The City Dump will never be the same

Among the adult male voices imprinted on my memory, only that of my father goes back further than this one. Not even my two uncles who lived in Seattle when I grew up, not even the men heading the households in my neighborhood, not even the anchormen I heard every evening on the news, have been more immediately recognizable to me throughout my life by their voices than this man.

It was like trying to see Jesus. Mara is at lower left, indicated by the red arrow. Note all the big red noses.

This morning, watching YouTube videos I had dug up to demonstrate to Mara what fun we were in for today, I felt an instant feeling of well-being as the sound of the voice stroked some paleo-neurons in my brain, receptors formed early in life around the particular resonant and velvety frequencies and the roundness and breadth of enunciation that could only belong to Julius Pierpont Patches, Seattle’s beloved hobo-clown.

As far back as I can remember, and in fact back to 1958, J.P. Patches, the “Mayor of the City Dump”, came on television every morning and again every afternoon to amuse both children and adults — we kids loved his slapstick antics and the cartoons he would introduce by taking off his hat so the camera could zoom into it, and the adults sat behind us busting a gut at J.P.’s double entendre and at other aspects of the show that were above our heads.

For instance, all the other characters besides J.P. were played by one man, Bob Newman, including Gertrude (J.P.’s girlfriend I guess), the Swami of Pastrami, Boris S. Wart (the second meanest man in the world), Ketchikan the Animal Man, Gorst the Friendly Furple, and the voice of Miss Smith of Miss Smith’s Delivery Service, whose front side we never saw but she was ostensibly a white-haired old lady who rode a motorcycle, wore a helmet and leather jacket and growled like a longshoreman. Sometimes J.P. would tease his fellow actor by putting him in the impossible position of having to voice one character while appearing as another, for instance, if Gertrude was present he would say “let’s call up Ketchikan the Animal Man and see what he knows about this”, and while J.P. called Ketchikan on the huge black phone, Newman-as-Gertrude would have to step surreptitiously off-camera and throw his voice so that we kids would believe that Ketchikan was on the other end of the line. The two actors frequently cracked up in fits of laughter, and the crew was notorious for bonking J.P. on the head with the microphone boom or delaying sound effects.

When it comes to Simon Says, J.P. plays dirty, and the audience loves it. Still, this Patches Pal (in the white shirt) withstood the barrage of tricks and prevailed to win the candy.

The show, which ran until 1981, was unrehearsed and improvisational and completely off the wall. J.P. had a doll named Esmerelda whose contribution to the show was a canned child’s laugh track that was played whenever he spoke to her. There was a stuffed dog named Griswald, a grandfather clock whose face became animated when he spoke with J.P., and Tikey Turkey, a headless rubber chicken that “lived” in a metal oven at the back of the room. There was also a bookworm named Sturdley that emerged from a shelf of books occasionally. Often Chris Wedes, who played J.P., and Newman came into the studio not having any idea what they would be doing on the show, but with so many characters and friends, there was never a dull moment. This was early T.V.

Several generations of Seattleites grew up with J.P. and call themselves “Patches Pals” to this day. Many were brought onto the show as part of a scout troop or school class. As a kid I thought these were the boring moments, where twelve kids would shuffle in and J.P. would stand behind each one and ask their name, and if the kid wasn’t paying attention he’d grip their head in his hands and tilt it up to look at him. But for the kids who were on the show, it was a moment they never forgot.

No one ever forgot J.P.’s ICU2-TV set. Say it out loud to get the joke. This was a cardboard box with a T.V.-tube-shaped opening into which J.P. would peer while sitting “Indian style” on the floor. The camera was inside it, and the set’s magical powers allowed him to see that, for instance, little Katy who was turning seven should look in the dryer for her birthday present, or Jamie, who might be turning nine, should look in his sock drawer. Parents would call the studio with these hiding places and J.P. would “discover” them through the ICU2-TV set.

Selecting contestants for the hula hoop contest.

J.P. never talks down to kids, and they could always tell that he enjoyed their own wit and energy. He made them the stars. His games of Simon Says, which he has continued to conduct at the many public events he has appeared at in the decades since the show went off the air, were legendary.

Wedes is 82 years old. I don’t know and have not been able to find out whether Newman is still alive. I found out late this week by the merest happenstance — a newspaper headline glimpsed on the sidewalk — that Wedes would be making his last public appearing as J.P. Patches today at the Fishermen’s Fall Festival at Fishermen’s Terminal. Patches Pals old and young would be able to see the Mayor of the City Dump live just this one more time.

I hadn’t seen J.P. in a live performance since the early ’90s when I wrote an article about him for a local newspaper. I felt a sudden and profound sense of loss, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that my father recently passed away (which makes J.P. the Elder Vox), as did a beloved older member of our church community. There has been entirely too much of old men riding off into the sunset lately for my inner little boy. I had to see J.P., and although I didn’t know if she would appreciate the significance of seeing a clown she’d never heard of, I wanted Mara to be able say someday that she saw J.P. Patches do his thing. This would be her only chance.

We hit the road. Emilia’s nap precluded her and Angela’s attendance.

One of the lucky Pals (and a very young one, all in all) gets her photo taken with J.P. We never even got in this line.

We got to Fishermen’s Terminal in plenty of time, even found the last parking spot, but I had grossly underestimated, or forgotten, the loyalty and dedication — to say nothing of the sheer numbers — of Patches Pals. It was like trying to see Jesus. There were a few score plastic chairs set out in front of the stage, but just beyond the last row of chairs — all of which were occupied — was an impenetrable wall of Patches Pals. Mind you, these are not kids, these are people in their 40s and 50s. There were a dozen or so kids down in front — we could not get there and there was no room anyway — but the seething throng of hundreds of people were adults like me who quite simply adore J.P. Many wore the signature red clown nose of the Patches Pal.

I am too slight and too old and Mara now too big for me to put her on my shoulders, but I hoisted her onto my back in piggyback fashion and she could just barely see over my shoulder, between the arms of the people holding up digital cameras, to the place on the stage where J.P. was. He asked if everyone here were Patches Pals and the place erupted in a single affirmative roar. Similarly a negative when he squinted and wondered if there were any “Boris Buddies” present (Boris Buddies are the minions of the second meanest man in the world). Then he got to the business of the Simon Says contest for kids, the Simon Says contest for adults, and the hula hoop contest. Candy was doled out to winners and losers alike.

I was sad that we couldn’t see him better, but two-thirds of the way through the show a spot opened at the front of the human wall that Mara could get to and she bravely threaded her way among the knees and elbows and got to where she could see a little better.

Mara’s wooden boat becalmed. We floated it at the adjacent marina.

After the show J.P. was escorted by Seattle Police officers to a booth where a line formed for autographs that included literally hundreds of people. Instead of standing in this line, Mara and I went and got fish n’ chips. Checking back after an hour, we found the line to be just as long. Mara really wanted to get an autograph (and was even keener to have the J.P. action figure), but she wisely chose again to give the queue a miss, whereupon we sheered off to join the madness of hundreds of children trying to build wooden boats with their parents standing behind them nipping at their every move. (J.P. was just one attraction at this festival, which included lots of things for kids to do.) Hammers, glue, nails, and building materials were provided, but room to breathe was not. We checked the line one last time and it had not shrunk, or really even moved much. Everyone wanted to sit down with J.P. and get their picture taken, which took time. I wondered how long the old man could do this. It must have been exhausting, all that adoration.

I was feeling bad that I hadn’t been better prepared for viewing the show — and there’s no next time to apply lessons learned about Patches Pal Density Quotient — but we made the right choice, because as we were walking to our car we saw J.P. being driven away, and it had only been a few minutes since we last saw the line snaking away across the grounds. I can’t imaging the disappointment of all those people in the line who never even got to the booth, who were told, in effect, sorry, J.P. is over forever.

The passenger-side window in his car was rolled down as he passed, and I shouted “We love you J.P.!” Another lady said the same thing right after me (copycat).

“Thank you”, J.P. said with a wave. “Goodbye!”


20 Responses to “The City Dump will never be the same”

  1. 1 Louis September 18, 2011 at 06:31

    Matt, thank you for this. I knew JP was going to be making a final appearance, and once again you have brought me home, so I could attend the festivities! Like you, I love JP. Pure entertainment. And part of a complete breakfast! I like what you say about the adults busting a gut at JP’s “double entendre and at other aspects of the show, that were over our heads.” My brother and I, while we didn’t understand it, always detected the inside humor and that in itself made us laugh.

    I remember the last time I saw JP was in the early 90’s downtown. He and Gertrude were making one of their first public appearances since the show ended in the early 80’s. I was so excited to see them, that I ran up to JP and like a 30 year old 10 year old kid, I said, “Hi JP! Remember me?” JP didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, but without batting an eye and with a look that said, “you know I don’t know you” JP replied, “HOW could I forget YOU!!” We both laughed and chatted a bit, but then more people were stopping to say hello, so I just wished him well, stood back and watched as other 30-something folks, many in business attire, dropped their professional facades at the sight of JP and Gertrude and started acting like children again.

    Thank you, Matt.

    • 2 Matt September 18, 2011 at 21:14

      That’s so J.P, so perfectly clever. to say that. He wasn’t lying, but it wasn’t quite a “yes” was it? Thanks for sharing your Patches Pal story with us. Honestly I half expected to see you there.

  2. 3 aplscruf September 18, 2011 at 10:40

    Thanks for the memories, Matt! I, too, was a faithful Patches Pal. I always wanted to hear my name called on the ICU2-TV set and go to the secret location to find my gift, but I guess Mom wasn’t that organized!

    When I was 3 or 4, I got the honor to appear on his show with my sister’s Brownie troupe. I remember watching the show from the green room, then lining up on the set and JP asking me, “And what’s your name?” A quiet little whisper, “(Lisa..)” and on to the next little girl. I was so nervous, but so excited to be on the show.

    I saw him in person again at Redmond Town Center when my son was a toddler. He was getting restless by the time the show started, so I don’t really remember much of the show itself, but I clearly remember walking behind J.P. as he was making his way toward the stage. I felt like I was following a rock star, and wasn’t able to get his attention, because I was dumbstruck! My son eventually got to meet him at Stanwood Fair, which he remembers fondly.

    I wrote to J.P. in January to wish him well and thank him for so many fond memories and all his great work with children and charities throughout the years. I also told him about my absolute favorite scene on the show where Ketchikan reads the story of Henny Penny while sitting in a very small chair, and cannot stop laughing when he reads the name, “Cocky Locky!” He ends up falling off the chair! I still laugh until I cry every time I see that video (it’s on their website, but kind of hard to find–so worth it!). J.P. eventually wrote back, two words: “THANK YOU!!”

    • 4 Matt September 18, 2011 at 21:22

      What a big-hearted fellow, to whisper your own name to you in your big moment. Great stories Thanks for sharing them. I just watched that Cocky Locky scene on YouTube, and I think it was also on the video I had of the only few hours of footage that were saved from all those thousands of hours of the show. .

  3. 5 aplscruf September 19, 2011 at 07:27

    Oops, I didn’t clarify that “Lisa” sentence very well…I was the one who whispered my name! ha But it was very special to be a part of the show.

  4. 7 Jana September 20, 2011 at 15:58

    I’m so glad you got to go!

    My JP Patches memory was from fourth grade – I drew my very best picture of Esmerelda for some kind of poster contest and I got Honorable Mention! I remember I got to go up on stage (I really don’t remember exactly what it was for but I think it was Newport High School) and JP Patches handed me a Patches Pal Iron-on! I’m quite certain I still have the sweatshirt I ironed it on somewhere. I wish I had a photo of my poster or even better – me with JP.

    • 8 Matt September 21, 2011 at 08:04

      Thanks for sharing this, Jana. Did you draw Esmerelda flopped over and face down on top of Tikey’s stove? When you find the sweatshirt, post a photo and come back and give us a link to it 🙂

  5. 12 Kip September 28, 2011 at 12:38

    I can recall one day crossing the Evergreen Point floating bridge, looking over into the car next ot us, and Gertrude was driving it! ‘Bout wet myself (i was much younger then)! Then, I think it was 1988 when I was working at KXRX as an intern, and JP came by the studio and it was the coolest thing ever, just to follow him around and wish I could get my jaw off the floor. I also remember that before JP made his entrance, some guy walked into the men’s room with a big bag. Didn’t register at all! Matt, were you working in that builing at the time? Can’t remember the name of it, but it was down by the PI…

    • 13 Matt September 28, 2011 at 13:18

      I don’t know if 3131 Elliott Avenue had a building name per se, but yes, Society Expeditions was on the same floor as the radio station, one door down. Speaking of the men’s, I’d be in the there and if Maynard walked in I’d suddenly be unable to pee. I don’t know if I was there when you were an intern. Seems we’d a done more hanging out if so. You and I also saw Bob Newman (a.k.a Gertrude) on his boat going through the locks one time. He was chit-chatting up at the harbormaster (or lockmaster?) and one couldn’t mistake the voice.

  6. 14 Kip September 28, 2011 at 13:49

    I was more scared of Robyn (sp?)…Maynard was pretty cool….but she would scare the dickens out of me….don’t know why…..

  7. 15 Cindy Jeffries July 2, 2012 at 11:20

    Robert Newman is alive and well, still on his boat, the Zabba Zabba. Check out his facebook page and/or the J.P. Patches Pal page on facebook. Thank you for sharing about the day and your memories!

    • 16 Matt July 2, 2012 at 13:09

      Hi Cindy,
      Thanks for the comment and the information. A friend of mine and I actually saw Newman on his boat going through the locks once. Don’t remember offhand if it was the Zabba Zabba, but I took a photo of him and have the slide somewhere. It was a quarter century ago at least.

  8. 17 Lily Foster January 7, 2013 at 14:08

    I just read through this entire article, as well as the comments, thinking all the while that I would happily put you in touch with Robert Newman – only to see that one of my Pals (yes, really) beat me to it. She’s right that you should check out his Facebook page. He’s every bit as lovely as Gertrude, and he makes all of us feel that we’re actually among his close friends. Plus, he shares JP stories that we probably would never have known otherwise.

    Hi Cindy Pal!

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