Late on a brassy Sunday afternoon, Celia Putty stands beneath the velvet curtain, loaded on sass and confidence. Stretching diagonally over his frilly shirt and ample breasts is a red beauty queen sash that reads: "Project LifeGuard Phoenix--Queen of Safe Sex ?-1999."
Putty's black leather shoes are trimmed with bright neon-colored laces. His pink anklets give way to smooth nylon-covered legs that tuck into tight blue-jean shorts. Small water pistols poke out from each of his front pockets like detachable phalli. His reddish mane is pinned up, wisps falling seductively over his shaded cheeks and delicate chin. The waning sun slants in through the bar's big open side doors, the warmth releasing from the crowd familiar smells of high school gym class and commercial deodorants.
Putty's amplified voice swings with a Divinelike cadency: all willowy and buoyant, but in sturdy low tones. The 60 or so in the room--mostly men under 30--greet Putty's addresses with incessant yelps and gleeful retorts like, "I'll be your bitch in braces, you bitch!"
"I want to start the bidding off at 50 dollars," Putty purrs into a hand-held microphone. The crowd is a damp heap packed to the bow of the tiny stage, ogling with beaming faces at Brett, the buff, tattooed auction specimen.
"I've got 50 dollars, do I have 60?" A hand goes up in the crowd. "I've got 60, do I have 70?" In the back, another hand. "I've got 70 dollars, do I hear 80?" No hands.
Turning toward Brett, Putty prompts, "Go ahead and show us something, Brett."
Brett flashes a coy smile and turns around. The crowd responds accordingly.
"Let's make them know that this is worth it. Show us your underwear. Oh, he's not wearing any underwear."
Putty's voice rises, causing the house PA to distort. "He's not wearing any underwear!" The audience comes alive.
"Let me tell you all--I'm going to embarrass the hell out of you, Brett--you all need to know, this man is worth more than that. I have actually been out on a date with this man. This man is worth at least a hundred! Do I hear 80?"
A hand rises.
In a perfected parody of drama, Putty thrusts his arm into the air, flips his wrist down and crows, "I've got 80 dollars going once, 80 dollars going twice, 80 dollars, sold to the man right there in the hat!"
Mock catcalls ensue. Putty throws a hip to one side, pats his chest briskly with his palm as if short of breath and says, "Whew, I'm all hot and sweaty now."
"G-Ello Wrestling 2, The Challenge" is a benefit to raise cash for APAZ (AIDS Project Arizona), the Being Alive Wellness Center, and Project LifeGuard--three multiservice organizations dedicated to, among other things, HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and education.
Money is being raised by the auctioning off of donated goods (everything from full salon treatments to airline tickets) and men (all in good fun).
The actual Jell-O wrestling is the draw here. It's an event that offers more color than it actually suggests: Skimpily outfitted men with obscenely worked-out torsos doing the heave-ho in Jell-O.
The Park, a midtown bar hosting the event, is painted ornate pink. The Park features an outdoor patio with palm shades and parasols over tables, and a full-service bar. Under a canopy near the center of the patio is an inflatable wading pool set on hard concrete. Its bottom surface is overlaid with a thin layer of unpalatable green goop. The pool is surrounded by hay bales. The amateur wrestlers come and go in matches. Some wrestle more than once. The matches last up to three minutes, shorter if a pin occurs.
And the bulk of the men are elaborately tattooed, solid and possess big legs like centaurs.
One match sees Bryce Desy paired off with his husband, Brian Mooney, and like something half animal, half warrior, their muscles ripple under glistening hides. Both take to the Jell-O with considerable courage. The water-pistol-armed crowd rants emphatically; jet streams of liquid shoot this way and that. The slimy duo roll and tumble and pin one another in a brutal contest; their guttural grunts and groans aren't simulated, and their tryst is ultimately unresolved: In the end, the referee holds up both men's arms, signifying a tie.
Desy and Mooney embrace, covered head to toe in sweat and Jell-O. They peck each other on the lips and the audience applauds madly.
"I am not a wrestler," laughs a drained Desy, a full-time employee at Project LifeGuard. "This is the first time ever [wrestling] and I'm just doing it for charity. I'll never do it again, probably. It hurts. It's really cold and there's not a lot of padding, so you're hitting concrete. Earlier I chipped one guy's tooth."
Green Jell-O, booze and numerous queens armed with squirt guns make for few scruples. Apparently, a fun time is being had by all.
The day's headline duel is a "celebrity death match" between KEDJ DJ/hype machine Pistol Pete and Echo magazine GM Dean Lawson. Pete, tanned with a heavily aerobicized frame, seems mismatched with the inversely built Lawson. The Echo GM seems a sure washout.
The contest begins, and Pete has Lawson down. The throng chimes in with the inevitable Deliverance references. Much butt-slapping goes on. Pete executes an animated swanlike move straight from The Karate Kid with arms stretched outward, one leg up, and eyes wide. His mouth is caught in a perpetual grin, he yells, "C'mon, mutha fucka." The swarm roars.
Celia, the auctioneer, and fellow queen Barbra Saville are both dolled up like slutty cheerleaders. Lawson and Pete pull them into the gack.
Bodies slam into Jell-O and concrete and both Celia and Barbra lose their wigs. Jell-O rains down on the spectators. In the end, The Edge's pre-eminent DJ comes out on top. Lawson bows a graceful defeat.
Pistol Pete is offered up on the auction block and fetches nearly $300. The crowd chants, "Pete, Pete, Pete, Pete." A Truman Capote twin in a floppy Neiman Marcus hat with purple ribbons chirps, "Pete wants a 19-year-old with braces."
"I feel like Kunta Kinte," Pete says, laughing. "Just because you're purchasing me, it is not a guaranteed home run. You might get a peck on the cheek and a 'Thank you very much, it's been real, it's been nice.' Sometimes it couldn't be real nice, you just never know. It doesn't mean Pistol Pete is gonna be down on all fours at the end of the night with various Castle Boutique utensils in various orifices of my body."
He breaks out in hearty laughter, "You just never know."
Pistol Pete could be Mickey Rooney in Broadway to Hollywood, sweet-tempered and sprightly to the point of being almost over the top.
And being an "outed" male DJ makes Pete an anomaly on Valley radio.
"If anybody treats me any differently, they don't matter," he says. "I have a new attitude: If they disapprove, they don't matter. And I don't mean that in a mean way. But I have just gotten to the point where I just have to come to terms with who you are and what you are all about. Besides the fact that this is a charity. The Edge is the only radio station with enough balls to support something like this."
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KUPD radio recently dedicated an on-air spot to Pete, denouncing him for his sexual preferences.
"If people aren't gonna listen to myself or a radio station because they happen to be a certain persuasion, that's their choice. Thank God the radio is loaded up with as many choices as there are."
Later, as I walk home, three kids hurl rocks in my direction. I hear the words "fag" and "homo" as the stones drop around me. I just keep walking. I've got a good two miles to go, and it doesn't matter.