Tarzana Is My Heroine

a poet considers the imaginary and reality of Tarzana

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Tarzana Is My Palimpsest

Since my mother died five years ago January, I’ve criss-crossed Tarzana scores of times. If my car had left marks (like lain rubber), the town would be a Pollock of lines, angles, and loops everywhere I’ve driven.

If my tires had been dipped in paint, the town could in fact be painted red, with the red and black lines all tangled up.


Tarzana Is My Palimpsest

Tarzana Is My Palimpsest (Coco Owen)



The vectors and loops I’ve driven add texture and depth–but they write over that page recording my mother’s last illness, which began Christmas Day of 2007 and ended when she died less than a month later.

The day she died was one of those freakishly unseasonable winter days. The gas-jet blue January sky was unclouded. After she was gone, something like a film of plastic fell over the board-and-care home and over her room, where I stayed with her body until the mortuary people came.

Once I stopped crying all the time, went out for groceries, cooked dinner, and paid the bills again, I started to make tracks up and down Ventura Boulevard as I retraced the page recording her death. Imagine my car as a huge paintbrush, as

I drove

south on Mecca, west on Wells

north on Corbin, east on Burbank

south on Lindley, west on Oxnard

south on Wilbur, east on Ventura

& up Nestle past Palora

to _________  [unspeakable street ]

where she died.

I started rewriting the story of my life by reviewing her life-story. Her life and her death starred in an elegiac group of poems I wrote, because I could keep her alive there–if only in the past tense.

[She wouldn’t like that I’m writing about her.]

I write about Tarzana, though the errands I run, the walks I take, the bike rides, further obscure that page in my mind that recorded her death. It’s become a palimpsest text–layers and layers of posthumous scribble.


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Aloha, Tarzana

I found another ad for the Los Angeles Steamship Company I wrote about in the previous post

Hawaii ad

I surprised myself when I wrote “Aloha, Tarzana”, because Tarzana, and the Valley in general, seem far from the Land of Aloha. Malibu maybe seems closer, but the Valley? But I’ve found some more images showing the connection between the founder of Tarzana and the Islands, meaning that Burroughs went to Hawai’i, but he sent Aloha back!

Here is Edgar Rice Burroughs (from the back) at Pearl Harbor

ERB at Pearl Harbor

ERB at Pearl Harbor


I also discovered, looking through an online Burroughs archives, that he had gone to Hawaii on the Matson steamer, Lurline, in 1935. That was five years before he moved there for a few years in 1940. I also saw, from that collection of letters (www.angelfire.com/trek/erbzine22/erbz1049.html), that he stayed first in Lanikai–a beautiful neighborhood and beach on O’ahu–, then apparently moved to Kapiolani Blvd. in Honolulu, near Waikiki.

Here are a couple of images of Lanikai Beach, on the Windward side of O’ahu.

Lanikai Beach - Saturday morning around 8am

Lanikai Beach – Saturday morning around 8am (Photo credit: ShaneRobinson)

English: Sida fallax (habit and view Mokuluas)...

English: Sida fallax (habit and view Mokuluas). Location: Oahu, Lanikai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now here is an even weirder tidbit I found alleging to recount a conversation about Burroughs between two soldiers on O’ahu:

Burroughs was became the topic of conversation between Jim Petersonand a major who was a Burroughs fanatic, while the two were preparing to defend the Kolekole Pass at the Waianae Range. Peterson doubted Tarzan of the Apes would be able to navigate the difficult terrain of the Waianae Range. The major went into a lengthy and unavoidable speech about Tarzan – telling Peterson Tarzan had “got around a lot” in his many adventures – before going on to John Carter on Mars, Carson Napier on Venus, and then Burroughs himself. When learning the author had spent a good deal of time on Oahu, Peterson wondered if Burroughs’ stay was a way to get away from his eager fans.


I’m still looking for a photo I saw showing a group of Hawaiian musicians playing for an event at Burroughs’ estate in Tarzana, but haven’t found it yet. I’ll post it when I do!

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L.A. – Honolulu

I’m vacationing on Maui at the moment and saw this card with an image of a vintage poster advertising the L.A. – Honolulu steamer. At the bottom it says Los Angeles Steamship Company.


I didn’t realize there was a steamer line out of L.A., though early travel between the mainland and the islands was obviously by ship. The first two ships for the L.A. line — “The City of Los Angeles” and “The City of Honolulu” — were repurposed German vessels captured during WWI. The first ship left L.A. harbor in 1922.

Here’s an article about the steamship company:


Later, Edgar Rice Burroughs–creator of Tarzan and founder of Tarzana–had sold his ranch and moved to Hawaii with his second wife–though she soon left him and returned to the Mainland.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked in ’41, Burroughs was playing tennis with his son at one of the hotels. No one took the antiaircraft gun noise they were hearing as anything more than an exercise at first.

Burroughs’ nonchalant description of that day led to him becoming a columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and he went on to work as a war correspondent from the Pacific.

Read more about his wartime writing from Hawaii here:


and here, in this chapter excerpt from the book Tarzan Forever: A Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan:


Here is a photo of Burroughs either leaving Hawaii or arriving by steamer (see all the leis).


I saw a photo on the ERB, Inc. site that showed Hawaiian musicians performing at Burroughs’ ranch in Tarzana. That must have been before he moved to Hawaii in 1940, since he had sold the ranch before he did that. So did he already know some Hawaiians? Had he already visited Hawaii or learned about Hawaiian music and culture?

I’ll do some more sleuthing in the ERB archives and see if I can find that photo again and some more background. When I do, I’ll post it!

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How Much Espresso Is Too Much Espresso?

A modern espresso machine

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was behind a young teenager, maybe 15, at Starbucks the other day who ordered a drink with 12 shots of espresso. The barista, who told him she’d worked at Starbucks for many years, and the other baristas as well, said that no one has ever ordered that many shots, and did he really think that was a good idea?

While I was waiting with him at the counter for our drinks, I tried subtly to talk him out of it too. But he said that he and his friends are “into pushing the limits on things” and that (if I understood right), he had fun memories of once drinking that many shots with friends a few years back. I’m not clear on whether he drank 12 shots himself, or the group shared them. I suggested that was a shitload of caffeine and he might want to monitor his pulse as he was drinking it, just as a little scientific experiment (meaning that he should stop if his heart started racing!).

English: Chemical structure of Caffeine. Franç...

Chemical structure of Caffeine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then he took his drink and left.

I got on my phone and looked up Caffeine Intoxication (yes, it’s in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV, or DSM). [See this link for more info: http://behavenet.com/caffeine-intoxication.] The DSM says that 250 mgs., approximately 2-3 cups of brewed coffee, is enough to cause unpleasant anxiety-like side effects such as flushing and heart palpitations.

My wife reading in bed. And it wasn't because ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the figures for average amount of caffeine in a Starbucks solo espresso (75mg.), 12 shots would deliver roughly 900 mgs. of caffeine. Here’s a chart showing the amounts of caffeine in Starbucks drinks: http://www.energyfiend.com/the-complete-guide-to-starbucks-caffeine.

And here’s a post by someone who decided to see what was the most expensive drink he could concoct (it had 1,400 mgs. of caffeine!), but he had sense not to drink it! http://nacgeek.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/23-60-the-most-expensive-starbucks-drink-possible-in-the-world/

I talked to the shift supervisor after I found this info and asked her if Starbucks has any guidelines around how much caffeine can be sold (and to a minor), and they don’t, really. She had it hadn’t ever come up as an issue. She said the teens from the nearby middle school who come in usually order something like a Frappuccino, so I assume they’re more into the sugar than the caffeine.

As the blog Grub With Us notes about Frappuccinos in a funny post, “What Your Starbucks Drink Says About You”:


Coffee gurus don’t order these unless hell froze over and Starbucks ran out of iced lattes. The customer who orders this is probably young, goes to Sweet Valley High School, and is “shopping” at the mall with all of her teenage friends with a phone more expensive than mine and a $20 bill they got in a birthday card. You order a frappuccino because it sounds pretty and reminds you of something you might drink in Paris one day, or to impress your friends with your extensive, worldly knowledge. http://blog.grubwithus.com/what-your-starbucks-drink-says-about-you/

I suggested she might raise the issue with management, because it’s come up now. Not that I think cafes should have to regulate espresso shots, or that there should be a legal drinking age for coffee, but . . . on the other hand, 12 shots for one person–especially a teen–just seems wrong somehow!

Any thoughts?

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Tarzana Is What Paradise?


Tarzana Is What Paradise?

It is a finite neon thing;
A flame-out orange & spiky thing.
I think it is a final thing
I’m coming to understand.


Paradise, acetylene torch,
Lights us up but casts a shadow


Taking the shape of possible fates
Unrecognized as our own doing.


Tarzana is a paradise
Of Canada geese & lost dogs.
It is jungle-fevered profit made
Off twice-removed celebrity.


What paradise has lost its birds?
Has busy streets, but empty stores;
Not enough parks? These late fall
Days bring forth something amazing,


Something I didn’t realize before:
Birds-of-paradise die. Fall will
Come for what’s ready and what’s not,
For the citrus and the root crops.


It comes to the year-round summer
Spoiling us for anywhere else.
Our heaven is a tropical
Bloom wilting in the desert weather


Of someone’s paradise idea.
Whoever planted these flowers
Forgot they die. So did I.
Tarzana is my told-you-so.

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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


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?


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

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?