This is an essay I turned in for workshop in my Creative Nonfiction class. Just the words. The pictures I added just for you. Enjoy 🙂
Fandom has fueled my life since I was a young girl. My earliest memory of it is sitting alone in my bedroom initiating my stuffed animals into the Goonies by reading the oath from a fan magazine out loud. Sure, at 14 I was too old to have stuffed animals, let alone be talking to them, but I was a strange child and developing a disability in the middle of going through puberty didn’t make that any less true. The normalcy of life slowly started slipping away as my disability continued to weaken my muscles and make my speech impediment more pronounced. As the real world betrayed me, I turned to movies, music, television and sports as my escape. My unnamed, progressive, incurable condition is out of my control. But how much I enjoy, learn about, and consume all things pop culture is. When I become a fan of something, I go in all the way. Collect, consume, obsess. It was true when I was young, and it is even more true now.
While some people wear a t-shirt with the logo of their favorite sports team, movie franchise, superhero or artist (music or otherwise) on it, I collect tattoos. Don’t get me wrong, I collect the t-shirts too. I got my first tattoo at 35. The Chinese symbol for strength just below my left wrist. I went on to add other symbols: serenity in Chinese, a butterfly with the Chinese symbol for courage and a Scorpio sign on the wings, dream and believe written out in script on my wrists. It didn’t take long for the fandom ink to start. My tattoo partner in crime, scratch that, my all things in life partner in crime, Lorraine and I found a way to combine our love of both Tolkien and Doctor Who by having the line “Not all those who wander are lost” in Gallifrayan tattooed on my left ankle and her right foot. It was the first of many matching tattoos we have collected. We’re far from done. To look at my skin is to know where my interests lie. Harley Quinn, Batman, the LA Kings, Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, Star Wars, Spider-Man, Captain America, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Prince, Deadpool, Daredevil. And Keanu Reeves.
My love for all things Keanu began in 1989. I was 17 and had just acquired a driver’s license and a hand me down Datsun with a white exterior and plaid maroon interior that still smelled like my grandfather’s medicine bag. If you wanted to freak people out you could put the key in the ignition, start the engine, then take the key out while the engine was running. Where most kids are at the DMV on their sixteenth birthday, I waited a year before I took my test. I had a permit. I’d taken driver’s ed in high school. Scared the bejesus out of my instructor who’d never had to teach a disabled driver using hand controls before. I mixed up the brake (push forward) and gas (push down) on more than one occasion. I feel like the poor man retired after teaching me to drive, but I don’t think that’s true. I failed the written test twice. My friends had cars. I didn’t need to rush. Whatever was holding me back, fear or passiveness, possibly a mixture of both, finally broke free and I got my license. And you couldn’t get me to stop driving.
On this particular day in February my family was gathered at my grandparents’ house celebrating my grandmother’s birthday. There wasn’t much us kids could to do there, we’d exhausted all our usual forms of entertainment, swimming, making up silly games, pretending we were adult enough to understand the conversations going on around us. Somehow my cousin and I convinced our parents let us go see a movie. “What movie?” “I dunno, let’s look in the paper.” Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was the only PG movie available on that day at that time. After gathering a few more people, a combination of my friends and my cousin’s, we headed to Westwood. That’s where you went if you wanted to see a movie in those days. It was a college hangout town and the designated area for Hollywood movie premieres. Just steps away from the UCLA campus and a central location for the major studios. The town was a mecca for shenanigans, movie going and food.
I would like to say my first encounter with Keanu on screen was one of enlightenment. I’d love to be able to say I was mesmerized by the way his heart and soul permeated the screen. That didn’t happen until later. My only thought on this day was that of a teenager who’d just discovered their next big crush. “Who is he and where can I get more of him?” The film itself is silly and funny and was the perfect blend of goofy fun and entertainment we were looking for in that moment. My cousin and her friend were 14. My friend and I were 17. They laughed at Napoleon enjoying an ice cream sundae bigger than his head, we giggled at the sexual innuendos we surely didn’t understand but thought we did.
After seeing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I went on a mission to find anything else Keanu had been in. Which entailed a great deal more effort than you’d think. There was no IMDB. Hell, there wasn’t an Internet. There were Blockbuster video stores and cable movie networks. Teen magazines and TV guides. Keanu’s roles before Ted were poignant, filled with angst and sadness. From teens dealing with suicide and murder in Permanent Record and River’s Edge to a teen whose father just didn’t understand him in The Prince of Pennsylvania. He had one silly line as a hockey goalie in Youngblood. And then played the easily influenced young lover in Dangerous Liaisons alongside Oscar winning actors John Malkovich, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeifer. If you needed an actor to play teen angst, you called on Keanu. If you needed someone to play dumb, you called on Keanu. With is puppy dog eyes and his beautifully sad face you wanted to hug him. With his goofy smile and long hair that fell in his face you wondered what was going on in his mind. He was soulful, damaged, a rebel, or anything else you wanted him to be. Film critics complained he had a monotone voice, was void of emotion, and chose roles that were seemingly all the same. I’ve never seen it that way. There’s a subtle nuance to every role Keanu plays. Neo is not Ted. Jack Traven is not Johnny Utah. None of them are Keanu. All of them are my favorites.
Over time, as I’ve followed Keanu’s career, my family has taunted me with exclamations of “he’s so dumb,” “he’s such a bad actor,” or my favorite “you know he’s gay right?” As if I cared about any of those things. While they didn’t understand my passion for Keanu the actor, Keanu the man lost his best friend, fellow actor River Phoenix, to a drug overdose. Almost lost his sister Kym and his mother to cancer. Started his own cancer research foundation in Kym’s name. Donated chunks of salary to production crews so his films could continue to shoot and disappeared from the spotlight in between acting gigs. He fell in love, lost a child to stillbirth and then lost his girlfriend to a car accident within a year’s time. He starred in more films that challenged his range. From a lawyer who has a run in with Satan himself in The Devil’s Advocate to a hapless idiot hired killer in I Love You to Death. He took on classic roles including the villainous Don John in Much Ado About Nothing, the title character in Little Buddha and Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Critics hated him in all those roles. But I’m a rebel and I insisted they were all good movies.
Of Hawaiian Chinese and English descent, Keanu was born September 2, 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon and grew up in Toronto, Canada. There he discovered both hockey and acting. I saw him play goalie on three different occasions at celebrity hockey events around LA. His name is Hawaiian and means Cool Breeze Over the Mountains. His first agent tried to get him to change it to Chuck Spadina because it was easier to pronounce. Keanu smartly declined. His father abandoned him at a young age and tried to reach out when Keanu got famous. Strangely mirroring my own family dynamic, as my father abandoned my brother and I when were young only to resurface when he went through rehab and had to complete his “ask for forgiveness” portion of the 12-step program. Keanu credits his stepfather for his love for acting and helping him become the man he is today and is close to his mother and sister who steer clear of the spotlight. He drives his Porsche 911 and Norton Commando motorcycle too fast through the Hollywood Hills. A friend and I once saw Keanu zooming through traffic on Sunset Boulevard in his Porsche. My friend suggested we try to follow him. “Oh sure,” I said. “That’s not conspicuous, at all.” We were in my 2001 Saturn Ion with the license plate ION*NEO and I was pretty sure we’d be arrested for stalking. Instead I wrote down his license plate number, like a normal person. In hindsight it might have been fun to see that headline “Wheelchair-Bound Girl in Saturn Ion Manages to Catch Up with Porsche Driven by Keanu Reeves, is Arrested for Stalking.” I carried around the scrap piece of paper for a year. When a paparazzi picture of Keanu next to a Porsche showed up in a magazine, I compared the license plate number to what I’d written down, confirming they were the same, then put the piece of paper in a box with the rest of my Keanu memorabilia.
In 1991 Keanu became an action star in Point Break, and again in 1994 in Speed, and yet again in 1999 in The Matrix. He gained more fame and went further into hiding when he wasn’t on a movie set. Other than his two stints as Ted, and until The Matrix, Keanu hadn’t really liked the idea of sequels. He turned down Speed 2: Cruise Control to star in a small Canadian stage production of Hamlet. When the opportunity to play Neo again in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions came along, he not only jumped at the chance, he gave up most of his salary to ensure the films could be made. Today he’s filmed three chapters in the John Wick franchise and just wrapped filming Bill & Ted Face the Music, the third film in that franchise. He leant his voice to the character of Duke Caboom in Toy Story 4 and was just recently announced as returning to the Matrix franchise for a fourth time. He’s also returning to John Wick in Chapter 4 of that franchise. It is his portrayal of Wick, the quietly badass former assassin out for revenge for his dog, that has catapulted him into the pop culture zeitgeist and dubbing of 2019 as “the Year of Keanu.” Recently a fan yelled “You’re Breathtaking!” in a crowded auditorium as Keanu took the stage to announce yet another project, this time a video game. Keanu did what Keanu does. He pointed to the crowd and joyfully yelled back “No, you’re breathtaking! You’re all breathtaking!”
In the late 90’s Keanu had a stint as a bass guitarist in the band Dogstar. I saw them play at least five times, from small clubs in the heart of Hollywood to a bigger venue in Ventura County where I managed to secure a spot in the front row. In a sea of fans screaming at him, Keanu looked right at me and I, in my infinite wisdom, looked the other way. You’ve seen the news stories about Make-a-Wish kids who got to meet their favorite actor, musician or sports star? That wasn’t ever me. I wanted to be invisible. I spent my life trying to blend in despite sticking out and the idea of meeting my favorite people terrified me. So, to have Keanu look right at me was to have him see me and know I exist. I didn’t want that.
And then. During the Dogstar days Keanu and the band had an in-store appearance at Wherehouse Music in Los Angeles for the release of their third and final album, “Happy Ending.” My friends promised me it would work out fine, convinced me everything would be okay, reminded me he was meant to be in that store at that time, it was a set thing, I wasn’t bothering him or making myself a nuisance. So, I went. My friend Tiffany was kind enough to join me. We stood in line with hundreds of other fans out on La Cienega Boulevard, right across from the famed Beverly Center in West Hollywood. I was nervous and threatened to leave about a dozen times. I didn’t. As the time passed we slowly inched further toward the store until we were next in line. Just inside the front door of the store a table was setup with the three members of the band seated behind it. I slid a CD booklet in front of lead singer Bret Domrose who was excited to see it was from their first album. “You have the first one, cool.” I nodded and smiled, stunned into complete silence. Next up, Rob Mailhouse, drummer. He didn’t look up, didn’t acknowledge me, the cover, anything else. Signed, done. And then, I was in front of Keanu. I smiled like an idiot. He glanced up for one tiny moment, signed his name. Slid the booklet back toward me. That was it. I thought.
The thing about the Dogstar days was that they were also the Matrix days. And everyone was there to see Neo. Not the guy who played bass for Dogstar. This made Keanu a little testy, and lot punchy. I stepped to the side to wait for Tiffany. I was still in a state of shock. I’d done it, the world kept turning. I didn’t turn to dust because he saw me. Dogstar music coming from the store speakers was fading in and out of my consciousness, I was only barely seeing her as Tiffany had her newly purchased “Happy Ending” CD signed by each guy. And then I hear Keanu say to Rob “I took a shit this morning and it tried to swim away from me.” Things started to come back into focus. I stared. Both Keanu and Rob noticed me standing there and politely said “thank you.” It wasn’t the moment I had imagined it would be. But it was a moment. A gentle reminder that Keanu is in fact human. I left the Wherehouse store with my signed CD and a story to tell. Which I do, often. Sometimes I remind people I didn’t want to be there in the first place, sometimes I just chalk it up to the universe reminding me that everyone poops. Mostly I tell it to ensure people I’ve met the man, and I don’t need to do it again.
During one of my many bouts with college I met a Japanese exchange student who helped fuel my Keanu fandom by teaching me how to write his name in Japanese and bringing me magazines you couldn’t get in the US. It was Mayuko who went with me to see Dogstar live at the American Legion in Hollywood, the first of the several shows I attended over the band’s short-lived existence. I point out the venue every time I pass by it. It’s been twenty-five years. I practiced writing Keanu’s name in Japanese with the intention of having it tattooed on my wrist. It’s tattooed on my forearm now, part of another tattoo featuring a surly Chibi Deadpool with a talk bubble above his head as if he’s taking Keanu’s name in vain. Or worshipping at his alter. The Japanese symbols are reminiscent of a device comic book writers and artists use to censor curse words in their books. I liked the idea that anyone who knows that would think it was Deadpool saying something naughty, but I myself, and any Japanese speaking person who might see the tattoo, will know what it really says.
Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows of my Keanu fandom. My friends and family, my trainer, a comic book artist friend of hers who was kind enough to draw me a Deadpool portrait in which the character is enticing Keanu with a diamond ring. Anyone who passes me on the street will know now too. In 2018 I got a portrait of Keanu tattooed on my right upper arm along with the phone booth Bill & Ted traveled through time in and some Matrix code which has now been proven to be recipes for sushi the production designer stole from his mother’s cookbook. A white rabbit and the phrase “Temet Nosce” also from The Matrix round out the tribute. My tattoo artist and I watched Constantine during the first session, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey during the final session.
When I first discovered Keanu, he was a young actor trying to find his footing in the crazy world of Hollywood and I was a teenager dealing with a disease without a name. He did so with grace, humility and fortitude that you cannot help but admire and I do my best to remember to do the same. Today his reputation for being one of the nicest actors in Hollywood affords Keanu first dibs on all sorts of roles. There’s currently a campaign to get Keanu cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A stark contrast from the days when his name being rumored for any number of roles resulted in a collective groan and the outcry of “why him?!” When asked recently about all the hype Keanu smiled and said, “the positivity is nice.”
In 1989 I was in a movie theater in Westwood watching Bill & Ted remind everyone to “be excellent to each other.” For thirty years I’ve watched as Keanu taught us all what that means. While filming “Bill & Ted Face the Music” in New Orleans he stopped at a family’s house to take pictures and autograph the YOU’RE BREATHTAKING sign they’d left in their yard hoping he’d notice. He did. Because that’s just who Keanu is. A reminder that there is good in the world. That there’s no reason to get angry about the things we can’t control. Loss is a part of life and we must continue on anyway. We should do all the things people say we can’t, or shouldn’t do, if that’s our passion. We should do them without ego, or a sense of entitlement. Make people laugh. Make people think. Make fun of ourselves and make the world a better place. Be more Keanu.