Best Of :: People & Places
Contrary to popular belief, some pretty happening things got their start in Phoenix -- like the chimichanga (reputedly), Steven Spielberg, and, dare we say it, the New Times chain. But the coolest thing to come out of this town in a long time is First Fiction, the authors' tour created by Cindy Dach, marketing guru for Changing Hands Bookstore. A few years back, Dach noticed that David Sedaris had suddenly made the memoir mesmerizing, but no one, it seemed, was hip to the whole fiction thing. Dach came up with the idea of bringing together several first-time fiction authors to read short excerpts, for one night. The key to success: cheap drinks.
First Fiction was born. It was such a smash hit, on its 2003 debut at the outdoor patio at Monti's La Casa Vieja in downtown Tempe (including a reading by Nell Freudenberger, that year's It Girl of the fiction world), that Dach had requests to expand First Fiction outside Arizona.
So she took the authors on the road. Last fall, five debut novelists (including Joshua Braff, brother of Zach, whose New Jersey-set coming-of-age tale The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green is an amazing companion piece to Zach's Garden State) ended a six-city tour at Monti's in Tempe, laughing and joking and acting like teenagers who'd just returned from summer camp together. It was standing room only; the authors felt like rock stars. A tour this spring skipped the Valley, but in October, First Fiction starts in New York City and winds up back at Monti's, this time with three female authors whose work includes a fictitious take on the life of Rudyard Kipling.
We can't resist saying that this was a novel idea. And we're glad First Fiction can call the Valley home.
Lord almighty, we feel our temperature rising, especially when Mesa resident and diehard Elvis Presley fan Duke Hicks takes to the stage and unleashes his realistic reproduction of the legendary superstar. Having offered up his Elvis imitation act for more than two decades, this delivery man and part-time country musician is arguably one of the longest-lasting King clones in the Valley. He's been seen at a plethora of private parties, countless corporate functions, a regular gig at Philly's (a bar-restaurant in south Scottsdale), as well as at the Frontier Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where Hicks says he nabbed "a rousing standing ovation" following his performance. (He's even set to star in an upcoming documentary on Elvis impersonators titled Heart of the King.) Aping what he calls "classic Elvis" (a.k.a. the skinnier, non-drug-addled version), Hicks dons a sequin-studded white jumpsuit and the King's trademark shades and croons his way through an eerily accurate rendition of Elvis' repertoire, which encompasses more than 50 songs -- from chartbusters like "Burning Love" to more subdued numbers like "You'll Never Walk Alone." Hicks admits he may have to let out his costume in the near future, as -- just like his hero -- he's developing "a little bit of a paunch." Just stay away from the pills, Duke.
Even if you ain't got big chips, there are places -- especially in Scottsdale -- where it will behoove you to act as if you do, and the J Bar is one of them. This super-slinky waterin' hole packs in the booful people on peak nights Thursdays through Saturdays, and the high-class chicas therein can smell a scrub coming from a mile away. So let us school you on how to act like you're a playa, even if your ride is a Hyundai. First, the swagger. You gotta be cocky, and a little snooty. Turn up your nose at the finest-lookin' ho's in the room; after all, it's their job to get next to you. As far as garb goes, tinted glasses are mandatory, and shabby chic always works. Wear your best shiny shirt right out of the package with a pair of your most raggedy jeans. This tells the ladies that you're rockin' so much dolo that you can afford to be lazy. Don't wash your hair for a day, then mousse it all up into spikes. And stop by the men's counter at a department store to spray on a sample of its most expensive cologne. Finally, if you don't have a gold card to throw out at the bartender, prepare a thick cash roll of mostly ones with two C-notes on top. You'll only break the first one, but the bitches' eyes will pop when they see you break out that wad. Then nurse one, maybe two martinis with your wing man and wait for the honeys to beat a path to your studliness. Yeah, baby, there's nothing like the life of a $30,000-a-year millionaire at the J Bar.
Okay, so you're no Marilyn Monroe. Neither are we. But that doesn't mean you don't deserve a little wind up your skirt once in a while, honey. Casino Arizona -- and we're not talking about that big tent off Indian Bend Road, we mean the nice building farther south on the 101 -- has six lounges, three restaurants, keno, 50 blackjack tables and almost 1,000 slots (and we hear pai gow poker could be on the way). The thing we like best about Casino Arizona is the air-conditioning system that blows from the ground up, dispersing cigarette smoke and, as a side bonus, sending a breeze your way, if you know what we mean.
Settle down, big spender. Just because the bank account is down for the count (and the casino has already cut up your Visa), don't go home just yet. You need cash in a flash -- but wanna avoid turning tricks in the parking lot -- so head for one of ZLB's two locations. Presuming you're drug- and disease-free, have strong veins in each arm, lack any recent tattoos or piercings, and can keep quiet about all your illicit trysts, you'll be getting some blood money. In exchange for a few hours -- where you can watch movies or converse with other hard-up homies -- and 880 milliliters of plasma (the protein-rich liquid part of your blood), ZLB's phlebotomists will cough up $25 for your very first visit, and $40 for your second (you'll get $20 and $30 for following weeks thereafter, respectively). Forget about a repeat bloodletting feat, though, as every plasma bank in the Valley has a 24-hour recovery period, cross-donating is verboten, and you can only get pricked twice in a seven-day period. It's not a fistful of C-notes, but at least you can get a couple more go-rounds at the $5 blackjack tables.
Everyone worships the good Lord in his or her own way. On Fridays, Muslims hit the mosque, and on Saturdays, Jews go a-synagoguing. Christians of many denominations make Sunday their day of prayer, and we fall into this category, although our chapel, if you will, is Shepherd's Nite Club, where communion is in the form of a Jack 'n' Coke, and baptism is referred to as "Super Soak-Her," a wet-tee-shirt contest like no other in our Valley of the Sin, uh, we mean, Sun. Here hot amateur gals and some off-duty pros get nearly nekkid for Jehovah, allowing gallons of very cold H2O to be poured all over their skimpy tops and thongs. That's when the Holy Ghost takes control, inspiring these heavenly honeys to crawl all over the men in the congregation, and minister to them in a religious fervor known to perform miracles such as raising the dead and making the blind see! Indeed, we like to think if Jesus comes again, he'll mosey on over to Shepherd's for a cocktail and gander at all this piety on display. After all, there's no cover, and it beats Bible study, that's for damn sure.