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Blue eyes and blue pineapples. August 2007.
As every young child, I was fascinated by things magic. So when The First Book of Codes and Ciphers appeared in our school library when I was eight, I thrilled as I discovered it held a secret treasure house of knowledge — a type of real magic. I eagerly checked it out, took it home and proceeded to pour over it.
Imagine my astonishment when my father, after I shared some of my delight, calmly informed me, “Did you know I worked in the code room at the Pentagon during the war?”
“Really? No, you’re just kidding me.”
“No, I did,” he sincerely replied.
“What codes did you use? Show me one!”
“Well, I wish I could, but I was sworn to secrecy never to reveal any of them.”
“I’ll never tell anybody. You can trust me, Dad, really, I’ll keep it secret. Really, I will. Show me just one, please?”
“No, I can’t.”
I continued pleading with him, until finally he confessed, “Honestly Paul, the truth is I can’t remember any of them. Scout’s honor.”
“Yes you can! C’mon Dad, just show me one, you can remember, just try!”
And I continued badgering him that evening until my hopes were crushed of ever learning from him such a priceless secret, when he, in desperation yet most convincingly, said,
“Paul, I really can’t recall that stuff because when you leave there, they hypnotize you so you won’t be able to remember any of it.”
When I asked Mom how Dad got such a cool job at the Pentagon, she replied in all seriousness, “Because he could type.”
this story is another coincidence in our lives – my father was a radioman on the uss chicago during the war, meaning that he studied some code & cipher.
my stepfather was a code/cipher expert during the war, and he was nice enough to get me started with a few books when i was a teenage delinquent in need of taming.
i later invented an unbreakable code, which i had talked over with rufus when we weren’t discussing guild business, music, or the lamentable state of the world.
but i love the hypnosis angle of the story – just like that old coyote!
Arlie & Lisa Pederson asked me to share this video taken at the Pederson family reunion in 1995. Oh, the slogan on his shirt reads: “Just Say No to Bait.”
Uncle Rufus Frying Fish
Can’t see the video above? Click here:
Uncle Rufus Frying Fish
EXTREME CLOSEUP – I love it!!! Thanks to Arlie & Lisa for sharing this clip. I sure wish we had more of them…
I wanted to read a poem at Rufus’ celebration of life, but I was too emotional to get through anything of that nature. So instead I took the easier road & shared some funny memories – though I now regret not being able to say all that I wished to say.
I’ve been working on writing something but it’s been hard to get through more than a few lines at a time without crying… I think I just finished it and wanted to share it. No, actually I need to share it. I am not much of a poet, but it does comes from the heart. And if nothing else, after reading it you can always go back to view the fish frying clip – that sure is good for a laugh (I know I did).
CATCH & RELEASE
I never thought I could cry so many tears
and believe me – I know how to cry
And I don’t know just how to let you go
but there’s nothing to do but to try
Though “wicked” and “step” you were “Dad” none-the-less
And you showed me your worst, but you gave me your best-
Your twinkle of eye
and warm loving smile
A swim in the surf
on a warm sunny isle
A worm on a hook
and a fish on a line
And most cherished of all –
the gift of your time
So I thank you for all of the good times we shared
and for all of the times that you showed me you cared
And one whom I once caught I now must release
as I whisper a prayer –
“may your soul be at peace”
Having spent many years with Rufus, I’d like to write a little bit about what his life was like in his 30s, 40s and 50s –what an original creation he was and how he touched the lives of everyone he knew.
Rufus and I met at KATU in Portland in 1966, when I was hired as a fledgling documentary writer and to help produce a weekly talent program. He wore Brooks Brothers button down shirts and a navy blue double breasted blazer—and loafers; my first impression of him was that he really seemed to be out of place in Oregon, because of his stylish clothes, and because he seemed to be like a spark or a bonfire when he was in a room, waving his arms like a windmill and always making jokes with the crew. Most of the men in Oregon seemed measured and calm or just too quiet, compared to him. God, he was so good looking with those Nordic blue eyes and blond hair. . People compared his looks to George Peppard. I doubt that Peppard had the warmth and generosity of Rufus. At first he acted like I wasn’t there. I made sure I was polite to him and vowed to keep my distance. I was in love with a Frenchman my age I’d met at UCLA and planned to move to Paris as soon as possible to be with him. If anyone had told me then that I’d marry a guy named RJ from Oklahoma one day, I’d have laughed. He was older, married, and his taste in music was country western, whereas I tended toward classical. He further alienated me by hiring someone else on the side to rewrite my first script for the show. Funny thing was that I left the station for Paris and found I missed Rufus and realized he and I had become friends in that year working together.
I bumped into Rufus in the Bay Area on my way to Los Angeles, after returning from France after my relationship came to an end. Rufe had moved to Sausalito; he was out of a job; missed his family and I felt a kinship with him. I cried on his shoulder about my own sense of loss. We were on the verge of a cultural revolution in 1968. It was the beginning of craziest, wildest, most freeing kind of life either of us could ever imagine. The play “Hair” was at ACT, people were dropping out, taking acid, shacking up, and life seemed like one party after another compared to a quiet conservative town like Portland. We weren’t into drugs, but I was living on a Sausalito houseboat and it seemed like everyone there was stoned. I had started working in television in San Francisco, and Rufus and I began to spend our free time with each other.
We lived together for three years in a little crackerbox apartment on a hill in Sausalito. We made a table from a castaway wire spool, bought 4 director chairs and eventually got enough furniture to sleep visitors and make the Ebbtide Apartment (which looked out on Richardson Bay) a real comfy place. Country and Western Music was usually playing; either one of Glen Campbell’s or Dusty Springfield’s records. Rufus loved to cook and entertain; living with Rufus was a contest for who would be in charge of the kitchen. He usually won out, and cooked a fantastic pot of spaghetti.
The 70s and early 80s was all about expanding ones consciousness and instead of drugs and travel, Rufe simply enlarged his circle of friends. He was a great role model for learning to talk to strangers. Neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers from Oregon, and our relatives came to visit and stay, and you could see from his smile that he felt like a king when surrounded by his big extended family in the little two bedroom place. Sometimes we would arrive home to find Don Gold had climbed over the balcony and was using our phone or having a glass of wine. He and Jack Hanson shared the next apartment—which, due to the layout of those places, seemed to be almost the same as different rooms of the same house.
We met Suzanne Somers next door, who dated Jack for a while back in the 70s. She had just written her book “Touch Me” and appeared on Johnny Carson’s show, so a lot of celebrities came to her place down the hill and we were dazzled by it all. We drank way too much in those days and weren’t always socially correct, sometimes overwhelming unsuspecting celebrities– slopping beer on Tommy Smothers, and once I even insisted Peter Lawford dance with me, much to Rufe’s embarrassment. Television people often rubbed elbows with the rich and famous and sometimes felt like they were in the club. One summer, Rufus planned a party in the woods in Mt. Tamalpais and his daughter Karen, who was about 12 at the time, suggested inviting John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who, rumor had it, had just bought a place in the area. She figured since her dad got Paul McCartney’s autograph for her, anything was possible. We waited all day for them to show up. They didn’t.
Sausalito had fewer tourists then, especially in the winter. Rufus frequented Bridgeway on the weekends, and he often would stop off for Irish Coffee at the No Name Bar or Pattersons. Sometimes he’d fish off the pier where the Glad Hand or the Trident Restaurant was located—and take the fish home to cook. If he couldn’t afford to eat out, he’d take friends on a tour of the Trident which was crowded with limousines dispersing their formally attired evening crowd. He thought the waitresses who paraded around in see-through blouses in those days were the highlight of the tour. Rufus loved to wander along the waterfront, admiring sailboats he just might buy someday—he loved anything to do with water and if he wasn’t sailing on the bay, fishing on the Bay, or swimming at the beach – he would be figuring out how to get into an apartment complex pool nearby.
On weekends, we wore ripped jeans and tie dye shirts and drove around in Rufe’s blue and white 63 Falcon until the axle broke one day in Palo Alto and we had it towed to the junkyard. It’s surprising the car lasted as long as it did, because I think it made at least four trips a year to Portland to visit, or to take one of the kids back home after summer vacation was over. Rufus commuted to KGO in that car, and spent many of his vacations traveling in it– camping in Canada or visiting friends in Monterrey, Los Angeles, Mexico, or Canada—sometimes with the dog Frannie in the back seat, jammed in with Rufe’s kids Karen, Joy, Paul or nephew Phil.
It was so like Rufe to decide on the spur of the moment to do something fun; he’d just pack up some stuff and take off. Sometimes, the TV artist Walt Stewart would loan him his boat and he would sail around the Bay on a windy afternoon—taking whoever was around along for the trip. At least once he was invited to participate in a sailboat race with talk host Jim Dunbar from KGO, but most of his sailing was just for the fun of it. Sailing seemed part of Rufe’s makeup. Once he had to catch a ride home from Tiburon and leave the boat stranded because he couldn’t get back across to Sausalito after the tide went out.
Rufus often sang Tony Bennett’s song about leaving his heart in San Francisco. Walking along the Italian Section of Columbus Avenue smelling the wonderful smells coming from the little cafes and restaurants there was another one of his hobbies—a favorite stop was the Golden Spike which served bouillabaisse every Friday night and was so crowded that you felt like you were dining with a big family.
Rufe’s sister Beth, who has a fantastic voice, sang in the little club at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, so Rufe would always go to hear her whenever she was in town. We both worked in the city, sometimes we’d meet after work, dining with Chess Expert Irving and his wife Selma, whom we met at Al Sturges wedding. The Chernevs would invite us to their apartment in the Marina for dessert and, as Irving liked to say, witty and charming conversation– or to explain some new chess or checker play. Irving even tried to explain chess to Rufe, but I think they just liked to have the opportunity to share stories because they were both such clever word people. Many times, the Chernevs would plan an evening at the Magic Cellar at Ghiradelli Square, to watch the magician perform for one drink cover charge.
Rufus had a talent for breaking the ice with people. He told me that he once sold Kirby vacuum cleaners and actually sold a vacuum to an old woman who had no carpet. She said she’d buy one if she had a carpet to clean, so Rufus excused himself, went to a carpet store and bought one for her, deducting it from his pay. She bought it! He was the most amazing salesman I ever met. He was fun to be around and was always ready to drop everything to do a favor for someone. I think he believed that people were basically good, and no one could dissuade him from this philosophy. Yes, he was basically altruistic, loved people and he wanted them to love him back, so he seemed always to live in the affirmative. He was the original party guy—always ready with a smile and a handshake.
Rufus considered himself a tour-master of the Bay Area, and he liked point out regional details while behind the wheel of the car. When KATU’s Pat Wilkins and his new wife were visiting, Rufus was driving the car while describing the scenery to Pat in the back seat when he missed a curve and the car fell into the ditch. No one was hurt, but the car had to be towed home the next day. Afterwards, people said he had the Teddy Kennedy Syndrome — thinking he was chatting in the living room when he was behind the wheel of a car. He was truly fearless behind the wheel of a car and that seemed the way he faced life.
He was a wonderful and amusing storyteller; people were fascinated by some of the glib sayings he’d invent: “Nifty Noodles,” “How’s Your Sister Sue?!, “ “It’s Good Enough for Jazz!,” were some of his favorites. He had collected a number of unusual names and places and reveled in having the chance of introducing someone with the name Virginia Springhook from Flimflam South Dakota to Sam Beeweehopper from Elk Jaw, Minnesota. The thought of this would send him into gales of laughter. We took a side trip to Boring, Oregon to do a photo of him looking bored and then to Talent, Oregon to show him looking talented. He would often misquote some famous lines from Shakespeare or the Romantic English poets, many of which he knew by heart. It was heaven to hear him cite “Ode on a Grecian Urn” or “To Helen” too, especially when he left out the personalized remarks.
As for San Francisco culture, Rufe had directed some commercials for ACT, and when Rufe’s children would come for vacation from Oregon, he’d arrange to get free tickets for the current play. He had graduated in drama from Washingon State, so theatre arts were always in his heart and mind so much that he talked of starting a theatre in order to have a retrospective of the plays of his favorite playwright, William Saroyan. While in the Army in the 50s, he was part of a group involved in entertaining the troops when he was stationed in San Luis Obisbo. He told a story how the audience laughed hysterically when he accidentally let the moon backdrop fall on singer and Private Leonard Nimoy while on stage singing “Blue Moon.”
Rufe managed to capture strangers’ hearts with his open friendliness. He would meet someone on a train or ferry and end up inviting them home for a meal, and sometimes this would develop into a long friendship or correspondence. He especially loved children. He missed being with his own kids, so he would take other kids under his wing and talk to them on their level. He showed impartiality to us all, and invited his five nephews and niece to visit us, as well as other children whom he met. My nephew Phil had little contact with his own father; he loved Rufus without hesitation from the time he was 3 or 4 years old and began to visit us in California. Like all of us, Phil missed his uncle as he would have a father when Rufus and I parted company.
Phil wrote this letter to me on hearing the news of Rufus:
“Even though I hadn’t seen or talked to him since around 1986, I still felt an empty spot in my heart when I heard the news of his passing. I remember him as happy, outgoing, loving, and caring. The many times he took me down to the TV station, introduced me to any and everyone, let me watch him direct with all those tv screens–and going to “power lunches.” …Other fond memories are of him playing and teaching me how to play the trombone (Star Wars theme). I even had the chance to see him play with a jazz band or quartet during a parade in Sausalito. I remember the many rivers, lakes, shores, carnivals, and fun places he took me to—and of course, the smell of fresh ground coffee in the morning. The simple fact that he took me in for a week or so while on my summer break, and you two were split up, just shows how much he cared. He is one of a few that I actually call ‘my uncle’. It’s been about 22 years, but I still remember, love and will miss him.”
As for latent performance talent, he had great directorial skills, but also a yearning to perform and eventually settled for playing the trombone. Living with someone learning to play trombone was like learning to live with a bull in a china shop. Inspired one afternoon as he heard music while on a walk, he knocked on Arlen Philpott’s door, introduced himself to the musicians playing there, and soon thereafter, joined the Los Gallinas Sanitary District Non-Marching Band. From then on, he was determined to master the horn. His beloved father had played trombone when he was in college, so it seemed a perfect solution. RJ began on an old trombone from the Marin City Flea Market, but really took playing seriously when he got a quality instrument that his nephew Monte had used as a young musician. We never knew when Rufus would serenade someone, even those who figured they were safely in the bathroom with the door locked. Ironically, after donating his horn, Monte went off to Europe became a star in Opera, never having an opportunity to listen to Uncle Rufe’s serenade while bathing.
Rufus Pederson had the gift of gab, the heart of a lion & the soul of a poet. It was a great experience for all of us to know and love him for so many years.