In Arizona the Imagination Fails to Take Root
This is about the passage of time.
Here in Arizona, we live in a dream world created by our own imagination.
We are, of necessity, citizens of a different country. The television networks have decreed that the real world consists of New York City and Washington, D.C. Unless they subscribe to cable television, readers in the East don't get the Arizona State football scores from Saturday night until Monday morning.
And so we cling here, waiting anxiously for things to change. For us, the next great show trial will solve all our problems and it is always just moments away.
I came to Arizona ten years ago when it wasn't easily discernible that Bob Corbin was talking out of the side of his mouth when he promised to seek out the killers of Don Bolles.
The fact that I remember the Bolles case makes me an Arizona native. Corbin is still attorney general, but he has become a strangely compliant one. Now when you write Bolles' name, you are required to add this ominous and somehow distracting footnote: Bolles was an Arizona Republic investigative reporter who was murdered by a group of men paid to kill him with a car bomb in broad daylight.
That plainly indicates that Bolles is in our minds about as much as any deceased Beirut politician. He's a shadowy figure who used to play tennis with Burton Barr. He drove a secondhand Datsun in which he met his death.
Do you, by any chance, remember when Datsun ran television commercials promising to plant a tree for every car purchased in America? This is not meant to be a relevant remark.
Here in Arizona, everything changes. And yet nothing really changes. Land fraud and killings make far more stimulating reading than promises of prosperity through acquisition of the 1993 Super Bowl. This is a state that deserves M. Scott Peck and even plump Senator Tony West.
The slick Ned Warren, who died in prison, preceded Charles Keating, the great and close friend of Mother Teresa. Wyatt Earp and Winnie Ruth Judd were as well-known and respected in their day as John Harvey Adamson.
Now the estimable Keating is at center stage. Senator Dennis DeConcini and his aides, Ron Ober and Earl Katz, are closely linked with him.
But don't expect to live long enough to see this matter resolved.
Above all, if you did business with Keating, don't expect your money back really soon. You might recover more quickly by sinking huge portions of your weekly pay into the Arizona lottery.
I'm reminded of one of the judges who ruled on Maya Ying Lan's Vietnam War Memorial. She was a Yale graduate who had earned a B grade for the design in her architectural class. The professor who graded her work was one of 14,241 entrants to the memorial contest but he didn't make the finals.
"Washington is full of white memorials rising," the judge wrote condescendingly. "This is a dark memorial receding." That is just the kind of intellectual talk that infuriates people who, instead of going to Harvard and Yale, went to Saigon or Khe Sanh and got badly shot up for their trouble.
I went to Washington to see the memorial a few weeks before its dedication.
I stood for an hour staring at the names on the long wall of polished black granite that is anchored below the earth to a depth of ten feet. A man standing next to me said something that has ever since seemed strangely applicable to Arizona.
"Vietnam was bad for us because we never knew what we wanted to do there. So how can we know what we want to do here now?" Do we know even now in Arizona what we really want to do?
Why must we build the Thomas Road overpass on the Squaw Peak Parkway as an afterthought? Will our suspicions about the dangers of Palo Verde ever dissipate? Is Terry Goddard gay? Does it make a difference? Has there ever been a candidate for mayor who resembled Ebenezer Scrooge more than Burt Kruglick does?
I often make the mistake of thinking the biggest story of the day is the most readable one. By the time I get to it, it's almost always old news.
So I went to Tucson for John Harvey Adamson's second trial in the Bolles murder. The jury, of course, gave him the death penalty. But there was an incredible debate that delayed the verdict.
Before he died, Bolles had uttered Adamson's name to witnesses. One juror was actually convinced by this that Bolles had been trying to "frame" Adamson.
Prison had worked a miracle on his appearance. Porcine and strangely ominous at the trial, Adamson had become the picture of health. With his chronic alcoholism arrested by incarceration, Adamson looked like an advertisement for NutraSweet(R). He lost sixty pounds. He worked in the prison library and become a voracious reader. The quality of his life had actually improved.
"Do you think about the death penalty?" I asked.
Adamson answered with a question.
"If you had cancer, would you think about it?" Adamson told me something that has stuck with me.
"In here," he said, "I live with murderers but I know them. When you live on the outside, you never know who they are." In Arizona, the persistent entrepreneurs bounce back from misfortune. When I first came to Arizona, Rudy Miller ran a lucrative trade school called Arizona Tech.
Miller was a tireless self-promoter. His face was seemingly on half the billboards in town. He was as well known as J. Danforth Quayle. Miller kept telling everyone of his visits to the home of George Bush. He predicted he was going to be the next Karl Eller.
"Are you a millionaire?" Miller was asked.
"Let's say multimillion," he answered.
One night, Miller fell in with a group of professional card players in a place then called Applegate's, not far from Arizona Tech. The game was liar's poker.
Miller lost heavily and then put up a beef. There was a scuffle. Miller was tossed out. In the process, Miller lost one of his shoes.
He went back to Arizona Tech and got a .45-caliber pistol. Miller headed back to Applegate's and barged through the door waving the gun. An off-duty cop tackled him and Miller was arrested.
The story played big. Miller's troubles multiplied when his school, heavily dependent upon government-sponsored loans for tuition, went down.
Miller disappeared from view for a while. Now, he's popped up again. This time, he's bigger than ever. He's president of a commuter airline and is listed as the owner of his own skybox for the Phoenix Cardinals games.
Everything is connected.
A young man named Mitch Singer married one of the partners of Applegate's. He then opened his own restaurant called B.B. Singer's in Scottsdale. In quick succession, Singer went big-time, opening two more restaurants along Central Avenue.
There was always a suspicion that people who did cocaine were somehow involved. Stan Akers Jr., the son of the legislative powerhouse, was arrested there but was able to cop a plea.
Singer's brother-in-law, Steve Steinberg, stabbed Singer's sister to death. Some thought he was under the influence of cocaine. But no one ever knew for sure because he was found innocent of murder because of temporary insanity.
Now, Singer and Akers are up to their ears in the case of the cocaine-dealing dentist in Paradise Valley.
For a solid month, Michael Lacey, New Times executive editor, has written frightening stories about the conduct of the Department of Public Safety in the Leon Woodward case.
The stories point out that our DPS under Ralph Milstead exhibited the same political-police-force tendencies as the Gestapo under Heinrich Himmler. No one who's been around Arizona very long takes the Woodward case as an isolated incident. There were the ruthless tactics employed during Evan Mecham's impeachment trial. There was the mysterious arrest of Ed Finklestein, who was running against DeConcini and making serious charges about DeConcini's land deals.
And there were all those heavy-handed storm-trooper tactics employed by the DPS during the Phelps Dodge copper strike in Morenci.
The DPS officers have always been friends of the rich and the entrenched. They know how to pick their targets. Most people don't like Woodward. They didn't like Mecham. They abhorred the strikers, largely Mexicans who didn't know their place.
One day I sat down and talked with Ray Isner of United Steelworkers of America.
"People just don't want to believe the oppressive role the Department of Public Safety played in the strike," he said.
"One night, the strikers conducted a march. The DPS started making arrests. They took everyone to a place called the Morenci Club. There were eighteen of them. They kept these men, who had merely been engaged in a march, handcuffed for fourteen hours. All that time, they were confined to a tiny cloakroom.
"They didn't even remove their handcuffs to let them go to the bathroom.
"At one point, the DPS officers carted the strikers down to a baseball field. They hosed them down and then brought them back to an air-conditioned room without giving them a chance to dry off.
"They kept helicopters going all through that night.
"DPS snipers were poised on the side of the hills pointing their weapons down toward Clifton where the strikers lived. Can't people see that the DPS is operated like it was Phelps Dodge's private army?" Insensitivity is rampant. Nothing changes. The powerful are never even embarrassed.
This is why they are now willing to create a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It will be good for business. It may bring us the Super Bowl.
How fitting. And how totally contemptible.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.