashes from his cigarette nonchalantly into his pants cuffs. He died maybe 15 years ago the way so many of us fear passing: drunk on a Denver street on a cold winter day. Paul H and Scott’s mom, Pooh (we call her), divorced a long time ago. Pooh remarried a kind and decent man, a solid and lasting second marriage and not a bitter one as some of them can be.
Some years ago Scott developed a `weight problem’, the source of which no one was ever certain, but it appeared to be some kind of glandular condition rather than binge eating or poor diet and his weight shot up to who knows, maybe 450, maybe 500 pounds, maybe more. He struggled with that weight – really did what he could to bring it down, bring it under control, but in the end was unable to. While no doctor, I believe the stresses on his system were simply too much – even for Scott who was strong as an ox, but not quite strong enough to bear all that weight. He’d have these malaria-like attacks, shivers followed by sweating, the cause of which the doctors at Kaiser were never quite able to pinpoint. And he’d be out of commission with that for a week, ten days until the attack passed. He was hospitalized for this on several occasions and as a result, to hear he was back hospitalized didn’t overly concern me. But every day his condition worsened. He’d has some kind of gall bladder infections which could have been surgically drained other than the fact that he was also on the blood-thinner, cumiden making surgery very iffy. The doctors hoped to wait until the cumiden levels in his system dropped before operating. But during the wait the infection spread and poisoned his blood which in turn led to a kidney malfunction and a more general system shut down. There were a few times he gave us hope, has his blood pressure stabilized and his white blood cell count seemed to diminish. But these only proved to be cruel teases and as the weekend drew nearly so did the end of Scott’s life.
I last saw him late on Saturday night for about a half hour along with a few other close friends.
We were all choked up to see Scott laid out – his body attached to a gazillion computerized machines with little graph lines and colored balls dancing up and down on color monitors – all of which seemed completely useless to me. Scott was sedated, I supposed – but am not sure – with heavy doses of morphine. He looked calm and not in pain, although he had suffered heaps in the weeks prior. He did not seem conscious although I am not sure and later, Carol Kreck, one of the friends there with me, related that Scott responded to a question as to whether he was cold and wanted more blankets. So perhaps he heard the words that I whispered in his ear as he lay dying – that friends like Scott come once in a lifetime, are irreplacable, that corny as it seems, and this from one of the most unspiritual – no anti-spiritual – person i Know, myself, that he will live on, live on in the minds and hearts of his friends and that he has long been a part of whomever it is that I am. I spoke to him about two kinds of family – the families we are born into and do not choose – our mothers and fathers, siblings etc…and then the other kind, the family we choose – the network of friends, in our case, cemented forever in a movement for peace, justice and civil rights that we were apart of in the 1960s and early 1970s. Finally I whispered to him that I had always considered him almost family, something close to a `brother-in-law’ anyway since at our wedding he’d gone off and `made out’ – as we used to call it – with one of my sisters. I was so proud of them both! (I won’t tell which one – they were, at the time, both great beauties) and that either sister would have been far luckier to have connected with Scott than the schleps they wound up marrying (although today, at long last, I have an `almost brother-in-law’ as I call him, who is, in every sense of the word, `a good man’). I’d like to believe Scott heard me although I’m not sure. Seven years prior I had had a similar conversation with my father in a Florida hospital where he lay, his body paralyzed, his face frozen from a stroke that soon would end his life, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. Never knew if my words got through then either. Strange feeling, probably for both of us.
Social movements – the ones I have known – produce such a great variety of people. Some of them, quite frankly, are not particularly kind and humane – they are downright nasty, petty and cold – and it is a common trap to think they will be otherwise. But then there were the others: people who were supposed to be socialized to be greedy but are generous; the ones who are trained to be narrow and bigoted – but are neither and have no racist bones to speak of in their body; the ones who probably could have, had they wanted to, been extraordinarily wealthy or powerful but said `fuck it’ to all that. To this day I wonder at their humanity, their talent as organizers, their courage. Social movement do produce such human gems. Scott was one such `gem’. He was also quite frankly, – and I do not use this word lightly – brilliant, with more smarts in his (not so) little pinky than most people have in their heads (as we used to say in Brooklyn). Scott understood people like virtually no one else i know. He was a master psychologist and could penetate virtually everyone’s bullshit (including mine), their seemy side as well as anyone I’ve ever met. With a few questions he could see into a person’s soul. And yet he was kind. He didn’t use his powers of perception to control or hurt people like a number of people I know who think themselves real slick pyschologically (but aren’t). He accepted people with their short comings and in many ways cared for them all the more because of them. He was genuinely gentle.
He reminded me of when we met. I had forgotten and thought it was when he lived in one political commune on 12 and Race in Capital Hill and I lived in another at 24 and Downing near Five Points. But no, we had met in the mountains in the fall of 1970 at an AFSC peace conference. Galvin was there too. The conference featured a Pakistani scholar activist whose name doesn’t ring too many bells today (but whose writings I use in my teaching) Eqbal Ahmad. Shortly thereafter we found ourselves working together in Denver’s anti-war movement and with that movement, finding ourselves heading more and more in a left direction just at about the time the nation as a whole started going the other way! Keating was one of a group of young teenage Catholics, some of whom were rebelling against Catholic school, others coming out of what was one of the more politicized (and integrated) high schools in Denver, East High School. Decades later, these `recovering Catholics’, most of them long atheists, others who had found some alternatives to traditional Catholicism would meet and thoroughly enjoy playing `Catholic Trivial Pursuit’.
The commune movement we were both a part of didn’t last very long. Some communes lasted only a year or two. If I remember correctly, the one I was in lasted a bit more than a year. Scott’s, it seems, lasted somewhat longer. Many of the people coming out of those communes would spend much of the rest of their lives working for civil rights, peace, the labor movement, spawning a whole generation of left organizers and very talented political people. Keating was one of them. Although he had the good sense to never join a cadre organization, he was deeply committed to the values of the 1960s. For a while he worked as an organizer for the National Lawyer’s Guild in the early 1970s. He was a founder of one of the more interesting – and actually one of the few – local institutions that this new generation of leftists spawned – the Radical Information Project. Based mostly on 17th Ave near Clarkson right across the street from what for years was the Folklore Center, it was a central meeting point for many left initiatives in the city for two decades, and as such was also probably one of the most bugged and infiltrated institutions in the city.
When the Denver Police, directed by national intelligence agencies, raided the Crusade For Justice in what was one of the most carefully orchestrated acts of state repression (detailed in Ernesto Vigil’s fine book The Crusade For Justice), Keating understood the political significance of what had happened immediately and helped spearhead the National Lawyers’ Guild defense of tha beseiged organization. He was sharp, intelligent, very, very smart and caring in that work, a fact of which was never forgotten by people who used to be a part of the Crusade. As previously mentioned, Scott had to deal with significant number of assholes, leftwing `jesuits’ and just some downright nasty people. Welcome to the movement! The pay was shit – not even that good – and his reward was to get kicked in balls once a week by the movement people around him, arrogant types who talked tough but in the end weren’t worth a dime, who ranted about being `the vanguard of the proletariat’ and stuff like that although most of them later became mainstream Dems. They were often little more than `Marxist-Leninist’ millionaires, the left wing of the trust fund baby movement. Their stay in the left was temporary and after having done their patriotic duty to help fragment movement of the 1970s and early 1980s beyond repair, they moved on to the bottom of the barrel and wound up stock brokers, shyster lawyers, bankers or worse, state legislators. Eventually Scott did what any sensible human being would do under the circumstances – told them where to get off …and took a job working in auto parts store. I had to deal with some of the same nonsense, and still do, you know the folks to like to impress people that they are `the most radical’ when in the end they were mostly phonies (or agents). But what Scott endured was far worse. It never broke his spirit…but it hurt.
As he had excelled at the National Lawyers Guild, so he did in auto parts (and actually at essentially everything he ever touched). It was a place out on West 44 Ave just past Sheridan. He did so well that he was offered a management position in Houston, but there was a catch – he’d have to move to that pit of oil and gas interests. Too many Bushes in the bushes in Houston. It took him about a nano-second to turn it down. He then drove a cab for more than a decade. It seemed that half the Denver left did in those days and not surprisingly – together they formed a coop and although it didn’t last either, proved to be one of the more interesting experiments in worker self management until it too collapsed. A number of short stories resulted (he wrote fiction and poetry).There was then a spell as an investigator for the Jefferson County D.A. I think he really liked that work, but his boss was a politically ambitious and pompous asshole, a Tom Delay type climbing the social ladder to nowhere – most politically ambitious people are little more than that – - who couldn’t tolerate the fact that Scott was not sufficiently impressed. Scott’s problem was that Scott celebrated `Don’t-Take-Shit-from-Bosses-Day’ all year round. In the end I’m not sure if his boss fired Scott or visa versa. Then he went out on his own. His last venture which lasted also more than a decade was a private investigation firm – Another Source Investigations. In a pretty cut-throat business, he managed to survive and there were a couple of times there that I thought he might really pull it all together and get out of the financial hole he so creatively and systematically had worked himself into. But then his body started rebelling.
Scott would have made an outstanding lawyer and an even better judge. He knew the law intimately, was exceedingly fair and of course I have no doubt he would have defended poor people, minorities and essentially anyone with the ill fortune of getting screwed by the system. I know that he would done so because he was Scott and he understood and had a healthy contempt for greed and naked political power…and this was, along with our love for fine movies, one fo the great bonds we shared. But his life in those years was dedicated to `the movement’ and he never went to law school. I don’t think that he even ever went to college, not for even a semester. Just couldn’t afford it, and although I might be mistaken about this, he also simply didn’t seem to care – as if college would interfer with his education. Nor was there any financial support. His father Paul H. had begun his rather impressive downward spiral. Paul H would die as many of us fear we will. His body was found frozen on the street one winter morning. No financial support there. He left Scott a mixed inheritance – a fascinating personality with an appreciation for art and culture and a slew of unpaid bills.
Through much of the late 1970s and 1980s we didn’t see much of each other although we never really lost contact. His personal life was, well…let’s call it `colorful’. We reconnected – but how I can’t remember – sometime in 1990. I had just returned from five bruising and humbling (at least a little) years in Finland (but as they say that’s another story). He lived in the same neighborhood. We picked up again, older, somewhat more cynical (and thus much funnier and not so pompous). Until the end – the end being two days ago – my favorite moments, precious – nothing less – was just to visit with him. We’d talk for hours, about politics, about some of the pathelogical people he’d run into in his private eye cases, about culture – he was extraordinarily well read and knew art well. He saw where America was going long ago. Together we saw the current darkness descend and pretty much decided years ago, that while we probably couldn’t stop the shift to the right, still, we’d give the bastards a run for their money as long as we were still around and we’d laugh a little along the way. My friend, how i miss you and you’re not dead yet two days.
And the man could cook too. Some of our most intricate discussions were about recipees.
(note: five years later (march, 2012), i come across an email from tom mutz, now living in Slovenia and enjoying the free medical care there. He d written up a short note about an incident at the University of Denver in 1968, when the protesting students set up a tent city that was taken down by the state patrol, in which he and Scott were involved. They were not D.U. students at the time. As usual, i’d misplaced it, but want to post it now…)
Mutz on Keating…
You probably remember that after the Ohio National Guard murdered the four students at Kent State on May 4th, 1970, college campuses across the country erupted in protest. At the University of Denver protests began on May 6th and by the 8th, the campus was shut down and a tent city/shanty town with 1500 inhabitants had been erected on the lawns just south of Evans Ave. Scott, Mary and I along with others from our various circles (Dick Drennen, Susan Simons, Steve Levine and on and on) got involved with what the students were calling Woodstock West. Lots of good fellowship, decent food, great dope, homemade music and good politics around the fires in the camp. The campers policed themselves and the camp “police” called themselves after Wavy Gravy. The police of the helmeted persuasion moved on the protesters early on the morning of May 11th. Lines of state troopers with two foot long billyclubs sealed off Evans at Race St. and University Blvd while the Denver police began a sweep into the shanty town. Scotty and I were among those who went from tent to shanty waking people up. The cops tore down the tents and knocked over the makeshift shanties. (I have one nice memory of a cop approaching a shanty whose main support was a length of four by four. He took his nightstick in both hands and gave the upright a tremendous clout. The four by was anchored to the ground somehow and it was like smacking a cement post. The cop vibrated away from the shanty). By the evening of the 11th the camp was back up. The police didn’t have the manpower to control the campus as well as catch crooks but the National Guard did. Scott, Mary and I hooked up with the early warning office which was dedicated to letting the campers know when the Guard was coming. On the night of May 11th-12th, Scott, Mary, Susan Grossweiler (mostly along for the company) and I were staked out on the road that runs by the Denver/Globeville National Guard Armory, from which everyone expected the Guard trucks, tanks(?), armored personnel carriers(?), etc(?) to roll. We had scoped out the location of a pay telephone and settled down close enough to the gate to count the vehicles when they set out. This was serious business. No dope in the car, no booze. And no National Guard. I remember a lot of laughing, music on the radio, plenty of heavy dozing and a ridiculous number of cigarettes. We made it home around dawn.