Tarzana Is My Heroine

a poet considers the imaginary and reality of Tarzana

About: Why Tarzana?

So why Tarzana in the title of this blog? Why not “Valley Dolls? or “Ventura Corridor” or “In The 818”?

I’m a native Californian who’s lived in the Valley for 12 years now. We all know the Valley has a lousy reputation (among Angelenos). It is an unlikely place. It can feel as if the shops, fast-food joints, and even the people are provisional–yes, like props and sets. I don’t think that’s just me.

But at some point, you either acknowledge you really live here, or you live provisionally–always planning a better, idyllic future. Of course that’s not just in the Valley, it’s everyone’s challenge. Now that I really look at where I live–in Encino, close to Ventura Blvd., not far from the 101/405 junction–I see a lot to appreciate, but it’s because I’m really looking now. I wasn’t looking before.

When my father and mother (both born in the Midwest) died in Tarzana, I started to admit that I really live here. I sat by their deathbeds in Tarzana. Because of some twist of zoning and economics I intend to understand, Tarzana is full of convalescent hospitals, adult day care centers, and board-and-care homes: end of the road.

Tarzana is an indelible part of my family story now, just like my childhood home in Redlands is; or Shady Lane Ranch in Nebraska, where my father grew up; or 2323 Johnson St. in Minneapolis, where my mom was born.

Because I kept asking “Why Tarzana?”, I’ve been writing nonfiction pieces with the title, “Tarzana is . . .” and filling in the blank [Tarzana is my wild girl, a kewpie doll, a junkyard dog, a bad divorce, and etc.]. I keep trying to fill in that blank, trying to answer the question, How did my parents end up dying here?

It’s a question with no answer. It’s like asking, “Why did they die?” or “Why is there death?”

I do have one definitive answer now to the question, “Why Tarzana?”–Tarzana Is My Requiem.

Meanwhile, I drive Ventura Blvd. and go out and about in the Valley every day. I look at things with a poet’s eye and mull over what I see. I take photos. I make notes. I like documenting everyday parts of the Valley as well as thinking about its whys and what-fors. I’m interested in the cafes, the scenic and freaky landscapes, the cool and fusty shops, the quirky signs.

Tarzana (the very idea of it) is tacky, optimistic, and god, just ridiculous enough to be a good-enough microcosm of the Valley. Do I need to point out that the name Tarzana is the feminine of Tarzan? This B-movie and pulp-fiction pedigree can make Tarzana seem like a 70s sitcom (“Married With Children,” maybe) that went to reruns, butnever got cancelled.

It is so echt-California that Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of Tarzan of the Apes, founded a town as a utopia project! Or was it just a business venture? Tarzana has become a pulp and porn town, a middle-brow suburb, a utopia gone to seed, a tear-down-and-build ‘burb, and also civic-minded. Have I mentioned that Burroughs left Tarzana and later moved to Encino and died there? There goes another unanswerable “What the heck!” question.

What is Tarzana? I’m not sure, but Tarzana Is My Heroine.


Header image credit: Jose Antonio Aguirre

See the whole mural above the escalator entrance to the Tarzana Whole Foods parking structure.                                                                      For more info on the artist, see: http://www.urbanartcommission.org/artists/jose-antonio-aguirre/


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