opened two beers and handed me one. We were sitting in the sunny living
room of DeSpain's 1904 restored Victorian in San Francisco. Larry
was in Cuernavaca, Mexico, reliving the past, eating Chile peppers
and tacos, drinking margaritas in side street restaurants, shopping
with his wife and trying to figure out why it had taken him 40 years
to return. I was house-sitting and digging the City's magical allure.
Lash had just blown in from San Mateo on an important mission. We
had decided to find out what this thing really was and what it meant
in the sociology of life as we knew it.
it a movement, a phenomenon, a contagious craze running through society,
or something inherited from past generations?" The question was sincere
and I hoped for a discernable answer. We were after all trying to
get to the bottom of the topic; or maybe was it the top of the bottom
of this entity that we'd been a part of for decades.
"It's all of those things," Lash said, with a smile.
"But itıs not easily defined." He relaxed on the couch with his dark
glasses making him look like a cool hipster. He was at the heart of
this topic and could have been one of the most influential figures
in creating this anti-social behavior.
"Yeah, you're right. It seems to have a life of
its own," I said. "Like a quiet flesh eating animal slinking around
corners and hiding in dark alleys. You really donıt know when it will
rush out and wreak havoc and shock on the innocent bystander."
"No one really knows how it started," Lash mused,
"but for sure it's been around for a long time."
"It's the rebellion of youth," I offered. "The pure self-indulgent
release of pent up feelings from people tired of the mediocrity of
life. It's rebelling against the system and its effort to keep you
lined up with all the other robots. It's fighting control with panache."
"That's part of it," Lash said, "but the bottom
line is, a good RF never hurt anybody. A good RF is a playful, skillful,
artful, crafty deed perpetrated with class, cunning and style." We
both laughed at this definition.
I took a long pull on my beer. "Yes, no body gets hurt,
and a good RF is never forgotten," I replied. "Rat Fuck! What a slogan,
wonder who came up with that name?"
"Well," Lash said, looking far off into the distance,
"I heard it was originated by a college fraternity guy somewhere in
the Bay area back in the early 1950s as a way to describe all the
hell-raising he was doing."
"Well, the term has survived for sure," I added.
"You know I think RFing was at its peak in the late 50s and through
the 60s, at least with the guys we knew."
"That's a star-studded list," Lash said, "and some
of the RFs were spectacular, even historical. Guys like you and me,
Charlie Carter, Mike Shaw, Greg Slevin, Zack McCarty, Bill Canada,
Art Moder, Arvin Wenzelberg and of course, the king, Combat Kelly
"It seemed like a competition to me," I said. "Always
trying to one-up the next guy by doing something a little more outrageous
and inventive. In all, it's taking advantage of a situation and with
imagination and creativity, making something out of the possibilities.
Imagination is the key. I know that's the way I went about it. But
what actually constitutes a good RF, I mean what is the root, driving
force behind it?"
Lash broke out in a sly grin. "Well, when I really
became aware of it, was in 1957 when I met Kelly Struever in the chow
line at the Monterrey Naval base. As we became friends, he told me
stories about the amazing pranks he had done. And later, when we visited
Don Peter at his fraternity house at Stanford and heard about the
college pranks they'd pulled, especially between Stanford and Cal,
it all began to take shape. That's when I first heard the term RF
and its true meaning."
"Kelly was a heavy hitter before I met him, wasn't
he?" I asked.
"Oh yes," Lash said, "and it was some fraternity
guys that gave him his nick name. When they heard him tell his stories
about the outrageous things he had done, they said they sounded like
war stories and called him "Combat Kelly."
"We really had some fun while we were in the Navy
together," Lash remembered. "He had no qualms about doing anything.
Once we stole a Japanese flag from a movie theater that was using
it as an advertisement for the movie it was showing, and put it up
on a flag pole on the roof of the San Carlos Hotel. It was up there
a whole day before they could get it down. He cut the ropes so they
couldnıt get to it. That one made the newspapers.
"After being discharged from the Navy in 1959,
I enrolled at San Diego State and living in a dorm, started using
the RF term. Then everyone started using it," he said. "It started
to take off."
I took another drink of beer. "Yes, I remember
those formative years of the late 50s and early 60s when RFing became
a rage," I reflected, "especially with the guys I was running with;
drinking a lot and doing stupid crazy stuff.
"I remember the BA was particularly big in those
days," I said. "One Sunday afternoon at Huntington Beach we got a
bunch of guys lined up on the cliff overlooking the crowded beach
by Dwightıs Hamburger stand, and at a signal, we dropped our shorts
and looked through our legs. The horror and disbelief of screaming
girls and guys gazing at twenty white asses shining down on them in
the bright summer sunlight was something to behold. The next weekend,
the police were patrolling the beach."
"Huntington in those days was really wild," Lash
"Your sister, Kim wasn't too bad of an RFer herself,"
I said. "I remember one weekend she came to the beach with her girlfriends.
She had baked a batch of brownies and being rude and obnoxious, we
attacked them, grabbed the brownies and ate them all. Boy, was she
pissed off! The next weekend she was there again with another batch
of brownies, and being sweet as she could, offered them to us. Little
did we know she had laced them liberally with chunks of Exlax . In
an hour, we were all sprinting to the bathroom and blowing out the
toilets. She had class. But you actually made a business of the RF."
"I created Foxe Enterprises back in 1962," Lash
explained, "after coming back from Seattle where Iıd been working
with Kelly at the World's Fair. I went up to visit him and ended up
staying and working. You were there in Tacoma at Ft. Lewis."
"Yes, unfortunately, or maybe it was good timing
because my experiences up there were memorable. My National Guard
unit got reactivated during the Berlin Crisis when JFK called up 50,000
reservists and Guard and sent to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma. It was an amazing
coincidence we were there at the same time. Some of the wildest RFs
took place up there with Kelly leading the way. I donıt imagine the
Northwest has recovered to this day. I think he really set the pace
in those days. Those stories must be told and will be written."
"When I got back from Washington," Lash continued,
"I started this business by inventing a little character named, Charley
Foxe. Charley is a Rat Fink, or a sly clever, unique and sometimes
mischievous person. He is the symbol of a rascal and a rogue."
"That decal you made was classic," I said. "How'd
"I met an artist from a decal company" Lash said,
"and asked him if he could design an RF decal. It came out as a grinning
fox wearing a sweatshirt with the big letters, RF on the front. He
was wearing tennis shoes, shorts and holding a Foxe Brew. From that,
I put them on t-shirts and sweatshirts and marketed them at colleges,
surf shops, hot rod shops, and custom car shops. In a year and a half,
Iıd sold over 15,000 decals and 3,500 shirts, a modest amount owing
to my very limited advertising."
"What about the Steve Allen and the Big Daddy Roth
connection." I queried. "They used the term a lot."
"When I was marketing, I met Big Daddy in Maywood
at his custom car shop in May of 1961. Being an opportunist, he saw
his chance to expand on the term, RF or Rat Fink and he ran with it
making it a trademark of his operation. He made customized cars with
the Rat Fink slogan intertwined with his advertising. Somewhere along
the line, Steve Allen started using the term Rat Fink on his television
show. He really made it popular. The college kids loved him."
"But Charley Foxe took on another meaning," I said.
"It was Charlie Carter, one of the craziest guys
on two legs that started the Foxing craze," Lash explained.
"It was classic," I remembered. "He would order
large amounts of food from a fast-food walk-up window, and when they
brought it, he would grab it and sprint to a waiting car. He started
that stuff and then we all started doing it. There were a lot of free
meals in those days. Then they got wise and started making you pay
first. I know it was because of the Charley Foxing that was going
"And then, dining and dashing grew out of that,"
I recalled. "We'd go into a nice restaurant, eat a big meal, then
run out without paying. Slevin and I did that a few times. Once at
a restaurant on Signal Hill in Long Beach, Greg went out first and
I came out a few minutes later, but he'd freaked out and ran off into
the night up there in no-man's land of oil derricks and dark winding
roads. I looked for a half hour and finally found him wandering down
an old road in the night all sweaty and tired."
"I wish I could remember more of those escapades,"
Lash said, "But there's too many."
"Everyone we ran with has stories to tell," I said.
"There's a book there somewhere. But one thing for sure, those memories
are here to stay."
"The RF is here to stay," Lash concluded, "and
we started it."