I met Stupid in the spring of 1977 while he was selling socialist newspapers at the Eugene Saturday Market and I was working as a sandwich board man to advertise for the venue.

One of my earliest gigs at the market was working as a human billboard, or a “sandwich board boy,” in my case, which earned me a dollar an hour plus a food voucher for a meal from any food vendor. It was quick cash for a twelve-year-old on a Saturday morning. All I had to do was wear a canvas sandwich board, like a 19th-century ad man from London or New York, and leisurely stroll around downtown Eugene for a few hours, luring other pedestrians to visit the top of the butterfly parking lot where the market was located.

So, naturally, my labor drew the attention of a man named Stupid, who was an old Wobbly. The Wobblies, a nickname for members of the Industrial Workers of the World, were a labor union founded in 1905. Their aim was to unite all workers into one big union to advocate for better working conditions and workers’ rights through militant tactics and a commitment to social and economic justice. I soon learned that Stupid was also something of a local celebrity who peddled handwritten photocopied pamphlets brimming with verse and meandering musings on street corners near the University of Oregon.

Stupid was a confirmed leftist and fervent advocate for societal change with a larger-than-life backstory. He was born in a Michigan logging camp in 1899 as Russell Dell, an heir to the Dell Publishing Company—an accident of birth that might have given him a life of wealth and privilege had he not been the black sheep of the family. He claimed to have worked as a logger, sailor, machinist, writer, and printer, among other professions, and he had old-duffer bushy eyebrows. Sometime before he moved to Eugene in 1973, he legally changed his name to Stupid to amaze his friends and confuse his enemies.