Adjacent to the upscale neighborhood of Woodland Hills where newly constructed homes are often used for filming pornography, you will find the less upscale neighborhood of Canoga Park where post-war constructed homes are often used for watching pornography.
From my home office in Encino, I travel to this remote area of the Valley via freeway, a short seven-mile trip that takes slightly under 90 minutes. Passing streets like "Loma Verde" and "El Rancho" reminds me of this neighborhood's agricultural roots. And passing a street called "Owensmouth" makes me wonder if anyone's said, "I'd sure like to park my Honda on Owensmouth," or "Owensmouth smells like bum sweat and baby diapers." I'm certainly glad my name isn't Owen. And I'm glad I don't live on Owensmouth. It smells like bum sweat and baby diapers.
The town's center has that quaint sense of "Anyplace, USA" that is often confused with "No Place, USA." There is a bank and a hardware store along with several antique stores--or perhaps they are regular stores that are just very slow to update their inventory. I recall being told once that you must slow down to really enjoy life. However, spending only a short time in this area provides ample evidence to the contrary: being slow doesn't make life any more enjoyable.
I arrived in the morning, allowing myself several hours to explore the town, a timeframe that was feeling less like a window and more like something that shouldn't be attempted unless it was intended to raise money to help stroke victims or win a Nintendo Wii. Nevertheless, there is one legendary sight that I am anxious to see. Though the area is absent of any historical markers, Canoga Park is the home of a unique geographic occurrence: Standing on the corner of Sherman Way and Desoto, you can walk three miles in any direction and end up at a Target.
The "Target Effect" was originally discovered by a Scientologist missionary who later gained prominence with a co-starring role on Two and a Half Men. Unfortunately, the effect only occurs between 10:15 and 10:34am due to the recent countywide synchronization of traffic signals. So, while I waited, I decided to partake in a favorite local pastime, browsing through dirty magazines at the 7-11 until the clerk yells at you.
I thumbed through an erotic pictorial featuring a male and female astronaut joining the 3,000 mile-high club while they began what NASA might call a docking maneuver. Behind me, the Slurpee machine worked overtime to pump its green sludge into a local woman's 64-ounce NASCAR-themed reservoir, a slow but steady process that lasted about as long as it might take to fill a 10-passenger van with gas before the weekend church retreat. I could sense there was something different about this local woman and her iced beverage, but it only revealed itself when she made a sharp left at the nacho fixin' bar and I could see her in profile: she had no teeth.
The significance of this hit me like a family sized pack of frozen burritos. This is how the Slurpee was originally intended--for one who slurps. Watching a toothless woman drink a Slurpee was like seeing a zoo animal in the wild for the first time: I didn't know
whether to take a picture or bag her and mount her over my fireplace.
After the clerk yelled at me for loitering near the dirty magazines, I left the store with a mix of shame and exhilaration that one only gets from a few hours in Canoga Park. And as I stood on Sherman Way and watched twelve traffic signals turn green at exactly 10:23, I felt the same way those first Scientologist missionary must have felt so many years earlier, wondering aloud "I wonder if I would have been happier if I'd never left Connecticut."