He’d been a “club fighter” in his early years in Boston, but somehow had gotten off that path and away from what it might have led to. I knew him as a fellow writer when we worked together at the L.A. Times.
There was still plenty of the tough kid about him, though. When he and the owner of the bar we frequented found themselves in disagreement on some point, they squared off. I, in my innocence, thought they were joking, and did an imitation of a referee separating them in the ring. They weren’t joking, and I had positioned myself to have my teeth unintentionally but effectively rearranged, from either of two directions. That may have been all that prevented things from running their course. I’d never been with the circus, but it was in that grand old tradition: if things start to look ugly you send in the clowns.
At heart he was a sports writer and went on to write and publish a skiing magazine. It was at the time Jean and I and two partners were struggling with a mailorder/handcrafts/giftwares business near Yosemite National Park. He “discovered” us one winter and featured us on his front page for ski enthusiasts heading to Yosemite. I don’t know if it actually created any business for us, but it was a wonderful gesture.
But the greatest thing he did for us came when we finally gave up the business and returned to L.A. It was Russ who took us out, almost the first evening we were back, to dinner at Little Joe’s restaurant and bar downtown. It’s hard to describe the feeling. Fresh from seven years in a backwoods community that hadn’t yet made it out of the 19th century, he transported us to an ambience of soft lights, good food, the buzz of conversation of people who sounded like us, and billows of cigarette smoke. We knew we were really home then.