Phoenix Has an Inferiority Complex

Or maybe you do

My mom and her best friend started calling me Muffy Buffy, and not in a nice way.

I had to get out of town.

I planned my escape at an early age. But I was chicken, so the first time I only made it to just east of L.A., to Claremont, a small college town that sort of looked like it belonged on the East Coast, but with a lot of smog. From there, I went to Washington, D.C., even lived in London for a semester, but no place was quite right. I had seen When Harry Met Sally . . . , and I absolutely had to live in New York City.

And so I did. I applied to grad school not because I sought academic enlightenment but because it seemed like the easiest way to get to New York. I moved into a pie-shaped dorm room in south Harlem, next to a crack house. If I stood on my bed, I could sort of see the river. For once, I had no TV. I was determined. If I could make it here, I'd make it anywhere. Start spreading the news. I even took a bartending course, in case grad school didn't go so well. I marched up and down the Upper West Side, pretending I was in a Woody Allen movie. I decided it was sort of cool to be from Arizona but living in New York, so I bought some cowboy boots at Kenneth Cole. (It was only my second pair, ever; the first were purchased at Saba's for the Parada del Sol in Scottsdale when I was in the second grade. They were teal. These were black.)

I'm sure I looked like an idiot. New York was onto me. I'll never forget my most cinematic moment, waiting to cross the street at Columbus Circle, so sick with a cold that I'd actually made a doctor' s appointment. It was cold and rainy, and I stood right at the edge of the street, eagerly waiting to cross, not noticing that for once, I wasn't crushed with other people. They were keeping a safe distance, which I realized only when a bus drove past, drenching me with dirty New York City gutter water. I stood there, blinking through the black gunk, and thought, "Maybe it's time to go home."

Anyhow, I'd failed the bartending class. So I finished school, packed up all my stuff and shipped it to Phoenix, vowing I'd stay a week or two, a month tops, before moving on to some place cool like Philadelphia, since I really liked the show thirtysomething, or maybe even back to D.C. (St. Elmo's Fire was an all-time favorite).

After two weeks, I was ready to kill my parents. Concerned the feeling was mutual, I quickly got out of the house. There was no time to leave town, so I rented an apartment over a sand volleyball court and talked my way into a job at the Scottsdale Daily Progress, my hometown newspaper. My apartment was about four times the size of my dorm room in New York, but the volleyballs kept knocking over the pots of petunias I'd placed on the patio wall in an effort to create the feel of a Manhattan fire escape, and when I tried to stencil the bathroom to make the place look artsy, it just made a mess.

I moved to another apartment, and eventually to another job, at New Times, and I made some friends. One of them, Christa, was just the sort of girl you'd stumble on in D.C. or New York. She'd gone to my college, although we hadn't known each other there, and had come to Phoenix to work for Bruce Babbitt when he ran for president in the late '80s, and she just sort of stuck around after that, working political jobs. Christa loved to hate Phoenix as much as I did. But then she met a guy who really liked Phoenix. They got engaged, and she refused a bridal shower (as well as a diamond -- and she got married in the rain on the carousel at Kiddie Land, with sneakers under her wedding dress), so a few of us took her out instead. We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Such Is Life, where the waiter found out Christa was engaged and gave her a rose, telling her, "Laaaaahhv him to death," which made us laugh. (So did the margaritas.) And somewhere along the way, we all decided that we were going to love Phoenix, too. Christa and I wrote "I ♥ Phoenix" on little slips of paper and shoved them in our wallets, like fortunes.

We ended the night at the Royal Palms. This was before they redid it, back when the place still had a heart-shaped pool, and a guy named Buddy Raymond played "The Girl From Ipanema" on a keyboard in the grungy lounge. We walked out onto the golf course and looked out at the city. In the distance, I saw some funny red lights, blinking off and on. "What are those lights?" I asked my friends. I swore I'd never seen them before. The women stared at me. They thought I was joking.

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