Eye-catching decorations abound inside Tad Caldwell's combination fashion boutique, art studio, gallery space, and hair salon in east Phoenix. The walls and ceiling are covered with a vibrant rainbow mosaic of graffiti, the works of local artists are scattered throughout the establishment, and Caldwell himself sports a shock of bright orange hair. But the most unusual ornamentation is the body shell of a 1979 Plymouth Fury, which is painted bright yellow with red flames and is bolted sturdily to the concrete wall over an innocuous row of hair dryers. Caldwell says his M.C. Escher-style placement of the car, which has been gutted of its interior and engine for weight, is because he "thought it would look cool" and because he at one point wanted to turn it into a towel rack, of all things. Currently, the stylist and sculptor uses it to store dismembered doll parts and as a screen when he occasionally shows indie movies. And here we thought cars were just for driving.
When word about the red paper clip trading frenzy hit national media outlets, including Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and National Public Radio, it brought Valley musician Jody Gnant into the national spotlight. A year ago, a light bulb went off in the head of Kyle MacDonald, an enterprising young Canadian who wanted to trade a thin piece of metal for a home of his own. Using the Internet as a bartering tool, he slowly made trades for bigger and better items. His first trade was a fish-shaped pen, the seventh exchange was a snowmobile, and by his 10th trade, he held a recording contract, a dream for the folk singer-songwriter Gnant. She e-mailed MacDonald through his Web site, www.oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com, and offered one free year of shelter in her 1920s-era Garfield neighborhood duplex. He accepted, flew out, and they made the swap at high noon on a warm April afternoon. Jody's recording contract includes 30 hours of recording time, 50 hours of mixing, and transportation to and from the Toronto studio. The album will be pitched to record execs for Sony and XM Radio. And to think MacDonald chose a Valley lease over a 24-hour lap-dance-a-thon from a stripper in Japan.
Sometimes life is about being in the right place at the right time. For instance, one morning in February, we found something interesting outside the Circle K at 16th Street and Washington. It wasn't a cash-stuffed wallet or a photo of Sheriff Joe in flagrante delicto with one of his deputies, but rather the 2004 confidential phone directory for Major League Baseball. Contained within this little black notebook were various private phone numbers for the entire staff and ownership for all 30 teams. Guess a member of the D-Backs front office somehow dropped this gem while getting a morning pick-me-up. While the gaffe wasn't on a par with other boneheaded stunts this year like eating a whopping $21.5 million owed to Russ Ortiz after cutting the struggling pitcher early from his four-year guaranteed contract in June it was still pretty embarrassing. One has to wonder what other top-secret info this anonymous-yet-butterfingered exec has let loose lately. We considered ringing up Yankees owner George Steinbrenner while he was on the pot, but played nice and returned the missing tome to assistant general manager Peter Woodfork without even requesting a luxury skybox. We've been waiting to see if our generosity will be rewarded, but so far the stingy bastards won't return our calls.
Tian Tang, a Chinese-born student at ASU's engineering school, has devoted his Web site, www.hanzismatter.com, to explaining to dumb Westerners exactly what the Chinese characters etched on their backs, arms, and ankles are saying. In many cases, it isn't pretty: One tattoo that ostensibly read "mommy," according to Tang, is really "female horse rice." Another, he wrote, appears to say "fuck you." Whoops. "I'm very surprised a lot of times that people will e-mail me about their tattoos, and they never found out the real meaning before they got it," Tang told the New York Times in April. Now that you've read this, you have no excuse not to send that e-mail before making it permanent.
Of all the animals roaming Grand Avenue (biological and metaphorical), Noodle the unfixed tomcat may be the biggest scenester. The orange-and-blond tabby showed up on the 1500 block of Grand about a year ago (when he was just a kitten), and the gallery owners at Perihelion Arts, Art One, and the Trunk Space have been feeding him and taking care of him ever since. A charming but private fellow, Noodle pretty much lives outdoors by himself, but visits the three galleries frequently and is always around on First Fridays, when he prefers to people-watch from his secret hiding place in the Trunk Space. Noodle is purported to have a handful of favorite local artists, including modernist painter Steve Hofberger, symbolist painters Richard and Michele Bledsoe, and quilt maker Susan G. White. We're told he also digs local music, and his favorite bands include DJentrification, The Dietrichs, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Fatigo. Now that is one hip cat.
Despite the fact that George Lucas axed his Star Wars film franchise more than a year ago, the members of the Phoenix Fan Force a cadre of local Obi-wanna-bes haven't spent their time bitching about losing touch with the Skywalker clan. Nope, these sci-fi superfreaks have instead been busy continuing to churn out their series of Star Wars-themed "fan films," or mini-movies concerning that galaxy far, far away. Since 2003, PFF members like Brenda Glenn, Joel Cranson, and Webb Pickersgill have been working on their Spirits of the Force trilogy, which centers on the lightsaber-swinging adventures of a group of secondary characters from Lucas' oeuvre. The flicks are enjoyable romps taking familiar Valley locales like Arizona State University and Papago Park and making them look otherworldly. The first two chapters have been downloaded by thousands of fans worldwide and even got screened at local geek gatherings like LepreCon and the Phoenix Cactus Comicon, and the third is currently in development. Truly, the Force is with them. Now if they can only make lightsabers a reality, we can die happy.
Supporters of the downtown arts district, meet your true enemy: MC Merv. According to the word on the street, this white yuppie rapper who was raised on the "mean streets" of Anthem is the dastardly developer who single-handedly shut down the Emerald Lounge, razed the old Planet Earth Theatre, and is the driving force behind the ongoing gentrification of your favorite First Friday hangouts. Well, according to him, at least. What's closer to reality is that Merv's an anonymous art scenester who moonlights as a ridiculous rapper dressed in a shabby gray wool suit, a ball cap, and kneepads. Performing impromptu shows at the Willow House and the Trunk Space, the MC spits out rhymes about his pseudo-plans for downtown for the amusement of his fan base (whom he calls "Merverts"). "The name's Merv/Got a lot of nerve/Turn the city into condos/Kick the people to the curb," he sings. "You might be saying, 'What the fuck?'/But you know what?/I just bought Trunk Space, Bikini and the whole dang block!" Word up, white boy.
Whenever our out-of-state friends come to our heat-blasted burg for a visit, they're quite taken with the kitschy Arizona-themed refrigerator magnets found littering gift shops and souvenir stands across the Valley. They seem so drawn to these tacky trinkets filled with howling coyotes, jackalopes and Southwestern sunsets, you'd think our buddies were made of metal. The last time they blew through town, we gave them this certain madcap magnet made by local furniture artist Mike Miskowski that threw them for a loop. It boasts a smutty snapshot of a towering and anatomically blessed saguaro with a rather largish arm looking very much like a . . . um, let's just say its needles aren't the only thing "prickly" about this cactus. (There's also the phrase "Welcome to Phoenis" printed on it.) We'd tell our pals about Miskowski's other small-scale artwork fit for their icebox like a satanic Little Debbie or a chain-saw-wielding Native American child but they aren't speaking to us anymore.

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