The punisher: he’s a diamond in the Russ


Ari Erlbaum

Russ Weis

First-year advisor Russ Weis talked to Basement Medicine about life, puns, dinosaurs and an insidious conspiracy to eliminate compound words.

Can you introduce yourself?
I am Russ Weiss. I am a first-year advisor. And I sometimes teach in the writing and literature department.
What are you actually doing on a day to day basis?
What I do is I work with half of the first year students, and I advise them in course selection, and help them navigate everything having to do with their academics. But I’m also there as their first go to if they’re having issues. And it could be financial, could be health and wellness issues, could be family. Whatever it is, if I can’t help them directly with their challenge, I can point them in the right direction and let them know someone who can help them.

Do you like your job?
No, I love it. I love my job. I mean, it’s amazing. I get to work with students who are young, energetic, starting out on their college career. It’s a great job, and I feel privileged.

What’s your favorite part about all that?
Well, the favorite part is helping students who come here and are maybe a little bit nervous, maybe a little bit shy, maybe feeling like they can’t do this. And I help them understand that they can do this. You know, they may need a little bit of help, but everybody needs help now and then. And just seeing them blossom. You can almost chart the progress from year to year.

And you also do the Green Team?
I do, I’m an advisor to the Green Team. The environment is something that’s really important to me.
Believe it or not, I used to work at New York City’s first and only environmental nightclub, and that’s how I got into environmental activism in a significant way. The club was called Wetlands Preserve. It was in the Tribeca area of New York. It was owned by a very unique individual. He was into the Grateful Dead, [and] he was into the environment. And he opened up a nightclub, which was a nightclub in the evenings, and by day (and many evenings), it was an environmental activism hub.
So I would work out of a psychedelic, blue painted, 1966 split windshield VW bus. During the days that was my office, and at night, I would sell t-shirts and bumper stickers and pins and comic books that were all environmentally themed.
We got more petitions signed there than any other place in New York City. We had working groups, we had what we called the Eco Saloon, meetings for environmental issues. I even got arrested a couple of times, doing nonviolent civil disobedience.
It was a crazy time. I would work sometimes 16 to 20 hour days, because I would also manage the nightclub. We would hold benefits, environmental groups from all over the city would come and meet there and run events, and it was insane.
Russ and the Bus. That’s how I got one of my nicknames.

Could it pass for a normal nightclub when it was doing nightclub-y things?
Not only could it pass, but it was a nightclub where bands like Phish, Blues Traveler, [and] Spin Doctors all cut their teeth. We knew Phish was going to be huge before anyone else did because they would pack them in routinely.
I’ll never forget the night that we had a flood and Phish was there and there were over 1000 people in the nightclub, and it was crazy.
We had all different sorts of music too. I mean, you name it, we had it. We were open seven nights a week. Live Music seven nights a week and everything from rap. hip hop, ska, reggae, alternative punk, jam band, blues. You name it, we would have a different band every night.

What other nicknames have you over the course of your life?
I mean, I remember I was Pocket Rocket when I was a kid because I was I was quick. Oh, when I worked with the band Strange Folk for a few years, I was known as Russ-tafarian. Or the lead singer used to call me Russell Muscle. Or he would call me Gus for some reason also, I don’t know why. Russ and the Bus is the one that’s known by the most amount of people over my time.

What was your secret origin story?
Believe it or not, I started on Wall Street. My dad was very big on Wall Street. He was president of the cotton exchange. Commodities, which is a pretty wild business to be in. I was actually on the floor yelling and screaming and trading. Then I wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer.
I held so many jobs in New York. I worked at The Village Voice as a classified ad taker, and did some transcription. And then I found Wetlands.
And then I decided to come up here to Vermont because I wanted to get into the nice environment that was working to protect. I ended up in Burlington.
I worked at the Vermont Times, picking up on my Village Voice newspaper experience. Then I decided to work at the Metronome nightclub for a couple of years as a as a manager.
And then I heard this local band that was opening up for a national act, and this local band blew my socks off. Literally, I could not believe what I was hearing. And that band was Strange Folk. And so I eventually left and worked with them. I did a stint with Kaplan educational services in the midst of all this as well.
You know, I have education strand, journalism strand, music strand. Those are the strands that have been the three most consistent in my life, even though they don’t necessarily relate to each other.
I ended up getting my master’s in education here. And I’ll never forget, I knew I want to work here. My first job, I taught with Upward Bound. From there, I taught as a writing tutor in academic support. And from there, I jumped to a writing teacher. And I also happened to teach in the education department as well. And then I taught a first year seminar.
About four years ago, I wanted to get a nine to five here, not just adjunct to my way around. And this position opened up, and I thought it would be a great match, and it has been. I just love working here. The people here are great. And the students are great, and it’s just a dream job.

So I heard you’re a word nerd.
I love to play with words. that’s for sure. I have them all built up. And if a certain theme comes, I use it.
Like the other day, somehow Alaska came up, and I have literally four or five Alaska puns. Oh, I never went to that state, but I have an aunt who went there, Alaska [I’ll ask her] about it. Don’t Anchorage [encourage] me, because I’ll keep going on. Juno [do you know] anything about Alaska that you want to tell me?
You know, I’ve got sheep puns… You name it, I’ve got ‘em.
Those, when they work, they’re great. And I love it. But it’s the one that’s totally out of the blue that’s perfect, that you wait for the right moment, or the right moment presents itself.

Do you have any secret pockets of things you’re really nerdy about?
Besides the fact that I’m a real word nerd… I’m drawing a blank. I bet I do have a knowledge about something that’s kind of nerdy, but…

Don’t limit yourself to classically nerdy things. It doesn’t have to be Star Trek.
Oh! I am! I am an old Star Trek nerd. My cousin and I would have an answering machine back when we lived in New York City. It was like “This is Russ and Al’s answering machine, its five year mission to record where no…,” you know, blah, blah, blah. That’s the opening. And then I’d play on my trumpet. Doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo.
Oh, I play the trumpet. A little bit. I play Happy Birthday about 200 times a year over the phone to friends and family. And if they’re lucky, I forget. So that’s nerdy. That’s pretty nerdy.

If you were a dinosaur, what kind of dinosaur would you be?
I’d be a pterodactyl because I love the idea of being able to fly over and see everything. I want to know everything that’s happening in the universe. I want to be able to see as far as I possibly can. And soaring over everything and covering a lot of ground quickly would be a wonderful thing to be able to do. Plus I like that, with the P-T start of the word there. You know?

Is there anything that seems really obvious to you, that you just want to shout at people, that other people don’t seem to understand?
Yes! Yes! Yes, there is! The demise of compound words.
Am I the only person in the universe who has noticed that compound words are going the way of the dinosaur?! Is it because our devices can’t tell the difference between when to use a compound word and when not to, so they just automatically break them up? I mean, if I had $1 for every compound word that should be written as a compound word, and isn’t, I would be a wealthy man today. And, if that’s not nerdy, I don’t know what it is.
But I googled it, and nobody seems to have noticed it. And it’s actually happening right in front of our eyes! Words that are so obviously meant to be compound words like “someday,” or “blackboard.” They’re being broken in half! I swear to you, now you will notice it everywhere if you haven’t noticed it already. And it gets me pissed off.

Wake up sheeple!
Wake up sheeple. I mean my God, I’m not gonna take it anymore! I am so pissed at that. I really am. I just can’t believe it.
And there was utility to those compound words. I understand the language evolves. I’m not that much of a dinosaur myself. And I’m not talking about a word like “everyday”, which I see misused every day. Every day I see the wrong form of “everyday” being used. I don’t care about that as much. I care that our compound words are disappearing willy-nilly, and nobody’s doing anything about it. It’s not fair!

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? You totally don’t have to answer that.
Oh god. Ooh, boy, I don’t think I’ll be honest with that.
I would say that probably my philosophy is just don’t look back. Everybody has done things that they wish they could take back, wish they could change, but every morning’s a fresh opportunity. And I feel sad when I see young people especially who seem to feel bad about themselves in their life when there’s no reason to. But I understand people feel bad and people have serious issues that they’re confronting.
Unless you’re an axe murderer or something like that, your life is always evolving and always changing. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, so I just don’t grow up. There’s always the next day to come and you can always strive for excellence.