Remembering my friend Brian Rush, 9/12/56 – 12/2/15

If being in your fifties is all about obituaries and funerals and memorials, I’m starting to grasp how people’s attitudes can become in their sixties. This is not fun. You watch it accelerate, and it can’t help but get you thinking.

I hadn’t seen Brian in twenty years when I got the news that he had died of an aneurysm, though we had sporadic touch here and there since Facepalm came along. Way back when, I met him through my then-girlfriend’s religious circles, and we established common interests in history and gaming. He was very well read, creative, intelligent, funny, and knew it–but since he was also self-honest, he would have been the first one to fess to a large ego.

Our first interactions involved a couple of computer games at which I asked him for pointers. One was Colonization, a game of the European occupation of the Americas. As you played the role of a colonial governor, building your independence from a mother country until the day you unfurled Old Glory in rebellion, now and then the monarch would contact you with messages like this: “Governor van Abductus [or whatever your name was]. In honor of Our recent marriage to Our fifth wife, We in our Wisdom have decided to raise the tax rate by 4%. The tax rate is now 35%. If you wish, you may kiss Our royal pinky ring.” The pot-bellied image would extend a dainty hand. If you didn’t kiss the royal pinky ring and pay the tax, you couldn’t trade the commodity with the homeland any more. Brian and I hooted and laughed over the irritation this caricature brought to the game, and it became sort of a meme; when one of us was relating a requirement to do an unpleasant thing or suffer (go to the DMV, for example), it would be: “So when do you go in to kiss the royal pinky ring?” I remember him as a source of laughter and debate and wit, a more than worthy sparring partner in matters of difference and philosophy. If you hadn’t thought through your position, Brian would show you what you’d missed.

He was also a hell of a public speaker. I used to be part of a group that gathered to play multiplayer boardgames. One of them, a political and semi-military contest called Republic of Rome, was in Brian’s and my historical wheelhouse. It was also a game of such great nefarity, chicanery, and deceit that the rules author felt he had to enumerate in unambiguous detail certain restrictions. Such rules were taken on faith by custom in other games designed to appeal to less slimy people. Such as the part about electing a banker:

4:3 BANKER: Elect one player to serve as an unrecompensed “Banker” throughout the game. He doles out money from game supplies as it is earned, makes change upon request, and maintains the proper currency levels on the State Treasury Track while keeping the State, Game, and his Faction’s funds distinctly separate. [Underlines are mine.]

“Unrecompensed”; if not otherwise specified, RoR players would attempt to charge the other players some form of commission or fee for banking services, plus presumably a stipend just for being themselves. “As it is earned”; he may not do as RoR players otherwise would seek to do, and dole it out to purchase influence from those peddling it for personal advantage. “Maintains the proper currency levels…distinctly separate”; absent such explicit rules, RoR players would consider that being banker was a license to steal as much money as possible for themselves, as long as the rest of the players did not cop to it and combine forces against the banker.

Brian was very good at the game. We often found ourselves in conflict, mainly because each of us knew that the other was going to play historically (full sleazebag). He also offered a lot of entertainment, because part of the game was the speechmaking. We all ended up with nicknames; I forget Brian’s, but we had a guy named Aaron whom we called ‘Citizen Erroneous,’ and me they called ‘Citizen Taxus,’ partly for the Latin name of the badger, partly because I had gotten away with sticking the Roman state with numerous perpetual tax obligations while feathering my own nest, and the rest of them rightfully had it out for me at all times.

Brian would rise to address us. If his faction held the Censorship, you could anticipate something like this: “Conscript Fathers, there is but one true threat to our Republican traditions. One guilty of levitas during the state’s crises, of mismanaging the state’s funds, and very worst of all: of seeking to become a King! I herewith launch a Major Prosecution against Citizen Taxus, and call upon you, Citizen Erroneous, to prosecute!” I would then have to defend myself, not through reason, but by pointing out that Brian was doing this to me purely for personal gain. Since that much was obvious even to a Gaul, I would need more ammo than that. I would hint at the growing number of legions loyal to him, suggest that they ask him to disclose his faction treasury, and imply that he had fluffed the latter up by illegal or at least highly unethical means. This was almost certain to be correct, since we all did our best to steal anything that wasn’t a) nailed down, and b) very emphatically prohibited by the rules.

As I could see him launch into his expositions of my faction’s numerous moral and political shortcomings, I did my all to avoid ruining the moments with laughter. I could see by the twinkle in his eyes that he was also struggling most of the time. And when I did similar things to him, I know he found it very challenging to keep a straight face.

What fun we had.

Such are my memories of Brian Rush, philosopher, proud pagan man, historian, writer, storyteller, gamer, and friend. He was a father, and cared very much for his daughters’ welfare. Now they are grown women; when this was all happening, they were little girls whose parents had split up. I never knew the details of that, and did not ask, but I could see that his daughters were important to him.

I will always remember Brian, and the twinkle in his eye.

Deb’s and my hearts go out to all his surviving family, especially the daughters who meant so much to him.

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