Tarzana Is My Heroine

a poet considers the imaginary and reality of Tarzana


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The ‘Marquis de Sod’

Who better to ‘do’ your lawn in the Valley than the Marquis de Sod?

I do love me a good pun . . . . !

(in Tarzana, near Ventura x Nestle)

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Vintage Signage, Sherman Oaks

I was driving down Ventura the other day and caught sight of a great vintage sign, for Handy J car wash, near the intersection of Ventura Blvd. and Moorpark St. (www.handy-j-carwash.com)

I’d already driven past the last parking spot, so I had to go around the block and come back to get a better look at the sign that stood out against a backdrop of spare Washington palms and bright fall sky.

After I parked, I started walking up and down the sidewalk looking at and photographing the Handy J sign from different angles. Then I also noticed a gas station-turned-flower shop, which you see in the first photo.

My last photo was of a stylish woman I saw coming toward me down the sidewalk. She was unaware that–from my angle–a woman from a Kubrick film still (http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/stanley-kubrick) appeared to be watching her too.

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from Big Sky to “No Sky”

Here is an evocative poem by LA poet Martha Ronk on landscape and the work of the artist (and she comments on the work of the poet too as being “to suggest order” while “making things appear . . . the way they do in normal vision.”)

I don’t know which of Adams’ many austere but beautiful images of L.A. and environs Ronk’s poem below refers to. However, I think this particular image Adams made of the San Timoteo Canyon on the outskirts of Redlands, where I grew up, echoes the description of the landscape and evokes the feeling-tone of the poem.

Robert Adams, San Timoteo Canyon.
From California: Views

No Sky

after Robert Adams’s California: Views

No sky                a gray backdrop merely and absence
and below: the scraggle of dusty fronds, the scrub oak and scrub jay
whose abrasive noises sharpen in response.

Shadows proliferate in deep furrows                no sky above
merely a scrim registering conical thrusts, a heightened flurry &
outlines of branches, the dead ones slowly petering out.

magnificent ruin       the cut through the field       blasted chaparral

As I understand my job, it is, while suggesting order, to make things appear as
much as possible to be the way they are in normal vision. . . . 

Go to http://poems.com/poem.php?date=15663 to read the entire poem.

[Poem originally published in the Boston Review (Nov/Dec. ’12)]


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Something Rotten In Encino

One of my friends, someone very interested in Valley civics, pointed out that it would be cool if I talked about community issues on my blog sometimes.

She mentioned the Encino Neighborhood Council elections, for one thing–how the voting process seemed mysterious, etc.–and that even she only found out about the election the day before it happened.

And I said, “What neighborhood council?” Meaning that Encino, to me, is some vague area around Ventura Blvd. between the Galleria and White Oak Ave. Other than that, Encino is where my house is.

“I’ve never thought of it as an actual town,” I said.

“Exactly,” she said.

So the doings of the Encino–or any other Valley Neighborhood Council–are way off my radar (though I did attend a small, private gathering with Congressman Howard Berman before the Nov. 6 election).

But the photos below show something that *is* on my radar and has been for 12 years, but I guess I never thought there was any local city entity to appeal to because I don’t have a sense of who or what is responsible for my community.

What is on my radar is this suppurating eyesore on Louise Ave.

It must be some perverse kind of Fountain of Youth, because I’m pretty sure it’s been oozing like this since I moved here in 2000!

You can tell where the water is leaking from the otherworldly color of the fetid algae. Look at how the light-post base is corroding.

Maybe the city agency responsible (identified in photo #2 as the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works) will come fix it someday soon?

Now that I’m thinking about it, there must be some number–like the LA City number where you report potholes–to call. I just haven’t bothered to do it, because I’ve been an apathetic citizen of ?? …. Encino, er, Los Angeles.

Now you see a more tangible reason why I’m confused about Encino-as-a-town: L.A. seems to be responsible for fixing this Encino street. So I live in Encino, but get my city services from LA.?

Got it.

Well, I hope LA Street Services finds time to come and fix this. Especially because their sister agency, the Dept. of Water and Power, is intermittently threatening to bust anyone caught watering on the wrong day.

How about they bust LA Public Works for this12-year-old leak and counting?

I do have to admit that the burnt orange color is pretty awesome, but still!

Having written this, I went and googled the Encino Neighborhood Council. There is one, and they have meetings every 4th Wednesday of the month. The election my friend was referring to happened September 29, though it does look like it was announced in July–but maybe only on the Council’s own website. Here is the website: www.encinonc.com.

Now I have a place to go with my complaint about the oozing water leak, though for all I know, people may have been trying to get this fixed for years!

But somehow that seems unlikely.


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Tarzana Is My Inner Life

The other night I dreamed of my parents. They were younger—like in the family photos from the 1940s and 50s that I’d been sorting through the day before.

In the dream, my mother had a Solomonic question for my dad. It was like Penelope putting Odysseus to the test—to prove his mettle or his knowledge of her. This was a step too far, on the dream’s part, since it was my mother who lost her memory to Alzheimer’s, not my dad.

Mom posed her question. In the dream, I turned to listen for my father’s answer. I’ve forgotten the question, but he answered it, and she approved his answer with a nod of her perfectly coiffed head.

(Oh that Grace Kelly hair and the beautiful face she had!)

This dream is a snapshot of my (symbolic) childhood family, where I am the wayward, but knowing daughter, except there’s the absurdity that I’m the age I am now–older than they are–in the dream.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

I found this poem by Gottfried Benn in Poetry magazine after waking from this dream when our beagle barked to get out and I couldn’t back to sleep:

“One says: please no inner life,

manners by all means, but nothing affective,

that’s no compensation

for the insufferable

difficulties of outward-directed expression—

those cerebralized

city-Styxes.”

I’m not sure what “city-Styxes” are, and I bet neither did Mr. Benn or Michael Hoffman, who translated it from the German. But we know immediately that it’s a heck of a portmanteau word that carries the extroversion of a city to hell in a handbasket. It’s also a clever half-rhyme in the English.

My mother, in her more righteous moments, would have quoted the line, “Please no inner life,/manners by all means . . .” when she was reminding herself or me to stay on the straight and narrow.

She wouldn’t advocate manners above inner truth because she disdained the inner life, she didn’t; that’s where she truly bloomed. She would have done it because “the insufferable/difficulties of outward-directed expression” made it hard for her to reconcile the contradictory claims of her inner and outer lives. At least that’s what I think, and I am the only one left to think about it.

Meanwhile, my father was an actual hick from actual sticks who rode a horse three miles to a one-room schoolhouse up through eighth grade. He was poor enough that he sometimes held up his “britches” with twine, and they never had store-bought anything. This was in Holt County, Nebraska, 12 miles from O’Neill, the nearest town.

It was his uncommon good looks that took the sticks out of him—he looked like a Cary Grant or Gregory Peck, with black hair and green eyes. I should find a picture and insert it here. . . .

My mother, for her part, had the looks, wardrobe, and figure of a Gabor sister, but with creativity and smarts to burn that weren’t called for often enough. It was because of dad’s looks that she first went out with him. After they were married, they were called “The Hollywood Couple” back in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she taught college English while he finished his degree at Andrews University. We’re talking 1952 here.

“the contraries are not easy to reconcile

but when you survey the provinces

the inner life

has it by a neck.”

                                   —Gottfried Benn

Tarzana, the town where they both died, is the “provinces” and a “city-Styx”—not so much a place reconciling the “contraries,” but yes, a portmanteau, hodge-podge place. The inner life can be a distraction here, though it may be the best thing going for us, as Benn states.

Are we hicks or are we mythic?

Yes.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

In 1931, Dad stands up on the saddle on his horse Gyp and gallops the last 100 yards to school to show off. He’s 11 and doesn’t know till he’s almost grown that his father has followed behind him on horseback most every day to be sure he doesn’t get lost in a snowbank or a dust wallow (depending on the season).

And you thought ‘helicopter parenting’ started 10 years ago!

That was my dad’s Great Depression. That and leaving one Adventist boarding school in Nebraska after his first two years of high school for another farther away in South Dakota because the tuition there was $10 a month cheaper and you could pay your bill in corn or cattle. And his Great Depression was that drought year when the hundred acres of corn they’d planted yielded just one “mess of roasting ears.”

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

My mother’s father, William, was a streetcar conductor in Minneapolis and her mother was a seamstress. They went downtown and had store-bought ice cream as a treat on Sundays. That was an unthinkable luxury to my dad and his family.

These city-and-country contraries did not easily yoke together. Ironically, it was dad who was easy with all “outward-directed expression”—teaching, lecturing, telling jokes at dinner, or emceeing a church program. Mom organized things behind the scenes, wrote the annual Christmas letter, and read the books he then talked about.

Later dad was like Charon the underworld boatman, keeping my mother out of the undertow of her inner life, which came to revolve around a fear that someone was stealing her clothes from our house. But all the while he was taking her farther under.

Eventually her memory, and with it the paranoia, got leached away by the Alzheimer’s. Dad lost his keen sense of direction and his sense of humor to dementia, and there were no inner or outer lives to negotiate anymore.

Solomon, here is my question: Which life is the greater, the inner or the outer?

Yes.


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Garden Graffiti At The Tokyo Princess Inn

Front of the Tokyo Princess Inn

According to the Inn’s website, it was once operated by John Wayne (before he was a big star) and is “a surreal experience.” Their words! The faux-Japanese-themed hotel has fifteen rooms, available by the day or for extended stays. It does not give any hourly rates, just fyi. (www.tokyoprincessinn.com)

However, if you want to learn a little more about Encino’s no-tell motels and local resident Clark Gable’s apparent use of them for afternoon rendezvous, see Hal Lifson’s article in the Encino-Tarzana Patch (encino.patch.com/articles/encino-s-vintage-no-tell-motels-of-the-1950-s)

English: Frame from the trailer for MGM's 1947...

From the trailer for MGM’s 1947 film The Hucksters showing Clark Gable cuddling with Ava Gardner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was walking by the Tokyo Princess recently, I found these two graffiti tags along the sidewalk, at the border of its garden.

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Perhaps the tags are to be read as faux kanji, in this context. I rather like the second one–which, if you think about it, takes a mini pagoda roof and makes it a blazing billboard advertising a tagger. What the tag is? — no idea. Anybody?