The main things I remember about Steve Russ: His dad, his Bama sweatshirt, The Oujia Board Incident of 1987, and blowing stuff up.
We kicked around the same neighborhood for most of high school, starting out roaming in a small herd of young teenagers on bikes and skateboards, ending up in our cars, barreling around, causing trouble.
The guys had easy names back then. Erik, Aaron, Mike, Tom, Steve. Nobody named their kids Judah or Topher or Mordecai, the way people like to do now. We’d sit around over at Erik’s playing Nintendo, or we’d hang around my house playing pool, or we’d hang around Mike’s house, looking at his wide assortment of actual, deadly weapons – it was a different time.
Steve Russ had a sweatshirt from the University of Alabama. I’m pretty sure that’s where his family was from, and they were pure southern. They had southern accents, they had southern views, they cooked southern food, and his dad was pure southern, too. As in, don’t screw with him, not even a little bit, not even once.
If we were hanging around Steve’s house, and his dad yelled from the other room – “Steven!” – my pal Steve Russ would not only jump in the air and get moving that way, but he’d answer, “Sir!”
A clear rule in that house: Dad called, you jumped, and you respectfully made sure he knew you heard him and that you were jumping.
So Steve Russ was always getting a little crap from the rest of us. Aaron would do an impression of Steve jumping up and answering “sir!” Erik – for an OSU-related reason, I think – gave him crap about the Bama sweatshirt. And we all thought the southern discipline thing was pretty weird.
One day in 1987 – and I think it was Memorial Day, though I’m not sure – we were all hanging around over at Steve’s house. His folks weren’t home, and someone had a Ouija board, and I’m not even going to bother telling you what the Ouija board was doing. It was beyond the standard I’m-not-moving-it-are-you-moving-it routine.
That thing was suddenly coming up with answers that the two guys touching it couldn’t have known. Coming up with separate, detailed personalities which I know from experience, are hard to come up with when you’re sitting there thinking about it for an hour, let alone on the spur of the moment, while you’re screwing around.
No, I’m not going to try and convince you that we were talking to dark spirits that day, but I’ll tell you this – neither Steve nor I will ever touch one of those things again, and if someone gets one out in front of me, I’ll leave the room.
I guess I would play with a Ouija board if you put a gun to my head, but I wouldn’t try that on Steve Russ. You’d lose your gun and your Ouija board that way, and then you’d need a dentist.
Just listen to how this guy turned out:
A Navy EOD Diver, for starters. That EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal. When I think about Disposing of Explosive Ordnances, I think, man, that sounds pretty dangerous. Then factor in the words on either side of it, “Navy” and “diver.”
Either of those things – way beyond my capacity for keeping control of my bowels. Dive a hundred feet under water – no thank you. Do it in order to Dispose of an Explosive Ordnance?
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Did you ever see Men of Honor, with Cuba Gooding Jr., and Robert DeNiro? I remember when I saw it, I was thinking, man, these Top Gun-type movies are getting pretty specific. This one here’s about being the best Navy Underwater Explosives Expert. I was even sort of thinking, while I was watching it – I don’t think there really are guys like this.
But there’s Steve Russ, and that’s exactly what he was doing, while I was growing my hair long and picking out funny hats. And it’s just the beginning. He’s been career military this whole time, while the same slackers who used to make fun of his Bama sweatshirt were hanging around on campus, eating Shake and Bake chicken.
The 8th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team CBRN NCO HAZMAT Response. That’s his current job, working for the U.S. Army, now. After extensive training in Stuff That Would Make Me Cry Every Single Time, after years of doing things they literally make movies about, Steve went to work for the U.S. Army.
If there’s an anthrax attack or a dirty bomb or something, guess who’s going to suit up and drive there?
Plus, I’ve seen his picture on Facebook. If you were thinking he was the soft and pudgy sort of career military explosives expert, you were wrong again. He looks exactly like he could rip your heart out of you, and show it to you before you died.
A beautiful wife and two beautiful children, too. It would make us all feel better about ourselves if this guy had turned out to be some kind of jerk, but no. He’s an easy-going, good-natured, well-educated guy, who likes to hang around with his family, when he’s not training to save us all from freaking James Bond villains.
I remember one time I found him out jogging, and pulled up next to him in my car, kind of giving him crap about that, too. Like jogging wasn’t cool, but being a wiseass pixie man in a ’78 Nova – that was just awesome.
I used to blow stuff up with this guy, before he became ten kinds of an expert at it, so I feel kind of like I was in a garage band with Eric Clapton, before he got signed. We blew up much smaller things than he blows up now, and he’s actually trained to stop things from blowing up, too.
We didn’t do a lot of that, stopping things from blowing up.
No, we learned the very basics about playing with fire. We found out that aerosol hair spray, for instance, was highly combustible, and we found out that you can cook your eyebrows off, in the process of learning about it.
We shot off a lot of firecrackers and bottle rockets – this at the tail end of the Age Of Pop Bottles Made Of Actual Glass. We also shot off handfuls of them taped together, and we shot them off in pairs, pointed opposite directions, and we shot them off upside down, so they’d blast the bottle apart.
Did we ever pour some gasoline in there first? Sure – decisions were made. Don’t try that at home.
Now here’s the thing. I was thinking that Memorial Day would be a great day to honor my old friend Steve Russ, but I’ve been told that actually, that would have been Veteran’s Day. Steve hasn’t fallen, and Memorial Day is to honor fallen soldiers.
Things are often a little bit different here at The Curse of Future Tom, so I mean no disrespect by it, and I hope I’m right in my thinking here – pretty much any day is a good day to thank these guys.
Someone else I’d like to acknowledge, even though it’s not Father’s Day, either, is Steve Russ’s dad. Yes, the guy Aaron used to do an impression of. The guy who’d yell Steve’s name, and it was like the voice of the Almighty. The guy you didn’t want to screw with.
I just wanted to tell him that at least one of the slouching, mumbling little slackers from back in the neighborhood can see the whole trip Steve Russ has taken, from the skateboard to the freaking HAZMAT response team, and I know who gave him directions. I know that someone was there the whole time, making sure Steve didn’t get too comfortable, slacking with his wacky pals.
Nice job, sir. Your results speak for themselves. I’ll bet to this day, you can still make old Steve Russ jump a foot and come running, just by calling out his name.
UPDATE – I was in brief contact with Steve this evening through email, and his immediate response was that he didn’t deserve the recognition, that every other member of the Armed Forces ought to be honored and not just him. So I’m not going to sit around arguing with him. Thanks to every single one of you from me and Steve Russ. I hope everyone reading this gets out the phone and calls someone you know who’s serving, and tells them that, too.