I’ve extracted every last penny from various bank accounts, pleaded with relatives to float me loans, looked under every cushion for stray nickels and dimes, and signed over virtually everything but my first born. All for the privilege of going home again.
Lucky me. It’s taken a lot of effort just to move to the Valley – to move back to the Valley, actually. Like many folks my age, I smelled the blood of a severely wounded economy and felt the urge to pounce, since I’m among the proud and few of my peers with an actual full-time job. So I ventured into a place I’ve only known for brief snippets of my life, the land of home ownership. Which, in turn took me to the area closest to the city that I could afford.
But I’m not quite sure if it’s success or failure to snag property in a community called Valley Glen, a moniker that didn’t exist in the days when I was a functional Valley Boy. (It was simply Van Nuys back then). I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s – when ’65 Mustangs, mullets and Pat Travers were things to be worshipped. I hung with heshers and pounded beer bongs. I knew every liquor store that would sell a 16-year-old a bottle of Bacardi or a sixer of Michelob on a Friday night. The word hurl had yet to enter the vernacular. (Blowing chunks was the description of the moment for the act of vomiting, which, by the way, was a common occurence in and around cars – usually, hopefully, out windows while speeding down the 405. Sometimes, unfortunately, hoods would be baptized by the aforementioned chunks).
I left the Valley in 1982 in a Camaro, a wizened kid who knew better than ever return. After detours in Berkeley, Long Beach, Ann Arbor, New York and L.A. proper, I’ve come back in a Volvo wagon with a wife, one-year-old son, and two cats, lured by the prospect of maximum bang for my limited buck and logistical proximity to the mother-in-law. What could I do? I had to become a responsible adult some time, and shrinking interest rates told me that time was now.
I’m trying to embrace my Valleyness, though I nevertheless feel a sense of uneasiness, as if my memories are mocking me behind my back. It’s difficult enough to live and work in L.A. yet hail from the Valley. In a self-deprecating way, it was a source of pride when surrounded by the usual plethora of out-of-towners, like – can you believe it, someone from the Valley can talk and chew gum simultaneously and also not say, “then he went, oh my god, and then, I went, like, I’m so sure.” Then I find out that everyone does time in the Valley, usually when they arrive from Virginia, North Carolina, or Kansas.
And as much as I try to run and hide, so much of my identity is wrapped up in this place. Streets like Nordhoff, Roscoe, Van Nuys and Devonshire are where I took my youthful piss and left my mark. I can trick myself into believing I’m anywhere when I turn up my tranquil tree-lined street. It’s a real neighborhood where I need to find my place and space. But I only need to make a left turn down Vanowen to realize that the Valley is still the Valley – islands of tranquility amid oceans of blight.
The region to which I’m relocating is only vaguely recognizable from what I remember. From the outside, the middle-class nuclear aerospace families have given way to something more gritty and diverse. But from the inside, time stood still. I moved into your typical ranch house, which had sheltered a Jewish family. It was the kind of place, when I was a kid, I could only dream of living in. The house was musky with deep roots, where the kids grew up and out, where mom and dad grew old, and finally, the house outlasted its usefulness. When I previously lived in the Valley, I shuttled from apartment to apartment, never staying in one place long enough to feel a part of the community.
With its brown shag carpet, long, darkening drapes and tacky ceiling fans, wallpaper, and chandeliers, and a giant oil painting of what I assume was the family matriarch, this was a house I could have visited in 1978. The challenge is to create memories, my own sense of history, to leave that kind of mark.