Stray Cat Strut

I'm all alone in the 'Zona this Saturday night. Jett's jetted off to NYC for a little vay-cay, leaving me by my lonesome in P-town. (Sigh.) Never thought I'd admit to missing 116 pounds of bitchy lipsticker, but I reckon I do. Thought I'd stay home, sip Hennessy, and play "NBA Ballers" on my PlayStation 2.

Until I recollected that I've been invited to a rockabilly event down at Fat Cats on Grand Avenue, sponsored by the legendary PHX car club the Desperados ( Their fliers bill it as the "greasiest party you've ever seen." And it's gotta beat sitting at home, drinking my fat ass to sleep. So I throw on my two-tone Guayabera, my gators, and a handful or three of Chanel Pour Homme, hop in the hooptie and prepare to kick it old school.

When I arrive, the parking lot beside Fat Cats is filled with hot rods, bikes and classic cars, all pre-'66. The scene looks like something right out of American Graffiti. Guys in white tees and jeans with the cuffs rolled up mill about with gals dressed like they just stepped out of an early episode of Laverne & Shirley. You know, saddle shoes, pleated skirts, hair in ponytails, jeans with Converse sneaks, etc. Of course, some of the low-cut tops and bared midriffs probably wouldn't have been au courant back in the day, but, hey, the fellas ain't complaining.

I park my ride and stroll into Fat Cats. The party's pumpin' from live psychobilly tunes coming from the club's "Champion Room," a lounge with a stage, a little dancing area, and tables and stools on the sides. P-town trio the Toomstoners are playing, but the room's so packed that I decide to bide my time by ordering a Negra Modelo at the 60-foot mahogany bar in the main room. Owner Jim Seagrave, an ex-rocker with a head of hair like Dr. Who, has decorated his tavern with all kinds of antique bicycles and toys. Two pool tables dominate the main floor, and in the far back is a vintage foosball table. Yeah, Fat Cats is a class act, bro.

While I'm suckin' on my Modelo, I meet the Desperados' unofficial spokesperson, Fernando "the Wolf" Figueroa. Figueroa, 27, a genial Latino gent with a big-assed pompadour and a widow's peak, explains that the party, with its five bands and car show, is all about having a good time. That's why the Desperados invited fellow PHX car clubs the Invaders and the Rattlers.

"It's all about our common interests," explains the Wolf Man. "The styles. The custom cars. The '50s, man. We wanted to put something together like the greasers did back then. All the cool people hanging out together. And especially the music, the rockabilly, psychobilly, and traditional rock 'n' roll. That's what brings us together."

"And you can't forget the grease and the combs!" pipes in fellow Desperado Diego "Brando" Padia, whipping out a switchblade comb and running it through his hair à la Fonzie from Happy Days. (Padia had sidled up next to the Wolf while he was talking.) "Everybody seems to be on the whole hip-hop bandwagon these days, and driving imports. That's all fine, but we want to do something that's pure and traditional American -- you know, like Leave It to Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show."

"I have to admit, I always had a hard-on for Donna Reed," I reply, recalling the reruns of that classic on cable. "So what do you fellas do when you're not out being Desperados?"

"I'm a construction worker for the City of Phoenix," says Figueroa. "I'm out there with that jackhammer. That's another thing we all got in common -- we're poor! This is a poor man's fun. We even got two of the bands playing for free."

"They didn't play for free," chimes in a big white dude with long sideburns named Turtle, another Desperados member. "They got beer! That ain't for free."

The circle that's formed around us erupts in laughter. Here are the four hard-core Desperados: Turtle, the big man; Figueroa, the "Wolf"; Padia, who actually does have the Marlon Brando swagger down; and Keir Reinhardt, 25, a Matt Dillon look-alike from Bisbee whom everyone calls "Casper," because he's never around. There are other aspiring members, hangers-on and girlfriends, but these four are the Valley's own Lords of Flatbush, at least at Fat Cats, which the Desperados call "home" on Saturday nights.

We step outside and head to the parking lot where Figueroa shows me his cars: a primer-black, '53 Chevy stock he calls Bella Luna, with a chopped top and white pinstriping; and a classic, lipstick-red, '64 Chevy convertible with whitewall tires that he uses primarily when he's taking the ladies out.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons