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.

Modest Proposal Presents is the place to see a rotating cast of young, creative, totally off-the-wall talent doing sketch and standup comedy. And did we mention that it's only five bucks? Hey, that's no joke.

We gotta say, we didn't think it was funny at all when Ron Babcock and Ryan McKee, the dynamic duo behind the Modest Proposal mother ship -- which encompasses a magazine, short films, and a music night as well as this Third Saturday comedy showcase at the Paper Heart -- fled Phoenix for the L.A. scene. We certainly don't begrudge their career opportunities, but it's still nice to know that they've kept their ongoing comedy gig intact -- in downtown Phoenix.

Fetishism used to be "underground," and the only glimpse the general public got of the fetish community at play came from movies and TV shows. But TNG (The Next Generation of Fetish & Kink in Arizona), along with local body modification outfit Horns 'n Halos, has brought several fetish events to the Valley and left them open for anybody who was willing to wear some vinyl pants for a few hours. The AZ Fetish Balls have included musical acts like N-17, My Darling Murder, and The Year, as well as flesh-hook suspension demos, strippers, spanking demos, and leather vendors galore. But the biggest fetish shebang, the AZ Fetish Ball, takes place on Saturday, October 8, at The Sets, and this year, Florida's vaunted fetish/metal band the Genitorturers and national act Combi Christ will rock the stage, proving that no matter how hard-core these fetish balls are, Arizona will keep raising the bar.
Margaret T. Hance Park
Phoenix's Margaret T. Hance Park, affectionately known as Deck Park because the Interstate 10 tunnel through central Phoenix is under it, would truly be a beautiful and serene respite from downtown, except for one thing. Try walking though it on a bright Sunday afternoon, and you'll see what we mean. On a recent hike to the Safeway on Seventh Street and McDowell Road from our digs at Central and Roosevelt, we were hit up by at least three young men begging to sell us crack cocaine, or whatever other illegal delight we desired. When we demurred, choosing instead to buy our drugs in the restroom of our favorite Scottsdale nightclub, one alleged dealer followed us all the way to the liquor aisle of said grocery store. The only way we were able to get rid of him was by threatening to hold him down and pour generic Safeway tequila down his throat. On several other treks through the Deck Park, similar events occurred. One persistent dealer even followed us back from the grocery to the Phoenix Police Department substation at the base of our building. After he was finally deterred by a burly cop peering out the window at him, the salesman looked back over his shoulder at us and inquired, "What's a white boy doing walking through the park if he don't wanna buy drugs?" He added that we were the first such individual that week who'd turned him down.
The first time we stumbled upon Raymond Shaw and his weekly, televised distance-learning class, we thought we were watching a Mad TV sketch. Shaw's teaching techniques were so delightfully bumbling, so very way out there, that we couldn't believe that Arizona State University -- or the man himself -- could possibly be serious.

Au contraire! Shaw's three-hour-long Dance in the Movies was the real thing, even if it never -- even for a single minute -- got around to teaching anything about dance. Or the movies. Or dance in the movies. Although we watched faithfully, week after week, Shaw never once discussed Rogers and Astaire; never uttered the names "Hermes Pan" or "Gower Champion" or even "Gene Kelly." There were hourlong discussions about how to turn in a term paper, and endless screenings of the most excruciating "student films" ever seen, and repeated references to something called "the male gaze." But nothing about the evolution of the MGM musical or Busby Berkeley's influential Golddiggers films.

Our favorite moments include the time Shaw had a guest speaker, a profoundly effeminate baldy who muttered for two hours about Marxism and sexism but who -- because this is Dance in the Movies! -- never got around to talking about choreography or the cinema. And then there was the single occasion that Shaw mentioned a movie musical and got all the facts wrong, claiming that West Side Story was a stage musical based on the movie and starring somebody named "Chita Moreno."

Sadly, we'll never see the likes of this sort of sidesplitting bon mot again, as Shaw's show was canceled after a single 13-week season, leaving us to watch ASU-TV also-rans like Learning Math and Essential Science, neither of which is as fun as Dance in the Movies, but both of which are nearly as enlightening about the art of dance on film.

Stray Cat Theatre
We've been attending theater in this town for longer than we care to tell you, and if there's one thing we've learned, it's that smallish companies tend to either vanish after a couple of seasons or wind up doing crap to keep their doors open. Not so with Stray Cat Theatre, whose mission seems to be taking big risks with dicey, often untried material, and the hell with ticket sales. How else to explain its choice to do something called Poona the Fuckdog, a fable about, well, a fuckdog? And then there was [sic], a difficult, talky little dramedy that--thanks to superb performances and expert direction--turned up a smash. And while the kids at Stray Cat had a near-miss with Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, it was a production dotted with fine acting, and followed up by the excellent Stop Kiss, a spotty drama that these young thespians pulled off with hardly a hitch, ending Stray Cat's season on a high. Hats off to this stalwart company's casts and crews, who rarely disappoint us, and whose new work we're looking forward to this season.
The point here is that you would never even realize that Autumn Court, one of Phoenix's venerable Chinese eateries, even has a bar, so tucked away is this cozy gin mill at the back of the place. But we made a wrong turn on the way to the restroom after an early dinner and noticed the charming saloon, with tables along the walls and the large bar in the middle. We also noticed several couples, heads turned toward the shadows and holding hands, engrossed in deep conversation at the tables. Our mind naturally went into the gutter; what a great place to meet a lover who's not your husband or wife for a quick round of drinks before you know what! Trust us, nobody you know (unless they read this item, of course) would ever guess your whereabouts when you're late getting home from the office.

BEST LITTLE THEATER THAT COULDN'T, DARN IT

TheatreScape

They gave it a go, but, sadly, TheatreScape -- like so many little local troupes before them -- folded halfway through their second season. Too bad, because these folks pulled off a couple of smart, skillful programs while they were around. Although they're gone, we're still talking about their letter-perfect Eleemosynary from two seasons ago, and about how, even when TheatreScape turned out a dud, it always contained at least one amazing performance. Like Dion Johnson's in the title role in The Elephant Man, or John Sankovich's as a greedy meany in Glengarry Glen Ross. Farewell, TheatreScape, and thanks for the memories.
Save the steak dinner for later, if at all. What Drinkwater's City Hall is known for is its gigantic, rectangular bar, and that's because there are so many horny MILFs sitting around it on Friday and Saturday nights. There are other pretenders to the throne in this town when it comes to supplying desperate housewives, but nothing compares to the selection at this venerable Scottsdale drinking and dining establishment. We not only have picked up a MILF or two here ourselves, as the house band churned out golden oldies, we have seen others do it by the limo-load. But make sure you're either a younger guy or a well-preserved older one, because these bizzatches are selective! At least, the married ones are. What they're after is man meat, the younger the better; they've already got hubby at home, or out doing his own hanky-panky. But there's another variety of female predator at City Hall: the young, beautiful kind who want to find a financially fixed older gentleman for fun and games. He gets to have his fun if he plays her game, which can include lots of jewelry and a new Beamer. (If you're a younger potential sugar daddy in the prime of your life, try the Merc Bar. City Hall's for well-turned-out retirees, when it comes to this latter sport.) Any way you slice it, after a night at Drinkwater's City Hall, you'll wake up the next morning either satisfied or horrified. (News flash: Sometimes the MILFs are prettier at closing time, when the makeup's still in place.)
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They're ambitious, giving us the naughty fun of The Rocky Horror Show and the deeply troubling misogyny of Hurly Burly in the same season. And they're showy as heck, offering up French drawing-room comedy with Les Liaisons Dangereuses and revisions on Christopher Marlowe with E2: A Heretical Adaptation of Edward II. But mostly, what Nearly Naked Theatre is is a whole lot of fun to attend, and not just because they manage to work dangling penises and curvy hooters into every single thing they stage. Anyone wondering if the time for oddball, black-box theater has come and gone need only attend a couple of Nearly Naked shows -- which, by the way, are seen these days on the stage of a children's playhouse at one of our larger Equity theaters. We can't think of a better argument that proves that black-box theater -- at least when it's as good as Nearly Naked tends to be -- is here to stay.

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