Once upon a time, there was a city.


It was not the largest city, or the smallest. It was not the richest or the poorest. But this city had a reputation, nonetheless. It was known throughout the land as dry and inhospitable --  heated to unimaginable temperatures for several months of the year, a cultural wasteland.


The people of this city knew the truth. And they stepped forward to tell their stories. Here they are.
We hope you enjoy

Though I had a hazy conception of dinosaurs and sailing ships and vanished Indians, history was an abstraction. The grass fairways of Moon Valley Country Club where I played at sunset had seemed as permanent as the very foundations of the Earth. I could not have fathomed that it was all scraped out and planted eight years before I was born — those were the days when Thunderbird Road was just like the farthest bleeding edge of North Scottsdale — and that it took a ridiculous amount of water to keep the grass from dehydrating overnight. This came not from the canals but straight out of the municipal taps: the best, purest, most expensive water available.


What I didn’t understand then was that recent technology had raised my strange city from the ground, just as aqueducts had poured water on Rome and the railroad had tickled the suburbs of London into being. Without our killer triad of recreational hydrology, the automobile and air-conditioning, Phoenix would have always been a shabby agribusiness town — think of a forlorn place like Yuma, with broken melons in the gutters. But the machines of the 20th century made it possible to drive 30 minutes to work listening to soft rock on KOY and go home to a chilled-air rancher tucked inside a square of Bermuda grass and a high fence of bougainvilleas. This described Moon Valley Country Club in the late 1970s, every bit as much a product of technology as Skylab.


“Arizona has become largely responsible for redefining the very term ‘desert,’” said a report commissioned by the civic elite in those years. “Before 1950, a desert was widely perceived as a harsh, forbidding wilderness area incapable of supporting any considerable population. Today, a desert has become an appealing landscape, an attractive place to live, and a new kind of adult playground.”


The truth was that an economy like Phoenix’s depended on junkie logic — it required an everlasting fix of more growth. Moon Valley suffered after the 2008 mortgage disaster, and the club found itself $6 million in debt and unable to pay its water bill. Membership plunged. It didn’t help that during the boom times, the management had an attitude like that of Judge Smails from Caddyshack: This is our club, not yours. Developer Jerry Tokoph bought the bank note at half-price and reportedly proposed a local version of a smash-and-grab: abandoning the golf course and filling in the fairways with asphalt and condominiums.


Facing a decline of their property values (a fear of the primal sort around these parts), the Moon Valley Neighborhood Association passed the hat and raised $1.1 million to stop Tokoph from foreclosing on the note, even despite what former association president Phil Wendel acknowledged was a historically bad image of “arrogance and opulence” around the club. It’s now owned by a Hong Kong hedge fund called C-Bons and managed by Borders Golf, and for the first time, the riffraff can play there without having to pay an outrageous annual fee. But it remains at the mercy of the desert water supply and the world capital markets.


This is, in its own way, a classic Arizona story: a reminder of the trap of futurist projections, the shakiness of humanity’s contract with the Earth, and of the impermanence of being. This is also adulthood: To see the water and the credit are not limitless. And to understand there are beginnings and endings.

chapter i

When I was a kid peering out the backseat windows of my father’s 1977 Honda Civic at that graceful horse path on Central Avenue, I assumed that it had always been there. Linear history means nothing to a child: The world is a collection of shapes without antecedents. All I understood was that the spreading oaks and the tony estates and the shiny riding boots looked more “real” than anything else I saw around me, carrying as they did the look of a more mature America that I had seen in the storybooks I was gobbling up in the Acacia branch library in Sunnyslope.


What I didn’t know then was that the faux-English district of North Central was about as fictional a creation as anything in those storybooks. And I certainly perceived nothing false about the Moon Valley neighborhood where I grew up in a cinderblock house that backed up to the rough of the 11th hole of a golf course.


My parents were both penny-pinchers with no stomach for useless expenses, so we never did belong to the Moon Valley Country Club. I rode my motocross bike to the clubhouse for egg salad sandwiches, however, and pretended like I was a rich kid who belonged there. One Christmas — the best of my life — I received a set of kiddy clubs from Sears in a red plaid bag and developed the habit of taking them out to the tee box after sunset when I might have a magical hour between the disappearance of the last legitimate golfers and the onset of night to skitter a ball toward the hole. Five strokes was my par. When I wasn’t making elaborate headfirst baseball slides in the sand traps, I shouldered my little golf bag with authority and pretended I was a grown man: part of that mysterious world where they talked about stock trading and smelled of cologne and sometimes used rooms in the Hyatt below the Compass Room for a fascinating and then-scary activity with women that I had been told in elementary school went by many names, including screwing. Origins are shrouded to a child: only bright surfaces for guessing and wonder.

Once upon a time in Phoenix, I had no capacity to wonder how there came to be a bridle path on the side of Central Avenue and why it looked as goofy as the severed half of an airplane fuselage that had been mounted over the ice skating rink at Metrocenter or some of the sheet-glass fortresses on the sides of Camelback Mountain or the rotating disc on top of the downtown Hyatt or the night garden of red bulbs blooming and dying every five seconds on top of South Mountain.

By Tom Zoellner

Illustration by Sarah Hurwitz

chapter ii

By Michael Grady

Illustration by Scott Biersack

My first communal Phoenix sports experience occurred in the spring of 1993, when Horace Grant of the Chicago Bulls scooped a Scottie Pippen pass out to a waiting John Paxson at the three-point line. Charles Barkley, Danny Ainge, and every other purple-and-orange soul tried frantically to reverse field, but if Paxson were any more alone, he’d have written a country song about it. Sound and motion slowed. Ainge’s hand splayed toward the shooter, like mine and 3 million other Valley hands, and a curious atonal “Nooo!” sounded as Paxson fired, the net danced, and destiny drifted away.


I felt terrible. My phone began trilling with friends from Chicago. I had to get away. I drove to Camelview 5, bought a ticket for Strictly Ballroom — the most un-basketball movie they had — and sat down in a full auditorium. Just before the feature, they aired a physical fitness PSA. A claymation Phoenix Suns team filled the screen and the entire crowd writhed groaned in raw, communal pain. As a clay Charles Barkley told us “Don’t be a spud,” several people shouted back:


“We had it won!”


“Cover the three-point line!”


“What happened, Charles?”


I still felt terrible. But I didn’t feel alone.




People say professional sports is too powerful, its athletes too wealthy, its followers too oblivious to pressing issues in the world. They’ll get no argument from me. But I have hugged Chicago police officers, laughed with many a stranger, and sung “Kansas City” with a whole Tucson bus one magical March. These days, two things empower us to connect with our neighbors: tragedies and championship runs. I will take the latter, win or lose.




And the cruelty of Paxson’s shot — or Robert Horry’s mugging of Steve Nash, or Santonio Holmes’ last-second catch — is more than redeemed by the night an “excuse me” single squirted off Luis Gonzalez’s bat. I watched it wobble over an infield drawn in for the death-and-taxes certainty of a Mariano Rivera save — and bounce, serenely, into history.


“Call Joe!” my wife shouted.


Ringing once. Ringing twice. Jay Bell is mobbed at the plate. My wife is crying and laughing. Ringing five times. Ringing six times. My face cracks its first post-9/11 smile. Ringing eight times. Ringing nine times.

At home and onscreen, people at home are jumping up and down. Our dogs are getting motion sickness.


On the 10th ring, I’m ready to hang up when my telephone screams:

“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?!”


“I’m not!”


“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?!”


“Gonzo walk-off single. Randy Johnson wins in relief.”


“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?! This didn’t fuckin’ happen!”


“It did!” I assured him. “How’d you get out of your class?”


“My class . . .” He remembered. And then the phone fell silent a while.


“I’m going to have to call you back.”

This was November 2001. Most Americans were enjoying a World Series that salved the horrors of 9/11 for a little while. But for Diamondbacks fans, the series was a gut-wrenching exercise: a “hey we won one!” at home, then another (with the whiff of immortality to it), followed by three consecutive Bronx beatdowns. Three nights of wordless horror watching giddy pinstripes run counter-clockwise around Byung-hyun Kim, while commentators rewrote us as foils for Yankee greatness. When we bucked the narrative long enough to force a Game Seven, Bank One Ballpark became Main Street in Gary Cooper’s in High Noon: Your best. Our best. The whole world watching.


Well, almost. My friend Joe was teaching a writing class in California that night.


“During Game Seven?” I asked. “Why would you do that?”


“Because it’s a paying gig — it was booked months ago — and because life is cruel,” he said. “But I’ll need to know how it ends, from a friend. Because I have a feeling it won’t end well.”


We came up with a one-if-by-land-two-if-by-sea type of deal. “I’ll have my phone on vibrate.” Joe said. “If the Yankees win, let it ring once, and I’ll know.”


“And if the Diamondbacks win?”


“Ring twice.”


“What if you miss the first vibrate?” I asked.


“I won’t,” he said. “I’ll have the phone in my pants pocket.”


“So you’ll be standing at a podium trying to count how many times your pants go off? That doesn’t sound like a good classroom experience.”


“All right, all right,” Joe said. “If the Diamondbacks win, just keep ringing.”




These days are hard to remember now. This Diamondbacks season “went Hindenburg” in early April, and the most pressing local sports stats this summer have been blood alcohol levels and arraignment dates. But sports is a kind of community-bonding agent. A social glue. In seasons like this, where we suffer together, it does us good to remember when each of us suffered alone.




“What about Boston?”


“Boston’s cold,” my girlfriend said.


“New York?”




Even in the early ’90s, hardcore fans saw Phoenix as a pass-through community: a place to earn your degree or start your career before moving to a real sports town. Over breakfast, I’d crack open the paper to look at the standings, and we’d look for our Promised Land. “How about Toronto?”


“You’d leave the United States?”


“They have pitching. What about Cleveland?”


“It’s Cleveland.”


It wasn’t snobbery. (People who build their own mascot heads are many things, but not elitist.) Phoenix just lacked that community lightning rod you’d see in places like my previous home, Chicago. In 1989 — the night the Cubs won their first division title since 1731 — people walked off their jobs. We clogged the streets around Wrigley Field, screaming and hooting and daring a guy in a Batman suit to jump off the roof of a sports bar. (Beer made this important, somehow.) The Cubs themselves were not there that night — they’d won their game in Montreal — but we didn’t need them, really. We were a sports town.


Jelling as a sports community can be a brutal process. Because the first few times you rally around your local franchise, you’re usually playing Don Quixote to someone else’s windmill.

Once upon a time in Arizona, the most critical life-and-death news had to be shared in code.

“Let’s go over the signals again,” my friend Joe said.

chapter iii

Mired in depression, I spent my days sleeping until noon, eating canned soup, and hanging out at the Borders bookstore across from Paradise Valley Mall. In the evenings, I laid by the pool smoking cigarettes and reading, often until midnight. I hated the lonely call of the mourning doves. I wondered whether anywhere would ever feel like home. And I began to suspect that my Gypsy ways were mere posturing for wanting to belong and thinking that belonging is a tangible thing that can be found with a road atlas.


The closest I came to comfort was in the bookstore. That welcoming space held what was both familiar and cherished — books and music, wrapped in the warm scent of spiced chai and vanilla mochas and set to the tune of whirring espresso machines, rustling pages, and clicking keyboards. I’d been out of work for weeks. I needed a job. Why not here, I thought. Surely I’d meet like-minded people, those with whom I had more in common than the laboratory assistants paying their way through nursing school.


Maybe I’d even meet some real writers.


I filled out an application and was hired for the cafe. I remember sitting in the lounge, swirling my new Borders lanyard and watching videos about the varieties of coffee beans and how to properly froth a latte.


Over the next several weeks, I would perfect the art of steaming milk and merrily reap the benefits of my employee discount.


I’d also meet a real writer, although I couldn’t find the courage to speak to her. A fellow barista who knew of my literary ambitions told me the lady in the music department had published a few magazine articles. “You should go talk to her,” he said. “Maybe she can give you some pointers.”


I did approach her once, pretending to browse through the Pink Floyd titles (I owned them all) and framing my awestruck questions. But when she smiled and said, “Can I help you?” I lost my nerve, mumbled something, and slunk back to the cafe.


Still, being surrounded by book lovers and poetry readings inspired me — instead of staying up every night reading, sometimes I’d write stories. I might feel brilliant one night and inadequate the next, but I always felt motivated.


I was young and impulsive, beholden to no one’s best interests, not even my own. In November, my mother said she would visit for Thanksgiving and asked whether I could take some time off of work? I couldn’t, so I quit. There would always be another job.


Now, Borders no longer exists, and neither does that impulsive young woman. I likely would have been a temporary resident of Phoenix, fleeing for the next city, when I realized I’d once again failed to outrun myself. But in June 2002, I had a baby girl, and my drifting desire to find a place I belonged became a fierce need to claim a homeland. I began to see Phoenix differently, appreciating its beauty — regal saguaros posted like sentries on the hills, teddy bear cholla bursting with soft-colored spines. Like motherhood, strange new worlds can bloom before you, and you wonder how you ever lived without them.


I eventually bought a home in Tempe, down the street from a wonderful bookstore called Changing Hands. I spend a lot of time there, browsing the aisles and adding to my treasured book collection. The store even has a train table my son can play with.


And, like me, it’s a permanent resident.

Once upon a time in Phoenix, after getting fired from my first job in town, I was browsing the aisles of a nearby bookstore (a frequent pastime since losing my job) when I decided that I might as well apply there.


This was in the fall of 2000 — before a mortgage and before children — so the paltry wages of a bookstore barista didn’t faze me.


I’d moved to Phoenix that June, lured in part by a teenage dream of traveling to cities unknown, settling for several months or perhaps a few years, and then moving on. I was 24 and had lived amid the snow-dusted peaks of Utah, the lightning storms of southeastern Texas, the temperate calm of central California, and the frosty winters in Boise, Idaho. But I’d never lived in the desert. My employer, Sonora Quest Laboratories, promised me a job anywhere in the Valley, so I packed the essentials — mostly books and CDs but also my tattered box of old writing — shoved them in my car and headed south.


Childhood images of driving through northern Arizona burned in my memory — the way twilight washed purple over the mountains. I knew Phoenix would be different, but the plainness of the sun-baked land was still a shock. Bare mountains framed a valley on fire, too hot to sustain anything but sparse, weedy growth. Medians displayed dirt and rock; crushed gravel replaced grass in yards dotted with spiny cacti. I thought, This is a land stripped to its bones.


The inside view was worse. My roommate and his fiancée were renovating, and the house was in various stages of construction and disrepair. Shortly after I’d moved in, the air conditioning failed, and three days later, I escaped to a nearby restaurant and began circling the classifieds.


One ad described a house with a pool at the base of Piestewa Peak that the owner, Joanna, would love to see used and reasonable rent that included two home-cooked Greek meals a week. It sounded lovely, and it was. I unpacked my boxes of books and CDs and tried to make Phoenix feel like home, if only another temporary one.


By the end of September, I’d been through two breakups. One was with my job, because for some unsound reason, I’d chosen a 9-to-5 position in Maryvale, thinking the commute wouldn’t be too bad. The other breakup was with a man I’d dated over the summer. He’d taken me to my first Diamondbacks game and whisked me away to Las Vegas to meet his family — I was crushed when the relationship ended.


I’d also discovered I didn’t like Greek food.

By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Illustration by Jennifer Campbell

chapter iv

By Kathy Cano-Murillo

Illustration by Emily Costello

“Will you please ask Alice if I may interview him for the homecoming issue of our school newspaper?”


Mr. Furnier’s eyes lit up. He agreed. I finally calmed myself enough to steady my hands to spell out my name and number as he scribbled them on a piece of paper and slipped it into his pocket. I realized I hadn’t even offered him a napkin to clean his sticky hands. Regardless, he promised to do his best to make it happen. I believed him.


I went home and told my parents. They congratulated me but said, “Be ready in case it falls through. We don’t want you to get your hopes up.”


Their caution didn’t faze me. With Dana as my witness, I strutted into school that Monday and announced my scoop to the class.


“Did you get his number?” the handsome student council managing editor asked. “Who should we assign it to? Definitely a senior staffer, someone with experience.”


Not only did this guy call me out on my flub (why didn’t I think of asking for Vincent’s dad’s number?), but Homeboy was about to snag my story! My ego deflated, and I didn’t stand up for myself.


Mrs. Finerman sure did. “If this goes through, Kathy will report the story because she secured the lead.”


For the next two weeks, that naggy managing editor brought it up all the time: “It was a hoax. Too bad about that!”


By this time, I’d accepted that maybe the man had pretended to be Alice Cooper’s dad. I imagined him repeating his stories every Friday to any gullible high school student who would listen.


But guess what? One day in journalism class, I got called to the office. I hustled across campus to find a very anxious dean of students waiting out front.


“Miss Cano,” he said accusingly. “Alice Cooper’s dad is in the office asking for you! What in the world is this about?”


I exhaled and grinned. “He’s here to set up my interview with Alice.”

Mr. Furnier came through and secured my interview by connecting me with Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper’s manager at the time. What followed was a series of montage scenes perfect for a John Hughes flick.


To the tune of “No More Mr. Nice Guy”: Me, the chubby Mexican teen working with Mrs. Finerman to nail down my interview questions. My dad taking me to Radio Shack to buy a phone recorder. Dana and I testing it out every night. Practicing my interview voice on my 6-year-old sister. I had everything I needed to conduct an in-depth conversation with one of America’s rock legends.


Well, except for when he called a day early, and my mom answered, “Kathy’s not home, whom may I ask is calling?”


Oh, and another thing. Even though I had dozens of questions lined up, when I finally did get to talk to him, I asked only two. Alice Cooper looooved to talk. I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt, and every statement qualified as quote gold.


I played the cassette tape to the class to show off my fancy rock star interview, only for all of us to break out in giggles. Throughout the conversation, all I did was purr repeatedly, “Uh-huh . . . oh, really? Uh-huh . . . uh-huh.” I sounded like a giddy girl version of Garth Algar from Wayne’s World.


I didn’t care. Respect earned. Not only did I score the front page of the homecoming issue, Alice Cooper also gave me full-on backstage press passes. He hinted that he might show up to the homecoming game, so our student council themed the festivities “Welcome to My Nightmare.” He never came, but we still loved him.


That year, I found my groove. I interviewed KDKB radio personalities and local bands (even my Cortez classmate Bam Bam from JFA) and wrote stories about them for the school paper. I booked Harry McCaleb’s band, Ritual, to play in the cafeteria during lunchtime until the dean kicked them out. And the following year, I traveled with Mrs. Finerman’s theater group to England. I finally found my social comfort zone.


And, yes, these days I am proud to be a third-generation Mexican-American and Phoenician, and embrace all of it with a dash of old school rock ’n’ roll.

“This is a very special room,” she told us. “Years ago, right here, a man by the name of Vincent Furnier wrote for this school newspaper.”

We all shrugged, unimpressed.


“Annnd . . . ?’ someone finally asked in a polite why-should-we-care tone.


It was the first week of my junior year at Cortez High School. I had no purpose in life at the time, except to daydream about being a bestie to the lead singers of my favorite bands — Heart, Blondie, The Cars. Basically any groups on KUPD’s rotation.


As a chubby, shy, rock ’n’ roll-loving chica on a mostly Anglo campus, I didn’t exactly have a social comfort zone. In this era of my life, I (stupidly) boycotted all things related to my culture — the food, quinceañeras, and most definitely anything related to low riders. I just wanted to be what I thought was a “normal” 16-year-old. However, I was too geeky for the Mexican-American clique and too insecure about my super-curly hair, olive skin, and the “Kathy CHIcano” name jokes.


I loved to write and figured joining the newspaper staff with my best friend, Dana, would be a way to exercise my blooming creativity.


Mrs. Finerman’s dramatic intro certainly piqued my interest.


“Vincent Furnier . . . changed his name to . . . Alice Cooper,” she revealed, smiling brightly through her shiny frosty pink lipstick. “And up on top of that bookcase,” she informed, pointing across the room, “you can see where he scratched in his name in the wood.”


The class released a collective “Whoooaaa!”


At the time, Alice Cooper equaled big time. Mrs. Finerman showed us the school yearbook with his picture, which I think now resides in my parent’s bookcase (sorry, Cortez High library). She tipped us that Alice’s dad was known for checking out Cortez home football games and said that if we ever met him, we should ask him for an interview with Alice.


Weeks later, I volunteered to work the football game soda stand. Speedy and efficient, I busted out everyone’s order to keep the line to a minimum. An older man stepped up and read the sign on the front of the stand.


“Journalism night? Are you on the newspaper staff?” he asked.


“Yup!” I replied. “We took a break from deadlines to serve drinks. What would you like?”


He ordered a Coke, and as I took his dollar bill, he chatted about how his son used to attend Cortez High. I nodded and counted out the change. Just as I reached out to drop it in his palm, he said, “My son is Vincent Furnier. Ever heard of him?”


I froze. The excitement built up so fast that when I opened my mouth to speak, I choked on my own saliva — and I heard the coins plop into his soda. Mrs. Finerman’s directives played in my head. It happened to me, of all people! I hadn’t struck such luck since freshman year, when I won Pat Benatar’s debut album from KDKB.


How does one retrieve change from the bottom of a tall cup of liquid, anyway?


Alice’s, errr, Vincent’s dad stepped back, took the cup, placed his hand over the top, and poured out the contents through his fingers to catch the coins. Soda flew everywhere! He chuckled and I took it as an opportunity to grab for the one thing that would earn respect from my peers. Something so big that I, too, would go down in the history books of Cortez High, just like Vincent Furnier! Okay, maybe just in my fantasy.


I raced out of the drink stand and planted myself in front of him. In that moment, I wasn’t nerd girl Kathy Cano with coarse, kinky hair that refused to feather like the cheerleaders’. Or culturally confused Kathy CHIcano, who would not yet allow herself to experience the joy of a decent enchilada. I was Kathy Cano, confident and hopeful Rolling Stone teen journalist going for the jugular.

Once upon a time in Phoenix, during the fall of 1980, my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Finerman, was standing before the class, her voice thick with Willy Wonka mystery.

chapter v

I turned to Tim, “Did you and Ben try this one?” I pronounced my husband’s name like it had two syllables and both were loathsome to me.


“No,” Tim said, remaining cheerful.




Tim and I took bites.


My earwax liquefied and poured out. The contents of my sinuses emptied out my nostrils. My vision went blue — as if I’d been punched in the face, as if I’d stared directly at the sun — and my periphery went black. I was looking down a long tunnel at the end of which were fireworks.


“Tim!” I cried and swung my arm blindly. He was where I’d left him, only now he was doubled over, clutching his heart. My brain crowded into the top of my cranium looking for an emergency exit. I had to put my hands on the top of my head to apply counter-pressure so my skull wouldn’t split. “It hurts!” I screamed, choking on the liquid that poured out every hole in my head, as if the water from all the cells of my body had decided to quit me. I clutched Tim’s arm. I was afraid we’d be separated as we stumbled blindly, circling like drunken dancers, the crowd sweeping us out to sea. “Drink!” I cried. I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t draw breath — apparently, my lungs had been removed.


Tim and I careened across the field toward the beer tent. “I’m dying! I’m dying!” I shouted at passersby. I meant it not in the hyperbolic sense but in the organ-failure sense. When I got to the tent, I cut to the front of the line and swiped a beer off the counter, saying only, “Sorry!” before pouring it down my throat. It didn’t help.


There was nothing left but to throw myself on the ground and thrash around planning my funeral. I had no sense of Tim’s being during this epoch.


After about 20 minutes, the endorphins kicked in and the pain subsided. I realized I was going to live. Tim, who appeared shaking and pale before me, also had made it through. All that remained was to say “whoa” and “phew” and “holy shit” again and again. I felt I’d survived a near-death experience, one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.


“We should bring some back for Ben,” I said, smiling for the first time.


Tim looked at me aghast. “That’s cruel!”


“No. I’ll tell him exactly how awful it is. I’ll warn him not to.” But I knew my husband. I knew that despite my earnest admonitions, he would eat it.


To say that I found the sight of Ben writhing in pain restorative would be an understatement. Yes, I cackled like a villain as he begged for water, but I also felt genuinely bad for him because I understood exactly what he was enduring. His suffering softened me. And for the first time in almost a year, I felt balance restored. We were even again.

But now they were gone, making salsa-tasting impossible.


My husband, Ben, and I decided to divide and conquer. I took the kids to the play area to lurch around in the bounce house and glue yarn onto paper plates, while he and Tim — a good-natured friend who loved showing newcomers around Arizona — roamed the festival eating salsa. Then Ben was supposed to rescue me in the nick of time so I could get a taste of freedom and, presumably, salsa.


That’s the balancing act of co-parenting. You enjoy life in shifts. One of you is eating while one of you is chasing a toddler and starving. One of you is conversing with grownups while the other is changing a dirty diaper and muttering obscenities. One of you is reading celebrity gossip blogs while the other is reading The Little Engine That Could and trying to skip pages without the kids noticing. One of you is enjoying short-lived, soul-replenishing liberty while the other is entertaining escape fantasies and building up hostility.


Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but I love them the most after I’ve missed them, after some of my needs have been fulfilled.


But on this day, I was in a critical state of calcifying resentment when I thrust the diaper bag at Ben — “What took you so long!?” — and sprinted off with Tim toward civilization.


Only all the chips were gone.


We wandered from booth to booth, confronted by salsa samples and not a damn thing to eat them with. I cursed at my absent husband. “Fuck him! I didn’t want to move to Arizona in the first place!” This was the default accusation I’d been lashing him with for almost a year since our move from San Francisco to Tempe.


I’d left behind my life — my career, my friends, my long pants — so that Ben could follow a job. And, yes, I’d come willingly, but I wasn’t loving Arizona yet. I was chasing kids around greasy play places all day cultivating a rash under my breasts while Ben was eating lunches in restaurants with adults. I was in a constant state of unmet needs, whereas Ben was more satisfied than ever. We were critically out of balance, and as far as I was concerned, he would owe me in perpetuity — or until something big tipped the scales and made us even again.


I’d lost all hope that I would get to taste salsa when Tim and I came upon a stand that still had chips. The dude manning the booth said, “Be warned. It’s hot.” I’m not afraid of heat. I grew up in Texas. We ate jalapeños for sport.

Once upon a time in Phoenix, they were out of chips. Three hours earlier, when we arrived at the salsa festival, the chips had been plentiful, overflowing the bowls, littering the ground, getting trodden into confetti.

By Kim Porter

Illustration by Carrie Hobson

chapter vi

I can’t forget those never-ending starless ones when I’d attempted to forget myself. I’d be down at the grim Madison Bar, in the bowels of Phoenix, with the last of the doomsaying day drunks and unsettling harpies, or in that lovely, antiquated Emerald speeding the molars out of my mouth alongside too-cheery regulars and misguided DJs. I can’t forget the real downer times that couldn’t be fixed by a calming evening stroll up to Circle K for a 12-pack (and giving a few to Hannah the Homeless Lady on my return). I’d be propped up on regret and absolute disillusionment and find myself in some Sunnyslope living room scoring shit off a pregnant mom whose heart was pumping at methamphetamine speed, where dirty-diapered babies played among porn DVDs and filth. Those ugly reminiscences still sometimes rear in my head like gnarly desert dust devils.


Then there are those nights we suffered because band members and best friends died way, way too young. Musical brothers who, at one time or other, kept me inside their pockets and I kept them in mine. (Hey, Brian “Renfield” Nelson, John Suskin, Jon Norwood, Kevin Pate, Douglas Hopkins, and Nino Notaro.) Their lives touched many in Phoenix and beyond, and those hurts still require attention. But they taught me, eventually, to be grateful for those who didn’t find their way to early graves.


And I can never without sadness recall the ones who had simply moved on because there was nothing in Phoenix for them. It was as if, as someone recently said, ambition was geographic. Nothing can ever just be. Nothing can ever last. Not for me, not for anyone else. But the personal attachments made in the Arizona bars and clubs, and in the writing and journalism circles, will stay on, and will last, no doubt, for life.


In fact, those nights and the folks in those nights created a whole world inside the city. So those who always chirp that greater Phoenix has no city center, that it long ago morphed into cultureless sprawl, are simply missing it. The center is there. It’s beating inside. It’s just overlooked, and maybe stomped on. You just have to hunt for it.


Between all those late-night record stores and sweat-soaked Latino dance clubs, between the Native American murals and America’s best 24-hour drive-thru burritos down around 16th Street and Van Buren, I see my Phoenix in all its glory. And, yes, I now live in Detroit and I understand how my pathos, and my love, for Arizona’s capital city increases directly in proportion to my distance and absence from it, but still, it’s mark in my heart is ineradicable. I could come in from any direction at night — south, east, west, and north — and those South Mountain radio towers would show me what, and where, to be. And sometimes I’d swear on my life that I’d hear old Lee Hazlewood’s dry desert croak on some ancient Phoenix radio station going on about how no angel, beaten down or otherwise, could ever be lost. Not at night. Not in Phoenix.

When that sun would finally drop behind the city’s skyline, things just lit up. It didn’t matter to us that on summer nights, the heat still hummed like a migraine and the beer warmed too fast, just as long as that burning sun went down. Sometimes, the dry night breeze would be so hot I’d envision nighttime wildfires whipping up through desert arroyos out beyond Chandler toward the Superstitions. But it was beautiful, and desert things come alive in the dark.


I’d become a weird kind of tourist at night, curious and small and insignificant to the city and the desert surrounding it. I engaged all manner of people — from repo men, porn stars, and church founders to Santería priests, meth cooks, and taxicab gunmen — and profiled many in these very pages. We were mostly cooked and lean and hungry, damaged by the sun in some way, but grateful for the night. I’d romanticize the shit out of those evenings, and they’d often feel like a tripped-up mix of Denis Johnson’s desperate Phoenix in Angels and Alice Cooper’s quixotic one in “Alma Mater.”


Sometimes, Phoenix from years past returns to me in glimpses. Uplifting, unflinching glimpses. I imagine city lights from a Camelback Mountain lookout. I see ghosts. I see a lovely Arizona Biltmore wedding reception, the gowns and drunken suits and lovely lighted gardens. I see Tempe and hear the Zubia brothers, these beautiful Mexican-American dudes whose entire lives inform each note they play. They’re packing Long Wong’s on Mill Avenue, and a soused bunch of hardcore music lovers, ASU students, and beautiful women spill out to the rickety tables on the bar’s patio. I see inside Phoenix’s Mason Jar Lounge, where some local rock ’n’ roll legend is busy serving up libations to the 26 smart fans of lamented bands Sugar High and 39 Lashes. I think of Glendale and swilling beer poured from a keg. We’re standing around in the yellowy light of some backyard house party and killer Undertow and Meat Puppets tunes blast from a CD boombox. It’s a classic, chain-linked-in Arizona paradise populated by gun-toting hillbillies and beat strippers with facial tats, and a couple of awkward indie kids who’d transcended the scene by making it to art school.


I see myself back in Central Phoenix, downing beers in a bandmate’s car before entering a club. We’re celebrating a future that feels expansive and dreamy like the big starry sky above while waiting for our song to come on the radio. I think of the myriad rock ’n’ roll shows I’ve done — from the storied old Merlin’s nightclub and Mason Jar to the Mesa Amphitheater and Compton Terrace. I never wanted any of those nights to recede.

Once upon a time in Phoenix, I used to long for night to come down. It was like a mercy killing, really. I mean the way nightfall kills off the day there.
I figured that’s why so many Phoenix sunsets look like bloodletting in
slow motion.

By Brian Smith

Illustration by Ryan Quackenbush

author and illustrator bios

Megalopolitan Life

About the writer

Tom Zoellner is an associate professor of English at Chapman University in California and the author of five nonfiction books. He used to cover Phoenix city government for the Arizona Republic. His great-great-grandfather was a cotton farmer who moved here in 1908 for love of the climate. Of his recent book A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, New Times said it was “a gripping story that presents a side of the whole mess you’re not likely to find elsewhere.”


About the artist

Sarah Hurwitz was born in Phoenix. She received a BFA in painting and ceramics from the University of Colorado in 2005 and a master’s degree in painting from the University of Arizona and now works as lead artist for a design/build firm that makes large-scale interactive installations for children’s libraries (see their cool stuff at www. burgeongroup.com). Hurwitz also occasionally teaches drawing at Paradise Valley Community College. She once traveled on a ship around the globe and has exhibited in Arizona, Los Angeles, Colorado, Chicago, and New York City. Her work mainly focuses on large-scale paintings and installations about detaching yourself from the duties of daily life by retreating to the fanciful environments of childhood imagination. She lives and works in downtown Phoenix with her baby boy, baby-daddy, and boxer. See more of her work at www.sarahhurwitz.com

Fun & Games

About the writer

Michael Grady is a local writer, performer, and frustrated Diamondbacks fan. His plays have included Past History, White Picket Fence, and The Harmony Codes. He has written for Times Publications, the East Valley Tribune, and Phoenix Magazine, and his upcoming eBook, Death Calls a Meeting, is either a funny murder mystery or a comedy with a body count, depending on your point of view.


About the artist

Scott Biersack is a letterer, illustrator, and designer based in Phoenix. He’s a strong believer in the sayings “practice makes perfect” and “follow your bliss.” As cliché as they might sound, he has found from experience that anything is possible. “Through hard work, determination, and lack of sleep, I have truly grown to love what I do.”

Goods & Services

About the writer

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo has had short stories, poetry, and creative nonfiction published in Literary Mama, SLAB Literary Magazine, Hospital Drive, the Portland Review, Babble, and Bartleby Snopes. Her debut novel, The Fourth Wall, was released in June by WiDo Publishing and is available online and in print. Links to Naranjo’s work can be found on her website, www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.


About the artist

Born in England, Jennifer Campbell did most of her growing up in Phoenix. She attended Arizona State University, where she received a BFA in intermedia. She specializes in children’s book illustration, self-publishing Yeti Leaves Home with local author Troy Harris. Jennifer enjoys exploring the fragile qualities of watercolors, creating whimsical worlds with the stroke of a brush. Discover more of Campbell’s work at www.lonelyyetiworkshop.com.

La Vida

About the writer

Kathy Cano-Murillo is an author, artist, and founder of the award-winning www.craftychica.com. Her mission is to spread positivity through creativity. A former columnist for the Arizona Republic, she has authored nine books, including the novels Waking Up in the Land of Glitter and Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing. Her product line is on sale at select Michaels stores. When Kathy isn’t blogging, crafting, or writing books, she spreads the gospel of glitter. She is a mom, wife, a third-generation Phoenician, and owns five Chihuahuas.


About the artist

Born in Superior, Emily Costello finds much of her inspiration from her Mexican heritage and its cultural icons and images. She’s irresistibly attracted to the curious and bizarre and paints images that amuse and intrigue. Luchadores, Frida Kahlo, santos, the sacred heart, lotería and Dia de los Muertos are abundant in her work. She also creates mixed-media assemblages with found objects and her own sculptures. Costello has exhibited in dozens of group shows in Arizona, California, and New Mexico. She was featured on New Times’ culture blog, Jackalope Ranch, as one of the 100 Creatives. Her art has been featured on azcentral.com, Arizona Foothills Magazine, Visual Art Source, and Latino Perspectives Magazine. She is a member of the Phoenix Fridas art collective.


About the writer

Kim Porter is a writer/performer who lives in Tempe and coaches solo performers. Porter has been spotted around the Valley doing her storytelling shtick at any venue that will have her, most recently at Most of Lit Lounge at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Porter is excited to be performing again at Lit Lounge on October 24. Porter is converting one of her many unproduced screenplays into a novel and hoping to one day make something of herself. After winning a New Times Big Brain Award in 2011, she can no longer find hats that fit.


About the artist

Carrie Hobson is a freelance illustrator living and working in Mesa. She attended Cal Arts, where she earned a BFA in character animation. She has worked with Jib Jab, Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Consumer Products, and has her own line of paper good products that can be found on Etsy. Carrie loves to make pictures that tell stories and strives to make playful drawings that people can connect to. When she isn’t playing with her niece or out on a run, she is usually at her drawing desk enjoying every minute.


About the writer

Brian Smith has written for many magazines and alt-weeklies, and his fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals. He’s an award-winning journalist, first as a staff writer and columnist at New Times and then as an editor at Detroit’s Metro Times. Before writing full time, Smith fronted Arizona-based rock ’n’ roll bands Beat Angels and, before that, Gentlemen Afterdark. He has penned tunes with lots of folks, including Alice Cooper. He lives in Detroit with his girlfriend and his debut collection of stories, The Black Dog, is due out in 2015.


About the artist

Ryan Quackenbush is a Phoenix-based illustrator who, after graduating from art school, worked as a digital matte painter for several local web series and other projects. His work has been published by Image and Dark Horse, and whose first comic series, Heroic, debuted last year. He recently self-published the first two issues of his own series, Strange Streets, as well as the comic Peony. He will also be illustrating the upcoming graphic novel Deprecated, written by Gren Radcliff.

The End.