It's not every day you get to make up a word, and I think I made up this one: “clovering”—I don't think it's a word. It is now. Earlier, I was looking up the different versions of Kurt Weill's “September Song” (so many great renditions of that song, often with widely varying lyrics), and I saw this one version on a website that included the line, “Will the clovering last 'til you reach September?” I thought, that's beautiful—but now I'm not sure it's not a typo! Earlier in the song there's something about a “clover ring”—which is what? A ring with a jewelry rendition of a clover, given for good luck? Or the childhood thing of making a very temporary ring by twisting together clover? Either way, clover is a symbol of luck, four leaf clover more so (I have a four leaf clover that my grandfather gave me taped the the headstock of my acoustic guitar). Anyway, later in the song, I'm wondering if “covering” isn't supposed to be “clover ring” again—or did Kurt Weill make up the word clovering—I guess it's something I can research further, or maybe someone can tell me. Either way, I'm going to consider it a word, now, meaning a covering of clover, to protect the ground, to nourish the bees, and wide open for metaphor. My dictionary (I love using a real, physical one) says In The Clover means “in pleasant circumstances.” Of course, down the page, the next world after clover and its various forms is clown.

I'm writing this memo today because I haven't written one all summer, and now it's fall, today being the autumnal equinox, and probably the occasion of me writing something or other every year. Also, I'm making some changes on this website. In my life there are few changes—I'm still working in a full time job and still working on a full time novel and still suffering from song writing writer's block. But my new ambitious positive project for fall is to try to get back to writing about food, and this time, specifically, try to get back to writing about establishments serving Mexican related food. Or, if you will, for short, tacos.

I realize that returning to a project that once was, but failed, often is folly, but I'm still going to try. So to complete this memo today, I'm going to reprint the introduction to this new project, below, and then later post it on the new Taco page, which is under the subject tab called LUNCH (which refers to food in all its forms). Happy next season to everyone, moving on or not, with hopes that prosperity in some form is clovering your world.

Randy Russell, 23 September 2019

Taco Introduction

A few years back a friend suggested we try to eat at all the Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee, and while that project fell by the wayside, or never really became a project, I got excited about the idea and never could let it go, even though I'm far from the person for the job. I am not an expert, not a foodie, not Mexican, don't even speak Spanish, not a Milwaukee native, I'm a poor researcher, a worse organizer, have no funding, no car, half an appetite, and as a Celiac, I can't even get to the bottom of any cuisine, except for gluten-free cuisine. Yet, I'm still really excited about the idea, so is there a point at which enthusiasm can make up for all the other shortcomings? Personally, I think so—I'm consistently enamored with stuff that has a big heart, even when it fails on other levels. Or sometimes because it fails, or when it fails because its heart so large it sinks it like a cargo of sentimental rocks.

My favorite Mexican restaurant in Milwaukee was a little place in a smaller shopping plaza called The Happy Chicken, over on Greenfield across from the Blue Kangaroo. (I also just love saying “across from the Blue Kangaroo!”) I only ate there a few times, and it was subtly magical, but it's long gone now. But that's the memory that I'm after—not to replicate it, of course, but to find another place that has so much good going on you almost can't believe it's true. Of course, a place doesn't have to achieve mythical status to be great, and I love places that are just good, and I love the not so good ones even, because there's always something fascinating about a food-making establishment on some level. Two nice things about Mexican food—one is that at its very worst it's still usually delicious, and also cheap, and it's also one of the world cuisines that is naturally gluten-free in a lot of its forms: tacos with corn tortillas, corn, rice, beans, and most of the meat preparations just bypass wheat altogether. Burritos, no, but oh, well, I didn't ask for this genetic dietary disposition, I'm just dealing with it best I can. Anyway, at one point I did set out to visit and taste all of Milwaukee's Mexican food, and I very much failed on every level. Well, I ate a lot, wrote a few things, but eventually the writing part just fell by the wayside. So this is a new beginning, and even though I realize all of the shortcomings I listed, I'm once again excited about trying again.

As with any kind of project like this, part of the fun, and definitely a necessity, is creating a kind of declaration of principals—along with parameters, rules, boundaries, and borders—all those things that will soon be broken, crossed, and revised. My first idea is to not be too ambitious in what I try to cover—that is, each time I visit a place to write about, don't try to do a comprehensive thing, but rather just write about a single aspect or experience, something about the visit or the meal, one paragraph, two or three hundred words. Then, if I visit the place again, I can write about more. The next part of that is to go right home and write about it, and post it that day or the next. That's the best way to write about anything, but easier said than done, sometimes. We shall see! And then, the final defining thing at this point is: What I'm covering—and I'm making this the widest possible definition of “Mexican” food, which is any place that serves tacos or otherwise Mexican influenced food, whether or not it's a Mexican restaurant, and regardless of any degree of authenticity. Also, I'm going to include everything from small solo restaurants to large chains, and also bars, coffee shops, grocery stores, and food carts and trucks. Maybe even the next door neighbor who happens to be running an illegal taco franchise out of their kitchenette.

May(be) Not Memo

Like I said before, May is always the shortest month, which is I guess why they didn't even give it a full name. Just out of protest, I'm going to, from now on, insist on always calling it by its complete name: “May You Stay Forever Young.” So, yeah, I'm extending Memoir May through the entire summer, or maybe the rest of the year, which means nothing, really, if I don't sit down and type some stuff. And who can blame me, on any given day, if instead of sweating over a keyboard and a tattered, nearly illegible, 37 year old text—I go to the beach? But wait! All of this might be a moot point (expression I never use) because I have decided to dedicate my life (or at least my free time) to my newest passion: Board Games! Well, it's not that new, and more of an obsession than a passion, and not games plural, just one: Clue. That was the one game me, my mom, and my brother would play every Thanksgiving, and while I feel that the Brandy Alexanders were an integral part of the charm, I'm still drawn to that memory. But recently, while haunting Board Game Barrister (it's a local store), it came to my attention that there are now ALL THESE ridiculous versions of the Clue game—and I'm appalled! Okay, I can live with the Harry Potter one, and the Scooby-Doo one, but Star Wars? That doesn't even make sense! And Bob's Burgers? Golden Girls, okay, but Five Nights at Freddy's? (I don't even know what that is.) And Game of Thrones Clue?? They've gone too far! You think I'm making this up, but look on the internet or at your local kind of creepy gamers' hangout. I mean, what's next? Kardashian Clue? Manson Family Clue? Trump White House Clue?

Enough is enough, and that's why I've decided to make my own Clue game, but not license any tired franchise, and not even call it Clue (because they will sue my ass)—so it's a similar game, but I'm going to give mine an entirely new name and a new twist, and I don't even think it will be about a murder, because, okay, this is just me, but I don't find murder particularly a hoot. I'm not sure what my version will be, yet, but I think it will be in an old house, because that's my favorite part about Clue, but my house is going to have maybe two floors, and a basement and an attic! Up and down front stairs, back stairs, up the secret passage ladder, and down the clothes chute! I always wanted more rooms, more geographical complexity, and a longer game. It will be much more complex, yet more family oriented with the omission of the life shattering heinous crime. Though, I suppose I have to have some kind of transgression—to make it interesting... not sure yet. Maybe someone borrowed the vacuum cleaner, or stole the last slice of pizza. We'll see, but anyway, this is what I'm going to dedicate my time to, so if you miss me reviewing all those coffee shops that aren't in your town, and soap you don't care to try, and records you've never heard, put it in writing (RandySRussell at gmail), and if no one does, I'll know I'm in the clear tackle Monopoly next.

Randy Russell, 28 May 2019

May Memoir Memo

Contrary to what might seem evident, I don't automatically post/publish everything I write down, whether in a fit of inspiration, despair, or boredom. I wrote a memo for April, but looking at it now I'm glad I didn't post it—it's depressing. I proclaimed May as “Memoir May” in order to try to get back to typing and posting entries from my “memoir project”—which is a chronological survey of writing from journals and other sources, originating from three different points in time: 2016, 1996, and 1972. I liked the idea that these ongoing typed journals, posted in “blog” format, were from periods of 2, 20, and 40 years ago. Of course, time marches on, and rather than me catching up, it catches up to me. I was trying to keep up with the posting of these things to coincide with the season of the year we are in at the time, but have failed to do that. Hey, it was a rough winter—the ol' one two punch of 40 hour work week, 40 below zero weather. One thing that's interesting, though (quite by chance) is the last post (at press time) for both Memoir (now in 1981) and No Memory (now in 2016) were both October 7. I'm sure there's no conspiracy there, and that's probably not even interesting to anyone but me—but I can't help but think there's something signifiant about that date. If you're reading this, and that's your birthday, contact me by email (see contact page) and you'll be entered in a drawing for the Grand Prize (some restrictions may apply). Anyway, I'm going to really try to start posting these with greater frequency (especially this month)—so, yeah, we'll see. I don't really know if there is much interest in reading these by anyone but myself, but at the very least, believe me, it's a lot less painful to read my cleaned up and typed versions of journals than my handwritten ones! As it stands, today, here is where we're at, in the past: Notebook Journals (which are posted on a long-running blog, external to this website)—about 20 and half years ago (not long enough ago not to be embarrassed by it). No Memory (recent enough to be profoundly embarrassed by it)—about 2 and half years ago. And finally, Memoir (long ago enough to be somewhat disconnected, though still embarrassed)—37 and half years ago. If that's not exciting to you, you might need to re-examine your priorities!

Randy Russell, 7 May 2019

Uncanny Valley and the 12 Seasons

I guess there are people from my long ago family history who made their living with agricultural work—the closest I ever came was de-tasseling corn one summer—a fairly short-term job about which I have fond memories. I grew up in the Midwest around farms and farmers, but never considered it as a way to make a living (except in that way, when you're younger, that you consider a lot of things). I can't imagine how really difficult it is to have the work you do and your livelihood so affected year after year by weather. It's worth stopping to think about that every once in awhile.

For many of us, like me, weather is a lot of fun. I love the seasons. Half of the people I know have moved to Los Angeles, which is a place I've visited, and am entranced with—but the one thing that keeps me from moving there is how much I love not only the seasons we have in the Midwest, but especially fall and winter. I know a lot of people aren't crazy about winter, and I understand that, yet they continue to live here for one reason or another. Maybe they love to hate it—there is something about dealing with difficult things that you know will change with or without your input that is very attractive.

One of the things I both love and hate about our seasons and the ways we mark time is the weirdness of the way they've been organized through history—and how we keep using that—the names of the seasons, the dates, the names of the months, the calendars. Our lives would be very much the same if we just dispensed with all that and just started the year with Day 1 and proceeded to Day 365, then started over. Yet the thought of that is horrifying. We love our season names, month names, days of the week. Every year, at some point, though, I try to propose a new reorganization and renaming of all that (one year I tried making a five day week calendar—but it didn't work for me).

This year I decided that—in that the names of the seasons and the names of the months just don't match up to our reality very well, I'd make a new seasonal calendar based on twelve seasons, with—to make it simple to understand—the same dates as our current months. So what you have, essentially, is the same months, but all with new names, and called seasons instead of months. So here is my first attempt—with the existing month name, followed by the new season name.

The Twelve Seasons

January – Dark

February – Cold and Very Cold

March – “I'm Over Winter”

April – It's Still Winter

May – Why Isn't It Summer Yet?

June – Outdoors! Clothes Off!

July – Drunk All The Damn Time

August – Lamenting Summer Ending Soon

September – Back to School (even if it's been decades since I've been in school)

October – Halloween (actually, Halloween now starts after Labor Day)

November – Family Strife/Civil War/Divorce/Doom/Overeating

December – Shopping/Boycott Shopping/Avoid Airports/Revert to Childhood with Colored Lights, Snow-globe Vistas, and Happy Music/Just Got to Get Through This Year

Obviously I have a little more work to do. Most of these are a little too long, too unfocused, and well, they're almost all too long. Ideally each one should be one word only. I supposed they actually did do a pretty good job at naming them in the first place, even if we have to do research every time we wonder about what any of those name mean. I'm going to continue to work on this though, and if anyone would like to join me, you're welcome to. We'll have our first meeting at Real Chili (for those of you local to Milwaukee) at 6pm this Friday. The rest of you can Skype in. No, don't do that. No Skype at Real Chili.

Randy Russell, 5 March 2019

500 Words or Less

NEW WAY! I usually write a note to myself with that title in sign-style block letters, hi-lighted with at least two colors, a note on paper that usually ends up buried in a box marked “To Do.” If you wait until January 1st each year for your “resolutions,” you're already sunk, and everyone knows that, but there is something about feeling like you're on the farthest north, darkest, coldest apex of the spinning ball that makes a fresh approach to simple things feel actually possible. Though, on this morning, I don't know, it's not the icy 0 degrees it should be, but instead: moist, with Dorothy Gale force winds and no balm-like snow in the forecast (I like snow, okay?)—but still, back to the brutal Monday thru Friday fluorescent office schedule, no day-off holidays until Memorial Day, and I'm officially “pushing 60” but glad, really glad, to be alive. I want to go back to writing fiction, which means up every day at 4am, which means I can maybe go out to dinner some evenings, but I will turn into a pumpkin (only slightly resembling a person) at about 9pm. Making things (drawing, sewing) maybe. We will hope for a new Randy Russell Podcast here, once a week; it's one thing I can do that doesn't cause this intense pain in my hands and arms! (not to mention involves lovely people!) As for the monthly theme (a way of asking to be excused to neglect everything that doesn't fall under the monthly theme)—January is Memoir Month—so I'm going to concentrate on looking back, as well: No Memory is a revealing of journals written just over two years ago, while Notebook Journals is unearthing these same journals that are about 20 years old. Memoir is going way back, to the sporadic days of writing or not, but the next thing there is going to be revisiting “The Garbage Memo”—a document kept during a punk record store lifestyle experiment in 1981. The “jury is still out” about returning to the slightly fictionalized remembrances of The Golden Pineapple, or the new one, revisiting online journals: Blog Day Afternoon (if I can get away with using that title). And, of course, about this “fiction writing”—because “does anyone care” isn't as crucial a question as “do I care”—and in a world of “you couldn't make this shit up,” I guess the question is whether to sit in the tenth row with popcorn, or else: “make stuff up”— and the answer, “we'll see,” comes with no promises except for the promise of (in spite of occasionally being obtuse and confusing) sincerity and love.

Randy Russell, 7 January 2019

What's In A Name?

Part One: The Podcast

Because it's the Solstice—the two of which are really the most significant days of each year—and the Cold Moon—so I'm up early, morning insomnia, hours before sunrise—it's time to write a memo for this website—which has been my home for gibberish for the last couple of years. The big news here is the availability to that part of the world that can access the “web” (presumably where you're reading this)—aside from some minor adjustments—at the top of this site's menu (or in the three horizontal bars, if you're on your phone) the word “podcast” will take you to a page where sound can emerge—as if by magic—the first time something on this website asks for your ears rather than your eyes. It's something I have to grow into, as it feels more active and less passive than I'm used to—but as I've developed a fondness for listening to podcasts, myself, lately (which I can do while I'm walking outside—one of my favorite activities), it makes sense. The level of technology I'm comfortable with is writing with a ballpoint pen on paper pages of a notebook. Just retyping them and then posting them in a website is a dizzying stretch for me, so naturally the freaky magic of audio files kind of feels like getting into an airliner cockpit—so this is not without a lot of help.

The idea for this podcast comes from Mark Zbikowski, who is a friend of mine in Milwaukee (and not to be confused with the famous hacker, so you're safe!) who had this idea for “The Randy Russell Podcast”—and I both want to justly credit him with coming up with the idea, while also assuring people (who know me or don't know me) that I haven't gone off the deep end and have started referring to myself in the third person. I mean, I am arguably a narcissist and egomaniac, but I do, as well, have a modest side. Anyway, after some thought, I agreed to go ahead with the podcast idea with the understanding that it is a collaborative project, which I've shied away from lately, being a control-freak. But the benefits of collaborating are obvious, one of which is to work on something with Mark Zbikowski, and also my old, dear friend Sara Zbikowski (they are married, this isn't another name coincidence). The idea for the podcast is that in each episode (weekly?—we'll see!) a “guest host” runs the show, and welcomes their “guest”—who is me! It's not just a running joke—it creates an interesting dynamic (a little like the author within the narrative, once removed, voice that I incorporate in almost all my fiction writing—that just occurred to me!) as well, and hopefully a comfortable yet charged platform for an hour-long or so conversation about what-have-you. I think it could work! I mean, there is no shortage of stuff to talk about. The first episode is a conversation with Lauryl Sulfate (guest host!) centering on coffee shops and diners—and it occurred to me, I could talk for an hour a week with Lauryl Sulfate about coffee shops and diners—yet, the next one will be another guest host, and centering around another subject—so the possibilities seem limitless.

Of course, whether or not it's your cup of tea depends on, first, whether or not podcasts are a cultural time-wasting option you've adopted. I admittedly pushed them away for quite awhile, but being able to enjoy them while exercising, walking, commuting, and dishwashing is a real plus for me. Then, of course, whether or not you are interested in each guest host and primary focus of subject matter—but seeing how they are not serial in nature—meaning you can mix and match, skip around, and discriminately choose, and partially listen—that's up to you. It gives a lot of control to the potential listener and doesn't demand a lifetime commitment, vow of fidelity, or credit card number. And finally, whether or not you can put up with my bullshit. Presumably if you've read this memo this far, you are that much tolerant with my rambling thoughts. But listening to me audibly and unedited might be another thing— it could be an acquired taste, like oysters and Night Train wine, I don't know. You can say, “not for me”—I won't be offended, and you can even actively criticize me, if you'd like, as long as, you know, it's somewhat fair. And you're not a troll—in which case, I guess, you might want to ask yourself, why am I a troll?

Part Two: The Tour

The shorter life gets, the more brevity eludes me—it's a cruel paradox. Thus, “Part Two”—which is what started me on this memo, this Solstice, Cold Moon morning. If I took a mini-survey of friends, I am guessing more don't like Bob Dylan than do—but I'm an old fan, so I was compelled to read this long article on the Vulture website about his “Never Ending Tour”—it's by Bill Wyman (the journalist, not the coolest Rolling Stone). It was a fun thing to read—not merely one of those pieces ranking Dylan slightly above the Frigidaire. People are still people, and names are names. (When I last moved to New York, in my first job, I worked along-side “Leonard Cohen.”) Someone knows a guy at the 7-Eleven called Bob Dylan. Many, many other people know someone with another name entirely they'd rather listen to sing. But the point of this article is, even the famous Bob Dylan has had to make some hard choices for himself—one of which was, “Do I want to go on living?” (We won't even get into any of those conspiracy myths about there being a second, after the fatal “motorcycle crash” Dylan, or multiple Dylans—that's for another Saturday.) It's not just touring, playing music live, that was his answer, but his entire approach, which I find fascinating.

I read that yesterday, and thought about it this morning, and this theory came to me, and I was about to text my brother with this idea, but it seemed too long for a text, which turned into a potential email, which then evolved into this memo. My idea is that Dylan, having a crisis and a revelation (it's talked about in the article), then later (I'm making this part up) watched The Last Waltz (1978) on some Thanksgiving (it's our family traditional Thanksgiving movie, so why not Dylan's—plus, he's kind of at his best in it!) and that part where they're (the guys in The Band, with Martin Scorsese) are talking about retiring (which is the point of the movie) and how “The Road” has taken so many people. And you know, they weren't even that old at that point. Too early to retire! And then one thing or another started taking them, anyway—I mean, it's going to be something—if it's not a poorly maintained airplane, it might be a poorly maintained diet. But the keeping busy part of keeping busy never killed anyone. And I swear, retirement should come with a warning label like on cigarettes.

My overwhelming preference, though, is to stay home. I can't think of a worse life than “on the road.” If I lived somewhere with trees and a garden and dogs, no one might ever see me again. (Though if I had cats, you'd see them a lot on Instagram.) But, I mean, how many of those suburban shopping strips with the same fast food and gas stations and big chain stores can you witness before becoming comatose? On the other hand, there is still great stuff out there—maybe less every year—but there are still diners and lunch counters, here and there—you have to find them. Every evening when I'm too tired for typing or reading, I'll get out some of the songs I've written with various bands and see if I can still play them—sometimes they just die, and sometimes they get better. I still want to play these songs, but that would mean hanging out in a bar (I'm just not fond of bars)—and who needs to see another old, bald, potato chip white guy play country folk songs about midlife crisis? Not even me! And I can accomplish that with a wardrobe mirror.

Still, I've got this idea, and it's an idea for something, and that something is a tour. What we'll do (we being me and a tourbus full of my favorite people, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, craftspersons, etc.—you know who you are!) is travel around the country during the next presidential campaign and try to encourage a message of kindness and decency while playing music, selling art that normal people can afford, and maybe occasionally helping to strengthen levees (physically, I mean, not metaphorically) against rising water. On the way we can visit the last remaining great old diners and coffee shops and drug store lunch counters, as well as the new places—ventures by human beings who are working hard to make their corner of the world better. Can we learn from past models how to create a new model (for a Tour, I mean) that doesn't much resemble the past models? Can such a thing be built without necessitating the same hyper-confident killer instincts that also are the failings of the predator? Can we be decent people and still be able to pay our rent back home? Can we face the dark vacuum of failure and make it to the next day? Can we, if it comes to that, not collapse under the weight of success? I guess there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but first of all, maybe the most important one of all. What do we name the tour?

Randy Russell, 22 December 2018

Changing Mind Like the Weather

I realize that just a month after proclaiming I would take on the restaurant reviewing duties from my less than dependable cohorts, I had another change of heart, and a person who stages grand reinventions monthly can be annoying. I also realize no one reads these memos, or almost no one, and if you're reading this, you are of the special few. So what happened was I set out with ambition to eat everywhere and write about it, and as fate would have it I encountered another dietary mishap when I apparently ate some wheat in something, and as a gluten-free celiac, found myself spending another afternoon sick. I have suffered too many alcohol free days to suffer similar sickness due to a common grain. So disgusted with the situation, I was forced to admit that I have to be more careful and be more aggressive about avoiding particular ingredients, foods, cuisines, restaurants, and situations—a bad lot for someone trying to write about food. It's sad—I'm an adventurous eater, but the adventure can get me into trouble. So my latest solution—assuming a solution is needed—is to try to focus again on fiction writing, and leave the restaurant reviewing up to Mr. Speen and Mr. Skiller, if they can find the time (and necessary appetites).

And I'm not even sure about that—fiction writing. It all depends on how I feel about it, once I get back into it. You have to love what you're doing if you want to even have a chance for anyone who reads it to like it. I guess... we'll see. In the meantime, as far as this website goes, I'm going to try to liven it up by having designated days (you know, like “Throwback Thursday”—is that even a thing anymore?)—though it's kind of unfortunate that in seven weekdays, only five letters are represented. But I'm not worrying about the letters too much—sometimes it works out. So here is the new week, here at

Memoir Monday – In which I'll post in between one and four of the “memoir” pages: Memoir, Notebook Journals, No Memory, and The Golden Pineapple.

Cafe Tuesday – I'll explore a local cafe or coffee shop – there are plenty!

Reading Wednesday – Book review and new reading list.

Podcast Thursday – This will be coming soon – more on it later!

Farraginous Friday – Where I'll review a vinyl record – at the external site: DJ Farraginous.

Soap Review Saturday – When better than the traditional bathing day to review a new bar of soap?

Song Review Sunday/Steely Dan Sunday – Which will be a review of either a random song, or an examination of a not so random Steely Dan song.

I'm going to continue to write and post other stuff, as it comes up, of course—such as movie reviews, whenever I see a movie, and rice pudding reviews (on the Dessert page) whenever I encounter rice pudding—but the above will be the regular features. I hope that's enough. I hope that's not too much. I hope enough is enough and too much is never enough. Happy snow day!

Randy Russell, 9 November 2018

Blood for Dracula

Kind of unwittingly, I was thinking about vampires—not because Halloween has been extended to cover the entire month of October (or more accurately, Labor Day to Thanksgiving)—but because I was thinking about that movie, Blood for Dracula (1974), also known as Andy Warhol's Dracula, and how I've been feeling like Udo Kier, constantly sick. The joke is, as Dracula, he must find virgin blood to survive, and each of his victims, purportedly a virgin, turns out not to be. It's a terrible joke, but what I like is the image of him, disappointed and sick. I thought of this in relation to me trying to find gluten-free dining options; it seems like the more awareness there is of celiac disease, and the more so-called options there are, the more I seem to be getting accidentally poisoned with wheat. I've gotten sick more times this year than the previous 25 since I found out I was gluten-intolerant, or so it feels.

The sad thing is, just after I decided to take on the dining, coffee, taco, and dessert reviews, to fill in for my somewhat lazy cohorts, Speen and Skiller, I had another experience of getting sick. The worst part is that it's almost impossible to track down the reason, and you can't in any fairness blame a restaurant when you don't know if it's something you ate earlier, or some other reason. Restaurants have a hard enough time existing without unfair negative press. It might make sense for me to just focus on only gluten-free dining, at places where that is the feature, and thus most likely to be safe—but that just sounds so lifeless to me. Plus, I'm not good about being thorough, and I'm a crappy scientist and a worse detective.

More and more, food in general has gotten to be a problem. Besides having to absolutely avoid gluten, I have been increasingly sensitive to dairy products, or at least some. Also, there are many things I avoid as possible migraine triggers. Even worse, in the 25 years since I quit drinking, I feel like sugar has increasingly affected the same part of my brain as alcohol used to—it's almost like my body immediately transforms any sugar I eat into alcohol. Which coincides with, or possibly explains, an increasing, maddening craving for sugar. It also doesn't help that as time goes on I feel worse and worse about eating meat, not for health reasons, but just because I love animals. In some ways I feel like death is looking more and more like a relief just for the reason that you don't have to eat. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe you endlessly stalk the shadows for virginal blood or the fresh brains of the hapless.

That time will come soon enough, but in the meantime I've got to find some solution, and I'm not talking about Shakey's Buffet. One idea is to concentrate on places rather than food. As much as food is an interest of mine, it's impossible for me to ever write even close to a comprehensive, fair assessment of any restaurant—and also, even more than food, I've always first been interested in the atmosphere, the feeling, the look of a place—the personality. Which is one reason I've always been a huge fan of diners—I've loved places where the food (and particularly coffee) quality was sometimes lacking. So maybe that is a good way to approach writing about restaurants—since I don't want to totally give it up—even if I have to give up eating! The other possibility is to find a good collaborator or two, to help pick up the slack created by my worthless colleagues.

Another thing that has been bothering me lately is the feeling that I'm doing nothing but making words on a word processor, published on this website, which, in the end, isn't much, really, but chicken scratch in the ether, pissing in the rain, farting on the afterdeck of the SS Whogivesafuck, or what have you. I try to do so many different things that I don't give the proper time and care to any of them. I suppose one solution is that I could just give it all up, get a second job, and then save more (any at all) money. And with that money I could buy what? Oh, yeah, happiness. But happiness is overrated, and maybe I'd be better off trying to make something that is good. But what? The general consensus is that if you haven't figured this shit out by the time you're 30, you're sunk, and I'm almost twice that age—so where does that leave me? A shipwreck—but not even that—just a shadow that resembles one, when the light shines on the lake a certain way.

Randy Russell, 14 October 2018

Virtual Reality Tequila Volcano

It's my favorite day of the year, the Autumnal Equinox, at least as far as weather and energy and anticipation goes—not that I'm excited about the days getting shorter—that I don't care for—but it's all part of the happy death march, I guess. I don't know why I said that. The point of this memo is to announce some changes, and one of those is an attempt at increased brevity—on this website—particularly the writing—so that means here and now, as well.

Now that it's Fall, I'm going to try to go to more movies, and still write about each one, but write less! There have not been nearly as many coffee shop and restaurant reviews as I had hoped, even with the help of Richard Skiller, so I'm going to take an active roll there, as well, and help out. Skiller is somewhat of a “hipster,” as you may know, but I've personally lost patience with a lot of restaurant trends, lately, so get ready for some bitter complaining. I'm also going to help out Ray Speen with his random and pointed blog writing, which has kind of stagnated during his ongoing house arrest, so to speak. No, he didn't fail another drug test—I'm talking about house arrest of the heart. That doesn't sound so good, does it—bad choice of words. We have easy editing capabilities, I can fix that—but I'm also making a point to go back to the typewriter days. Things keep getting worse (the more they improve, the worse they get, you know?)—there's no stopping it—but it's our job to build a dam, or levee, or what have you, and keep patching the holes, throwing on sandbags, or whatever. For me, I say: before you ask a computer, ask a friend. Sit on a stool in a diner, maybe, rather than a virtual reality tequila volcano, whatever that is.

One more promise for the future—you may anticipate a podcast in the near soon, which you'll be able to read about here and listen to somewhere else. I know that sounds pretty “now,” but in a way it has more to do with old-fashioned radio, in some respects. Way back in the early 1980s when I worked many hours delivering flowers (like in the song), I used to listen to the local AM talk shows in the truck, and I found that via time and the (mostly) calm act of talking, even moderate Republicans, corny pseudo liberals, and likely not-very-good-person Dadaist wingnuts could not only be entertaining, but give you that small ramekin of hope—the possibility that people are constantly changing—and sometimes even for the benefit of—if not all—most.

On the other hand, not to sound like Peaches Prozac, there are some popular trends, design elements, products, political leaders, billionaires, popular gurus, and annoying fads that just need to be set on fire, then quickly extinguished (let's put the extinguish back in fire extinguisher), turned to stone, gently recycled, and used to patch holes in the retaining walls, levees, bike paths, etc.

Randy Russell, 22 September 2018

History of the Toboso Brewing Co.

Lately I've been concentrating on the Memoir subcategory of this website. I use the word “memoir” because I think it's a funny word, and I like how people stumble over the pronunciation (French and pompous, or un-pompous dumb American?). Also, in one of my favorite scenes from a Coen Brothers movie, Burn After Reading (2008), John Malkovich tells Tilda Swinton that he's quit his job and wants to write a book, “a sort of memoir”—the way he pronounces it, and then her reaction (a nervous laugh that says more than a page of dialogue could)—is so funny, I'll watch that one scene and laugh about it all day.

Memoir is understood to be non-fiction, but I maintain that writing about events from memory is necessarily fiction because in order to remember events we turn them into stories, a version of the things that happened—and there's nothing wrong with that, of course. Anyway, in the case of my memoirs, I'm willfully misusing the word “memoir” in order to not use two words (that I just used earlier in this paragraph) that I would like to retire from my vocabulary—because they have become not useful: “non-fiction” and “story.”

My first memoir page, titled: No Memory, is simply typing and posting, in chronological order, entries that I wrote in notebooks roughly two years ago. I'm kind of following along with the present date, but looking two years back. The second is a link to a separate page, a long-running blog titled: Notebook Journals—also a chronological typing and posting of entires from notebooks—in this case from 20 years ago (so I'm currently in the late-Nineties). The third page, brilliantly titled: Memoir, goes back to my earliest journal (as a 12-year-old, in 1972) and follows from there chronologically. In this case, I'm trying to fill in a few journal-less years (there were a lot of them) with some writing from memory, or in some cases trying to turn fictionalized events back into memories. Faulty, yes, but it's all faulty, and it's all fiction, and whether there is any truth in it is up to the reader to decide.

Which brings us to what I thought about upon waking up this morning: 1988—thirty years ago. That was the year I drove out to San Francisco, intending to move there—and if I had, how different would my life be now? Most likely I would have worked, saved a little money, then moved up to Santa Rosa, location of one of my favorite movies, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). As an avid beer maker, it was my dream to open a brew-pub, which no doubt would have been followed by a microbrewery (my beer was really good!), marriage and kids. As deeply entrenched in brewing culture as my identity would have been, I likely would have perished from a combination of celiac disease and alcoholism. So next time you hoist a flagon of Toboso Brewery's signature Wine Vomit Stout, let your mind wander on some of the paths not taken, but appreciate the one you're on. Please enjoy responsibly.

Randy Russell, 1 August 2018

War of the Words

It's a Saturday in early June and it's raining to the south of where I'm sitting. Just to the north the sky has opened up and alien invaders from a distant star have picked this day to make their global presence known, first in our small town, of all places, before they turn the Earth into an open pit carbon mine, and all of us into slave miners. I, of all people, am heading up there to meet them now, wary of their gifts of opioid blankets. I have put together my own greeting “care package” for them, which I'm pretty sure will sink their plans. It consists of McDonald's, pre-packaged mimosas, and a Netflix subscription. Of course, a lot of damage will be done before this is all over. Sheriff cars will be burned and heroes vaporized. Sleep will never again come quite as easily. But for those of us who do survive, all of our problems—some of whose are much, much greater than others—will be put into perspective.

This guy, Anthony Bourdain, died last week, and I was and am a big fan of his, to the extent of feeling—like with many fans of admired people—like I knew him, as a friend—though, of course, I didn't. And though it is none of our business, news came that his death was due to suicide. Inquiring minds want to know, I guess. There's a weird way in which knowing the cause of a person's death lets us breathe easier, in some cases, or in other cases, I guess, breathe less easily. I suppose that has to do with extending your sympathy, on one hand, and the perceived likelihood, on the other, that you will share the same fate. Depending on your empathy and health, of course. People will often perceive anyone who is a mere 20 years older than they are as having had a “good life” and it's “their time.” If someone is hit by a meteor from outer space, we're all gripped by fear, for a period of from one hour to one day (depending on what you've got going on). Almost inconceivably, there are some people who have neither known a loved one who died from suicide nor had suicidal inclinations of their own, and they sometimes call out, even publicly, the deceased as selfish. Though often this anger is misplaced grief—and even though it makes us all miserable, misplacing stuff is the very substance of civilization.

I have not read any of Anthony Bourdain's books, but maybe I will (after a period; I find that it's too sad to read stuff by people who have recently left us; I'm still having trouble with Denis Johnson). But I relate to Bourdain on some basic levels (work, food) and on others, admire him as doing, with gusto and humor, what I cannot do, and that is travel. I envy people who can walk into the unknown and eat things that might not be considered food by most of us (as a celiac, I can't eat anything without an ingredients label). Or stay somewhere without AC. Or have to shit in a hole (I can't even shit if there's someone looking at their iPhone in the stall next to me). Or partaking in the rituals of the locals, whose respectful embrace may well not be gluten-free, and wipe out 20 years of sobriety, or wreak havoc with next week's drug test. Though envy might not be the right word—I relate, and I don't relate—similar and different to my feelings about David Foster Wallace (another person I didn't know whose suicide affected me in a surprisingly intense way) who, just by writing one title (along with the billion words), I knew we were sometimes on a very similar wavelength: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

We have 1000 words for snowflakes (or is that the Eskimos?) but the word “depression” is used to describe: bummed out about a breakup, that exam on Monday, favorite sports team deciding to suck, three hours of sustained cloud cover, a flat tire, or depression. I have read and heard spoken depictions of serious, clinical, crippling depression by people as articulate (and thorough) as David Foster Wallace, and still I don't pretend to be able to really know what it's like. I personally have had suicidal thoughts due to unpleasantries as mundane as the flu, food poisoning, and migraines (you know, that feeling that, if this was to go on like this forever, get me the pills). Or, I guess, sometimes, paradoxically, that feeling that life is so beautiful, fulfilling, and smells so good, that a fear arrises that it will end, and the only way to deal with that fear is to take matters into your own hands.

When it comes to other people's suffering, it's pretty easy to put up the blinders, and you can even justify that by saying it's necessary for survival (to some extent it is). But the hardest thing to deny is that every time you flush the toilet or get takeout food in a plastic shell, you're face to face with a global crisis. I know that many of our leaders (who know how to tie a Half Windsor Knot and have had a lot more fund-raising luncheons than I have) truly believe it's no problem, and our environment will be just fine, at least for us and our children's children—and who, honestly, can think beyond that? The space aliens don't need to use the death rays on us; if they're smart enough to get here, they probably realize they can just sit back for a few years while humans exterminate themselves and the Earth returns to a lush, self-sustaining garden. They might even build some kind of a museum commemorating the odd, hairless inhabitants that thrived here briefly, built some cool shit, but mostly didn't do much.

Randy Russell, 9 June 2018

I Wish This Was About Rainstorms, Diners, Flowers, Jazz, and Geese

Before getting onto the main subject, my personal dilemma, I want to acknowledge the things going on in the world, in this country, in this state I live in, and with people I know, close friends and more distant acquaintances. There are reasons to celebrate, reasons to worry, and reasons to mourn, much of which I'm aware of via news, social media, and personal correspondence. Though on a day to day basis my inbox is mostly empty, I'm aware that there are emails, from friends I care about, that I have not answered. For some reason I find our current evolution of communication challenging. Or sometimes it's, “where to start?” But I remain open to discussing things. Also, I realize that a few people I know have been kind enough to offer me suggestions about my course of action, and just because I sometimes argue against these suggestions, or don't follow them, doesn't mean I don't appreciate them or find them helpful. Also, there is an election coming up in Wisconsin (Tuesday, April 3rd) and it's an important one. Whether or not there is an election in your part of the world, or you believe in voting or not, the first step is just to know that it exists.

My problems don't amount to a can of beans in this insane world, someone said (oh, that was me, just now) I am well aware, but as of this week, the last of March, I have come upon a problem that I want to share, just because maybe someone reading this can offer a suggestion—even one that leads to another idea, or potential solution. I don't necessarily expect an answer, or even anyone to read this, but I'll try anyway. Also, while I don't want to be someone who's just always complaining or in crisis, I realize it's not always healthiest to just keep this stuff inside you. Also, while often it's easiest and often most effective to go to a search engine with any question, I'd like to think it's still possible to ask actual people. And in some cases, to be able to share knowledge and information, or even help, makes people feel good.

Most people like to keep the details of their personal finances, including jobs, pay, health coverage, and whatever else they do to survive, private, and I understand that—I'm the same way, for the most part. But in this case I'm going to divulge a few details, just because someone might read this and say, “No, you should do it this way,” or “Hey, you actually have it good compared to most,” or “Wow, that's the same boat I'm in,” or “Try this...” When I moved to New York, ten years ago, I was dealing with finding both a job and health insurance, and through a network of friends found a state organization that helped me with a heath plan (I'd love to have that plan right now). A few years later, I recall referring another friend to the same organization—that's how things work!—or can.

When I lived in Iowa City and was very ill, the free clinic helped direct me to help that essentially saved my life, and then to a court that saved my ass, financially. When I lived in Oregon, the state health plan there got me by very well, until I finally found a job that offered health insurance. I am kind of painfully aware that both times I moved to Wisconsin (from Oregon, and later from New York), I left jobs in which I was fully covered by health insurance. Do I regret that?—of course not, because not ever moving to Wisconsin would mean not ever having had these particular friendships that have been the most important thing in my life. So that's perspective. However, I'm now wondering if moving somewhere more affordable or with state or local healthcare situations more useful to me might not be an option I should consider. Though, believe me, I do not relish the thought of moving, at this point.

So, briefly, because this is boring, it took me about six months to find my current job—which I'm totally happy with—in part, because it's part-time, so I actually have time, at home, for writing (whether I should be writing and what is a discussion for another time). The pay was just enough to get by, but that worked, for awhile anyway, because it put me below the poverty level, which allowed me to be covered by the state health plan. Of course, this was not an ideal situation because it doesn't really give me enough money to even travel to Ohio once a year to see family, and what little I have in my savings account has dwindled to about nothing. Still, a life where you like where you live, like your job, like the creative work you're doing, and have enough to eat—it's hard to argue with that.

Then I got a small raise, welcome, of course, except when I reported that to the state agency, it put me over the limit for state health care, which means now I have to try to find health insurance. If you've done that lately—not the best way to spend a morning. Without complicating things (for sake of discussion) with the fraught, fluctuating insanity of the political situation and its influence on healthcare right now—and in the unpredictable future—when you start reading about health plans (they like to use “gold, silver, bronze” as designations, which can give you a gallows laugh)—you realize that to make the proper decision, you must know ahead of time what the extent of the personal malady you will be afflicted with is. Well, the only one I could afford, based on my income, is none of them, but the one that comes closest, called “catastrophic coverage” pretty much won't pay for things like doctor or hospital visits, anyway—and only helps if it gets into the thousands, or millions (though there is a ceiling, but by that time, you're probably dead).

So anyway, do I: quit my job, keep health coverage, and try to find a job with health coverage (good luck!) See this as a sign, a time to move out of town, to hopefully something easier? Maybe find a second part-time job (good luck) whose income would just be to cover my healthcare? Or just go without health insurance? (Which is a little bit difficult, due to prescription medication, and also scarier the older you get). Or... ROADTRIP! Or maybe: start drinking heavily. Maybe stow away on the SpaceX Mars rocket. Or—here's a novel idea—could I tell my employer to reduce my pay, in order to put me under the poverty level, once again? Calling Dr. Kafka!

I know that this is depressing and kind of pathetic, so thank you if you got this far. I just got so stressed out about it yesterday, when this all came up. Then when I was at work I started seeing flashing lights—like the kind of psychedelic laser light show I so despise—around the periphery of my vision. When I tried to focus on the lights they just went to the other side—kind of like success. It was scary. I wondered if someone had dosed the Keurig pods with LSD, or if this was stress talking. I thought for awhile I might have to head to a doctor, and I admit it was comforting, knowing I was still covered. Anyway, sometimes a very easy solution comes with a very simple suggestion, so that's why I'm throwing this out there. In the meantime, it made me feel better just to write about it. Which is—in part—why I keep putting things in written words. I won't give up my pen until they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Randy Russell, 28 March 2018


Holiday Newsletter

I like the word Holiday—I'm not sure why—not to get into the word's origins and wide array of meanings—but I like how you can mold it to work for you you, if you want to—and thus: Holiday Newsletter.

Without going into my personal, technological, philosophical, and financial triumphs and limitations, I have finally reached a point (this-is-it) where it's time to make some decisions and then move on. I have been working on a novel all my life, and now I am done with it. I won't even presume I know what is next.

“What to do with the novel” then becomes the problem, and part of me says: wrap it in plastic and forget about it. The kindle part of me (that made my writing available for ebooks in the past) suggested ebook, but due to decreased technological prowess (due in part to limited finances), and also due to many of you disliking e-readers and their funny names, and certain companies who facilitate all this, that is not going to happen at this time.

I finally read over this finished novel, however, with a clear head (ie, as a reader, not a re-writer), and I realized that I love my characters. I don't always like what they're doing, but for better or worse they have become like breathing creatures to me, and I can't just let them be wrapped in plastic. So it is with that, hopefully, genuine sentiment that I offer to share their lives with anyone who would like to take the time and not inconsiderable effort to reimagine them in their own mind.

As part of my brain has been hijacked by certain social and political realities in the last year, I realize that it is harder than ever to concentrate on fiction, or anything, really. It's like our brains are computers (they are, actually) and when this current events program is constantly running, it slows down everything. So I realize it might not be the time to read about, and become immersed in, people who aren't technically flesh and blood. Or it might be just the time, who knows.

When I went to write a synopsis for this novel (synopsis writing being something that can make even the strongest among us collapse in a weeping puddle) it became painfully clear that a convoluted, slowly developing story with so many characters you need a reference guide (and no explicit sex or violence) might appeal to less than a percent of a percent of people, even the ones I know personally. Especially when most of the characters are writers, and that's what they like talking about. They're also all kind of old.

But then, who knows—I liked it. I considered sending out a holiday mass email with a PDF of the novel attached, but I realize a mass email with a PDF attached will go right into the ol' spam mailbox. I've got thousands of unopened emails, and I don't even go near that spam mailbox (it's truly frightening), and maybe no one even checks, much less reads email anymore, but still, I'll send this holiday newsletter out to those few who might welcome it.

So, if you've read this far and would like a PDF of my novel, Everyone Is Someone Else, please let me know—and know that you are not obligated to read it or ever say another word about it. I know that a PDF is an awfully cheap Christmas present, but it's all I've got, and if you added up the hours I spent working on it (even if they're slow-burn, pre-dawn hours) it would possibly be impressive.

One last thought, and encouragement. If you do actually decide to read this story, I welcome questions and complaints, via mail, email, and phone calls, as I'd be happy to help anyone who is using their own valuable time to reconstitute my imaginary world, and it would be my pleasure to help color in here and there, or offer clues to missing pieces, or argue about ideas. (Which is probably an offer you get from any writer, or should, providing they are still alive, and not in hiding.)

But really, please feel free to ignore all this novel business. I just felt like I had some kind of obligation to put it out there, if un-aggressively as possible, so that I can move on. More important, please keep in touch. If you can, spend time with family. Be nice to animals. Maybe take a long walk in the woods.

Randy Russell, 14 December 2017

The Days Grow Short

Why do the church-bells go off frantically at exactly 7:38 AM on Saturday morning in downtown Milwaukee? That's another mystery I need to solve, by doing research, or asking around. My imagination is not getting me anywhere on that one. 7:38?

I had a very strange dream last night, worth writing down, and telling people about, but before you stop reading (which is what I know people do when someone starts talking about a strange dream) I forgot it, so I'm not going to be able to write it down, unless it comes back to me later during the day (which is always kind of weird when that happens). I think I forgot it because of a later dream, where I was pouring some cheap whiskey into a more expensive liquor bottle, and then I went out to where the people were, who were waiting to drink the whiskey, and poured the whiskey from that bottle into an even more expensive whiskey bottle—right in front of the people so they could see I was doing it.

What did it mean? I have no idea who the people were or why they were drinking the whiskey, but they were happy to get it poured into their little glasses, and they chuckled about me first pouring it into the more expensive bottle, and some might have remarked about it being pretty good whiskey, regardless. After I thought about this, after I woke up, I realized it was a very nice illustration of the concept of exposing or admitting to a lie in order to cover up a deeper lie. Which is, of course, a very common practice that probably comes naturally to many of us. There must be a name for this kind of lie, but I don't know what it is. I've got to figure that out. (If anyone reading this knows, send me an email: see the “contact” page for the address.)

Maybe I was thinking a lot about lies because of just watching the 10 part Vietnam documentary on PBS, or, of course, reading the current political news. Or the sports news. “I Tell Lies Every Day.” I'm not saying that—it's a song I just heard by Black Randy and the Metrosquad. Though, I'm lying, I didn't just hear it, I heard it years ago, but it makes more compelling writing to say “I just heard it.” We all lie, of course. What? You don't? You're lying.

Or maybe I was thinking about lies because before going to bed I was playing one of my songs, with one of the corniest lyrics I ever wrote: “I'm a big liar/I put out the fire/in the hearth/but not the fire in my heart.” I have recently put together a double set list of songs, from A to Z (song titles starting with those letters), mostly mine, a few covers. Which I hope to play if I can ever get over crippling stage-fright, and then find a place that will let me play two one hour sets, that's not a bar, is preferably not too late in the day, and where my music doesn't merely serve as an ignored backdrop to shopping, working on laptops, or disturbing sex rituals (whether they be of a Christian or Satanic nature).

Or maybe it is a book I started reading, Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon. I always loved and hated the movie made from that book, so it occurred to me to finally read it to see if I can find some insight into why I both love and hate the movie. You might sum up the story by saying it's about lying, lies, and liars, though of course it's about much more. But lies are at the heart of the story. I am really liking this book so far (first I've read by the author) and I'm also kind of riveted by the similarity and differences to the movie (which I've seen many times). I'm really, really curious how it will end.

And now, because I always bring everything back to me, there is also my book, called Nine Lies (which I just recently re-read) (actually, not that recently). You can find out more information about it under the “Media” tab. If you haven't read it, you might consider it. I still think it's pretty good. But it's not really about lies at all (well, sometimes it is). I guess the title comes from the idea that fiction, or stories, are essentially lies. But, of course, I don't believe that. I think stories are the only way to chip away at the unreachable, mysterious, knowably unknowable but still somehow important thing we think of as the truth.

Randy Russell, 30 September 2017

Horror and Fun

This is where I might allow myself to talk about what I've been going through, this last month, the last few months, this time of year when a big change comes upon us, or at least it does if you teach, have kids in school, have never grown up, spend your summers at the beach, or are a football fan. Or some combination of those. But seeing how I've been trapped in some kind of inability to move forward, I'd rather discuss what I was thinking—as I woke up this morning into yet another dawn of slow panic—about the social part of social media. How many articles and books have been written about social media at this point? Is there a defining work, out there—I should know that, at this point—or maybe I need to refine my focus of interest on what is an immense subject. What I was thinking about this morning was more specifically social circles, and those I've intersected with in this and that place over time. And some small part of that is what I'm writing, here, right now. And that might be extremely small—as in one person. When I write something here, I know that one person will read it: me—when I re-read it before posting it (at which time I might put it into that little trash can). As far as the other reader(s), I have no guarantees, but I find it necessary to conjure up some small amount of faith that there will be out there—among the billions that this could potentially reach—one reader, and that person is you.

About 17 years ago, when I first moved to Milwaukee, I had an idea for a project—I was thinking a documentary film—called Saloons and Salons—while driving around and seeing the incredible numbers of establishments where people get their hair cut, and the ones where people drink—most with goofy, odd names, and many seeming to be, at least in appearance, frozen in time. I never got past that bloated idea, which of course would have to be either a very long film, or a TV series, to cover the sheer volume—and then, would there really be that much difference between this beauty shop and that one, this tavern and that bar? But now I'm thinking, that's really where the interest is for me—the similarities, the universality, sure, but then the minute variations—for me, that's where the story is. As a compulsive list maker and reviewer, I would find nothing so exciting as comparing the light level and quality in this tavern to that tavern, and comparing bar stools, and booths, and jukeboxes. I've often thought about going back to this project; the problem being, at some undefined moment in the last quarter century, I swore off bars for good. I don't remember exactly when it was, but realizing that I could just decide to no longer go to bars (why does something like that seem so impossible?) was crucial to whatever kind of future happiness I might have—if not survival.

So of course there's still salons—the establishments of beauticians and barbers—but how many haircuts can a person endure (not to mention afford)—plus, my preferred method of approach is to slip in unseen, as a customer, as opposed to being an announced reporter or an intrusion with a film crew. So lately, my next idea for a subject has been coffee shops, and there are more than ever (and maybe more than there will ever be again) which is a more fitting project for me, with my limited finances and unlimited appetite for coffee. So it might just be a list, or it might be an article, and it might not be for awhile, but we'll see. In the meantime, at least this morning, I had this idea that it would be interesting to do an alternative study (as opposed to the official, massive, and funded studies that are being launched and completed as we speak) on a selected group of people's social media. What, how often and how much, and when, of course, but more what they think about what it means, each aspect of it, and how they see it.

I'm not old enough to remember a time before TV, but I'm old enough to remember people who remember a time before TV. My Mom's best story was about how her brothers were arguing over what channel to watch and her dad came in and kicked in the TV screen (or did he throw something through it, or shoot it?)—so much was it an intrusion on their lives. And there was maybe, what, three channels? How about 500 channels? What about your own private channel where no one but you knows the content? And yet there seems to be, today, people out there who know exactly what everyone is talking about, all the time, with confidence and clarity. I'm not one of those people and I admit that I am suspicious of those who are. This is really obvious, but it's still worth reminding each other: your news feed is entirely different than my news feed. A fun project with someone you trust is to sit down with two devices and compare Facebook feeds. Horrifying, maybe; fun and horror, two sides of the same coin. It's easy to assume—because it's what Facebook wants you to think—that everyone is watching the same Facebook, like it's the Facebook channel on television. Like it's the one big radio station we all sit down after dinner and listen to—the news, the weather, the game, then the serialized entertainment. We can all talk about it at work tomorrow. But no. Our “friends” are different, our groups are different, our news and events are different, even our ads are different. What planet are you from?—and by the way... what planet are we on?

Randy Russell, 31 August 2017

620 Express (Revisited)

For your information (see post titled: 620 Express, June 2016. Or not) what 620 really means is TIME TRAVEL, believe it or else. Time travel is not only possible, it's essential. Seeing how today is the date (6/20) and is also the Summer Solstice, I am assuming it's a good time to change around the website of RSPEEN.COM where you ideally are reading this (though, who knows, these days). And I am also using this occasion to make some really big announcements, which I'll do here, right now. First I'd like to welcome Richard Skiller to the RSpeen Team (more on that later, once the business cards get printed, and by the way, I'm saying “team” ironically, because I think everyone who uses the term “team” for anything not a sports team is reprehensible, unless they're using it ironically, and then they're just a moron).

Also, I'm going to move the soap reviews to their own page and then present them one at a time, either new reviews, or revised ones. I'm sure all the binge soap review readers out there have had enough time to binge read the soap reviews while they were on the main page. Also, I know that I like to see a different picture, once in awhile, when I look at this website, so starting today we are celebrating the celebration of summer reading, and I hope everyone joins me (us).

And the biggest news of all is that today (and again, the Solstice is a fine time to start a new project) is the first day of new writing project—or should we just come out and say it—a novel—and hopefully that's not a dirty word to you—though it may be after you get a healthy exposure to this new writing project—a novel—by R. Speen. The title is, will be, and was: The Golden Pineapple. If you haven't figured it out by now (maybe you need to re-read it) it's about time travel. Of course, it's about much more than that, and not about time travel at all, but you know. And you can find it right here, on, just look at the menu at the top of the page, or tap on the three little lines top left, if you're reading on a phone device, and then just keep tapping to navigate, keep navigating, and that's exactly what R. Speen will be doing, as well, navigating, tapping, tapping, tapping.

Randy Russell, June 20, 2017


It occurred to me that one might be writing about May Day—whether as International Workers' Day, or just the celebration of spring—and leave out that space, between May and Day—and you get Mayday, the universally recognized distress signal. Another example of the frailty of communication, something I've thought about a lot lately, especially in relation to social media and the often confusing and misinterpreted signals, shorthand, and constantly changing conventions of what is still a social space in its infancy (and often seems determined to stay there, or just revel in being infantile). Anyway, just to be clear, this memo isn't a cry for help, no matter how confusing it might be. In fact, I feel comforted in knowing that I can just write this and post it, and if I don't draw anyone's attention to it (via guilt-tripping, taco bribes, or cat photos), it's very likely no one will see it whatsoever.

I woke up this morning out of a dream about being at the dentist; the hygienist was poking that scary pointy thing into a sticky spot, taking way too long, and that, “uh oh, I think I found a cavity” look on her face. There has been no dentist visit recently nor is one on the horizon. The perfectly blue, fall-like sky as I walked home from the library suddenly became stormy and I was caught in a hail storm which would have been kind of funny and even entertaining if it wasn't so cold and I wasn't worried about ruining my electronic devices. My shoes ended up so wet I may as well have been wading in the lake up to my knees. Still, I love weather extremes, and if that was the worst of the day, I should be thankful, I thought.

But most of this day I felt like everything was off. Also, it was one of those days with time passing twice as fast as it should, if you know what I mean. I had a mild migraine headache. I took a nap. I read some from a book by David Foster Wallace, an article called “David Lynch Keeps His Head” about visiting the set of the David Lynch movie, Lost Highway. Kind of an absurdly long article, kind of dated, but highly entertaining and making me sad that DFW is gone. The earlier thing I read today was kind of a random chapter (Chapter 57) of my dormant novel, The Doughnuts, looking for a sign that I should either give up on it and just put it away (forever) or actually publish it as a Kindle book, if nothing else. DFW briefly described the hotel he stayed in while in LA for the David Lynch article, and from just a few brief clues, I knew that it was the Sofitel across from the Beverly Center, a hotel I stayed at a few times and therefore used as a setting for an episode in The Doughnuts: a journalist is staying there while she visits a movie set. It is so close to the DFW/David Lynch situation that I'd be certain anyone reading it would think this article influenced me directly. This kind of freaked me out for awhile, today.

Earlier this year, considering this Doughnuts novel—be it failed and hopeless, mercifully euthanized, or just ignored (by me, and everyone else by extension)—I was thinking, maybe someone will tell me, finally, that I suck and should put my energy somewhere more productive. I guess I wondered if someone told me that, it would either confirm my suspicion that I suck, or else would make me more determined; more aggressive about finding an audience, any audience. So then, when someone did essentially tell me that (not “you suck”—but something along those lines, and I'm not going to be specific, revealing, or give anyone a hard time about it) my reaction has been to waver between one extreme and another. The odd David Foster Wallace coincidence today—if that's not some kind of a sign, I don't know what is. But then, I don't believe in signs. (Do you, imaginary reader?) Maybe not a sign, as in coming from some divine place, but a sign from me—to me.

Time and the Weather

I recently quit the job I've been working at since this beginning of the year. I'm not going to write anything about it directly, or about jobs, in general. It came to my attention once that I was ruled out for a possible job because the employer looked online and saw that I wrote “blogs”—and that apparently freaked them out. Though if they bothered to read the stuff I write they'd see that I don't write about jobs or people I know, and I'm not vindictive or even that angry or critical, and I certainly don't write for revenge or to hurt people. But I guess just the fact that one would publish their opinions about stuff, regardless of how few people read it, that scares some people. Or maybe just the word “blog” scares some people, though now it's widely considered to mean farting in the wind. Anyway, I'm not going to talk about where I worked, what the job was, or the people I worked with, except to say that it was for a company I respect, and with people I was quite fond of, and it was time to do something else for the sake of my mental, physical, financial, and creative well-being.

The successful part about this job—and what I'd hoped would be positive for me—was the contact with a wide variety of people and a high volume of people during a work day. And it was successful in that I came away feeling a kind of spiritual nourishment (maybe I should try church, or volunteering, huh, in the future?) that is kind of the opposite of the psychic numbing that develops day after day of sitting alone in a room isolated, which nurtures fear and paranoia. And while it worked, it also exposed me to some disturbing trends in the interaction and communication of people; this is stuff I've known about forever, but needed reminding, I guess.

First of all, it was kind of jarring to realize how much people seem to hate their jobs; either real displeasure with the job, or maybe the verbal expression of dissatisfaction, and most likely the combination of both. I realize that most people are working because they need the money they are making to get by (same here), and that looking for a job is one of the more frustrating ventures any of us go through in life. That is the reason so many people stick with jobs they “hate.” But to hear, day after day, complaints, bitterness, negativity—though nothing new or surprising to me—this time, it struck me as, “Whoa, this is not a good thing.” The part that hurts the most is when people talk about TIME, and how it is their enemy, and how they wish for it to pass as quickly as possible. Obviously, I realize that it's natural to want to get through the time you are spending doing something you don't like in order to get to the time spent doing something you do like. Still, hearing people constantly refer to hoping “time goes fast” and lamenting time that is “left” and just generally wishing for moments of existence to be gone—it bothered me more than it ever has. I believe that it's more than small-talk—that it's an indication of some really disturbing condition.

And talking about small-talk, something that began to bother me even more was the constant talk about the weather. In some ways, I love that people talk about the weather; maybe because it's an indication that we are all the same in many ways, and we are all simple beings, and we all bow down to something that we cannot control but affects us so much. The fact is, everyone (including me) talks about the weather; everyone from the world's geniuses, leaders, billionaires, dictators to the artists, elite athletes, shit-workers, butchers of human life, and saints. I suppose there is someone out there that doesn't ever talk about the weather—and they are likely to be shunned by society as “abnormal” and “insane.” I worry, sometimes, that even my weather preferential orientation (I like overcast skies and temperature in the thirties, and I love storms and snow) casts me as a weirdo, so I usually keep it to myself in order to “fit in.” But I still talk about weather. “Wow, nice day.” Who can resist? Or, blah, it's been rain for three days straight. Somewhere in the dark corners of comedy there are no doubt grim jokes about people on their way to the gas chamber complaining about the weather.

The pathetic thing about us humans is that each of us has a comfort zone that is narrower than ten degrees Fahrenheit, if you really think about it, and that's kind of scary. We can survive in a little bit larger temperature range, but one that is also tiny, relative to global scale. Even though a major accomplishment of human beings is that we have evolved our technology to the extent that we will be able to exterminate our entire population before nature gets around to it, still, the fact is that a stray asteroid or perhaps the sun meaninglessly issuing a random sun-fart will exterminate us all without ceremony. We don't worry about this because of the scale of time on a planetary level makes the brief appearance of the seven million of us on earth right now fairly insignificant. It will happen at some point, though, and whatever life form comes next won't care about or even notice our carefully preserved artifacts.

But most likely before that happens (unless we really outdo ourselves and accelerate our demise manually) everyone who ever cared about anything we care about now will be gone from all memory. As someone who turned 40 in the year 2000, I've found the time between then and now to be a blink of the eye. Yet, on my last day of work, I approached the time-clock for the last time prematurely and had to watch an entire minute click off before my final punch-out. It was an eternity. In that minute, I felt actual eternity, and in my small, practical, wisdom, I savored it. I wish I had the spiritual wisdom that I could also accept the reality that, essentially, I'm already gone. Failing all that, anyway, I think what I'll do today is be fully conscious when I approach yet another lunch, and I'm going to remember all this, and forget all this, upon first bite. And then I'm just going to enjoy my taco.

All I Need Is Love

Note: My annual Valentine's Day post. If you're happy and content today, stop reading after paragraph one. If you're feeling a little on the fence about this “love” stuff, stop reading after paragraph two. Everyone else, maybe read to the end. Thank you.

One of my earliest jobs was delivering flowers, which I did on and off over the years. For the flower industry, Valentine's Day is like their Christmas, and if you're not directly raking in the profits you tend to get a little soured by the attitude of, “You'd better spend some money on your lover or there'll be hell to pay.” So on this day in the past I've often written (or talked about) some negative take on the holiday, but this year—rather than being the VD Grinch—I'd rather wish—sincerely and from the depths of my heart—happiness continuing for those I know who are in good, positive, loving relationships.

But since this is about me, I have to continue. There has probably been more written about “failed relationships” than there are cat photos on the internet, but that term continues to be used, and fine if you must, but I'd appreciate if it wasn't used (even in your thoughts) about me. I have failed in nearly every walk of life, but as far as relationships go, I do not consider any of them failures, and I wouldn't change any of them if I could. Not that I didn't make like a million stupid mistakes, as does everyone, but in an overall overview, my intimate, loving, mind-altering, soul-adventuring, and heartbreaking long-and-short-term special friendships, affairs, and partnerships have given me happiness and made life worth living. I feel very, very lucky.

It's funny, I can easily take a personal stand on most things: I'd rather be healthy than sick; I'd rather be working on my own stuff than toiling away for the profit of some faceless company; I'd rather be reading a good book than watching a TV commercial about hair-loss. But when it comes to this basic and most elemental condition of life—in a relationship or not, living with someone or living alone, in love or not in love—I honestly cannot say whether I prefer one or the other. (Which some might say is the problem, I hear you—as in, “No matter where I am, I always want to be somewhere else.”) But it's not that I always feel discontent, it's more the opposite. Whenever I've been in a relationship, I've thought: “I am so happy now, how could I have lived any other way.” But whenever I'm living alone, I think: “This is the way I feel most comfortable, most happy.” Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full kind of guy. But on the other hand, my heart forever aches with longing. There's always a storm on the horizon—though most often it turns into that shitty, 40 degree drizzle and fog. Ultimately, though, I guess, the one thing we can count on (besides eventual death) is that things are just not ever going to stay the way they are right now.

Golden Ratio

I told myself I wouldn't panic until rent was due for December, if I hadn't found a job, so this being the last panic-free day, I'm writing a journal entry. I hadn't intended to only write one a month, and I'm sure no one cares, but in the future, if there is one, I'd like to write journal entries more frequently and (maybe) shorter and about less dire subjects. Anyway, seeing how my very online presence might be under scrutiny by prospective employers, I'm going to refrain from talking about politics, religion, and sports, while making complete sentences, communicating well, getting along with others, and clipping along at about 60 words per minute.

Since 99.9999 percent of jobs come from referrals, it probably makes sense to publicize my situation, because you never know when someone has just heard about the need for a rockstar spreadsheet killer (though also, I realize I'm sacrificing any opportunity for dating). In the meantime, I'm using all the tools in my box (and I even updated LinkedIn un-ironically) going for the one in a million job without a referral. I've been thinking about the most effective time-management ratio for seeking employment, and I've decided on: 3 parts persistence, 2 parts luck, and 1 part panic.

Awhile back I came upon what I called the “Golden Ratio” for fiction writing, which is somewhat related to the Golden Ratio (which either you're familiar with, or can have fun reading about now). It is somewhat based on the “golden ratio” some have proposed for 3 ingredient cocktails, which is: 3 parts base liquor, 2 parts sweet, or flavoring liqueur, 1 part sour, like lemon or lime juice. I think I have that right (though with cocktails, I favor a ratio more along the lines of 8 to 2 to 1, which might have something to do with why I no longer drink, and also I don't care how you make your cocktails—so kind of a bad example).

You can find examples of the Golden Ratio everywhere, like architecture, and the human body, and shells and other things in nature, and a cat's face. Now, mathematicians please don't come at me all crazy if I'm not explaining it correctly, or I am using my own bastardized version; I know it's hard being a mathematician, but lighten up a little. My version, which I came upon to apply to fiction writing is only approximate numerically, but roughly 3 : 2 : 1. It is not unlike the 3 act dramatic structure, proportionately, or some Rothko paintings. Here it is: 3 parts reality (the world as we know it, experiences, events, action, “reality”). 2 parts nostalgia (the ideal, childhood, weather, food, a good song). 1 part weirdness (which is where the funny stuff comes in, particularly that which no one understands).

The reason I'm thinking about this today (besides putting off job-hunting panic) is that in the midst of recent political and social events, the people who don't feel necessarily, “Good, it's over, time to sit back and let the cash roll in,” and are struggling with how to use their increasingly limited time left on Earth, what do you do now? I'm especially thinking about artists. For those whose art is primarily political anyway, maybe the path is evident. But for the abstract painters, inscrutable poets, noise musicians, etc., things may not look so clear. I mean, it's always been confusing, this stuff about time-management, and priorities, family and community, responsibility and indulgence, but it's just gone to like 11.

So my dumb idea, for say, posting stuff on, for example, certain popular social media, is to use my personal version of the Golden Ratio (I've always been obsessed with things named “Golden” for some reason; maybe it's the tackiness and irony inherent in that word, which I find funny). Maybe try this: 3 parts political (news, pleas, further reading), 2 parts nostalgia (TBT, cats, food), 1 part weirdness. It is up to you, of course, what you assign to the numbers, and how well you follow it, but worth a try? I know, for me, that I need some guidance these days, and some sanity rules, and organization. I need to feel like people care, but also that people are still their goofy selves. I don't think I can live very long in a world without drinking water, and I don't know if I can live in a world with blood running in the gutters. And I also don't think I can live in a world without abstract painters, inscrutable poets, noise musicians, and weirdness.