I drove down Griffith Way the other day to see the house where I used to visit William Saroyan when I was a kid. He’d greet me at the front door with his bellow and invite me inside, past the kitchen with its whistling teapot and into his writer’s den where his shoes lined the corner, burnished in the best French polish, and the table was cluttered with the pieces of twine and shards of glass and rocks he collected on his furious bike rides through town.
“Why rocks?” I wondered. Because they reminded him that “art” should be simple.
There in the middle of the room stood his typewriter, a Royal that was still hot from the words he had written that morning, words that never stopped pouring out of him, all the way until the end.
He’s long gone now. “Adios Muchachos” his last work, and so are the fruit trees, mint and dandelion he’d harvest in his front and back yards. The place is now boarded up, abandoned, foreclosed upon. The bronze plaque that marked this place as the last Fresno home of our greatest native son is now gone, too, stolen by someone who surely never read the books whose titles were carved into that bronze.
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Wasn’t it enough that we had already torn down the house of his childhood and dismantled the museum exhibit of his life? I lingered on the front dirt for a few minutes and then drove home thinking a silly thought: Wouldn’t it be something if we lived in a town where a little shame could spark a movement to restore this house and turn it into a museum?
And perhaps a wealthy Armenian or two whose property extends to palaces north and slums south might underwrite the whole thing? Or maybe one of those almond kings dumping a million dollars into a hole in the ground? Or, better yet, maybe a little from all of us. Because the house, and its history, belong to us.
Mark Arax, author of “West of the West,” is working on a book about California’s water wars to be published by Knopf.