Daniel Pearl the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, was a son of the San Fernando Valley. So too is Gregory Orfalea, the author of this year’s The Arab Americans: A History, described as “a landmark in the multicultural history of America.” Orfalea is a professor of creative writing at Pitzer College and he was inspired by Pearl’s death to submit “Valley Boys” to the Michigan Quarterly Review. Here are some excerpts with observations on the Valley that rank with the truest I’ve had the pleasure to read:
I am an American writer with Arab roots; Daniel Pearl was an American writer with Jewish roots. We both grew up in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. Knowing that one fact tells me something about him.Dan Pearl lived in Encino and went to Birmingham High School at Victory and Balboa; I lived next door in Tarzana and went to Crespi Carmelite High School at Ventura and White Oak, less than a mile away. I did not know him, but I know him.
I know that because he grew up in Encino he loved oak trees, not the pin oaks on the East that stand straight and tall and have little, sharp leaves, but what we call—we, being Daniel and I—live oaks, trees that sport a gnarly, sprawling set of branches that smell of Italian pasta, many so low to the ground that a boy can haul himself up into and perch in them on a summer day, and eat a banana or drink an Orange Julius purchased on ‘the boulevard’ (Ventura Boulevard, the street of our youth.)…
I’m not sure of the exact location of Daniel Pearl’s family home, but I’ll bet that on many a day he drove his bicycle past the huge live oak no one—not even California suburbanites—would remove from the middle of the street on Louise Avenue as it flows into the hills….
I know Daniel Pearl because I went to his school’s famous dances…Birmingham High School had a reputation for getting the great bands of L.A. to perform live. Could this be where he got his love of music?…Birmingham drew such bands as the Seeds, the Doors in their infancy, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Birmingham also had something we never had: girls that looked like girls, in fact, looked better than girls, looked like women. They wore spangled mini-skirts and we Crespi boys would pay our lucre at the door and spend hours working up the nerve to ask one of those dark angels to do the Mashed Potato or the Surfer Stomp.
I know, or surmise, that Daniel, like me, had his heart broken in the Valley as teenagers have their hearts broken in valleys everywhere, but never so much as in this Valley with its long boulevards of endless shops that faced each other like a phalanx of longing in the implacable sun. It was not a place for someone with a brain. Or a particularly deep heart.
But it had its secret orange grove—Bothwell’s below the hill on the Tarzana-Woodland Hills border—and Daniel and I furtively scouted it. Daniel and I stole oranges, because that was one of the secret pleasures of a place overrun with oranges…
I am sure Daniel loved the seashore. There was nothing like driving there on a Saturday over Malibu Canyon, inhaling all the sage and rosemary, your hands out the window, your voice wailing about “Dirty Water” (Boston) or some guy named Louie, until you saw, in the dip of hills, that blue egg of the ocean.
I did not not know Daniel Pearl but I know him. And I know the people who killed did not know him. Those who did this horrible thing do not know oranges or oaks, Encino or Tarzana; they do not know what America is or can be.
I wonder if the author is related to Paul Orfalea, who got kicked out of several San Fernando Valley high schools before founding Kinko’s.
• • •
“If there is a river within 1000 miles of Riverside Drive, I never saw it. It’s like everything else out here: Endless scorched boulevards, lined with one-story stores, shops, bowling alleys, skating rinks, tacos drive-ins, all of them shaped not like rectangles but like trapezoids…”
——Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, 1965