by Brian Kerstetter
KEANU REEVES IN A MONKEY SUIT
Most of my friends, one day in their middle age, look at me over a drink and say something like, “You know, I may have wasted my youth going to parties, drinking, and chasing girls.” I always try to reassure them that they haven’t, pointing out their achievements and sensitivities, even though in half their cases I think they have in fact wasted their lives. To reinforce their fear, they’ll bring up the drunken graduation party where they lopped off the tip of their finger or the 21st birthday party where they ended up in someone’s sister’s bed.
Other friends – those with large brains and no imagination –managed to maneuver past these pitfalls by opting for books, sports, or the family television set, only to unexpectedly bump up against them in middle age and spend the next decade making up for lost time.
O. and I spent a few days in the small village of Schaffhaussen on the Rhine River in Switzerland where O. grew up. We planned to shoot an old-fashioned 1920s buster keaton scene, in black and white, for his filmHome 2, that would involve a beautiful blond girl, a Hollywood actor, a round old woman, and someone in a life-size monkey costume. I flew from New York to Switzerland specifically for the scene, only to discover on arriving that I, not Keanu Reeves, would be wearing the life-size monkey suit. (Oddly, Keanu backed out at the last moment.)
After I checked into my hotel room, I whined for a good twenty minutes to O. about the pity of wasting my acting skills inside a monkey suit, when all of a sudden he shoved a plump, red strawberry in my mouth and said “Aw, shut up!” I’d never experienced a strawberry burst with such sweet strawberry flavor, overwhelming all of my senses above my neck. That strawberry, handgrown on a nearby Swiss farm using real Swiss cow manure, nearly changed my life. As a result, I shut up for the next 4 days and wore a monkey suit without saying boo to a ghost, not imagining that anyone could be unhappy in a place with such strawberries. Even in a monkey suit.
My role as a large monkey was to sweep the kitchen floor, argue with and physically threaten the old woman, seduce the beautiful girl, throw her ugly sister to the floor (and call her ugly), and finally attack O. behind the camera with a bread knife.
That evening, after filming, we went to a bar where O. had gone as a teenager in the center of Schaffhausen. We sat outside and watched groups of boys arrive on skateboards from the outlying villages, drink beer and ignore the girls. “See that?” O. said, pointing at the group of boys speaking seriously at a table. “That was me,” he said. “Huh? Drinking beer?” I asked. O. was known for never having tasted beer in his life, so this came as a surprise. “No,” he said. “Speaking! Speaking all the time, sitting around, talking, arguing, debating, SPEAKING!”
This reminded me of an old passport photo I’d seen of O. in his early 20s – short hair, dark round philosophical glasses, no smile – the very portrait of serious. “Back then, when I went out with Yves,” he said. “It wasn’t a good night unless we had a blowout argument about a serious topic. We were ARTISTS!” In fact he and Yves, his best friend, had once stopped speaking for two months due to O.’s claim that Michael Jackson’s song Billie Jean was the greatest artwork of the past fifty years.
O. pointed to the parking lot across from the bar. “In fact I remember once over there, in that parking lot,” he said, “late at night, an older woman stopped me and asked me if I wanted a ride home. We spoke, she was sexy, maybe a bit drunk,” he recalled. “I was so serious, I told her no thanks, I had to go, and rode my skateboard back to my village.”
He thought about it. “Sometimes I think I wasted my youth just speaking, yea, speaking all the time, never doing anything wrong.” I imagined O. during his teenage years, arguing about Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoperat this very table twenty years ago. I felt bad that O. concluded he was simply a boring intellectual loser, who got good grades and didn’t give his parents neither worry nor grief. I took a sip of wine and tried to console him. “ “Well, since I’ve known you, you do more stupid things than anyone I know. Seriously.” O. seemed to feel a little better after hearing this. He could see in my eyes I really meant it. And I did. We ordered a couple more drinks and talked about how great it would have been to fly Keanu Reeves to Switzerland and put him in a monkey suit.
What are friends for, if not to tell them how stupid they are, when they’re afraid they haven’t been stupid enough.