Phoenix Has an Inferiority Complex

Or maybe you do

Lanning also says -- often -- that Phoenix has an inferiority complex.

When I decided to write this, I started asking people, "Do you think Phoenix has an inferiority complex?" You can split the response down the middle. Half the people groaned. "Don't write a blowjob story," one colleague warned me. "Don't be a booster." The other half groaned, too. "Please don't write another negative story about this city," an academic type begged.

The truth is that this story is neither.

Some call it cocooning.
Jeff Newton
Some call it cocooning.
All this and a bag of chips.
Jeff Newton
All this and a bag of chips.

You know, there's this house west of Seventh Street, just south of McDowell; I notice it from Seventh sometimes when I'm driving to lunch. Someone's put a ton of junk -- lawn gnomes, statues, recently I noticed what looked like a wooden horse head -- in the front yard. I always think to myself, That looks like shit. But I have to stop and wonder, what would I think of that if I saw it in Chicago? I'd think, Cool! Why doesn't anyone do anything that original in Phoenix?

Maybe we all need an attitude adjustment. Look, I won't pretend to be this city's biggest fan. Last month, I had a lunch appointment at the Arizona Center, and walking through that place was enough to make me want to slit my wrists -- a mall that can't even sustain a Victoria's Secret. Driving to work the other day, I could not believe how gross the brown cloud was. At the same time, I have to admit that the city's not so bad anymore. Stuff's happening. During Art Detour, I drove my mom down to Bentley Projects, the grand, relatively new art space south of Bank One Ballpark, and practically had to force her out of the car. Fifteen minutes later, she couldn't stop thanking me for taking her there. Yeah, it always seems like there's no place to go for lunch, but at the same time, I can name you a dozen great new restaurants across metropolitan Phoenix. I've gone shopping -- and found stuff! -- in Mesa. People actually have good things to say about Buckeye.

This is no longer the city where Kimber Lanning and I went to high school. I think it takes a native -- or an almost-native, in Lanning's case -- to get that. And to understand that until Phoenix can get a little happy about that fact, things can't get much better.

The other day, I stopped for coffee at Lux, the über-cool coffee bar on Central Avenue, housed in a funky green slump-block building next to Passage, an artsy boutique, and Pane Bianco, pizza guy Chris Bianco's sandwich shop. The landlord, Sloane McFarland, another native, walked up with his kids. Like many of us, McFarland left Phoenix after school, ultimately landing right back here.

I asked him my question.

He laughed. "No, but I think I used to have an inferiority complex," he said, as he disappeared into the coffee shop.

My birth certificate claims I was born at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, but for as long as I can remember, I've been telling people I was kidnapped at a very early age from the Upper West Side of Manhattan by a very nice couple named the Silvermans, and brought to live in this disgusting hellhole.

Blame television. One of my earliest memories is of watching TV in bed; my mom would put the fuzzy, old black-and-white in my room to occupy me during adult dinner parties. I'd fall asleep watching Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore and dream about snow and winter clothes and living in that big, sparkly building or that cute Victorian, where your neighbors drop by all the time, the way Rhoda and Phyllis did. I wanted to wear the red-and-white plaid wool dress my Great Aunt Adele had sent from Chicago every day, but it was only cold enough for about a week. And no one ever took me to the park, the way Mr. French on Family Affair did. Never mind that that was probably because we had a swing set and a pool in the backyard. The world was a terribly unfair place.

No one ever even mentioned Phoenix on TV, which in my mind meant the place didn't exist. And then the show Alice premièred. I watched Mel kiss Flo's grits in that gross diner and thought, Oh my God, Phoenix really is as bad as I've always suspected.

I went to high school in the '80s, the last time preppy was big. The Preppy Handbook was published, and I got my hands on a copy and memorized it. I was no dummy, I was president of the Speech and Debate club at school (quit laughing), but I had no idea this book was supposed to be a joke. This was my bible, all about people I knew nothing about, but wanted to be, people who vacationed at a place called Martha's Vineyard, drank cocktails and did not shop at Yellow Front. I poured Lauren cologne on everything I owned and came to school layered in my favorite outfit: a hot pink polo shirt, with a bright green polo over that, with a pale pink button-down Oxford shirt over that, khakis, pink espadrilles, a pale pink/hot pink/green striped grosgrain ribbon headband, a pink belt with green ladybugs embroidered on it and a purse with a button-on madras cover in matching hues.

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