Saturday, July 11, 2009


“You can’t hate Keith, because he’s about as threatening as the Easter Bunny.”
–Frank Ferraro

Keith is a guy with whom I used to work, in the same Pittsburgh retailer’s internal visual merchandising department as T. I was a graphic designer up on the tenth floor and Keith ran the printers down in the basement. I created the artwork digitally and sent the files to Keith. He produced them, prepared the printed work, and shipped it out. We were essentially parallels in the corporate structure, meaning that we were both at the bottom of it. Being two production people in a department overwhelmingly populated by semi-literate, egotistical, spineless, ambitious, passive-aggressive, overpaid, corporate-ladder-climbing, paper-pushing, executive shitheads, Keith and I actually had a tangible purpose. There were few other production people who could make the same claim with a straight face. This meant that we were indispensable and dramatically underpaid in comparison with our colleagues. Regardless, this necessitated a close working relationship between Keith and myself.

I really used to enjoy talking with Keith, primarily because he was crazy. He possessed a relatively innocuous and subtle insanity that took a while to detect and savor. That is what made him so interesting. He was crazy on many different levels, but it was all very genuine. Keith was a born-again Christian. He read the Bible obsessively and exclusively, and read nothing else. He really did. You could quiz him on it. He knew that fucking thing forwards and backwards. As is often the case with devout Christians, Keith was thoroughly homophobic. Anybody who was gay really made Keith visibly uncomfortable, especially gay men. This is particularly relevant because the visual merchandising department in which we worked was filled almost entirely with gay men.

They knew just how much they bothered Keith, and they reveled in it. Of course, Keith was far too polite to ever be rude, confrontational, or otherwise hostile. We used to conspire with a few of the guys who really liked to mess with Keith. This was hilarious and great fun, not only because of Keith’s ideological objection to homosexuality, but because Keith himself was gay and had absolutely no idea. This was one of those levels upon which Keith was crazy. He was confused and conflicted. There was a wide consensus among the office personnel that Keith just needed a raging fag to tear his ass up and show him the light. He needed Jesus to love him in a much more literal and physical way.

Beyond being a homophobic, born-again Christian, Keith was a connoisseur of music rooted in African-American culture. He had an extensive knowledge of jazz, blues, and real rock ‘n’ roll. He was also petrified of black people. Keith’s attitude towards black people was just as innocuous as his attitude toward gay people. He would never be rude, confrontational, hostile, or discriminatory. However, he would occasionally spout the implicitly racist rhetoric of right-wing, social conservative republicans, not that any of us thought that he really understood or believed what he was saying. It was just comical to watch a person who was so well versed in good, authentic black music and also so deathly afraid of black musicians.

Chain-smoking and an explicit scorn for the homeless further compounded Keith’s insanity. None of us were entirely certain where those two things fit into his Christian ideology. Regardless, it wasn’t worth the argument to find out, as it so often isn’t when dealing with devoutly religious people. Also, I should note that he was very careful to avoid profanity at all times. I could count all of the times that I had ever heard him swear on one hand. All of Keith’s bizarre, morally toxic characteristics were made all the more ironic by his sunny disposition. Keith might hate everything that you stood for but he would be your friend nonetheless. He was always a pleasure to be around. As a vocal atheist and godless heathen, I often found myself at philosophical odds with Keith, and he likewise with me. It was this very difference that prompted Keith to give me one of the most cherished compliments I have ever received. Keith said, “All of these people are liars. The say they’re Christian. They don’t read the Bible. They sin freely. They only attend church at their convenience. At least you don’t pretend, Michael. At least you don’t lie. I really respect your honesty.” At moments like that, Keith really impressed me.

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