Monday, September 18, 2006

rex wrecks reckless wrecker

The Yummy Biker started out customizing cars. The man is a wizard at anything automotive (and if it exists in three dimensional space he can paint it purdy colors, too). So it has come to pass that I have spent a lot of time in auto wrecking yards. And I'll tell you what; I'd just as soon wander around a wrecking yard as I would choose to do a lot of other things.
1. There's always something cool to see and find.
2. Sometimes there's dogs. Not crappy dogs but cool dogs named 'Satan' that play fetch with truck recaps.
3. If you're very, very lucky, the crusher will be running that day.

The A and H wrecking yard used to be in Ferndale, waaaaaaay off the beaten track out in the county. Country/Western ballads are written about places like A and H Wrecking.
The place sat at the end of a little country road, behind a feed store. There was a big maple tree out front, and a huge willow, and in between the picturesque barnlike main building with quaint old metal signs on the side.
The office furniture had seat belts. There was the obligatory coffee cans full of tobacco spit and floating cigarette butts next to the cash register. Pigeons kited in lazily like paper airplanes through the front door and roosted in the rafters. Out in front Buff Orp hens sat in the middle of the street, warming their bottoms on the sunny pavement while cars honked to make them scoot and the rooster watched from the top of the Sani-Kan.

A and H had the dirtiest dirt I have ever seen, right inside the main building. It was a true and utter black, and soft as flannel. Years of grease and oil and gasoline and paint had soaked into the dirt floor and dried and redistributed, rehydrated, been blown up, turned to mud, burnt, baked and been scuffed by shoes into an amazing sootlike substance. It floated and clung in fluffy clumps to every protrusion in the place in defiance of natural law. It drifted up and over stacks of drum brakes and hung down in ookey banners from lengths of conduit. It smelled warm and good, like your fathers work jacket or the trunk of a car on a hot day.

The owner was exactly what you'd expect of the type of woman who'd own a wrecking yard...big, blocky, loud, tough and rude. Her name was, and I shit thee not, Lurene. A great big ol' curly Swede permanently coated in grease. She was the nastiest, rastiest, out of her way RUDEST old cow. Oh my, did this old girl have a point to prove. And she succeeded, too; nobody argued with that; she'd smack you with a broke-off car antennae. She kept one next to the phone all wrapped in electrical tape for just that purpose. And when she just got irritated in general she'd fffffWWWHACK! it into the metal filing cabinet. It got your attention.

The office was filled with extra special car parts. At least that's what I'm assuming. Actually it was chrome fenders, axles, cracked engine blocks and power steering columns that looked pretty similar to everything else in the place. I could never see the logic in what was chosen to come off a car and in under cover but God help your sad ass if you ever wandered amongst it or heaven forfend moved any of it; Lurlene would have a goddamn cow. "That's there for a REASON" she'd shout from behind the counter, fixing you with a sneer. To be sure; whatever was there had probably been there since 1962; I never saw a goddamn thing move in the twelve years I visited. It must have been a really good reason.

Lurlene despised two things in this world; mexicans and women who visited wrecking yards. Me she wouldn't even speak to; she spoke to the Biker. Even if I was the one who'd asked the question. Anyone minus a dick got that treatment.
Mexican patrons she had in their hundreds because she was the only wrecking yard in the county open on Sunday. She always went out of her way to speak EXTRA SLOW AND LOUD so they could understand her when she was accusing them of theft. No adverbs or conjunctions either. You could hear her all the way out in the parking lot as you came in. "No no" she'd bellow at some poor little Jaliscan guy in a 'Cenex' cap blushing through his tan. "NO-NO STEALIE. NO TAKE. UNDERSTAND? NO STEALIE YOU."
Naturally, everyone went out of their way to steal something.

It was a trip, too. You'd walk out into the yard and guys would be packing their pockets with shit and grinning at each other. 'I usually don't do this, but after listening to that I feel obligated' I overheard one guy say as he stripped off a piece of trim and packed it into his tool box.

Lurleen kept geese out in the yard thinking this would discourage loitering and thus, theft. Evil geese. They would flatten their wrinkly old necks out along the ground like snakes and hiss as you walked by. Maybe they'd been mutated by being around all the petrochemicals or something; but for whatever reason, boy, they were big, huge bastards. And irritable. And the motherfuckers could run like goddamn horses. They would take off in a pack and chase someone all around the yard, head them off from escaping out the gate and trap them on top of a stack of Pontiacs, which was hysterically funny unless it was happening to you. Guys got to carrying popcorn around and throwing it out behind them so they could get a few moments peace. My Biker got bit hard, and I mean hard enough to raise a blood blister, right on the top of the thigh, dangerously close to the family jewels.
This is why geese guarded the gates of Rome, folks.

The yard was shaped like a donut. You walked a letter 'o' path surrounded by a ring of stacked cars, with a mountain of more in the middle. The yard rats drove forklifts around this oval at 30 miles per fuck you; they'd blast past with a big ol' van speared through the side panels and no forward visibility whatsoever and devil take the hindmost because they didn't care. You'd see folks diving through car windows and leaping into car trunks to get out of their way. Between that and the demon geese you really had to work hard to swipe something, but dammit, it had to be done.

They got mostly salvage and abandoned vehicles. It was organized so that you could go to a certain area and find all the Toyotas or Fords or what have you. Then it was up to you to remove whatever you needed. The cars were stacked four high with the occasional tire rim slung on to help level things up, and the car with the best roof on top. Not terribly stable. Or well-thought-out, either. It was common to see people merrily hanging on to either end of a stack and getting it rocking in order to topple it over and get at the car they wanted. You weren't supposed to, but everyone did.
Thick cables of well-armed blackberry grew rampant through the wrecks on the peremeter, and ringing the standing puddles that took the place of a road, nettles grew up tall and rank and full of red hot acid.
So... killer geese, vines full of knives, stinging weeds...Take that with the broken glass, unknown chemicals, rusty steel, teetering piles of jagged iron overhead and homicidal forklift drivers and you have-well, actually you have a really fun place.

Once you had found the part you were looking for and pocketed a few more you didn't know you needed until you saw them, another popular pastime was scavenging. Cars commonly came in crammed to the tits with junk. Kind of a 'kill two expensive birds with one county funded stone'...abandoning a junker car on the side of the road that was full of what you couldn't get rid of at your moving sale so the road department had to haul it off. There was usually a motherlode of change under the carpets and in the seats, too. I've had my pockets so jammed with pennies it made my pants creep down my ass so I was hitchin'. And one time, up in Canada, I found what I thought was a diamond down in the upholstery of a Chrysler Imperial and just about shit myself. Of course it came up a zirconia, but for a little while there I thought I had Christmas paid for.

It was interesting to me to see what could become of a thing like a car. A car seems so big, solid and permanent, like a little house...and yet I've seen them literally wrung in a spiral like a damp dishcloth. One time I glimpsed a steering wheel I liked. Since the car was bent up like a letter 'U' and the doors were jammed shut, the only way in was through the broken side window, so I just hopped up and dove through.
And came face to face with a SHREDDED HUMAN SCALP. Complete with curls. Just hanging there tangled in the little cubes of glass in the caved-in windsheild.

It's not something you see everyday.

It's interesting what happens to the human body at high speed, too. Kind of like what happens to an onion in a Cuisinart.

During the last five years of her life Lurleen started selling Princess Products. You would walk in to the office, and there, amid the filth, the Dodge truck front clips and the snow tires, you would see two sparkling racks of dainty, colorful glass tableware. Which you were not allowed to touch. Or get near. You had to stand in the aisle and lean over and point and describe what you thought you saw, while Lurlene rolled her eyes and puffed and blew and hove her bulk over the truck axles to scrabble around for the box and came up wrong and blamed you for not describing it very well.
Ove the next five years these pretty things got dustier and dirtier and more cobwebby, but despite that I understand she moved a lot of Princess stock. Guys would come in and see it and suddenly remember a birthday or an aniversary. I got a set of beer mugs that way.

Lurleen died a wealthy woman. She left the place to the two yard monkeys, and they retired a couple of years later and abandoned the property. As far as I know the place is still there under three feet of blackberry vines, full of eyeless carniverous geese roaming around the rusting hulks in the darkness and hissing at the mooooooon.


  1. Honestly, I thought the only Lurlenes were in C&W songs and Billy Bob Thornton movies.

  2. What a fab place - the way you tell it. I like to think our Jetta is happy now, in a place just like that. Sob.
    Biker dude is a bit of a clever dude, ain't he?

  3. mj: however you spell it. ask anyone in whatcom county with an old truck and they'll recognize her name. aint it a trip?
    ara: theres not a lot of them left, either. Insurance. and yes, he is a handy, handy man. step back.

  4. was off Portal Way where the freeway goes over it in Ferndale. down from the Copeland Lumber yard, across from the old slaughterhouse. If you cross in Blaine you go almost right over it.

  5. That was a good post. You have such a way with telling a story! I wonder if the Princess products are still there, buried in all the muck?

  6. Cars confuse me. But if there was a chance of going somewhere with a CRUSHER (gasp!) I'd be up for it like a shot.

  7. Such a great story.

    I love wrecking yards, too. The whole brake system on my older pick-up came from two of then.

  8. Brilliantly told. The paragraph about the dirt is one of the best bits of descriptive prose i've ever read. and it's about DIRT. Fuking A, FN! xoxo

  9. I love this story and the way you told it and made me feel like I was right there with you, beating off geese with hubcaps. I want you to print this story out and autograph it a put a little lipstick kiss and one greasy thumbprint on it and send it to me in the mail, mmmkay?

    BTW, if I make a scalping joke, will you take it in the spirit intended, or whip me with an antenna?

  10. wow, fn, great story. so descriptive and real. very nicely done.

    i know the joy that is a guard goose. we have them here at work (they are rudest employees ever, i might add) and can be kind of scary when you walk by a pack of them.

    a bunch of years ago, a goose took a running start at one of the supervisors and knocked him on his ass. HAHA! Silly goose.

  11. If I could sing, I would sing a blues song about Lurene and her flock of geese.

  12. awaiting: i never thought of that. dang. they could still be in there. you go first!
    billy: i LOVE the crusher! the crusher is a thing of awesome joy. the only thing that could improve it is if flames shot out the sides.
    doug: yup; we've owned several of those trucks! theres a yard on mt. baker highway that scraps together entire running cars and sells them under warranty.
    cb: if you'd have asked me i would have said thats the weak link. it came out kind of alliterative or something. but the dirt IS very dirty dirt so i left it in. thank you! geeze.
    danator: that occurred to me but i skipped it to focus on the unexpected shock of being confronted with junkyard jerky. notice i did NOT describe the rest of the the seats, or the roof liner...or the dash...(crispy dried molasses over hairy confetti. couldn't resist.)
    claire: oh thank you for that. people who've never encountered a live bull goose assume they're just a waddling lawn ornament. wrong.
    christine: it would make a live action one, too.

  13. GREAT post FN , Iwant a go on the crusher......

  14. I can't think of anything to say beyond ...

    ... you are a fucking excellent writer.

    That's it.

  15. Fantastically written FN, reminds me of when I had to climb a car mountain myself for a manifold for my Vauxhall Vectra (it was the top one). Why I risked my life for that heap I don't know.

  16. FN: What Betty said! Thoroughly enjoyed the post.