Chatsworth: Land of Opportunity


I owe it all to Chatsworth. Really, the main reason I’m here in Valley Glen right now is because of an April morning in 2001, when I was rapidly approaching broke, staring down the barrel of an expensive wedding, and running out of old crap I could care less about to sell on eBay. I needed a job, so I came to Chatsworth, land of opportunity.

The drive from my home in Hancock Park “adjacent” to the Valley’s nether regions seemed to take forever. Up past the Ford Theater to the 101 to the 170 and a left turn at the 118, before exiting at DeSoto Avenue. I was early for my appointment, so I pulled over a few blocks from my final destination, near the corner of DeSoto and Nordhoff.

Sitting in my car, it all came rushing back, and I started to feel the ghosts. Over there was The Lamplighter, the very place where my mom’s second husband began an affair that would lead to my mom’s second divorce. He was working the night shift at an aerospace company and The Lamplighter, apparently, was where the nightshift gang hung out. Weird, I thought, I’d never been inside The Lamplighter.

Turns out, that very divorce sent my mother and I into a brief but strange residency in Chatsworth. We were out of money, so we crashed in a condo that already sheltered mom’s best friend and her son, daughter, and current lover. The condo was centrally located -- a half block from Chatsworth Park and about a mile from the remains of the Spahn Ranch, the Manson Family hideout that burned to the ground in 1970, four years before I got there. Before the end of that school year, I’d developed a full-blown Manson obsession – my fifth-grade teacher was not happy that I did a book report on Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter.

I was clueless and 10, so I thought it was all fun. Being around other kids softened the transition into a fatherless life. I had no clue my mom immersed in her Valley of the Dolls pill-gobbling period. Needless to say, she had less fun than I did, and we were out of there within two months, back to an apartment in Sepulveda, on Langdon Avenue.

I enjoyed my brief enrollment at the quaint, old-fashioned Chatsworth Park Elementary School. I even managed to write my very long name on fresh wet cement outside the school, on Topanga Canyon Boulevard just north of Devonshire. Last time I checked, it was still there, nearly 30 years later.

Anyway, I slowly made my way toward my job interview, down a small street full of bland, anonymous office parks, I got the job, and for a year I made a daily pilgrimage to Chatsworth, to ply my trade as a magazine editor in the adult industry.

Sex, of course, is the bread and butter of “Porn Valley,” yet I never saw overt signs of smut in Chatsworth. Rarely, even, in my own office. Reviewers sat in toilet-stall-like cubes and wore headphones, so it was almost like a library in there.

I made the best of my year in the skin trade. I hung at Chatsworth Park and Stoney Point; grabbed burgers at the Munch Box; and beers at Los Toros. I cruised down Topanga Canyon, remembering the Boogie Nights days when stereo shops (Pacific, Federated, University) populated every corner. All these years later, Chatsworth is still different from the rest of the Valley; still dusty, remote and hickish, rural without being suburban.

Of course, a year after my commute to Chatsworth ended, the prodigal son made a beeline for the promised land. So thanks, Chatsworth, for helping soften the blow and allowing me to really love the Valley for the first time.

*******

I was driving on the 101 at the southwestern edge of the Valley last weekend and spotted a big, fat, obnoxious billboard with a message from my friends at Clear Channel. It said, simply, “In God We Trust. United We Stand.” To Clear Channel, I say, simply: Fuck you, Clear Channel, and your God. Please stop polluting the landscape with your arrogant moral majority propaganda.

Tellingly, this billboard can only be viewed by those speeding into Whiteyville – Ventura County -- but not by those coming into the Valley. Preaching to the converted, eh? Maybe your mind control may work on those worker bees in Newbury Park, Calabasas, and Westlake Village, but it won’t work on me.