Guitar Russ

January 2, 2018 Literature , POETRY / FICTION

Tim Wilgus photo



Leah Mueller




My husband and I met on the astral plane, with a little help from the internet. I was wide awake at 2:00 AM, browsing the web on my son’s Hot Wheels computer. What else could a 42-year-old Tacoma single mom do for entertainment? With two kids, I couldn’t afford to have much of a life.

People laughed at my computer setup whenever they came over to the house. I couldn’t blame them. Cartoon flames on the mouse pad and a dial-up connection. The mouse barely worked, and its rickety wheels squeaked across the rubber pad, making sounds like an actual mouse. Friends gave up in disgust when they tried to use it. “Pathetic,” one would-be suitor said. He’d once performed with Cirque du Soleil, and was accustomed to finer things. “How can you live like this?” The clown didn’t last long, but he was lousy in bed anyway.

The ad banner on my AOL homepage read: “Meet cuties in Seattle!” This struck me as ridiculous, since most middle-aged adults don’t qualify as cute. Seattle, in particular, boasted either khaki-clad, short-haired computer professionals, or sensitive guys dressed in REI fleece, ready for impromptu camping excursions in their Subaru Foresters. Neither type appealed to me. Nevertheless, I clicked on the accompanying link, and waited for the promised onslaught of cuteness.

With a slow grinding of gears, my creaky computer took me to the web page of a company named I’d heard about computer dating services, but equated them with lonely hearts advertisements in the back of newspapers. Such ads had always filled me with pity. Often, they contained sentences like, “Christian man wants good woman. I am hard-working and kind. Please be height/weight proportionate, even though I am not.”

I wasn’t height/weight proportionate, but I rarely let that disturb me much. I wasn’t a Christian, either, but as I browsed, I suspected my lack of religion wouldn’t be a problem. No one even mentioned God. For “age range” I typed “35-50.” I found it necessary to maintain a certain pragmatism. Although I enjoyed the image of a hot romp with a 25-year-old, I doubted such a relationship would amount to much in the long run.

The pages overflowed with guys, all furiously competing in the marketplace of love. Most of them were well-dressed professionals. One profile featured a stunningly handsome man with dark, moussed hair and a perfect row of bleached-white teeth. “I’m looking for a versatile woman,” the ad read. “Someone who turns heads when dressed in an evening gown, but looks equally as glamorous on a sailboat. Could you be the one?”

The answer was an emphatic no. I browsed the pages without much interest. The dawn of the 21st century had wrought many changes to personal ads, but a pervasive loneliness remained. Everyone had a list of assets they demanded from prospective partners, and an even longer list of their own perceived virtues. No one wanted to leave anything to chance.

Suddenly, my eyes snagged on a profile of a 40-year old man named, inexplicably, “Guitar Russ.” I had a thing for guitar players, so I clicked on Russ’ link. The accompanying photo showed a man with dense, curly hair and a glowering expression. I scrolled through the other pictures until I found one I liked. Russ lounged beside a computer, grinning boyishly as he gazed off-camera. He reclined in a chair in a bland corporate office, yet was dressed casually in a tee-shirt and jeans.  A runaway lock of hair partly obscured his left eye, but he didn’t notice or care.

As I read through Russ’ profile, I discovered he didn’t actually have a job. He intended to find one, however. Russ casually mentioned a masters degree in history, as well as the fact that he was left-handed. I’d had four other left-handed boyfriends, including my most recent ex. Their awkwardness had been strangely endearing. Left-handed men were sensitive souls lost in a right-handed world.

“I’d like a partner who enjoys lounging around and watching old movies,” Russ wrote. “Someone who likes to laugh at silly stuff.  A hippie with an edge, like me.” He confessed to having a strong fondness for marijuana. His blurb ended abruptly with a list of his favorite bands—an eclectic litany that spanned the globe from Dave Brubeck to early Talking Heads.

Maybe I should write to him, I thought. He sounded perfect. I stared at the empty pipe at the edge of my desk, and made a mental note to call my marijuana dealer. Then I glanced at the computer clock. It was 3:30 AM, and I had obviously gone crazy. Why else was I tempted to write to an unemployed guy who spent all his time watching movies and listening to albums? I closed the web page and switched off my computer. I had to get up early in the morning to drive my kids to their carpool pickup spot, and already I was running late.

I drifted into shallow, fitful slumber, but my brain refused to shut down entirely. As a result, my dreams were exceptionally vivid. They consisted of a repeating loop of Guitar Russ and me, walking together on a quiet street. Our surroundings were blurred and indistinct, since Russ and I were the real focal point. The two of us meandered along the sidewalk, talking and laughing. We possessed the easy camaraderie of friends who had spent many years in each others’ company.

I awakened several times. Each time I fell back to sleep, the dream started up again. My higher mind was doing its utmost to emphasize the puzzling hypothesis that Russ and I belonged together. Obviously it knew something I didn’t. Finally, I crawled out of bed and made a pot of coffee. As I listened to the water hiss and drip, I puzzled over the message I had received from my subconscious. Its urgency was impossible to discount. What could the dreams possibly mean?

After dropping off my kids, I returned home and cautiously activated my computer. The homepage floated onscreen. Quickly, before I could talk myself out of it, I navigated to Russ’ profile and clicked the “reply” button. instantly took me to a payment page and demanded my credit card information. I chose the shortest membership, a trial option which cost ten bucks. It seemed foolish to spend my hard-earned cash to write a letter to a strange guy. On the other hand, I was surprised didn’t charge even more. The price was far less than it would be if I went to a bar and spent a small fortune while trying to attract a drunken barfly.

I wrote a polite, earnest letter to Russ, outlining my interest in his profile. I refrained from mentioning my bizarre series of dreams. Such a disclosure was bound to alarm him. I emphasized both our similar musical tastes, and our shared interest in slacker behavior. I described myself as “curvy” and “of medium build.” Though I realized my words were code for “overweight”, I knew Russ wouldn’t mind. I couldn’t explain my utter certainty that he would find my letter irresistible. My subconscious had already told me everything I needed to know about our future together.

The following morning, I opened my inbox and found my response. Russ was delighted with my note, and wanted to know more about me. Though it was New Year’s Eve, he intended to stay home and greet 2002’s arrival with a bottle of red wine and a pile of his favorite albums. He wrote eloquently about his family, including an older sister who’d developed cancer when he was fifteen. Russ had contributed some of his bone marrow for her transplant, but the poor girl died anyway.

As I read Russ’ letter, I felt the same shock of recognition I’d experienced during my series of dreams. He was obviously a person who loved others deeply, and trusted that I did, as well. Since my relationship with my daughter’s dad had recently crashed on the rocks and sunk like the Titanic, I doubted my own capacity for love.

I wrote Russ again, thanking him for his letter. My fingers flew rapidly over the keyboard as I described my children, my profession as an astrologer, and my passion for writing. When I finished, I shut down the computer and made myself a snack. I felt ravenous and exhausted, like I’d been working in the fields all day. I hoped Russ would write back quickly, but was prepared to wait as long as necessary.

During the next few days, the two of us exchanged several letters. Russ seemed shy about broaching the topic of a meeting. Finally, after a week, I decided to take the initiative and surprise him with a phone call. Russ was astonished to hear my voice. “I hope you don’t mind me being so forward,” I said. “Are you kidding?” he laughed.

Russ possessed one of those neutral Seattle accents I had come to expect after many years in the Pacific Northwest. I was a native Chicagoan, and sorely missed being around people who could tell a story in an animated manner. Still, Russ’ voice was melodious and pleasant, like honey on toast. After chatting for a few minutes, he finally took the initiative. “I’d like to get together for coffee, and maybe dinner. When would you like to meet? Do you mind driving up to Seattle? I don’t know my way around Tacoma.”

Tacoma had an undeserved reputation for being the sort of place where visitors were shot the instant they drove into the city limits. People also loved to complain about its robust, pulpy odor. I bristled for a moment, then relaxed. “How about the Starbucks in Fremont?” I suggested. “I’m free next Wednesday.”

I couldn’t fathom why my brain had devised such a cliched location for my first meeting with Russ. Starbucks was considered the Evil Empire by the majority of Pacific Northwesterners, and yet the chain had spread across the landscape like an army of ravenous ants, eating up the revenue of smaller, independent coffeeshops. “Perfect,” Russ said. “How about 6:00?”

As my rendezvous approached, I felt a strange mixture of excitement and tranquility. I was oddly certain Russ and I would hit it off perfectly, since my dream had foretold it. After all, we had already met, though not in a corporeal sense.

On Wednesday, I left my house promptly at 4:30. Traffic was worse than usual, and I moved along I-5 at a snail’s pace. As the minutes passed, I became increasingly agitated. I wasn’t certain whether Russ even owned a cell phone. I only had his landline number, and the poor man was undoubtedly at Starbucks already, peering anxiously at every woman who came in the door.

Finally, I pulled into a rest area and yanked my cell phone from my purse. I dialed directory assistance, and the robo-operator immediately connected me to Starbucks. A harried barista answered on the fourth ring. “Is there a guy there with curly hair named Russ?” I asked.

“RUSS!” she hollered.  There was a long pause, punctuated by the shriek of a milk steamer. “Yeah, he’s here,” she assured me.

“Um, hello?” Russ said.  His voice sounded tentative, yet hopeful.

“I’m running late,” I said breathlessly. “Can you wait there until I arrive?”

“Of course,” Russ replied. “Take as much time as you need.”

Take as much time as you need. It was the perfect response. My anxiety dissipated as I re-entered the crowded freeway. I drew closer to Seattle, and the cars mysteriously began to move faster, like they were encouraging my progress. Finally, I pulled up beside Starbucks, located a parking place, and leaped from my car. I was only fifteen minutes late. Hopefully Russ wouldn’t be too upset.

As soon as I opened the door, I spotted Russ near the entrance, looking worried. He sat alone at a tiny table, gazing down at his black Converse high-tops. When he saw me, he instantly rose to his feet and extended one of his hands. This old-fashioned gesture warmed my heart. Then he smiled, and I could see both delight and relief on his face. “It’s you,” he said.

I smiled back, gave his hand a little squeeze. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s me.”






Leah Mueller

Leah Mueller is the author of chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and books, “Allergic to Everything”, “Beach Dweller Manifesto” and “The Underside of the Snake.” Her work appears in Blunderbuss, Summerset Review, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications.

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