Russell Braunstein at Ocean View Park. Photo courtesy Michael Grandcolas.

November 1, 2017, seemed like just a typical day for hard-working, local handyman Russell Braunstein. A Santa Monica resident for twenty-five years, Russ was busy on the job at a home in Ocean Park. A teenager at heart, technically Russ is a senior citizen. (Put it this way, he’s been AARP eligible for over a decade.)

Inside the two-story house, Russ was high atop a tall ladder installing windows. It’s still unclear exactly how but Russ blacked out momentarily and took a horrific fall down nineteen stairs. (While Russ isn’t yet 100%, he’s hopefully well on his way.)

As a result of the fall, Russ suffered a broken wrist, fingers and jaw. He was unconscious for sixty hours and suffered life-threatening bleeding from the brain. All of this left Russ’ family and friends (myself included) deeply worried. Never complaining, Russ endured numerous operations and months of rehab.

Recently, Russ returned home to Santa Monica and is residing in an assisted living complex on Colorado and 17th. As I can attest, Russ must be vastly improved because he’s back to his irascible self, including his sarcastic jokes. (I expect more when he reads this.)

In full disclosure, Russ and I were roommates for three years. Many years ago, we first met at the Ocean View tennis courts next to the Shores where he and I both worked.

In addition to tennis, Russ and I shared an often frustrating affection for the Dodgers, and Lakers and, on occasion, a fondness for beer. We also were friends of the late tennis legend, Gussy Moran, who was born and raised in Santa Monica.

Russ was a pre-teen when Gussy first gave him tennis lessons whereas I crossed paths with her while writing for a tennis website. I still have letters she would send me after reading my columns. Even at 89, Gussy was was sharp as a tack and her handwriting was flawless.

Proud of their friendship, Russ was always kind to Gussy, especially in her last months. He got her prescriptions, groceries, helped with her laundry and drove her to doctor visits. Gussy was very appreciative and, on occasion, commented on Russ’ athletic talent going back to his youth. (In addition to tennis, Russ and Danno, his doubles partner, would flip anAerobie, a long distance Frisbee, the equivalent of a city block as passersby would watch in amazement.

Gussy especially enjoyed my stories of Russ’ roommate peccadilloes. One goes back to when Netflix first began and we rented DVDs by mail. From time to time, I also checked out DVDs from the Ocean Park library. A “slight” problem occurred when Russ inadvertently mailed the library DVD to Netflix. When he sheepishly said he was “just in a hurry to get our next movie,” I was more than a little exasperated.

I immediately contacted Netflix but they said there was no way to track down the library DVD. That’s when Russ came up with a “brilliant” idea. (Brilliant is in quotes because it wasn’t exactly kosher.)

His plan was to rent the same movie from Netflix and then return that movie to the library. All we had to do was tell Netflix the DVD got lost in the mail, as they routinely absorbed the “loss.” (Of course, there was no loss because Netflix had the library DVD.)

Since the statute of limitations has long since expired, I confess I was the one who returned the Netflix DVD to the library. It was probably my guilty conscience but when I checked it in, I could have sworn the employee gave the DVD an unusually critical eye that seemed to last minutes. Then there was the time Russ and I were in charge of collecting the mail for our mutual friends and neighbors Arleen and Andy who were on vacation. Each day I put the mail in a large plastic bag very similar to the one in which we collected recycling. Russ says it was me and I say it was him, but one way or the other we “recycled” Arleen and Andy’s” mail. (Yikes!) Suffice it to say, they never asked us to collect their mail again.

In Russ’ return to Santa Monica, he’s not used to being dependent on others for his day to day needs etc. He also misses working, something he’s been doing since college. On the plus side, he has his big screen TV hooked up to cable. Now if the Dodgers would only cooperate and make it to the World Series.

As I write this, it’s not looking great for the Blue Crew, which gives Russ something to grouse about. Then again, the more he grouses, the more I think he’s closer to his old self. I’m hopeful that means soon he and Danno will once again be flipping the Aerobie and amazing onlookers.

If you don’t have Russ’ cell number or want to visit him, email me at jackdailypress@aol.com

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