Head Games

"You know, when I get high, I always get horny for white women," Tommy Chong told The Bird just last week.

Yes, that Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame. This winged wordsmith had been having difficulties lately at local head shops, so it decided to give the world's most famous pot-smoker a call and get his insight. After all, who knows water pipes better than a guy who recently did nine months in a federal pen for financing a bong company?

The star of classic stoner flicks Up in Smoke and Nice Dreams did what he could to explain to this pot-puffing pelican why bongs are still widely available for sale, so long as customers never refer to them as bongs. And why, when The Bird headed out for a little Valentine's Day shopping at Tempe's Hippie Gypsy, it was practically tossed out on its nonexistent ear.

The Hippie Gypsy is a pothead paradise, with weed-related paraphernalia out the proverbial wazoo: tee shirts emblazoned with legendary tokers Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia; ashtrays shaped like pot leaves; and books like The Joint Rolling Handbook. Not to mention a massive selection of bongs of all shapes, colors and sizes.

Just don't call them that.

"You're not allowed to use that word," the hippie behind the Hippie counter informed the plumed one when it asked for a nice big purple "bong."

"What, can't say the word bong?" inquired The Bird.

"That's twice. If you say that word once more, I'll have to ask you to leave!"

Feathers ruffled, this cunning kingfisher vamoosed. But it returned another day and engaged a different hippie, this time a woman, in a discussion of bongs. On this occasion, it wasn't asked to fly away, but was informed that, despite all indications to the contrary, the Hippie Gypsy does not sell bongs.

"We sell water pipes," cheeped Miss Saleschick. "Not bongs! Bongs are for smoking illegal substances. We don't sell anything that could be used for smoking illegal substances."

"You're telling me you can't smoke crack out of those little glass pipes over there?"

"Certainly not!" she gasped. "I wouldn't work anywhere where they sold anything you could smoke crack with."

What is this, George Orwell's 1984, where doublespeak rules the day? Has the word "bong" gone the way of the dodo? And doesn't everyone know that a bong is a water pipe, no matter what leaf you stuff it with?

The Bird flew home and consulted its copy of the Arizona Criminal Code. Title 13-3415 states that it's considered a Class 6 felony to possess, sell or even advertise any so-called "drug paraphernalia." The list of potential contraband includes both "bongs" and "water pipes."

"Functionally, they're the same," Gypsy manager Adam Jarvine snitched to The Bird. "It's the intent behind them that's important."

According to Jarvine, the word "bong" indicates the intent to inhale cheba smoke.

The Bird's survey of Valley head shops revealed varying degrees of concern over the use of the word "bong." At the Trails on Indian School Road in Phoenix, salespeople repeatedly used "bong" to refer to their water pipes. But back in Tempe at The Headquarters, the smoke section features a sign warning that anyone referring to water pipes as anything other than water pipes will be asked to amscray.

Yet this toke-happy toucan went unmolested when it visited The HQ and freely used the word "bong," despite the prohibition.

Sergeant Dan Masters, a flack for the Tempe Police Department, told The Bird that the use of the word "bong" might raise some red flags, but that the authorities would still have to prove in court that the water pipe in question was meant for the ingestion of something illegal. They'd prefer that some illicit drugs be present to make a case.

Masters said the Tempe PD does not target head shops, and that they rarely get calls about problems at one.

Don Sherrard, a sergeant with the Phoenix Police Department's Drug Enforcement Bureau, was more emphatic, telling The Bird that the words "bong" or "water pipe" are irrelevant.

"You could go in there and call it a meth pipe," says Sherrard. "But as long as you don't use it to smoke meth (or some other illegal substance), it's legal to have it."

Sherrard ascribed the whole bong/water pipe debate to a sort of urban legend. Even with drug residue present on a water pipe, it's by no means a slam dunk for the prosecution, Sherrard claimed.

But Chong swears it's best to cover your tail feathers.

"Keep living your life," he says. "But protect yourself. Never carry pot where you can get arrested, like in a car. Do your smoking at home. And as far as bongs go, be aware that the government will use any illegal activities against you whenever it feels like it."

He's Our Ho

Among artists who fret about Phoenix's cultural scene, or the lack thereof, the arrival of Edward Booth-Clibborn was heralded as an event no less lustrous than the second coming of Christ (were artists today actually into the whole Jesus thing beyond Piss Christ).

The Bird heard no small amount of twittering as Arizona State University architecture professor Nan Ellin arranged for Booth-Clibborn, a prominent British art book publisher, to visit local artist studios, architectural landmarks and fashion shows.

The reason: After publishing books about the cultural milieu in hot spots Berlin, Moscow, and Brooklyn, Booth-Clibborn was doing a book about Phoenix.

You heard that right!

Okay, so this is no artists' mecca. But maybe, The Bird thought, we've finally made it. After all, a guy with a plummy British accent chooses our scene as worthy of a coffee table book titled Phoenix: 21st Century City? What a wonderful calling card!

Or, perhaps it would be -- had Booth-Clibborn actually chosen us.

As the publisher admits, he didn't find Phoenix. Phoenix found him.

Specifically, the Maricopa Partnership for Arts and Culture, or MPAC, a foundation-funded startup whose sole purpose is to push the local art scene, found him.

And it's not just that MPAC found the Limey publisher and asked him to give Phoenix a chance. It's paying him to love us, and, where this tweeter comes from, there's a name for that.

You could call Booth-Clibborn's work a vanity project. He prefers to say he's been "commissioned."

But, the publisher hastens to add, that doesn't mean his company is lowering the bar. "My reputation depends on my last book," he says. "You can't just drop your standards."

A former advertising art director, Booth-Clibborn is perhaps best known in London for getting canned as chair of the Designers' and Art Directors' Association in 1992. His mistake? Submitting as an expense a lunch bill of more than $500.

He's clearly a man who likes a good time. But when it comes to Phoenix's art scene, the publisher's still withholding judgment.

"I was impressed by certain areas," he says. "Young people doing fashion. And the architecture is superb. (What!?) You have some great private homes. (Oh.)"

What about the art?

"There are some quality things," he says. "Not, oh, I've got to be careful here. How do I put it? Not a great amount. But one or two quality pieces. The question is, are there exciting things going on? Is this an area where inventiveness is going on?"

Well? this foul fowl demanded.

After a long pause, he said it's his job "just to raise the question."

Here's the question The Bird's raising: Is paying for (sorry, commissioning) a freakin' coffee table book the best use of our arts partnership's money? Really, it's not like this aviary's swimming in money for culture.

"This is a very, very exciting thing for the region," chirped the partnership's CEO, Myra Millinger. "We think it's going to be of exceptional quality, and that it will change some perceptions."

Well, here's The Bird's perception. This is like paying for sex. You can give a whore money to put out, but you can't go around pretending he has feelings for you.

Open Bar

Used to be that VIPs at the FBR Open got VIP perks . . . and, by that, The Bird means unlimited free drinks. But this year, the suits in the "corporate village tents" got a rude awakening. Thanks to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, the poor souls got cut off after drink 12.

Now, this feathered behemoth must admit to downing the occasional 12-pack in the course of a long day. And, maybe, once or twice, making it through three bottles of wine during a boozy dinner.

Mind you, it would never attempt soaring around Phoenix in such a state.

But for 12 drinks to be an officially sanctioned limit? In that case, why have a limit?

After all, most people swallowing a dozen drinks are in pretty bad shape. According to, give a 170-pound man 12 glasses of wine over four hours, and he'll blow a 0.189 -- more than twice Sheriff Joe's strictly enforced 0.08 blood alcohol limit.

And don't even ask this golfing goose about the 110-pound trophy wife of the typical guy who hangs out at FBR. Even if she spaces 12 white Zinfandels over a six-hour day, she's going to blow a .252 -- leaving her not just an extreme DUI, but practically comatose.

Liquor department director Leesa Berens Morrison explained that her agency isn't interested in where the limit is, only that there is one.

"The law just says you can't sell or deliver an unlimited number of spirituous drinks for a fixed price," she twittered. "It doesn't set what's a reasonable amount."

So the sponsors of the FBR Open could have set the limit at 100 drinks? Well, yes, Morrison admitted.

"You can attempt to buy 12 drinks in a bar," she pointed out. "The only rule is that if you're intoxicated, they should not serve you."

Hick! The Bird knows how well that rule works.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela