Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dahlia: Ramona Boulevard

"Ramona Sprague forked herself a small mouthful of food, chewed it daintily and said, "Did you know that Ramona Boulevard was named after me, Mr. Bleichert?"

The woman's out-of-kilter face congealed around the words; she spoke them with a strange dignity. "No, Mrs. Sprague, I didn't know that. I thought it was named after the Ramona Pageant."

"I was named after the pageant," she said. "When Emmett married me for my father's money he promised my family that he would use his influence with the City Zoning Board to have a street named after me, since all his money was tied up in real estate and he couldn't afford to buy me a wedding ring. Father assumed it would be a nice residential street, but all Emmett could manage was a dead-end block in a red light district in Lincoln Heights. Are you familiar with the neighborhood, Mr. Bleichert?" Now the doormat's voice held an edge of fury.
"I grew up there," I said.
"Then you know that Mexican prostitutes expose themselves out of windows to attract customers. Well, after Emmett succeeded in getting Rosalinda Street changed to Ramona Boulevard he took me for a little tour there. The prostitutes greeted him by name. Some even had anatomical nicknames for him. It made me very sad and very hurt, but I bided my time and got even. When the girls were small I directed my own little pageants, right outside on our front lawn. I used the neighbor's children as extras and reenacted episodes out of Mr. Sprague's past that he would rather forget. That he would-" pp 131-132

While Mrs. Sprague seems to be proud of "her" boulevard, she continues, clearly resentful of the location of her boulevard as well as the circumstances that brought about the street's name change.
The notion that Rosalinda Street could be transformed into Ramona Boulevard attests to the transience of geography and of the labeling of locations and neighborhoods. In lieu of a wedding ring and lacking financial resources, Emmett creates a business transaction based on the "worth" of having your "own" boulevard. His powers are limited to naming zones but he is able to use his position of influence in the development of Los Angeles to replace or reconstruct himself in terms of his financial and social position. That the naming of the boulevard for his intended wife is equivalent to buying her a proper wedding ring and conributing financially to the marriage is a clear example of the increasing interest in the labeling of this ever-changing city. Nothing is built for Ramona, as she simply associates herself with the existing street by name. This "gift" is only recognizable to those already informed of the connection between Mrs. Sprague and the boulevard. For the vast majority of people living in and navigating through Los Angeles, Ramona Boulevard is just another name without any connotations.
The lack of personal attachment between the person and the boulevard highlights the mutability of the map of LA, in that names can be changed but underneath, the streets are still the same and they will persist through any number of name changes in the future. There is little room for personal interaction with LA on any lasting or significant level.
Furthermore, Mrs. Sprague indicates that the location of her boulevard insults and hurts her, as she notices the Mexican prostitutes who know her husband by name. This is a neighborhood she would never frequent and yet her husband has grafted her name onto it. The ease with which this grafting occurs is striking for its association between class and location, name and place. If Ramona Boulevard so swiftly and clearly connects Mrs. Sprague with an entirely different socioeconomic and geographic area, the reverse may also be true. Names of locations and identities of neighborhoods are easily shifted and can be revised. There is no permanence offered by naming a street for someone in a city that is constantly growing and adding or subtracting layers of its landscape and by extension, is revising its identity.

No comments: