There's something a little off about this place, something not quite right, although Nora Bedrossian can't quite put her finger on it.
She searches for words while absent-mindedly stirring a large vat of olives bobbing in yellow oil, her cigarette poised in the air.
"I notice lots of teen-agers who don't look right," said the 38-year-old, who moved from San Francisco and opened a shop in Reseda. "They're not dressed right, they don't act right. It worries me. They stand right out here on the corner without doing anything."
For Bedrossian, the desultory teen-agers in baggy clothes are a visible symbol of broader social ills in the San Fernando Valley, and she seizes on them to help explain her vague sense of unease.
"Doesn't everyone have something to do?" she asked. "It's very bad, this not having anything to do--it means something."
Bedrossian, her husband and their 5-year-old son are Christians of Armenian descent who fled Iran in 1989. They moved from the Bay Area to Canoga Park two months ago, and Nora Bedrossian has opened a small international food market on Vanowen Street. Her husband works in the business and is considering opening one of his own.
The small shop, with its bins of bulgur wheat and baskets of bananas, is doing brisk business, drawing many of its customers from Latino families who walk to the store from nearby neighborhoods.
Between working 12-hour days and trying to get settled, Bedrossian has had little time to reflect on her new environment. But she has already concluded that she likes it less than her former home in Millbrae, located outside San Francisco.
"The Valley doesn't make sense to me," she said. "The street I live on is nice, but on the next street there are so many crazy people and junk cars in the yards. I haven't been here for long, but it doesn't feel like the right place."
Her judgment is, in part, reflective of her general impressions of the United States--a land where the threat of crime is always lurking, money is everyone's foremost concern and children grow up in loose-knit families whose members look out for themselves.
"The way I see it, the families here are not together, they're apart," she said. "Each lives and cares and thinks individually, only for themselves. That damages the family and it damages the country."
The ethnic mix in the Valley "is good," she said. "But only if everyone cares for each other and cares for their youngsters."
The Bedrossians came to the San Fernando Valley because so many of their friends and family members from Iran have settled here. The couple want their son to grow up in the presence of his extended family.
"I want him to learn how to live with others, to share and care," she said. Living near her sister- and mother-in-law means that family members can look after each other's children and that the children can be with their cousins.
But Bedrossian seems unconvinced that the Valley is a good place to raise a child. She wishes she saw more police. And she pays to send her son to a private Armenian school out of distrust for the public school system.
"If I talk about Millbrae, I can say there are nice families, good kids, good public schools, and it's safe to walk around at 10 p.m.," she said. "Here, I don't know. It's too early to say. But I see it's dusty, it's rusty. I see these houses, and I think that person was born in that house and is now 40 and hasn't made any changes.
"People don't seem to care about making changes here."