I bought the cherries and coffee tile art. – Photo: Carol Harvey

by Carol Harvey

One – I crash the party

In May 2015, I crashed the Treasure Island Flea Market. It’s held on the island on the last weekend of each month – that would be this weekend coming up.

As they wander the Great Lawn looking for bargains, I doubt shoppers know that this noisy affair called Treasure Island Flea is happening around them on what Naval Environmental Coordinator Keith Forman reported was the site of an old World War II POW camp. The imprisoned most likely were Germans, Italians and Japanese.

This long, green promenade spreads itself out across the blue Bay from the City of San Francisco in the shadow of the Starburst Navy barracks built to house young sailors.

The barracks are two buildings that, from Google maps, look like six-pointed stars. Sailors bedded down there before being shipped out to the Pacific Theater, some of them never to return.

After attending classes on how to wash radiation off the sides of the fake dry-docked war ship, the Pandemonium, a few blocks away on Westside Drive, they probably hopped over to the City and got well-juiced before they left.

Back in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, builders insulated housing with toxic asbestos and painted them inside and out with lead paint. When they tear down these star-shaped buildings for redevelopment, can you imagine the crash – and the asbestos fibers and lead paint flakes flying everywhere? A lung cancer patient’s nightmare.

I hate crowds and buying junk, so for a year I avoided Treasure Island Flea. Also my skinflint self asked me why I should pay money to spend more money on “stuff”? But, on the say-so of a Treasure Island resident who told me she bought a very good bike there for $25, along with everybody else’s unqualified enthusiasm, I got bit by the Flea.

In May 2015, I crashed the Treasure Island Flea Market. It’s held on the island on the last weekend of each month – that would be this weekend coming up.

As I approached, the sign said, “Admission $3.00.” I tried to skirt the thing and video from the outside, but I had accidentally walked inside the police tape. The wind-blown yellow cordon blocked me from getting back to the sidewalk and slipping by shooting on the edges unnoticed.

What was I thinking? I could not escape, and I could not stay. Reading the consternation on my face, the smiling guy guarding the police tape suggested, “Why don’t you just go over to the ticket guy and tell him you’re videoing, and you want to give the flea market publicity?” Like they really need publicity! Flea is known all over the Bay Area.

So I got my gumption up and sauntered over to the ticket guy. I showed him my video-camera. “Sure,” he smiled, “no problem,” and he stamped my hand. That’s how I crashed the Big Party with music, food, drinks and trinkets and some really good radical political art and interesting stuff and coffee cups. Come on in with me and see.

Two – I buy tile art

I bought the cherries and coffee tile art. – Photo: Carol Harvey
I bought the cherries and coffee tile art. – Photo: Carol Harvey

What first caught my resistant non-buyer’s eye after I crashed the gate was Steve Bernofsky’s tile art booth. I’ve been an artist in another life. My gaze swept appreciatively over little paintings Steve applied by hand to ceramic tiles. A starfish, a hummingbird, a heron, calla lilies, owls. The big beautiful yellow sunflower was my heart’s desire. But, at $30 bucks, I couldn’t justify the extravagance.

Steve took Visa, so I bought two tiny tiles – cherries and a coffee cup at $8 apiece. I love them. They have wire loops in the top, so I can wear them as earrings. Just the right size. You should check out Steve.

Three – Snoopy’s time-out chair

As I finalized my purchase at the Tile Art booth at Treasure Island Flea, I turned. Behind me stood a young guy hefting a small piece of furniture in one hand. It was a very nice, clean-looking yellow wooden chair with “Time Out” written across the back.

The decal of Snoopy on the seat said this was a kid’s gift. But, the “gift” wasn’t really a gift. A young father explained this was a time-out chair for his really, really, really, really misbehaving son. This bad small boy would have a special chair to hunker down in while re-thinking the naughty act his young self had perpetrated. Ouch! But, he might grow up and keep this little chair to remind him of his Dad’s loving, comical approach to discipline.

Four – Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!

“Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!” said the sign.

What porn are they selling at Treasure Island?

Addiction to gasoline is the topic of this political art. – Photo: Carol Harvey
Addiction to gasoline is the topic of this political art. – Photo: Carol Harvey

I saw highly sophisticated political artwork. A picture of an American obsession, a pop-eyed addict mainlining gasoline into his forearm veins.

The artists were a couple. She was an artist. He was also an artist and her idea man.

She held up a watercolor of an elephant and a donkey. Both political parties were dancing together, ignoring a wounded soldier falling down the painting.

He described their graphic novel of a convicted marijuana smoker who actually managed to score a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

I told them a little about a person on the island who critiqued a political article I wrote, calling me a lunatic. I was going to visit him that afternoon at his place around the corner and encourage him to tell me why he felt that way.

She understood my strategy. Humanize myself; humanize him. You can’t hate someone friendly and interested in hearing you out. I had no idea who he was. Would he be chomping a stogie and pointing a rifle?

I know that communication makes room for cooperation – or at least nonviolent opposition. So, I was going to brave it. He turned out to be a nice young guy with a cat who tried to escape when he opened the door.

A very smart couple. I’ll go back and visit them again. They were intelligent and fun to talk to.

Five – A bismuth crystal

Bismuth crystals are only a little bit radioactive. – Photo: Carol Harvey
Bismuth crystals are only a little bit radioactive. – Photo: Carol Harvey

The woman explained that her bismuth crystal was artificially created in a lab. I would have enjoyed seeing the stepped shapes slowly form. The lovely rainbow of metallic colors was created by a thin oxide layer on the bismuth’s surface refracting the rays of light shining through it.

Bismuth is slightly radioactive. How appropriate for a radioactive isle. But do I want to use a hot object for meditation? Bismuth’s unstable atoms take from just a few hours to 8 million years to undergo radioactive decay – a fraction of the universe’s oldest known calculated age at 13.8 billion years.

Six – Unicorn poop and The Buffs

Get your unicorn poop soap at the Treasure Island Flea. – Photo: Carol Harvey
Get your unicorn poop soap at the Treasure Island Flea. – Photo: Carol Harvey

At this booth I found two things I couldn’t snatch at the Treasure Island Flea. The adorable pitt puppy who wagged his tail and lost interest when I didn’t scratch his ears and the handsome guy who arrived from UC Colorado wearing a shirt championing The Buffs (Buffalos).

But, I could buy a tiny cactus plant, $3 books, collectible records in sections – one of which read “Obstetrics,” the other “Rolling Stones.”

And you could purchase Outlaw soaps. There was bacon soap. And there was rainbow-colored unicorn poop you could rub all over your body when you showered.

Seven – God, Grandma is sexy

Something else caught my eye. Hidden in all the stuff was a cloth purse. Folded over by windy gusts, it appeared to say, “God, Gramma Is Sexy!” But it didn’t. I must have been projecting.

It actually sported an English lesson, “Good Grammar Is Sexy.” The purse was meant to grace the arm of some devoted English teacher somewhere.

Then I passed a Tarot card reader and a pair of absolutely gorgeous shoes that looked wildly expensive but probably were super-cheap.

Eight – H-H-H-H Holly H.O. Double Toothpicks

Then there was Holly. She was all sold out of sh—stuff. She herself turned out to be savvy and funny! Holly said she was very famous.

So I told her about the gramma-grammar purse, and we both had a big fat laugh. “I actually believe good grammar is sexy,” she said.

She did not like the redevelopment idea at all. “Can we keep something, anything?” she asked. “I can’t even afford to live in California anymore because of the rents.” And she stuck her finger in her nostril to show how annoying it all was.

Holly immediately saw the danger of being on the island in an earthquake. She hoped a tsunami would take out the ugly ass buildings. Then she could live alone on the island with her dogs, but no humans.

Holly was very cool and very wise, and she gave me a cup that said, “Coffee Is Like a Hug in a Mug.”

Thank you, Holly. People should find you and buy your stuff at the end-of-June Treasure Island Flea (Market).

Nine – Come make me feel

“I called her Ashley because I forgot her first name.” I approached a dark-haired guy with a guitar wailing his heart out. When I laughed at the lyrics which pretty much said what he and Ashley were up to. He did not make eye contact, just kept on singing. The song was a soulful, splendid ear worm that took hold of my brain for several days. Please listen. But I warn you. It will do the same to you.

His name was Nick Petty, but he does not appear to be Son of Tom. He has a YouTube channel. Check it out. You’ll need to hear more.

Nine A – Lay or bust

Walking Treasure Island’s Great Lawn, I ruminated pointlessly that kids today are equally as smart or dumb as all kids throughout history, including me.

I mused on the fact that the Flea does not sport junk. There’s a mother board with a radio attached. Here’s a huge funky metal hook that I – or someone – could use to decorate our home or hoist large objects.

The seller showed me a dreidel. It inspired me to sing a few bars of the little Jewish kids’ song, “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! I made you out of clay.”

There appeared painted signboards: “Ice Cold Beer” and “Mohawk Gasoline.” Another old poultry feed sign I remembered from my youth ordered hens to “Lay or Bust.” Back then, I did not understand the double entendre. I do now.

Ten – Cheap good stuff

Me videoing you at Treasure Island Flea – Photo: Carol Harvey
Me videoing you at Treasure Island Flea – Photo: Carol Harvey

Now you have a broad brush idea of Treasure Island Flea: chairs, purses, old hooks, road signs, cups, fine art, political art, funky soap, time-out chairs, mirrors, books, vintage records, a Tarot reader, musicians, singers – all very cheap or free.

Before I sit down and think what other damage I can do, here’s me in a wriggly wavy old mirror. Watch out, or I may video you out there in Treasure Island Flea Land.

Eleven – World War II sailors remembered

I sat down for a minute at Cosson Hall, one of the 12 points of the two Starburst Barracks asterisks where World War II sailors bunked before going to war in the Pacific. That was after they got taught to handle radioactive material and radiation was dumped or spilled in many places on the island. Each time I pass those buildings, I honor these young men in my thoughts.

The Starburst barracks represent an interesting 1950s and ‘60s architectural style. The buildings could have been saved in the redevelopment project, just like the Nimitz Chapel. But no! They will knock them down and build high rises that could easily tumble in an earthquake or tsunami.

And everything will be homogenized and built from concrete like Crissy Field or Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco or some dumb, unimaginative industrial park anywhere. “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” No, I was never a flower child. But didn’t anyone pay attention to that Joanie Mitchell song? In this specific instance, “They polluted paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.

7 COMMENTS

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