It’s a Seinfeld Episode, Only in Montana
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Twice now this has happened, where someone famous gets my name wrong — for years. The first time was playing baseball as a teen, and Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, our high school coach, kept calling me Danny. He was a friend of the family, mentored my brother Tim to Triple A with the Yankees, but to Robin Roberts I was Danny. I never had the nerve to tell him he had my name wrong, and after a few years there was no going back. It was like a Seinfeld episode.
Decades later, I’m minding my own business one afternoon at the Murray Bar, in Livingston, Montana, and Mike Kidney, a guy from Pittsburgh who’s lived here long enough not to be from Pittsburgh anymore, says to me, “Lewis, c’mon, you’re goin’ with me up to Michael Keaton’s place.” Keaton lives nearby, in a location we won’t go out of our way to disclose. He and Kidney had hunted birds together, it helps to know, and they’re Pittsburgh guys. “Need you to help carry stuff,” Kidney says. “We’ll have dinner up there.”
I say, Mike, I don’t even know Michael Keaton. But Kidney, who has the will of a gorilla, drags me into his truck where he’s got birds he’s shot, dressed better than me, in a Dutch oven with mushroom stuffing, potatoes, and some pots and pans.
We drive up to Keaton’s, and seriously, Kidney takes control of the kitchen just as we enter. Michael Keaton is there, of course, his brothers are in from Pittsburgh, the baseball playoffs are on, and there’s already lasagna in the oven. But Kidney, the perfect dinner guest (if you’re Jane Goodall) won’t have it. In his gravelly voice, he says, naw, naw, naw, drags the lasagna out of the oven, and inserts his birds. And I’m thinking, what am I even doing here? We have a great dinner, though, all of us from Pennsylvania—good conversation, we watch baseball, a nice time.
It was months later, more than once, that Kidney mysteriously said to me—Lewis, Keaton may think you’re Timmy Oates.
Now Timmy Oates is a friend of ours, son of the character actor Warren Oates, not only a screen legend, but a local legend, owing to his days in Livingston with Sam Peckinpah and company. His son Tim is basically a local who’s lived in Georgia now for years. So we hardly see him anymore (haven’t seen Mike Kidney much either).
What ’re you talking about Kidney, I say, Michael Keaton doesn’t think I’m Timmy Oates. That’s ridiculous—why would he think that? I see Keaton around town. We chat over beer, and he knew my (then) wife. So Kidney is full of it. But the gorilla has kind of a sheepish look on his face as he reluctantly says, I might have told him once you’re Timmy Oates, I’m not sure.
But how could somebody not be sure about that? It was one of those mysteries that proceed from the labyrinth of Kidney’s psyche, his mind like a brooding orangutan short on bananas, and from Pittsburgh yet, full of back east attitude, and it was one of those things that didn’t make sense, until later. So I shook it off, because it was Kidney, and he’s always telling wild stories.
It was that way for years, like a dozen years, just a strange X-file in my brain, not actual reality, as I run into Michael Keaton on the street, at the Murray, over a beer, where ever.
Then, summer before last, I’m at Home Depot and out of the corner of my eye I see Michael Keaton headed for the exit. I say, Hey, Michael, and he says, get this — Hey, Tim. We exchange small talk as we’re both headed in opposite directions. Then the pudgy sales associate points gingerly to the guy headed for the door, and says to me — Batman? I say, Yeah, but I’m lost in thought. Did I hear what I thought I heard—did Michael Keaton call me Tim? And I swear at Kidney under my breath. But what am I supposed to do, chase Michael Keaton into the parking lot and tell him I’m not Timmy Oates (though there’s a resemblance), that my dad didn’t star in The Wild Bunch, and that Mike Kidney for some unknown reason passed me off as Timmy Oates, maybe because he thought Tim would make a better dinner guest? Who knows how gorillas think (except Jane Goodall)?
Now, it’s last summer, 2015, and one night I round the corner at the Murray, looking for a seat to watch the ball game, and Michael Keaton’s there watching his Pirates, and he says to me, Hey, Tim. He buys me a beer, and I already had two Katabatics at the Farmers Market. If you’ve had Katabatics you know what I’m talking about, so I’m on my third pint of liquid courage, and then another, and we talk about marriage, life, baseball, and my brother the Yankee who I’m just about to call by his name, Tim, when I realize how odd that will sound. So I come clean. I say, Michael, I gotta tell you something. And I drop the bombshell.
I’m not Timmy Oates.
It was like I said I’m a space alien from the planet Zebulon, and you’ve seen that look on his face in the movies, that deer in the headlights I’m deeply confused Michael Keaton look. Which means the guy can act, but this is real life.
We go over the history, where it all started, he’s a bit embarrassed, and it still feels like Seinfeld. But instead of saying Neuuuuuman—we say, Kidney.
I’m relieved though that this Seinfeld episode is finally over. I get to be me again, instead of Tim Oates. But the three of us, Michael Keaton, yours truly, and Jane Goodall, need to have a serious talk with Mike Kidney.
No wonder he can’t be found.