Modified Arts
The closest thing to a one-stop shop of underground downtown culture is this bare-bones space carved out of an old brick building on Roosevelt. It's strictly an after-dark joint. The lights typically don't go on until 7 p.m. But once they do, the offerings are just as likely to include exhibitions by painters, sculptors and performance artists as they are performances by dancers, poets, jazz players and punk rockers. The featured artists are largely up-and-comers -- the bands are some of the primo ones on the indie music circuit. And the swarm of culture-driven people who fill the dark streets around the arthouse helps to strengthen the human beat of the old heart of the city.
Other than Native American and maybe Mexican art, Phoenix is not exactly a hotbed of ethnic art and artifact shopping. Unless, that is, you scope out the shelves of ASU Art Museum Store, where, for more than 20 years, volunteer manager LaReal Eyring has been bringing the best of the outside world to the Valley.

In years past, the store's included exquisite tribal jewelry from India and Afghanistan, as well as fine folk ceramics from Mexico, Morocco and Japan. And we were recently bowled over by large tapestries made from old Pakistani beaded embroideries that you probably won't see anywhere else in town.

Since the inventory constantly changes, it's best to pop in at least once a week or you might miss the latest ethnic treasure Eyring's managed to round up with a relentlessly unerring eye. All this and your purchases are completely tax-free, too, since the store is a nonprofit enterprise.

More of an art incubator than an art barn, gallery owner Kraig Foote's seven-year-old art space gives talented young artists a commercial outlet that few would otherwise have. Most of the painters, sculptors, potters, woodworkers and glass blowers who show here still store their supplies in lockers and cabinets at local colleges, universities and high schools. But their works are often the artistic equal to those found in neighboring galleries along Scottsdale's art walk. Best of all, Foote's success hasn't lured him away from his original plan. Prices are still low, from $100 to $2,000. And fresh faces and art are always emerging from the gallery's pool of young talent.
Tired of cruising the local bars, cornered by heavily tattooed guys with missing front teeth asking, "Hey baby, what's your sign?" Fed up with meeting chicks with fake body parts?

Invest $15 ($10 if you're a museum member) and buy your way into Phoenix Art Museum's After Hours (okay, so it is sponsored by New Times), a singles soiree open to all comers -- but generally attended by a more refined crowd than those mentioned above -- held the third Thursday of each month at the museum. Billed as "a monthly experience of unique art, unusual music, outrageous dance, cool poetry, performance art, food, drink and more," After Hours provides an artful reprieve from the vapid, soulless, meat-market dating experience many of us have come to know and hate.

Nowhere else (in Phoenix) can you see a drag queen cosmetically transform before your very eyes or see artists caricature guests à la Gidget Goes Hawaiian -- all the while trolling for Mr./Ms. Right.

Get the picture?

Whether you're just getting your feet wet, training for the Ironman Triathlon or an aging veteran of chlorine-soaked, predawn practices as a kid, Sun Devil Masters offers a challenging program with three workouts a day in a world-class, 50-meter outdoor pool. Former Olympians and NCAA champions too numerous to name roam the decks as coaches or ply the crystal-clear water during challenging workouts sure to pop your pulse over 150 beats per minute. Under the direction of former ASU men's coach and Master's National Champion Ron Johnson, swimmers are pushed by an ever-changing yet constantly demanding workout regimen. Knock down two miles in the pool before dinner, and eat all you want.

The season never stops, but is highlighted twice a year by Master's National Championships where swimmers "shave down" to get the ultimate peak performance. The competition is friendly, but intense. Swimmers, take your mark . . .

Best Place to Indulge Your Fantasies of Being a Chinese Emperor

COFCO Chinese Cultural Center

COFCO Chinese Cultural Center
Admittedly, they may seem woefully out of place in the middle of a Southwestern desert, but the well-manicured, classical Chinese gardens here are the next best thing to being in Beijing. Go past the upturned eaves of the COFCO complex's authentic glazed tile roofs (cleverly fashioned to impale any evil spirits that may dare to enter its portals) and wander along meandering paths lined with weeping willows and bamboo.

A serene water lily pond, artfully punctuated with rushes, papyrus and carved stone sculpture, provides a cool locus for the gardens' Tang dynasty replicas of intimate pagodas and pavilions. Designed for serious star gazing, moon meditating and vista viewing, this is the ideal haunt in which to cool your bound heels when your copy of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor finally wears out.

Best Argument Against Investigative TV Reporting

Fox 10 News

"Were UFOs created by . . . Hitler?! Find out about the Hitler-UFO connection, tonight on Fox 10, right after The X-Files!"

No joke, that was an actual teaser from the never-ending series of wonderfully shameless Fox 10's Sunday-night tie-ins to the latest Mulder and Scully adventure.

In the interest of hard-hitting TV journalism, the station's intrepid reporters have aired alleged UFO photos from the space shuttle, saucers over Illinois and, of course, the ever-popular Phoenix Lights updates.

To showcase its journalistic diversity, Fox periodically delves into non-UFO issues such as psychics, ghosts and haunted houses. Ich bin ein Aliener!

The political shouting over the Squaw Peak pots a decade ago didn't end efforts to beautify Valley stretches of asphalt.

And a good thing, too. Ever since "the pots," landscaping and public art have helped to sharpen the appearances of local bahns.

So instead of the Berlin walls that other regions install between freeways and neighborhoods, we get cheerful expanses like this public art project along the Pima Freeway. Designed by a team that included artist Carolyn Braaksma, landscape architect Jeff Engelmann and architect Andrea Forman, the six-mile ribbon of relief murals features desert critters and flora in shades of gray, green, pink, lavender and beige concrete. They're immense, colorful and filled with shadow-cut details that add the best smile we know of to any Valley drive.

Buca Di Beppo
Mama pee-a! The men's rest room at this popular Scottsdale family-style trattoria offers black-and-white pics so naughty they'd result in felony charges if posted on the Internet. The dirty dozen or so images feature young Italian boys urinating on alley walls, street poles and into the camera. Full-frontal prepubescent nudity abounds in a collection that attempts to charm and, hopefully, rarely succeeds. (Yes, the photos in the women's rest room are also a bit racy, but they cannot compare to the men's room's K-6 water-sports action.)

On second thought -- waiter, cancel the penne!

Quizzed about who he'd cast as himself in a proposed made-for-TV movie based on his book America's Toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio offered up the names of actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

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