Oregon Tavern Age: Death of Russell

A great Oregon Tavern Age man of Gold Beach named Russell died a few weeks ago. He committed suicide by gunshot in his pickup truck parked on the side of Highway 101 with a view of the ocean. I surmise the ocean was the last thing he saw or heard before the end.

I got the details of Russell’s death from Max, his pool-playing buddy at the Sea Star Lounge, one of the classic OTA joints still left operating on the Oregon Coast. The pandemic has dealt them an almost fatal blow and I cherish any remaining time I have in them.

I first met Russell several years in the Sea Star on Free Pool Sunday, where the area pool shark/OTA hounds would gather, play, shoot the shit, and regale me with all manner of their “Bigfoot is real” stories. In fact, I dubbed this little ensemble “The Bigfoot Preservation Society” and they earned their rightful place in the OTA book.

Russell claimed to have heard Bigfoot calling near his homestead well up the Rogue River. He was a true Sasquatch believer and once told me, “Ancient Egypt. That’s where Bigfoot got sly. They were stealing our women, interbreeding, and we had to strike back.”

For several summers Russell brought vegetables from his garden into the Sea Star to sell for a pittance or give away for free. His tomatoes were incredible and he loved describing the craft of putting in a garden on just the right amount of slope perfect drainage.

I don’t know anything of his personal history outside of the stories at the Sea Star. He had a girlfriend and a sister. I have no idea how he ended up in such a remote area. He had sold the homestead and moved into a motel next to the Sea Star. He was looking pretty frail the last time I saw him and Max said he might have been diagnosed with late stage cancer or his COPD had worsened to the point where death was imminent. Max also speculated that the dismal state of America might have contributed to his depression, and many us know that is true.

For some reason, the news of Russell’s suicide hit me hard. At first I didn’t seem to fathom why. I told my dad about this uneasy feeling and he quoted the poet John Donne, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

True. Russell’s stories and vegetables enhanced my life. That they are no longer going to be part of my life diminishes me. Next time I visit OTA country I will hoist a pint to the passing of an interesting man.

A final story: Max said not long after Russell died, he and a couple buddies were playing pool in a private home when the 1 Ball mysteriously moved on the table as the players watched it and reminisced about Russell. Max felt certain that it was Russell from the Beyond, letting his friends know his spirit was fine.