Emergence according to Jeff

by CarlD

In high school and college two of my best friends were Brad and Jeff Keough. Brad was the other bass player in our local jam band; Jeff had already embarked on a career as an entertainment entrepreneur.

Of the many family stories the Keough brothers told me, my favorite was the one about their Hungarian grandparents. The brothers were built skinny, and apparently every time they visited with Mrs. Keough’s parents they would get fed within an inch of their lives. Eventually they decided to turn the tables, so they starved themselves in anticipation of the next visit. Course after course of rich Hungarian food appeared and was eagerly consumed; Gram and Gramp’s expressions of satisfaction changed to worry, then panic. The kids had eaten everything – they’d won! Then Grampa’s face lit up; he disappeared into the cellar, there were sounds of rummaging, and he triumphantly reappeared blowing dust off an ancient tin – fruitcake! Brad and Jeff were defeated.

In high school Jeff ran a variety show called “Dr. K’s Medicine Show.” He of course was the emcee, Dr. K., and he also did a juggling act in which he was “The Man Who Never Dropped Anything.” He’d usually end up dropping something, at which point he became “The Man Who Never Picked Anything Up.” He must have practiced that one at home. One time I was reading in my room when I heard a commotion outside. I looked out the window and Jeff, skinny freckled redhead Irish-Hungarian, was down there bellowing “When the moon hits-a your eye, like a big-a pizza pie, THAT’S AMORE!”

Jeff couldn’t stand conformity. Between the farmers and the commuter yuppies Bucks County tended to be politically conservative, so he ran the local Libertarian club. Then he went to college at Emerson up in Massachusetts and was so appalled by the mindless local liberalism that in those conversations he became an arch-conservative. Later I mentioned to him Gramsci’s observation (re: Sorel) that a total commitment to spontaneity was itself a form of conformity to an absolute rule, but as usual he was not interested in having his waters muddied.

Jeff used to hitch-hike up to and home from school. He didn’t look very threatening and he paid off with hours of jokes, stories, and loopy stream-of-consciousness. One time on the way up he had made it right to the northern border of New Jersey when a Jersey state cop picked him up. The statie informed him that hitch-hiking was illegal in the state, then rather than give him a ticket drove him all the way back down to the southern state border and let him out.

When he graduated from college Jeff tried out for Ringling Bros.’ clown college. This is highly competitive and he was one of only a few applicants nationwide to be admitted. Then he was one of only a few graduates to be immediately hired as a clown in one of the Ringling Bros. circuses. He quit this dream job after about six months; when I asked why he said it was because they wouldn’t let him be funny. Turns out they have rigorously lockstep clown routines that were choreographed years ago by now-dead clowns and have been passed down unchanged through the years. Who knew? Any deviation from the programme is severely sanctioned and Jeff, a master improviser, was regularly in the doghouse for being funny.

One time Jeff was walking down the street when he was accosted by missionaries of some religious group, I believe Scientologists. They convinced him to take a survey that would assess his personality and suggest ways he could progress to higher levels of being. When they scored the survey they found deficits in ambition and goal-orientation. They showed him a bar graph with low bars in those areas and explained how they could help him bring those bars up. He looked over this document and noticed that the ‘happiness’ bar was up at the top of the scale. Not being a statistician, he asked whether they could be sure that bringing the other bars up wouldn’t lower the happiness bar. And not getting a satisfactory answer he went on his way.

Jeff moved to Ireland where he was an illegal immigrant and made his living as a street performer. Eventually he got legal, got his own radio show, got married and had a kid or so.

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10 Comments to “Emergence according to Jeff”

  1. A lovely example of real-life picaresque —”of or relating to a type of fiction in which the hero, a rogue, goes through a series of episodic adventures.” The reversal of expectations, when he settles down at the end in a country where, mythically at least, rogues are appreciated, adds interest to the tale. Who among us would like to have led this life?

  2. My favorite story, however, is the nicknames their father bestowed upon them.

  3. Hey, do I know you? … I don’t recall the nicknames story, but Mr. Keough was certainly the nicknaming kind. He had that whole Kerouac/ rebel journalist schtick that pretty much obligated him to toss one-liners around like J. Jonah Jameson on crack. So anyway, you gonna tell the story or just be all mysterious and stuff?

  4. Toe Keough and Pino Keough. Don’t remember which was which,though.

    Yeah, of course you know me! I thought you’d have figured it out by now; I wasn’t particularly trying to hide. I was your downstairs neighbor when you lived on Bainbridge. (Is that enough of a hint that allows me to preserve some anonymity here?)

  5. Yay, I was wondering where you’d got to! Ah Bainbridge, happy times around the ‘fireplace’….

    You got a corner of Keough lore I didn’t, apparently, so I don’t know which was which either (would it have mattered to him?) but those nicknames are awesome.

    Did you hear the one about Mr. K’s side business as a xerox pornographer (“The Masturbator’s Handbook” haha) out of the trunk of his car?

  6. Hah! No, I don’t remember that one. I’m still in touch w/ Brad occasionally (and even have his CDs); I’ll ask him whether he was Toe or Pino.

    And somewhere I still have photos of a 4th of July on the roof of that building, as we–including both Keoughs and your brother–attempted to toast all 50 states plus the territories. There’s also a photo of Brad holding up a beer and a Pop-Tart the next morning.

  7. I had copies of those pictures too – the sunset light was really amazing in your hair against the deep blue sky – but I think they went into the box with all the other pictures B. demanded during the crazy time. Which is a long story and I gather you’ve got one of your own.

    I don’t believe we attempted to toast the fifty states plus the territories. I believe we DID toast the fifty states, the territories, the state capitals and, when we knew them, the state birds, flowers, and notable landmarks. Making a beer and a Pop-Tart the next morning pretty much mandatory.

  8. Hmm; I don’t think I know about a crazy time w/ Brad & you. But I’m sorry to hear that there was one.

    And I realize I was unclear: the only CDs of his I have are the ones he & his band made, not his personal-collection CDs.

    We should probably move this conversation to email; somehow I doubt your other readers would be all that interested in our personal/overlapping histories here.

    Though I will say that, in some, perhaps many, ways, I always thought that Brad was more spontaneous than Jeff, though that’s not obvious.

  9. Not that B., the other B.! But yeah, plenty to say about both and not that interesting to other readers. Email’s cool: flatharmony at gmail dot com.

  10. i knew Jeff in Boston in the early 90s. Brilliant dude! Made a bunch of videos with him.

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