Biography


Born in Berkeley, raised in San Francisco’s Parkside District, E. Martin Pedersen (Earl to family) took degrees from FCC, UOP, SFSU, SJSU, attended UCSC, Foothill College, Sac State, moved to Sicily where he teaches English at the local university – married, no kids, pushing 60.

That’s the abbreviated version; here’s a more colorful, semi-complete one. First memory: fear, terror, shame, clutching father’s fingers at the Chinese New Year’s Parade with brass cymbals crashing and firecrackers popping around his feet (age 3). The dragon still scares him. Martin, though, did like the giant train at Fleischaker Zoo, the distorted mirrors at Playland at the Beach, and the smell of roasting coffee driving onto the Bay Bridge. His first film was Snow White at the Parkside Theater. He walked there with his mom.

He walked to school too (Parkside Elementary) and the corner grocery and Dad’s church (Parkside Methodist) and the Parkside Library, the greatest place on earth. For longer trips, like down to the beach, which he could see from his house, he took the green and tan streetcar (Taraval line). One time he experimented by walking home from kindergarten with his eyes closed and ran smack into a rose hedge. Numerous thorns in the face and head, a trail of blood up the front steps, still a scar under his hairline.

Martin learned to read before he started school and in first grade argued with the young substitute about whether the U had a tail or not. The class turned against him, and he spent recess crying on the sub’s lap. A life lesson: question authority and you’ll get hugged by a pretty girl. Another time his friends Dennis and Tommy (Dennis the Menace) picked him up on the playground by hands and feet to swing him but dropped him on his back. Crying occurred again; all were sent to the principal’s office. Martin, the victim, got punished unjustly.

He often walked alone to the market, and one day the grocer gave him a dollar too much in change. Mom sent it back. The grocer said Martin was an honest kid and could take any candy bar he wanted. He stared at the candy stand for about half an hour until he finally chose a Big Hunk, the biggest candy bar there. On the block-and-a-half way home, the whole thing disappeared. Poof.

The Pedersens did not get a television until Martin was six: a blessing. But to see a show—the Cisco Kid or Howdy Doody—he had to go to a friend’s house. That’s where he watched the live broadcast of Romper Room starring his little brother, Paul, some other kids and Miss Nancy, the host. Martin burned with envy that he wasn’t there. His mom arrived to watch the second half of the show and then took Martin with her to pick up Paul from the studio. Martin’s most prized possession is the photo of Miss Nancy with her arms around both him and Paul.

Martin’s story-telling career started in first grade when he would walk home from school every day with a couple of Chinese girls and tell them about his exploits during the night. He said he walked to the ocean, about 15 blocks away, and stepped into the mouth of his friend, a whale, a la Pinocchio. Then they’d go around the world and have adventures. Lies brought popularity, that is, he made the girls giggle every day.

The family moved several times. Martin learned to skip rocks on the San Joaquin River by the railroad tracks. He waved to the engineers, who waved back. The guys in the caboose never did. He was a good rock skipper but never played Little League because he didn’t have a glove. In third grade, his buddy, Sean, stole something from the drugstore, and they both got caught. Sean remembers the incident as Martin doing the shoplifting.

Martin played cello in the school orchestra and, to be cool, carried the half-size instrument home over his shoulder like a hobo’s bundle. The neck broke. Dang. Then in junior high he played the Sousaphone and in high school graduated to the plastic ukulele. Now he owns about a dozen treasured stringed instruments.

One day in the fall, Mr. Griffin, Martin’s super fourth grade teacher, was called on the intercom to come to the office. He left the class alone. The students had never been left alone before. Half an hour later, Mr. Griffin came back to class sobbing. Everyone was scared. He said that President Kennedy had been shot and the kids’ parents had been called to come get them. In the meantime, they watched Walter Cronkite on the classroom TV (wealthy school for the times). The worst day.

Also in fourth grade, Mr. Griffin published a booklet of student poetry, including Martin’s. Seeing his name in print inspired him to write a play for the talent show. Martin played a mustache-twirling villain who got horse laughs when he keeled over; a cute girl named Denise played the damsel in distress. They were the only two in the class whose favorite Beatle was George.

Summers were spent in the Santa Cruz Mountains or down by the beach in Aptos. Once Martin stepped in a wasp’s nest at summer camp. Result: 18 stings and life-saving antihistamine. Other summers were spent in Yosemite Valley and up in Tuolumne Meadows, where Martin went on day hikes with the legendary ranger, Carl Sharsmith.

One time Martin found his youngest brother, Don, drinking ant poison. He called his mother, who worked at the Probation Office at the time, and she said to squirt a shot of dishwashing detergent in his mouth, that she would be right home. Don puked up his guts, and the doctor said he’d be fine. This method is no longer advised, but it works.

High School in the San Joaquin Valley involved sex, drugs, and race riots—all of which Martin tried to avoid. He was two years younger than many of his classmates, and known as the Frisco Kid, not a compliment. His real friends lived in other towns, a Greyhound ticket away. For example, he had a Chicano friend whose mother called Martin her ‘Okie son’. He liked that.

In an otherwise dreary high school, Martin did have an exceptional English teacher who made him a deal. Read 20 books in one semester and give her oral reports for an A. No other work. He hasn’t quit reading since. Thank you Miss Estes.

In 1973, when he applied for a summer job in Yosemite but didn’t get it, Martin spent the summer watching the Watergate hearings and arguing with his grandfather about Nixon over the chessboard. That summer he also wrote a novel that he carried around for ten years, then burned. Later he moved into a converted garage and continued playing chess with his grandfather, who had returned to college at age 72 to finish his degree in journalism. People thought him nuts, but he wrote articles for magazines like Modern Maturity for nearly ten years. Martin proofread his drafts.

In college, Martin became interested in Movement Education, New Games, the Abalone Alliance, Greenpeace, organic gardening, vegetarianism, film-making, etc. He taught in Zimbabwe, Sonora Mexico, and in traditional and experimental schools in California. In addition, he taught English to the Vietnamese boat people and migrant farm workers. Martin has also worked as a paperboy, house-sitter, brick cleaner, dishwasher, carpenter, house painter, roofer, tree cutter, vending machine salesman, school janitor, farm laborer (grapes, almonds, apples), waiter, peace activist, EFL writer, nanny, interpreter, translator, and folklorist. He sung lead in the groups: SPIKE, The Silly Accents Jug Band, The California Cowboy Orchestra, The Richmond Ramblers. 40 years of teaching, 33 in Messina.

On his first overseas trip to Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Martin took 25 different airplanes, spent a week or two each in Rome, Athens, Nairobi and Mexico City, visited briefly London, Blantyre, Johannesburg, Lima, and Rio de Janiero. He had the time of his life (war zones, starvation, spies, ambulance driving) and got malaria in Africa, then typhoid in Mexico—the double whammy. After grad school, he traveled to Egypt for half a year, then Jordan, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Greece. On the ferry to Italy, a strange woman kissed him goodbye. Goodbye to the old life.

Seventeen years of small-Sicilian-village burrowing followed: singing American folksongs in the schools, poetry, banjos and baseball, summers with brother Dave in Colorado … and academics, about 50 scholarly articles published worldwide, including the winner of the 1998 EdPress Award. Then more novels, song-writing, film treatments, a fellowship to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the novel award at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference.

Now Martin enjoys section hiking the PCT, visiting his cousin at her Buddhist retreat center, learning about everything, practicing pilates, and always writing: musicals, haiku, flash fiction, what have you. He lives with his wife (the esteemed sociologist, Daniela Catanoso) and cat in his dream home overlooking Scylla and Charybdis (look it up). Martin even bought a new American house in Tracy CA, halfway between the Sierras and the Bay. A self-starter, lazy hard-worker, committed time-waster, Martin Pedersen’s still grumpy after all these years (he was told to include that).