Mark Dtayo - Guest Blogger
Updated: Jun 13, 2021
I am honored to contribute as a guest blogger. I do not have the rich, ongoing history with Russ that Jim does but I have a few prime tales to share. It does seem that when you are with Russ sh*t happens! I had known Russ for about 40 years when I booked a ticket to San Francisco to go see him in the waning summer days of 2019. Six weeks prior we had broken a 30+ year drought of not having seen each other. We had connected in Lake Geneva WI over the 4th of July. We had spent a couple of days catching up and beer might have been involved. Before we departed WI we promised to see each other again soon. As it turned out “soon” was actually soon and I departed Minneapolis in mid-august 2019 to SF to see Russell. The date that I was to visit was not random. Russ had promised to buy some tickets to go see the Giants host the Cubs. I was ALL-IN when that became one part of the travel perks. More on that later. Upon my arrival in CA Russ picked me up at the airport. His ride was the first indication that the following days were to be a blessed experience. His stretch BMW sedan was something everyone took notice of as he pulled up to the curb. I could only grin as I recalled the bombs he drove in high school (the Shelby mustang was nice... fast and a true classic… unfortunately you needed a hill to “pop the clutch” to start it.. LOL >>>> LOL>>>LOL>>>> TRUE!!! I was the pusher when I was a long… someone always had to be a long!!LOL>>>LOL>>>>LOL>>>LOL>> J BUT THEN!!... LOOK OUT!! It was as a damn rocket!! ..Ironically it would be worth more now than his new BMW is today). Anyway, as I got in his car at the airport, I acknowledged his improved status and off we went. The details of that day get a little fuzzy after my arrival. Eventually we would arrive at his home. It was a nice, comfortable place. It had all the needs of single man met with the cushy furnishings and electronic gizmos. The fridge was stocked … with beer. I was afforded one of the spare bedrooms that offered a nice bed and plenty of room to stretch out. It was all looking great except that I knew that to be comfortable for the next few days I was going to have to apply some of my Felix to his Oscar (“Odd couple” sitcom, circa 1970ish). In other words, I felt the inclination to tidy things up a bit. Russ was to show humor, patience and gratitude. Likewise, I was to show humor, patience and gratitude. We got through my neurosis just fine. The trip would go onto be a very enjoyable experience. Russ was extremely generous in showing me the town. Food!.. sights!... the whole works! I had been to SF on a few occasions decades earlier but did not have the time or the means to enjoy it like we did within those few days. The Cub game was the highlight of the events/destinations. Oracle Park is beautiful and on the Bay (I was all-too-familiar with the park with the nightly replays of Bonds hitting homeruns into McCovey Cove in years gone-by). Russ, unbelievably, purchased the absolute best tickets in the house. There was the batter… the catcher... the umpire and then us in every TV shot of the pitch to the plate (Bob Uecker reference: “right down on the front rooow” – but for real!!). We were RIGHT behind home plate (I had a great time chatting at the players… I was bold enough to tell Scwarbs how to hit the pitcher... hell, I was talking to ‘em all. I was delighted to see Javy hit a homerun as I wearing his Jersey and a T-shirt underneath that said “Say good Baez”.. which I flaunted to the crowd after the crushed hit… got a little heckling back.. F*ckin RIGHT BABY!! LOL!! loved it ALL!! What a wonderful experience to recall!! It was a dream come true for a kid who grew up in Chicago a mile from Wrigley Field. For a kid who on occasion felt extremely lucky to get a GA ticket to see the Cubs play, this was a very surreal experience that I absolutely ate-up (literally – we had free food and beverages in the “Lexus Club House”. Thank you again Russ! One of the most memorable days of my life… CUBS WIN!! And out came my blanket-sized “W” flag to hang on the losers. LOL… OH GOD I LOVED IT!! Again, Russ showed humor and patience. What a day that was then to be topped off by a lobster sandwich at a local eatery that had to have been delivered by Poseidon himself. Soooo daaaamn gooood!! I dream about that sandwich!! I am salivating now! As I said, overall the trip was one grand experience after another. We got on a ferry and cruised the bay… Alcatraz etc. We traveled north to see the Red Woods. We dined at fine dining establishments. We also found a Korean restaurant, not so “fine”, that was short on hospitality, but the food was delicious and it just never stopped. We ended up eating there like 3 times. I believe we were the ONLY customers in the place each time. We were not greeted as we arrived as much as we were just seated. The gesture for seating was extending the arm out, palm up, raised eye-brows in silence to suggest … “pick a seat… any seat”. It was comical. It would have made for another SNL funny restaurant escapade (“Cheezeborger, cheezeborger” which, coincidently, as a kid from the 2nd city, I had never been to the Old Goats Bar. Russ would take me there some months later – always an adventure with this guy... if you’ve got some game!). ß BTW - I thought I grew up across the street from what I thought was the Old Goats Bar on the 900 block of Buena Ave?!?!? I am still trying to figure this thing out?!?! Hmmmm?!?! Ok, after all of that recognition for the fun in the sun we had I have to reframe things a bit. As it turned out, the part of the trip I enjoyed the most was a part I was not able to anticipate. Each night Russ would go on marathon walks with Oly. She was a really sweet dog(180 degrees from Russ) J and loved to go on her long nightly strolls alongside Russ. It was interesting to watch them walk along. Russ was focused on other things and didn’t pay much mind to Oly. Oly mostly followed Russ because Russ had no set course. Russ meandered down the streets. He seemed to have a general idea of where he was to go but it was not an A to B kinda deal. I had been on many walks with friends and family with other critters and they all had a certain character and feel to them. This was to be a different experience! Russ had not given me any idea of what I was to encounter on that first walk. He just asked if I’d like to come along. I was truly excited about the prospects. I enjoy physical activity and I was curious to see things a little more up close. I geared myself for a walk that would follow the customary pace, feel and distance of such walks just mentioned above. Miscalculation!!! “Heeeeeellllloooo!!!” ß 80’s mocking response to the uninitiated who naively(stupidly) expected something of innocence and customary parameters as opposed to the more insane rendition of the event that would occur. The walk would go on for 2 – 2.5 hours and seemed to wander through most of the bay area’s neighborhoods. It was the good, bad and ugly of the metro environment. It offered a real study of the city’s internal makeup. I did enjoy it, though had I know of the distance involved, I would have packed water and a snack offering several thousand calories. The walk was at a brisk place and was not for the weak of heart. As I was to discover Russ was on a mission on these walks. These were not simply leisurely saunters to clear the brain and refresh after a heavy dinner. No… there was something bigger in mind. It didn’t take me long to see that something was driving this daily endeavor. Russ was on a search for the very last thing he needed but he wanted it nonetheless! I came to realize what he had done is turn this daily quest into a sport. Something to be assessed, measured and calculated then reassessed. Something he did not take lightly at all. He had all of the previous conquests stored in memory and in an assortment of containers logged and recorded. Ahhhhh!! LOL! OMG!!.. It’s true!! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Before the big divulge, all of you know that Russ was to see brighter days after crashing his ad copy car for the Cap Times / WI State Journal(another funny story in ’79 or ’80?!...what a goof…. He was on the local news with a bandage wrapped around his head…. looked like war wound… real drama!! Is was a small scratch!!). He was to ascend the ranks of the newspaper biz until he took the helm in San Diego. He was the man. And as is evident, with such authority comes income. And so, as it were, Russ was to make a very comfortable living providing for his immediate needs/wants well into the future. Relative to me/most... he was/is loaded. And good for him. So the last thing Russ needed was any more money. …. but there he was 2 -2.5 hours a day hunting for money others had carelessly dropped or discarded. And who knew... there is lots-o-money out there IF(!) you know where, and how, to look. Russ did knew/knows all he needs to know to clean up every single damn day. As I told him, “it is a gift from god!” Really, no other explanation. It was a divine right! After coming to terms with what Russ was doing after the first walk, I decided I too would join the ranks of MUNY = Money-Undeserved-Nonetheless-Yours!. (cheesy secret club with a hand shake and codes for codes! ß made that part up!!.. no club to join unfortunately... but damn it… there should be!! With secret handshakes and codes for codes.. I want in!!). HA !! Anyway it was not to be… I never could get the hang of it as hard as I tried to break-it-down in terms of how-to. Couple of times I actually found a silver coin and damn… not sure I ever felt so accomplished. J There was a time I actually took an early lead on Russ only to get my sorry ass handed to me by the end of the walk. Let me be clear, Russ shared all of his tips and secrets. He wanted me to succeed. He encouraged me. He did not play dirty pool in any fashion. He was all on the up and up. But he just had a knack for finding the dough. Every once in a while he would say something like… “look here.. I found $1.72”.. as Oly watched over him as he picked up the coinage. Or he would find a dollar bill… or 5-dollar bill… “WTF!?!?! … how the hell are you doing this ?!?”, I thought. I missed that experience as soon as I got back to Minneapolis. It was a mission… not to find money… but to refocus on something simple in life that offered a diversion… an intrigue… the location and sum of money found often begged questions?!? The whole of it cleared the mind of all other concerns. In the end you were AWAYS ahead. Plus, all the physical bennies and it was something that I came to really enjoy. With Russ it offered a nice camaraderie too that offered a certain delight. He is an interesting chap and that tended to reveal itself on those walks… Two such instances absolutely need to be mentioned. Hang with me… you will be glad you did! One location that Russ was sure to visit was car washes. He’d walk through the empty bays and find nice little sums of change. On our second or third night out Russ stopped to talk to a man and woman washing their car. I was some distance away on my hunt. I looked back at Russ – cuz I never knew which way he was heading next- and he was still chatting with this couple. They knew each other it seemed as the character of the conversation was warm and lively. I made my way over to the see what was up… as I did, Russ enthusiastically introduced me to the two people. They were obviously very good folks in that they greeted me kindly. They asked if I worked with Russ. I informed them that we had been high school pals and that we were roommate a long time ago. I went on to say that Russ and I were catching up after a long time. Russ then would say to me, “I want to share a story with you.” He told me that he frequented that car wash often. He had become familiar with some of the regulars. There were indeed regulars. This couple would buy used cars and recondition them and resell the for a little profit. It was evident that they worked hard to maintain a modest life. Because these good people would see Russ so frequently… and understood that he was in search for money nightly. They assumed he had very little sources. They assumed he was perhaps homeless. So they started leaving him money in the bays hoping he would find it. As Russ told me this story I could tell he was touched, again, by their kindness. The couple looked on as Russ was finishing the story to me offering their smiles in his recognition of their generosity. Me?!?!?.. I cry anymore at McDonald commercials. My eyes were awfully misty. Russ would go on to tell that eventually he knew something was up when he would find, in the couple’s absence, more money than usual every time that he would visit the car wash. He would eventually ask these generous people if they were leaving money for him. As Russ said, “they acknowledged their good deeds with a humble nod yes”. I tear up every time I think of this story knowing that the generosity was with money that they really did not have to give. Russ was generous with them on several fronts after that which warmed my heart yet again. It’s really a wonderful story all around! And I think is an example of the best of humanity. Again, I am touched every time I think of it. Finally… the last chapter of this book… On my last night in SF I joined Russ and Oly again for my last walk. I remember being aware of that fact and being saddened by it. Toward the end of the walk we turned down a street we had not been on before. It was dusk and the dark shadows were casting an ominous feel over what was ahead. Until that point, bad neighborhoods and all, I was pretty comfortable with things. The turn down this street activated my spidey-senses. I changed my focus from the search of loose change to what was this street was trying to tell me. It was rough and uninviting. I was nervous… but I remained silent and followed Russ and Oly. We did not get more than 10 feet down that street before a loud commotion started to occur behind the house that sat on the corner that we had turned upon. Someone was yelling and cussing and you could tell there was some kind of hurried, break-out movement going on back there. You could also tell that the yelling was AT someone or AT something as it grew louder and louder. I stopped silent and tried to get a fix on anything that was going on back there. The whole thing was very unsettling. Initially I did not see anything. Then I saw something ... very disturbing… big and in a hurry. I stared down the dirt driveway where there were a couple of junk cars parked deep up the drive. They were casting shadows between themselves and the house creating a dark tunnel. I could tell something was coming down that tunnel. And f*ck if it was the biggest damn pitbull/rotwieler thing I had ever seen. It was evident that it was a mean ugly f*ckin beast. And it was coming with an ugly intent. It had heard us and wanted to meet the challenge of anybody dumb enough to come near his domain. As soon as that bastard fully revealed itself it froze me. I have ALWAYS thought of myself of someone who could meet any challenge… at least with a gallant fight(former MP, bartender, protective father, trained a little in MMA and Tae Kwon Do… not to mention an inner city kid out of Chicago living in the projectsß true). But like no time before did I feel so absolutely vulnerable. I thought this is going to be BAD! And I thought in fear, I need to do something to protect body parts... I am about ready to lose my junk. On a cerebral level I knew what I needed to do to stand a chance BUT… the flight or fight instinct had not kicked-in?!? Really weird for me relative to any former threatening experience!... as I considered later. I was stunned as this thing was fast approaching me/us… it was in attack mode! There was no reverse on this dog. I am sure it had been trained to attack, attack, attack (no hyperbole folks… I love animals… have spent a lot of time with animals… I have felt I have had a good read on animals and could make a friend out of most encounters… NOT A CHANCE HERE). I am sure the next thing out of me was not going to be pretty or something I could hang my man card on. I just wasn’t me! But before I could embarrass myself…. and get munched… I did yell “Russ”.. and as I did that dog stopped dead in its tracks. It threw the brakes on! And for mighty good reason…. Russ, like nothing I’d seen before, BOWED UP on this animal and let go some kind of channeled grizzly noise that was loud and sustained. It was very convincing!! As Russ was growing in dimension he was also taking aggressive steps TOWARD the damned dog!! The dog had NO IDEA what he had just encountered and wanted no part of it. The dog stood there and stared at Russ with menace and growing confusion in its eyes. Fortunately, the hobbled owner of the dog finally made his way to the dog to grab its collar. Hallelujah!!... I still have my junk!! HA HA!! I remember just standing there after and rerunning those 60-some seconds through my head over a couple of times trying to make sense of what just happened. Then I said something to Russ like, “What the fuck was that?!?” ... meaning the experience in its entirety and the beast that would come out of him. It was a whole lot if heightened emotions packed in a minute. Though Russ did not seem overly concerned… more please with himself I think. He has often left me shaking my head as we seem to process things so differently! It’s all good! J So, he explained, a few weeks earlier he an Oly and encountered a mean dog that was fenced. The dog did not pose a threat but it did make Russ wonder what to do if in fact had gotten loose. So, being Mr. Inquisitive, Russ asked some dog-dude what he should do if he were to encounter the very circumstances he would unknowingly encounter. The guy apparently said get loud and mean! Amen brother!! He did and that concludes this happy story!
Russ and Mark in our seats for the game
In the Lexus Club
I think Mark liked the lobster roll!