Best Urban Oddity 2012 | Space-Alien Donald | People & Places | Phoenix

Phoenix's downtown art scene is alive with unique and colorful characters, whether it's a homeless artist adorned in aluminum pull-tab chain mail or some punker sporting a multicolored Mohawk. None of these freaky folk, however, is as memorable as Don Roth. After all, it's hard to forget an encounter with a septuagenarian spoken-word artist who's known to many as Space-Alien Donald and refers to himself as "the world's oldest gay Canadian rapper." A regular at such eclectic art establishments as Space 55 (natch) or his own funky venue Funny World, the spacey septuagenarian has a yen for performing eccentric and humorous beat poetry set to warbling keyboard beats. And he usually does it while wielding a plastic lightsaber and wearing a rainbow hat and a silver lamé sarong. Roth possesses a lifelong fascination with outer space after spending decades as a technician in the radio astronomy lab at UC-Berkeley, and that obsession bleeds over into his performance art pieces, which typically concern intergalactic affairs. Needless to say, the eccentric artist crowd populating downtown has embraced him as one of its own.

Video-gaming isn't just an ordinary hobby for Melissa Kaylor. In fact, it's a ginormous obsession for the 25-year-old Tempe resident, who spends practically all her waking hours either wielding a control pad or engaging in gaming-related pursuits in many different forms. As her alter ego, Mel the Office Gamer girl, Kaylor produces a YouTube series profiling obscure old-school titles, crafts cutesy plastic "pixel art" of iconic characters like Yoshi and Sonic the Hedgehog, and blogs about the gaming scene in the Valley. And in the past year alone, Kaylor has also helped organize a Nintendo-related art show at Bookmans in Mesa and participated in a nationwide 24-hour gaming marathon last fall to help raise money for the Children's Miracle Network. So devoted is Kaylor to gaming that she managed to keep up her playing habits even after suffering a fractured pinky last year. Now that's hardcore.

Hardcore Star Trek geeks can be an obsessive lot, to say the least. Fanatic followers of the final frontier regularly spend thousands of dollars collecting Trek-related merchandise, devote hours to creating screen-accurate costuming, or exhaustively translate great works of Earthen literature into Klingon. Valley resident — and lifelong Trekker — Andrew Atwood, on the other hand, chose another route for showing off his obsession: He had one of the most recognizable symbols of the Star Trek universe painted onto the side of his CenPho auto repair business. Several years ago, the local gearhead integrated the triangular sigil of the Klingons (the noble warrior race that served as longtime foes for Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise) into the logo of his garage, which services European imports and sports cars. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to the iconic logo of Mercedes-Benz, one of the makes the shop handles. Atwood, who has watched Star Trek since childhood and is adorned with a pair of tattoos inspired by the show, also has a copy of a Klingon-English dictionary at the shop on the off-chance that a wayward Bird of Prey might cruise by to get its laser guns repaired.

Whenever the members of the Arizona Cacophony Society don crazy costumes and stage one of their events, three things are guaranteed to ensue: drinking, hilarity, and mass amounts of chaos (pretty much in that order). These masters of madcap mischief organize four outrageous outings throughout the year that are open to the public and boast hundreds of participants. Each essentially is a massive bar crawl or boozefest where nutty outfits (not to mention a sense of humor) are the norm.

In the midst of the Christmas season, they don red Kris Kringle wear for Santarchy and descend upon Old Town Scottsdale in droves for a ho-ho hootenanny. Come springtime, bridal gowns are de rigueur for both men and women during the Brides of March bar crawl, followed a few weeks later by Fluor-Ascent (where participants cover themselves with glowsticks before climbing Piestewa Peak at night). The most creative annual event has to be the yearly Idiotarod, featuring humorously decorated shopping carts getting pulled and pushed around downtown Phoenix. If you happen to spy any of the Cacophony members bombing around, find a safe spot away from the madness and grab a few memorable pics with your cell phone. Or better yet, hit up their website and plan on joining in the fun.

Local pub Rúla Búla is a stomping ground for all manner of colorful characters, including beer-swilling frat cats, devotees of Irish culture, and the usual Mill Avenue party crowd. And according to local author Kevin Hearne, it's also the preferred hangout of a 2,100-year-old druid named Atticus O'Sullivan, or at least it is in the pages of his bestselling urban fantasy novels. In the canon of Hearne's teen-oriented Iron Druid Chronicles, which depict an alternate universe version of the Valley in which supernatural beings like werewolves and demons are real, O'Sullivan is an immortal warrior-monk who possesses flaming red hair and a pair of mystical swords called Fragarach and Mortalltach. When he isn't working at his fictional Tempe occult shop Third Eye Books and Herbs or fighting demons or Celtic gods, the acerbic and quick-witted antagonist downs pints, feasts on fish and chips, and flirts with cute waitresses (one of whom reportedly is a witch) at Rúla Búla. Hearne, who was born and raised in Arizona, fills each Iron Druid tome (now at six books and counting) with plenty of humor and wry observations about Arizona life. We especially dig the fact he chose to set his series entirely in the Valley.

By anyone's measure, Priya Anjali Rai is in the midst of a successful acting career. The 34-year-old East Indian starlet has been featured in dozens of movies, had her picture splashed across the pages of glossy magazines, won a major award for her talents, and has countless fans across the globe. Not bad for an ASU dropout.

There's one small difference between Rai and your average Hollywood ingénue, however: She acts in hardcore pornography. A native of New Delhi who emigrated to the United States as a child, she eventually wound up in Tempe studying as a Sun Devil in 2008, stripping and starring in skin flicks to help pay her way. When porn proved to be far more lucrative than higher learning, the voluptuous vixen (whose measurements are 34-25-35) decided to put ASU in the rearview. And she hasn't looked back. Rai, who divides her time between Phoenix and L.A., has been cast in more than 60 videos, including Office Perverts 2, Spicy Sexcapades, Cougar Hunter, and even an X-rated parody of HBO show Entourage. By the way, Rai's middle name roughly translates to "angel" in Hindi. Isn't it ironic?

Longtime Valley residents have loved homegrown photographer Bob Carey for years, but in 2012, the rest of the world met him — and fell in love, too. Carey first donned a tutu for a self-portrait in 2002 at the behest of Ballet Arizona, but sometime after his wife Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer, The Tutu Project took on a name and a mission: raising money for breast cancer research. And then Bob-Carey-in-a-tutu went viral on the Internet. Maybe it was the void left by the beleaguered Susan G. Komen organization; most likely, it was the image of a burly 50-something dude in a pink tutu posing everywhere from a football field to Times Square that captured the world's attention, landing him on television shows from here to Australia. In any case, we all waited impatiently for Carey's book (full disclosure: New Times contributor Kathleen Vanesian wrote the introduction) to be released this fall, in conjunction with a show at Mesa Arts Center that runs through December 2. Bob, you are too-too much — and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Ballet Arizona has had a "ballet under the stars" program for years. We've been, and it's lovely.

But last spring, our resident ballet company and its artistic director, Ib Andersen, teamed up with the Desert Botanical Garden to spoil us rotten — and now we're not sure any ballet will ever live up to Topia. Set on a stage custom-built for the performance (and twice as long as a traditional stage) and (in a ballsy move) placed outside at the far end of the garden, with a perfect backdrop of the Papago Buttes, desert foliage, and a star-spangled sky, Andersen's original choreography teamed with beautiful dancers, gorgeous near-naked costumes, and music by Beethoven to create one of the most breathtaking ballet experiences the Valley has ever witnessed. If you were lucky enough to see it, you know that Topia was magic — and best of all, a celebration of the best of our Valley. Too often we're jealous of other cities' arts experiences; not this time. Eat your heart out, world — we had Topia.
Courtesy of Lisa Starry

Before you try a few new moves, you'll want to take some notes from the pros. And while the footwork choreographed by Lisa Starry for her Scorpius Dance Theatre might be a little much to take to the club, every step, bend, lift, and stretch performed by her dancers would be guaranteed to get you a double take — given you can pull 'em off. Starry founded Scorpius Dance in 1999, and ever since, her troupe of sexy, humorous, and kick-ass dancers has taken to countless stages in productions including A Vampire Tale, Catwalk, and this year's much-anticipated Kick-A, a local spin-off of the nationally acclaimed Carnival: Choreographers Ball, in which Starry found the "Best in the West" for Scorpius' first-ever choreographer showcase. Scorpius moves with a collective — and, yes, contemporary — emotion, grace, and magnetism that you'd be lucky to come across (or practice yourself) on a dance floor.

Anyone convinced that classical music is all stuffy musicians in starched white collars needs to investigate the Downtown Chamber Series, a concert series that features highly skilled musicians of all ages interpreting the music of composers like minimalist Steve Reich and Beethoven in unexpected places, like downtown art space The Icehouse, restaurant/multi-purpose venue The Duce, and the Phoenix Art Museum. The sounds are strange and exciting, and the musicians bring an edgy spirit to the classical material that rivals the noisemakers at Trunk Space and can be as heavy as anything going on in the Nile Basement.

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