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From the Vault of Art Shay: "Keeley's Kures"

By Art Shay in News on Jun 15, 2011 4:00PM

Let me begin by saying Steve "Bo" (for "Hobo") Keeley sits alone atop the lonely pole inhabited by all of the characters I've met and photographed in my entire lifetime.

I met him 45 years ago when he was a national racquetball champion who had helped originate paddleball. A couple of years ago we had a near miss on the back page of the Sunday New York Times Magazine, whose editor shared my enthusiasm for getting Steve into print- and yet seem a living, believable human. This after I regaled him with some "as told to" adventures I thought the Times readers would like. We ran afoul of this editor's editor who found Bo, perhaps, unbelievable, or found my adaptation of his life into print, insufficiently convincing. One of my few, but perhaps greatest failures.

I thought I was on good ground because I had sold that page a story on my heart valve replacement several years ago that the picture editor called the "warmest, most personal feature story" she had worked on in 20 years. She especially liked my closeup of myself breathing through an oxygen mask, the candid of Florence forcing a rubber stocking onto my foot to re-establish circulation, and of course the closeup of my failed pig's valve - after 18 years of Shayness - in which the two or three holes in it made the poor worn out thing look like a Halloween mask with a stupid grin.

But good ground ain't enough for a Times feature. I pointed out graduate veterinarian Keeley's having grown up in 15 successive backyards because his father was a peripatetic scientist in the atomic age. I told of his living in a ten foot cube he dug out himself in the toe of the California desert where Arizona and Southern California meet with the Mexican border. I told how Bo, briefly home from his hoboing on three continents, doused the light of his solar powered lamp and computer and shared with a lady railroad bum the sounds of his barking geckos - the chief barker named Michael Douglas for his success with the opposite sex. He also shared with her the Spanish hush-hush of Mexican kids crossing into the U.S. under the thrall of expensive coyotes.

I should point out that Keeley owns 11 acres of desert surrounding his hole. That's the good news. The bad part is that his property is a mere two miles from the U.S. Air Force's Cocoa Mountain gunnery range. This makes obvious whiz-bang tsouris for his friends and neighbors, like stray bomb fragments knocking people out of bed. The upside of this drama is that Keeley and a few pals course the desert some moonless nights in rachitic pick-up trucks and gather scrap aluminum, then sell it. An LA paper went along on several of these sweeps and one picture showed Keeley riding an errant bomb like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.

(Pickens went to his grave owing me and Life magazine for 20 rolls of Tri-X I staked him to when he promised to shoot a feature from his clown's barrel at his next rodeo.)

The other day Keeley asked me to write a blurb for his next book, on hoboing. The new book comes a few months after his first book, Keeley's Kures, under current review. I thought I'd share the first one with you to whet your appetite for my friend... those of you interested in improving your health.

Here's my blurb:

Prolific, pesky, polymathic,anti-etablishment, pro common sense and physical fitness - Steve "Bo" Keely has gotten his 32 feet of notebooks-on- a shelf in his underground redoubt -into REAL PRINT- to everyone's surprise-- and here it is- the kind of rumination Mark Twain might've written if he'd been a veterinarian who plied the human maelstrom. Plied it while tossing out pearls of logic, an overview of the world as it exists to daunt us undauntable little guys.

I first met Bo 40 years ago along the pro racquetball circuit. I photographed him (once in 1979 for SI) sometimes playing the club champ with a frying pan, often appearing wearing gym shoes of different colors, always a top drawer competitor, always a teacher. (He taught me enough to beat him in 2 inconsequential games in Ann Arbor.)

Bo's memory of adventures in more than 100 countries serviced by railroads is as encyclopedic as his knowledge of the fauna who share a ten-foot square hole in the ground in which he often resides. His pet sidewinding snakes and barking insects; his praying mantises losing their heads while mating for the first and last time; his application of professional bumhood to the equally complicated bummer we all inhabit one way or another makes this book a Keeley Regaling Machine. Anywhere you open it, he makes you at home and puts you in position to better yourself and those around you.

I'm a famous old Life reporter and photographer who has done many books and - even if he didn't cure my double vision by raising this very computer screen a foot over my level vision - I heartily recommend this impossible, wide-ranging American life story to any readers who'd like a series of letters from a modern crotchety Mark Twain, or would like to drop a ton of pleasure on a dear kooky friend.

I leave you who have health problems - mine was vision - to scour the pages of Keeley's Kures: a bargain for six bucks and change from Amazon. He mentions me on page 95: "I introduced him to eye exercises, backward reading and writing, and made some changes in his computer habits. As his eyesight improved I got an email. "You ought to write a book." One day perhaps this book, or at least this chapter, will be printed in mirror image and sold with an attached mirror as a training aid." Keeley's a deep student of Leonardo da Vinci's experiments with backwards reading and writing.

All I know is my computer screen is a foot higher than it used to be, and my double vision has stopped.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Nelson Algren's Chicago, is also available at Amazon.