Archive | December, 2011

My Ten Favorite Things of 2011

31 Dec

Midori at Fetish Revolution 11

2011 is fading fast, and like lots of other self-appointed pop culture pundits and eloquent narcissists, I’d like to present my list of “My Ten Favorite Things of 2011.”

10. Haboobs: “Haboob” is Arabic for “strong wind.” It’s basically a big dust storm, and we had some fabulous ones here in Phoenix this year. As you can see in videos of the July storms, they can be quite apocalyptic-looking. Coool.

9. Foreigner/Journey concert: Speaking of storms, there was a particularly nasty thunder and rain storm the night of this show at Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion (gawd, that name sucks). You can read my review of the show itself here, but what made this concert so memorable for me was that I attended it with my girlfriend, my best friend Ben, and his girlfriend in a rare double date.

8.Phoenix Comicon: I always have fun at this pop culture convention, but this year’s was über-cool because I ran into so many celebs. Not only did my girlfriend – an ardent Arizona Ghostbuster – get to meet and take photos with Ernie Hudson (Winston Zedmore in the Ghostbuster films) and William Atherton (Walter Peck in the first film), but we also ran into Stan “The Man” Lee while we had faces full of chili dogs. I also encountered actors Nicholas Brandon (Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Billy Dee Williams in the host hotel at different points, both in their pajamas (green-and-white plaid flannel for Brandon; dark blue satin with gold stars for Williams).

7. Midori’s performance at Fetish Revolution 11: My girlfriend and I met Midori  – a world-renowned sex educator and folk-fetish artist – at the Alwun House during their annual Exotic Art Show. She recruited us to take photos of her performance at Fetish Revolution 11 the following night, and I was glad we did, because it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen at a fetish event — even if most of the rest of the audience didn’t “get it.”

My girlfriend (left) and I at a tiny bar in Bisbee.

6. Bisbee, Arizona: My girlfriend and I visited this quirky, artsy former mining boom town in southern Arizona for our three-year anniversary in June. We spent three days there, and never had a dull moment. There are too many bars, art galleries, historic spots, and funky museums for that. I particularly enjoyed chatting up the bartender in “Arizona’s smallest bar,” a single room in the Silver King Hotel.

5. Doctor Who season six: This season had so many twists and turns, and a big mind-bomb near the end. I spent months wondering who River Song was, and when it was finally revealed, my head damn near exploded. Well done, British television. Well done.

4. Helicopter ride and tour of Four Peaks Amethyst Mine: Twice a year, Sami Fine Jewelry arranges helicopter tours of Four Peaks Amethyst Mine, where they get many of their fine gems. The mine’s at the top of a peak and is only accessible by helicopter (or a hellacious all-day hike). I had the opportunity to take the ‘copter ride and tour in April, and to dig and pick some amethyst from the walls of the mine myself. I cleaned the nicest gem and made a necklace for my mom for mother’s day.

Inside the Four Peaks Amethyst Mine

3. Midwest road trip with mom: Speaking of mom, she and I took a trip to the Midwest together in late April/early May to see family and old friends. Neither of us had been back for several years. My mother and I live in separate cities, so I only get to see her every couple of months, and it was nice to spend a lot of time together. We flew into Indianapolis, rented a car, stayed a few days, drove to Illinois, stayed several days, and drove back to Indy before flying back to AZ. It was so nice to see our friends and family, and experience things like trying to survive the potholes and beat the sunset through scary Gary, Indiana.

2. Air Sex World Championships: Air sex is similar to air guitar, but instead of pretending to play a six-string instrument, performers mime making out and getting it on with an invisible partner (or two). It’s hilarious to watch and exhilarating to do (oh yes, I did).

1. Launching this blog and finally getting my domain name back: I’ve had a WordPress blog for a few years, but when I decided to launch The Phoenix Edge in October, I wiped out all my old entries and started from scratch. It felt good to start over and focus on the things that interest me, from my own weirdo perspective. I also reclaimed my domain name in October and built a website, but it could use an upgrade. Looks like I have a New Year’s resolution.

The Royale Theater in Mesa Closes; Holds “Goodbye Open House”

28 Dec

The last film has been shown at The Royale.

The Royale Theater in Mesa closed suddenly on Christmas Eve, after just six months in business. Last night, December 27, there was a “Goodbye Open House” there, for people to just drop by and buy shirts, posters and VHS tapes from the indie cinema’s lobby. As much as media  and fans have lamented the loss of such a cool venue, the vibe at the open house was only mildly melancholy – probably because it seemed so inevitable, given the generally crappy economy. Mom-and-pop shop Evermore Nevermore – previously located right across the street from The Royale – closed earlier this month.

Besides, The Royale had a great run. It was packed with unusual events and funky film screenings during its brief life. I visited The Royale a handful of times to catch a crazy cult classic or attend a wacky event (or participate, in the case of the Air Sex Championships), and I’d stop in to say hello to proprietor Andrea Beesley-Brown (aka The Midnite Movie Mamacita) whenever I walked Main Street on a Second Friday. I’ve known Andrea for several years; I covered many of her projects when I worked for Phoenix New Times, beginning with her stint as operations manager at now-defunct Chandler Cinemas, then her tenure at MadCap Theaters in Tempe (along with a couple years doing horror programming for Phoenix Comicon), and finally, The Royale Theater.

Me standing at the entrance to the theater. The Robocop poster (which I bought) is by Victor Moreno.

Andrea’s always had a passion and knack for sharing alternative cinema, from quirky indie flicks and grindhouse blowouts to bloody rare b-horror and surreal cinema settings with industry people like Bruce Campbell; the director and cast of Repo! The Genetic Opera; and Crispin Glover, who somewhat infamously flipped his lid [] after a stop at Chandler Cinemas to promote his art film What Is It?

When I arrived, a couple dozen people were hanging around in the lobby. All the signage was gone from the storefronts; the retro marquee was illuminated for the last time. All the lights were on in the lobby and the empty theater. Andrea explained that basically, she wanted to cut her losses with The Royale and was taking a break from film programming. I wish her the best in whatever she does, and I was happy to hear that Victor Moreno – who was selling his original prints for previous screenings at The Royale in the lobby – would be doing programming at Madcap.

I hate to see The Royale close so quickly, but it’s a symptom of the state and struggles of independent theaters in Arizona. I’m going to miss The Royale, as I’m sure a lot of others will, but as Andrea’s already pointed out, there’s a lot more indie cinema and theater to support in the Valley – FilmBar ,The Torch Theatre and Phoenix Comicon, to name a few.  I’ll continue to support them and hope they weather the storms.

So long, Royale. Thanks for the memories.

Stuffed: Sens Asian Tapas & Sake Bar

20 Dec

“Are you guys driving across the country after you leave here or something?” the waiter asks, setting two more cups of Vietnamese sweet cafe on our table. “You’re going to be awake for three days.”

I’m at Sens on First Street in Central Phoenix with my girlfriend, Bootstrap, on a Sunday night. This is our first time at chef Johnny Chu’s Asian tapas eatery, and no, we’re not planning a marathon road trip. It’s just that the Vietnamese sweet cafe – like everything else that’s passed our lips here – is so damn delicious.

This is part of a weekend ritual for me and Bootstrap. Every Sunday, we go to our local YMCA, work out for an hour or so, and then go eat a filling (and hopefully delicious) meal somewhere. It’s the one time a week we eat out, and it’s when I’m at my most hungry. A tapas restaurant that serves small but shareable portions of everything is a perfect post-workout hideaway for me. I dig the laid-back atmosphere, too, from the white couches and pink flower lanterns over the bar to the eclectic hipster music mix playing softly on the sound system.

We ordered a bunch of stuff all at once, and the various dishes arrived at different points during our meal. Hong Kong Flat Rice in a sizzling garlic sauce came first, mixed with baby corn, little mushrooms, and crisp, sweet onions. The rice ovalettes were perfectly spongy and yummy. A rice ball with a crisp, golden exterior arrived next, packed with moist, sticky sushi rice.

My taste buds delighted in the glorious textures of the Bacon Wrapped Okra. The bacon tasted like it came from a seasoned skillet. It was cooked to a perfect crispness in the center, and the fatty parts on the ends were cooked to a soft, melted cheese-like texture, and clung to the plump, green okra. The okra broke with a satisfying snap when I bit into it, and was surprisingly juicy. Bootstrap and I talked about that Bacon Wrapped Okra for two days.

House Dynamite Tofu hit the table next. I remembered having Johnny Chu’s perfect tofu triangles – golden crisp on the outside, firm and slightly juicy inside – at his former downtown restaurant, Fate. This time, they were swimming in a spicy peanut sauce that provided a satisfying burn at the back of my throat, which was nicely offset and slightly quelled by chunks of sweet pineapple and green bell peppers.

The last thing we could manage was a giant bowl of miso soup, again with tofu (but also available with shrimp or fish). We decimated it, angling over the ladle at one point, scooping and scarfing the delicious soy broth, brimming with pieces of cabbage and scrumptious shiitake and enoki mushrooms. I looked into my spoon at one point and earnestly said, “Look at that beautiful mushroom head.” Bootstrap teased me about that comment all night.

Everything we ate was steaming and delicious. I really have no complaints. We capped our evening with a second round of the aforementioned Vietnamese sweet cafe, a dark, gristly coffee with a dark chocolate flavor, augmented by sweet condensed cream. It’s a potent brew, especially at 7 p.m., but Bootstrap and I both have ridiculously high caffeine tolerances. It was almost enough to inspire an impromptu cross-country road trip – but that would take us too far away from Sens. For that kind of venture, we’d need at least six orders of the Bacon Wrapped Okra to go.

Tea: My New Addiction

18 Dec

Partial tower of tea and tisanes in my kitchen.

December 18 marks one month since I quit smoking cigarettes. I went from smoking a pack a day to nothing, and people asked me what habit I was going to replace the smoking with – like chewing gum or working out. I do both those things, but my big new addiction is something I rarely even thought about before I quit smoking: hot tea.

Strangely, my fresh obsession is really an accidental side-effect of changing my drinking habits to support my smoking cessation. I immediately stopped consuming beverages I loved to pair with cigarettes (beer, coffee, energy drinks and soda), but I wanted to stave off headaches from caffeine withdrawal. So, I started drinking black tea. Then I started trying other teas, including decaf blends.

Here I am thirty days later, drinking too much tea. I consume a 16-ounce thermos of black tea every morning, and anywhere from three to five more standard-size mugs of various teas throughout the rest of the day. Some sources say that’s great for my health; other says the opposite. Whatever the case, I’ve got four different boxes of tea in front of me right now, and I want to tell you something interesting about each of them.

Twinings Herbal Revive: This is an herbal tea, not real tea made with the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. But I mention it because I’m drinking it right now, and it’s the fruitiest, most syrupy-sweet tea I’ve ever had. It’s a blend of hibiscus, orange leaves, cherry pieces, apple pieces, rosehips, cinnamon, and liquorice root (but I don’t taste the last ingredient – thank gods). Interesting tea tidbit: When steeped in a white mug, this tea first turns the water blue, then a bloody reddish purple, like a liquid bruise. If you don’t remove the bag after five minutes, the tea just might ferment.

Revolution Sweet Ginger Peach Black Tea: This blend of estate-grown Ceylon and Assam teas is currently my favorite drink. It also contains peach flavor and ginger root, which you can see and smell through the flow-through infuser bags. Interesting tea tidbit: Revolution Tea is based in my home city of Phoenix, Arizona.

Trader Joe’s English Breakfast Tea: This is the tea I’ve been waking up with every morning. It’s 100 percent black tea and very potent, depending on how long you mash it (I won’t steep mine longer than five minutes). Interesting tea tidbit: If the water isn’t boiling when you infuse this black tea, it tends to taste like bitter pickled ass.

Bigelow Vanilla Chai: A cheap tea that’s shockingly good, even for a chai snob.  I do prefer a bag of fresh Masala chai brimming with spices and brewed with milk, but when I’m short on time (typical), this is the next-best thing. The ingredients listed are “black tea, spices, natural and artificial flavors (soy lecithin),” which is more vague than I’d like, but I can taste the vanilla. Plus, the package proudly proclaims the tea’s gluten free. Interesting tea tidbit: Everyone who smells this tea comments on its delightful aroma.

The Last First Friday of 2011: Steel/Vision at Willo North, Galeria de los Muertos’ swan song, and a spurt through Bar Smith

4 Dec

One of Steve Gomp's "televisos" at Willo North Gallery.

These days, when I go somewhere in downtown or central Phoenix on a First Friday art walk, it’s usually in the Garfield block, or slightly off the First Friday map. On December 2, this past and last First Friday of 2011, my girlfriend Bootstrap and I visited Galeria de los Muertos on Garfield Street, and for the first time, Willo North Gallery on Seventh Avenue. We also ended up squirming for five minutes at Bar Smith near the end of the night, but I’ll get to that later.

Our first stop was Willo North, for the opening reception of the exhibit “Steel/Vision: New Work by Steve Gompf and Hank Fries.” I wanted to see both the artwork – Fries’ assortment of steel, found object, and kinetic sculptures; and Gompf’s stunning and curious “televisor” structures – and my friend Robrt Pela, who curated the show.

The second I walked through the door of Willo North Gallery, I was struck by the sight of a giant, welded metal fish suspended from the ceiling. And someone was already calling my name.

I looked toward the voice and saw Steph Carrico from Trunk Space holding a big camera in one hand and waving at me with the other. We worked our way through the crowd to greet each other. Someone behind me said my name and I turned to see Dana and Pete from Phoenix punk band Janis Joplin Crap ‘N’ Vomit. Dana congratulated me on quitting smoking (I’m two weeks free as of this writing!) and offered her support. Then Steph called over Hank Fries, the artist who made the fish, and introduced him. I saw Robrt Pela across the room and waved. We both looked like we were already having three conversations at once. Then I heard a guy yell my name, and turned to see photographer and self-styled ArtBitch Wayne Michael Reich waving me over. Bootstrap disappeared into the exhibit at some point.

Twenty minutes after arriving, I still hadn’t gotten more than five feet into the gallery. It was simply awesome. I love running into so many people and getting swept up socially; it’s good for my brain to practice sensory multitasking like that. But eventually, I got to the art. And it was simply amazing.

"The Gold Spot: by Hank Fries

Steve Gompf’s work is well-known, and he’s one of few artists whose pieces I would describe as truly “unique.” I had an English professor in college who hated the word “unique”; she said nothing on this Earth was truly unique. By the same turn, somebody somewhere might argue that everything is truly unique. Whatever you believe about the word, to me, it means that you won’t see anything else like it – and that certainly applies to the several “televisos,” as Gompf calls them, in this exhibit. They’re dark wood structures – some boxy, some circular – framing a monitor showing various surreal and curious video loops, and covered with ornate gold decorations. The idea is that each one is from another time, place, or world – unique, one might say.

"Scorpio" by Hank Fries

I was also fascinated by Hank Fries’ artwork. In addition to the fabulous fish (“Steel Koi #2), Fries’ display included a kinetic sculpture called “The Gold Spot,” which Fries explained was inspired by the legend of the underground bowling alley beneath downtown Phoenix. The sculpture utilized a long wooden plank resembling a bowling lane and a found motor that shifted the plank like a see-saw; as it did so, a small metal pinball rolled back and forth. I couldn’t stop watching it. This was Fries’ first showing at Willo North, and he said he was excited, especially to be showing alongside Steve Gompf. I look forward to seeing more of Fries’ work in the future.

After catching up with everyone at Willo North (what a great gallery), Bootstrap and I headed back downtown to visit Galeria de los Muertos, off Garfield and Fifth Streets. We both love this gallery because it offers affordable prints by some of our favorite local artists, like Jenny Fontana, Aleta Welling, and El Vaquero Muerto.

Sadly, Galeria de los Muertos is closing this month. The last show will be December 16, and will feature many new works by Jenny Fontana, according to gallery owner Marco Turrubiartes (a.k.a. El Vaquero Muerto), who’s moving to Los Angeles. He says the Galeria will maintain a store online, and he plans to return to Phoenix frequently for shows.

Galeria de los Muertos, on its last First Friday.

After buying a few smaller prints by Turrubiartes and Aleta Welling, Bootstrap and I headed to Washington Street in the heart of downtown to hit up Bar Smith, our last stop of the night – and not one we’d usually make. One of our (much younger) friends was having a birthday bash, and we just wanted to slip in, wish him the best and maybe have one drink, then leave.

When we got to the door, we’re told there’s a $10 cover. I realized later this is because Fridays at Bar Smith is DJ William Reed’s “Sticky Fingers” night. But since we didn’t plan on being there very long – and certainly didn’t plan on dancing in the smoke-filled tent on the roof – we turned to leave. The door guy tried to work the price down to $5 per, but we wouldn’t pay that, either. Finally, he told us to just drop some money in the tip jar and he’d let us in. Bootstrap threw $4 in the jar and got a scowling “thank you” from the woman sitting behind it.

After haggling our way in, I tried to tune out the booming pop Top 40 songs blaring downstairs while Bootstrap and I scanned the empty bar for our friend. He wasn’t downstairs, so we headed upstairs, where “Sticky Fingers” was in full swing on the roof patio, its booty-shakin’, chain-smokin’ patrons shielded from the chilly December wind by a thick white tent.

I was immediately struck by an overwhelming cloud of cigarette smoke. It seemed like 80 percent of the people on the roof were smoking; the odor of burning tobacco permeated the moist winter air inside the tent. I found the smell simultaneously revolting and enticing. Did I mention I quit smoking (cold turkey) just two weeks ago?

We made a couple quick passes around the patio, but we didn’t find our friend. I couldn’t stand the clouds up there, so we headed back downstairs. Still no birthday boy. Bootstrap asked if I wanted a drink, but honestly, I felt so uncomfortable we just left. We essentially paid $4 to walk-through Bar Smith in less than five minutes.

The next day, we saw our friend at the bookstore where he works and wished him a happy birthday. When he told us the party had been downstairs – and that it was dubstep – I was almost less than slightly sorry we didn’t stay.

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