Stray Cat Strut
I'm all alone in the 'Zona this Saturday night. Jett's jetted off to NYC for a little vay-cay, leaving me by my lonesome in P-town. (Sigh.) Never thought I'd admit to missing 116 pounds of bitchy lipsticker, but I reckon I do. Thought I'd stay home, sip Hennessy, and play "NBA Ballers" on my PlayStation 2.
Until I recollected that I've been invited to a rockabilly event down at Fat Cats on Grand Avenue, sponsored by the legendary PHX car club the Desperados (www.desperados.hop.to). Their fliers bill it as the "greasiest party you've ever seen." And it's gotta beat sitting at home, drinking my fat ass to sleep. So I throw on my two-tone Guayabera, my gators, and a handful or three of Chanel Pour Homme, hop in the hooptie and prepare to kick it old school.
When I arrive, the parking lot beside Fat Cats is filled with hot rods, bikes and classic cars, all pre-'66. The scene looks like something right out of American Graffiti. Guys in white tees and jeans with the cuffs rolled up mill about with gals dressed like they just stepped out of an early episode of Laverne & Shirley. You know, saddle shoes, pleated skirts, hair in ponytails, jeans with Converse sneaks, etc. Of course, some of the low-cut tops and bared midriffs probably wouldn't have been au courant back in the day, but, hey, the fellas ain't complaining.
I park my ride and stroll into Fat Cats. The party's pumpin' from live psychobilly tunes coming from the club's "Champion Room," a lounge with a stage, a little dancing area, and tables and stools on the sides. P-town trio the Toomstoners are playing, but the room's so packed that I decide to bide my time by ordering a Negra Modelo at the 60-foot mahogany bar in the main room. Owner Jim Seagrave, an ex-rocker with a head of hair like Dr. Who, has decorated his tavern with all kinds of antique bicycles and toys. Two pool tables dominate the main floor, and in the far back is a vintage foosball table. Yeah, Fat Cats is a class act, bro.
While I'm suckin' on my Modelo, I meet the Desperados' unofficial spokesperson, Fernando "the Wolf" Figueroa. Figueroa, 27, a genial Latino gent with a big-assed pompadour and a widow's peak, explains that the party, with its five bands and car show, is all about having a good time. That's why the Desperados invited fellow PHX car clubs the Invaders and the Rattlers.
"It's all about our common interests," explains the Wolf Man. "The styles. The custom cars. The '50s, man. We wanted to put something together like the greasers did back then. All the cool people hanging out together. And especially the music, the rockabilly, psychobilly, and traditional rock 'n' roll. That's what brings us together."
"And you can't forget the grease and the combs!" pipes in fellow Desperado Diego "Brando" Padia, whipping out a switchblade comb and running it through his hair à la Fonzie from Happy Days. (Padia had sidled up next to the Wolf while he was talking.) "Everybody seems to be on the whole hip-hop bandwagon these days, and driving imports. That's all fine, but we want to do something that's pure and traditional American -- you know, like Leave It to Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show."
"I have to admit, I always had a hard-on for Donna Reed," I reply, recalling the reruns of that classic on cable. "So what do you fellas do when you're not out being Desperados?"
"I'm a construction worker for the City of Phoenix," says Figueroa. "I'm out there with that jackhammer. That's another thing we all got in common -- we're poor! This is a poor man's fun. We even got two of the bands playing for free."
"They didn't play for free," chimes in a big white dude with long sideburns named Turtle, another Desperados member. "They got beer! That ain't for free."
The circle that's formed around us erupts in laughter. Here are the four hard-core Desperados: Turtle, the big man; Figueroa, the "Wolf"; Padia, who actually does have the Marlon Brando swagger down; and Keir Reinhardt, 25, a Matt Dillon look-alike from Bisbee whom everyone calls "Casper," because he's never around. There are other aspiring members, hangers-on and girlfriends, but these four are the Valley's own Lords of Flatbush, at least at Fat Cats, which the Desperados call "home" on Saturday nights.
We step outside and head to the parking lot where Figueroa shows me his cars: a primer-black, '53 Chevy stock he calls Bella Luna, with a chopped top and white pinstriping; and a classic, lipstick-red, '64 Chevy convertible with whitewall tires that he uses primarily when he's taking the ladies out.
"They call this one a lead-sled," says Figueroa, referring to Bella Luna. "Because all the metal work is done with lead. It sits about three inches off the ground, and shoots fire out the back. The Chevy is nice, but this is more reflective of my personality. We've had some good times in this car."
Reinhardt (a.k.a. Casper) is also representin' with a stock of his own -- a '56 Chevy hardtop, painted a gorgeous electric blue. This is his first car ever. He bought it for $250 a while back, and has since dropped about $17K into it. He met the other Desperados while coming out of a bar here in P-town, and he's been hanging with them ever since.
"I work in a hardware store in Bisbee, so I'm always dressed like this," says Casper of his tee shirt, jeans and Harley boots. "People give me a hard time 'cause I'm the only rockabilly in Bisbee. They always ask me what the hell I'm doing. I tell 'em, 'I'm livin'. This is who I am.'"
"So how did you first get into the rockabilly scene?"
"When I was in sixth grade, I went with my parents to a concert up in Denver. I saw bands like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, and I just fell in love with it. The cars came next, the clothing, the hair. It was kind of a snowball effect. My favorite films are From Here to Eternity and Champion with Kirk Douglas."
"Mine's Streetcar Named Desire," says Padia (the Brando look-alike), 22. "Brando's the man! I was raised with all this stuff. My dad's an old cat from way back. I grew up listening to Chuck Berry, Ricky Nelson, the Johnny Burnette Trio. I'll be into this scene 'til the day I die."
"So where's your car?"
"It's still under construction, so it's not out here. A 1950 Chevy, two-door fastback. It's gonna be a flat, plum purple. I named her my Luscious Laurice."
"Can't wait to see it, mon. So what do you do for a living?"
"I'm an exterminator," says Padia, proudly. "I'm killing ants, roaches, scorpions, all that."
"How 'bout lizards? I've got a nest of them suckas outside my door."
"Actually, lizards are immune to the poison," says Padia. "And if you think about it, they help because they eat insects. Field mice are the hardest to kill. For the snakes, we've got this stuff called Snake-Away, which has these pheromones that attracts the snake to the poison."
"Ever think of putting a little of that behind your ears before you hit the clubs?"
"Naaah, man, because you never know how it's going to mix with the grease," he jokes.
There's plenty of activity in the lot now as people come outside to take a break between the acts. A couple of the guys are pulling each other in a toy car that Padia had done up like a custom for his little kid.
A fella dubbed Elvis (you knew there had to be one) is putting pinstripes on an old-school Triumph motorcycle. And a dude named Rockabilly Rick is peeling out in front of the club in a hot-rod bucket, a pretty bobbysoxer by his side, leaving a trail of smoke and burnt rubber behind him.
I strike up a confab with a striking brunette in a low-cut pink-and-black halter top, black dress and black Mary Janes. Sitting on her gray Vespa and smoking a ciggie, she looks like she stepped right out of some classic black-and-white film like The Blue Dahlia or Farewell, My Lovely. Her name's Keri Trojan, 22, and yes, she's taken a lot of shit for the last name.
"Actually, it's my husband's name, and it's much worse for him," she tells me. "He's 19 and in the Navy right now. So that means he's 'Seaman Trojan.'"
"Ouch! Well, at least with a man like that, a gal will always have protection," I josh. "Sorry. If it's any consolation, folks call me 'Kreme.'"
Keri explains that she was recently diagnosed with leukemia, and is undergoing chemo for it. Says she went in for stomach pains on March 25, and that's when she found out.
"One out of 10,000 people get it. I'm just the lucky one. I should win the lotto," she says, laughing. "I rode in from Glendale on my Vespa for this. I love all the rockabilly and classic stuff. My favorite film is Breakfast at Tiffany's. I'm a big Audrey Hepburn fan. I'm so into her, my 3-year-old daughter thinks it's mommy whenever she sees a picture of Audrey Hepburn somewhere."
Everyone starts to head back to see the Rhythm Dragons, which is the last band up. Turtle and I take up the rear. He's 22, lives in Gilbert, and is a security guard who pinstripes on the side. His dad raised him on the oldies, and now he sticks with his fellow rockabillies because they appreciate the same things.
"Growing up, I had a hard time finding out where I fit in," he confesses. "But then one day, I fell in with a bunch of greasers, and it all just clicked."
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