Until recently my knowledge about the Cleveland Wrecking Yard had come from a couple of friends who'd bought things there. One of them bought a huge window: the frame, glass and everything for just a few dollars. It was a fine-looking window.
Then he chopped a hole in the side of his house up on Potrero Hill and put the window in. Now he has a panoramic view of the San Francisco County Hospital.
He can practically look right down into the wards and see old magazines eroded like the Grand Canyon from endless readings. He can practically hear the patients thinking about breakfast: I hate milk and thinking about dinner: I hate peas, and then he can watch the hospital slowly drown at night, hopelessly entangled in huge bunches of brick seaweed.
He bought that window at the Cleveland Wrecking Yard.
My other friend bought an iron roof at the Cleveland Wrecking Yard and took the roof down to Big Sur in an old station wagon and then he carried the iron roof on his back up the side of a mountain. He carried up half the roof on his back. It was no picnic. Then he bought a mule, George, from Pleas- anton. George carried up the other half of the roof.
The mule didn't like what was happening at all. He lost a lot of weight because of the ticks, and the smell of the wildcats up on the plateau made him too nervous to graze there. My friend said jokingly that George had lost around two hundred pounds. The good wine country around Pleasanton in the Livermore Valley probably had looked a lot better to George than the wild side of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
My friend's place was a shack right beside a huge fire- place where there had once been a great mansion during the 1920s, built by a famous movie actor. The mansion was built before there was even a road down at Big Sur. The mansion had been brought over the mountains on the backs of mules, strung out like ants, bringing visions of the good life to the poison oak, the ticks, and the salmon.
The mansion was on a promontory, high over the Pacific. Money could see farther in the 1920s and one could look out and see whales and the Hawaiian Islands and the Kuomintang in China.
The mansion burned down years ago.
The actor died.
His mules were made into soap.
His mistresses became bird nests of wrinkles.
Now only the fireplace remains as a sort of Carthaginian homage to Hollywood.
I was down there a few weeks ago to see my friend's roof. I wouldn't have passed up the chance for a million dollars, as they say. The roof looked like a colander to me. If that roof and the rain were running against each other at Bay Meadows, I'd bet on the rain and plan to spend my winnings at the World's Fair in Seattle.
My own experience with the Cleveland Wrecking Yard began two days ago when I heard about a used trout stream they had on sale out at the Yard. So I caught the Number 15 bus on Columbus Avenue and went out there for the first time.
There were two Negro boys sitting behind me on the bus. They were talking about Chubby Checker and the Twist. They thought that Chubby Checker was only fifteen years old because he didn't have a mustache. Then they talked about some other guy who did the twist forty-four hours in a row until he saw George Washington crossing the Delaware.
"Man, that's what I call twisting, " one of the kids said.
"I don't think I could twist no forty-four hours in a row, " the other kid said. "That's a lot of twisting. "
I got off the bus right next to an abandoned Time Gasoline filling station and an abandoned fifty-cent self-service car wash. There was a long field on one side of the filling station. The field had once been covered with a housing project during the war, put there for the shipyard workers.
On the other side of the Time filling station was the Cleveland Wrecking Yard. I walked down there to have a look at the used trout stream. The Cleveland Wrecking Yard has a very long front window filled with signs and merchandise.
There was a sign in the window advertising a laundry marking machine for $65. 00. The original cost of the machine was $175. 00. Quite a saving.
There was another sign advertising new and used two and three ton hoists. I wondered how many hoists it would take to move a trout stream.
There was another sign that said:
THE FAMILY GIFT CENTER,
FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY
The window was filled with hundreds of items for the entire family. Daddy, do you know what I want for Christmas? son? A bathroom. Mommy do you know what I want for Christmas? What, Patricia? Some roofing material.
There were jungle hammocks in the window for distant relatives and dollar-ten-cent gallons of earth-brown enamel paint for other loved ones. There was also a big sign that said:
USED TROUT STREAM FOR SALE.
MUST BE SEEN TO BE
I went inside and looked at some ship's lanterns that were for sale next to the door. Then a salesman came up to me and said in a pleasant voice, "Can I help you?"
"Yes, " I said. "I'm curious about the trout stream you have for sale. Can you tell me something about it? How are you selling it?"
"We're selling it by the foot length. You can buy as little as you want or you can buy all we've got left. A man came in here this morning and bought 563 feet. He's going to give it to his niece for a birthday present, " the salesman said.
"We're selling the waterfalls separately of course, and the trees and birds, flowers grass and ferns we're also selling extra. The insects we're giving away free with a minimum purchase of ten feet of stream. "
"How much are you selling the stream for?" I asked. "Six dollars and fifty-cents a foot, " he said. "That's for the first hundred feet. After that it's five dollars a foot."
"How much are the birds?" I asked.
"Thirty-five cents apiece, " he said. "But of course they're used. We can't guarantee anything."
"How wide is the stream?" I asked. "You said you were selling it by the length, didn't you?" "Yes, " he said. "We're selling it by the length. Its width runs between five and eleven feet. You don't have to pay anything extra for width. It's not a big stream, but it's very pleasant. "
"What kinds of animals do you have ?" I asked.
"We only have three deer left, " he said.
"Oh... What about flowers ? "
"By the dozen, " he said.
"Is the stream clear?" I asked.
"Sir, " the salesman said. "I wouldn't want you to think that we would ever sell a murky trout stream here. We always make sure they're running crystal clear before we even think about moving them. "
"Where did the stream come from?" I asked.
"Colorado, " he said. "We moved it with loving care. We've never damaged a trout stream yet. We treat them all as if they were china. "
"You're probably asked this all the time, but how's fishing in the stream?" I asked.
"Very good, " he said. "Mostly German browns, but there are a few rainbows. "
"What do the trout cost?" I asked.
"They come with the stream, " he said. "Of course it's all luck. You never know how many you're going to get or how big they are. But the fishing's very good, you might say it's excellent. Both bait and dry fly, " he said smiling.
"Where's the stream at?" I asked. "I'd like to take a look at it. "
"It's around in back, " he said. "You go straight through that door and then turn right until you're outside. It's stacked in lengths. You can't miss it. The waterfalls are upstairs in the used plumbing department. "
"What about the animals?"
"Well, what's left of the animals are straight back from the stream. You'll see a bunch of our trucks parked on a road by the railroad tracks. Turn right on the road and follow it down past the piles of lumber. The animal shed's right at the end of the lot. "
"Thanks, " I said. "I think I'll look at the waterfalls first. You don't have to come with me. Just tell me how to get there and I'll find my own way."
"All right, " he said. "Go up those stairs. You'll see a bunch of doors and windows, turn left and you'll find the used plumbing department. Here's my card if you need any help. "
"Okay, " I said. "You've been a great help already. Thanks a lot. I'11 take a look around."
"Good luck, " he said.
I went upstairs and there were thousands of doors there. I'd never seen so many doors before in my life. You could have built an entire city out of those doors. Doorstown. And there were enough windows up there to build a little suburb entirely out of windows. Windowville.
I turned left and went back and saw the faint glow of pearl-colored light. The light got stronger and stronger as I went farther back, and then I was in the used plumbing department, surrounded by hundreds of toilets.
The toilets were stacked on shelves. They were stacked five toilets high. There was a skylight above the toilets that made them glow like the Great Taboo Pearl of the South Sea movies.
Stacked over against the wall were the waterfalls. There were about a dozen of them, ranging from a drop of a few feet to a drop of ten or fifteen feet.
There was one waterfall that was over sixty feet long. There were tags on the pieces of the big falls describing the correct order for putting the falls back together again.
The waterfalls all had price tags on them. They were more expensive than the stream. The waterfalls were selling for $19.00 a foot.
I went into another room where there were piles of sweet-smelling lumber, glowing a soft yellow from a different color skylight above the lumber. In the shadows at the edge of the room under the sloping roof of the building were many sinks and urinals covered with dust, and there was also another waterfall about seventeen feet long, lying there in two lengths and already beginning to gather dust.
I had seen all I wanted of the waterfalls, and now I was very curious about the trout stream, so I followed the salesman's directions and ended up outside the building.
O I had never in my life seen anything like that trout stream. It was stacked in piles of various lengths: ten, fifteen, twenty feet, etc. There was one pile of hundred-foot lengths. There was also a box of scraps. The scraps were in odd sizes ranging from six inches to a couple of feet.
There was a loudspeaker on the side of the building and soft music was coming out. It was a cloudy day and seagulls were circling high overhead.
Behind the stream were big bundles of trees and bushes. They were covered with sheets of patched canvas. You could see the tops and roots sticking out the ends of the bundles.
I went up close and looked at the lengths of stream. I could see some trout in them. I saw one good fish. I saw some crawdads crawling around the rocks at the bottom.
It looked like a fine stream. I put my hand in the water. It was cold and felt good.
I decided to go around to the side and look at the animals. I saw where the trucks were parked beside the railroad tracks. I followed the road down past the piles of lumber, back to the shed where the animals were.
The salesman had been right. They were practically out of animals. About the only thing they had left in any abundance were mice. There were hundreds of mice.
Beside the shed was a huge wire birdcage, maybe fifty feet high, filled with many kinds of birds. The top of the cage had a piece of canvas over it, so the birds wouldn't get wet when it rained. There were woodpeckers and wild canaries and sparrows.
On my way back to where the trout stream was piled, I found the insects. They were inside a prefabricated steel building that was selling for eighty-cents a square foot. There was a sign over the door. It said