SAC LUNCH

The sun shines bright on Black Canyon City. I am waiting in line at a rather unusual barbecue. The young girl behind the outdoor counter waves metal tongs at me. I point to the four bins of fried food in front of her. "What is what here?" I ask. Her eyes glaze with boredom. How many times does she have to tell people the same thing? She points to a tray of white foodstuffs shaped like tiny footballs. "That's turkey," she says. "That's buffalo. This one's pork. And that's beef. You want some of each?"

Welcome to Nutcracker Sweet XXI, a.k.a. Super Ball Saturday, at Squaw Peak Steak House. How I ended up here will give you some insight into the highly technical process of assigning stories at New Times.

It started as a joke, but quickly turned into a dare. There I was, minding my own business, pulling press releases from envelopes, when Ward Harkavy, associate editor, called to me from across the room. "Hey, Penelope," he said. "Didja see that flyer about Super Ball Saturday?"

I'm always polite to Ward. I looked up from my important work. "No, Ward," I said. "What's that?"

Ward wore one of his trademark grins. "They're calling it the ultimate Rocky Mountain oyster fry. Up in Black Canyon City. I think you should go. It'd make a funny story."

"Rocky Mountain oysters, huh?~" I tossed some recipes from a chocolate manufacturer into the circular file.

"Have you ever had 'em? Maybe they're good. I think it'd be funny. C'mon," Ward said, trying his best to whip up my enthusiasm. "The Squaw Peak Steak House at the dog track exit off I-17? In Black Canyon City? How could it be anything but great?"

I began to sweat a little. Eating fried animal testicles is not my idea of a good time. I clutched a shiny metal letter opener and ripped open another envelope. A crowd of onlookers had gathered. One of them was assistant editor Anna Dooling, who hired me and edits my work.

"What's going on?" Anna inquired.
I tried to be casual. "Oh, nothing," I said. "Ward wants me to go eat Rocky Mountain oysters in Black Canyon City next weekend.~"

"Oh, how hysterical," my editor screamed. "I think you should do it."
My heart dropped a few inches closer to my stomach. I looked back at Ward. His grin had stretched into a full-fledged smile. THE FOLLOWING SATURDAY, Goat and I merge onto the northbound freeway at Indian School. I wish I could tell you we are going skiing, but we're not. Our destination is Black Canyon City. Our mission? To search out and consume fried animal testicles. Well, actually, I am the only one who will be eating so-called "Rocky Mountain oysters." My faithful dining accomplice Goat is just along for the ride. He has already told me he has no intention of noshing on any part of the reproductive system. In fact, it is only after I assure him barbecued chicken also will be available that he agrees to accompany me. So much for the myth that goats will eat anything.

I use the drive to psyche myself for the adventure ahead. The desert views help distract me from the dread that has been percolating since early morning. Eating the unfamiliar requires so much energy, doesn't it?

A half-hour north of Phoenix, Goat, who has been silent for much of the trip, speaks. "It's a lot farther than I thought," he says.

SQUAW PEAK STEAKHOUSE is not hard to find. Turn right at the Dog Track Road Exit off I-17. Make a right up the incline, pass the gas station and park anywhere. By the time we arrive, early in the afternoon, the gravel lot is full. All of these people are here for this? We park within sight of Rose's Best Little Hair House in Town and enter the dark saloon of Squaw Peak Steak House.

It takes time for our eyes to adjust. Just past the pool table, a woman with a cash box stands behind a podium. We approach her cautiously. "Are you eating?" she asks. I look at Goat. "Uh, yes," I say. "Two?" I nod and hand her $15. She stamps the backs of our hands with the inked image of a buffalo. "Go through there," she gestures. "The barbecue is outside on the patio."

We thank her and walk down a ramp into what looks like an indoor picnic area. The large concrete-floored room reverberates with the clinking sound of metal shoe taps. Young cloggers in turquoise and black costumes ready themselves for a performance later in the day. I inhale drugstore perfume and ozone-obliterating hair spray as I pass the pubescent girls.

We re-enter the sunlight. Outside, on the back patio, the barbecue is in full swing. A rootsy country band of gray-haired musicians entertains the cross section of humanity assembled. Cowboys, punks, bikers. Seniors, young folks, kids. All sit at long tables hunkered down over the plates of, um, food, in front of them. Goat and I queue up for barbecue. The young girl behind the makeshift counter looks at us expectantly. "Chicken? Or Rocky Mountain oysters?" Goat wastes no time in expressing his preference. "Chicken," he says. She piles a piece of chicken, some beans and cole slaw onto his plate. Then she turns to me.

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