Boob Job

My favorite nickname for breasts is "begonias." My least favorite is "pimples."

Rounding out my top 10 are "umlauts," "sweater puffs," "kettle drums," "ottomans," "waldos," "earmuffs," "eggplants," "angelfood," "Mrs. Doubtfires," "thingamajigs," "squirt guns," "milk shakes," "mushmelons," "schooners," "jiggly bits," "floats" and, although it has lost some luster with overuse, "hooters."

Was that more than 10? I tend to dwell on the subject.

So it was with great anticipation that I went down to Mill Avenue in Tempe for Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras.

I had been led to believe that I would see hordes of wild women unveiling their bonbons for necklaces of cheap beads.

I had also been led to believe that I would see an army of Tempe police, who, in a blast of media prior to Tuesday night, had promised to crack down on women showing their ta-tas.

Flash your dimes, pay a fine. Give of your bust, get busted. Bring out the pink-nosed puppies, meet the crime dog.

Somebody stop me!!!

"Often, the women are on men's shoulders," Tempe police spokesman Jeff Lane explained to the Arizona Republic. "This causes a lot of people to sway toward them, touch them, pull them down. Then, safety is a concern." Lane admitted that no one had been sexually assaulted or complained about lewdness during a Mardi Gras party in Tempe.

Still, gotta crack down. Besides arrests, police were asking Tempe businesses not to give out the beads. For where beads are given, bongos are sure to follow.

I now believe the cops were in cahoots with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce. I think the chamber asked the police to announce a crackdown so every hot-blooded male and female in the Valley would read about all these gorgeous topless people having way too good a time. I'm surprised Lane didn't tack on: "And by the way, parking is free."

Well, I won't ever be going to Tempe again for Mardi Gras. Hell, I might never go back to Mill Avenue. I swear, Tempe is the only city in America so anal it can make seeing breasts unenjoyable.

The police overkill was quickly apparent as three friends and I approached the brilliantly named chain bar "Fat Tuesday." I'm not sure how they do on the other 364 days they aren't named after, but you could see from blocks away this place was hopping.

Three television news trucks were parked out front. Mulling the perimeter of Fat Tuesday were, get this, 24 cops. Twenty-four cops! I don't think Tempe police would send 24 cops if Osama bin Laden himself were holed up in Hooters.

After a 20-minute wait, we finally got inside. Shoulder-to-shoulder sweaty guys. I saw two cops working their way through the crowd. They were checking for fake IDs and breasts. One of the officers was an attractive young woman. And I don't think that was a flak jacket puffing up her chest.

How bad are things when the best-looking woman in a bar is a cop in uniform?

Soon after the cops went outside, the sweaty horde began surging toward the center of the bar.

I sliced through the crowd. Make way for the working press! Serious journalism in progress!

I nearly made it to the center of the crowd when the man in front of me turned and said: "Nothing to see here. Couple mosquito bites hidden in a bra."

"A' cup?" I asked.

"A' minus," he said.

As I tried to work back through the crowd, I began to realize I'd lost my friends. Bored, they'd headed home to watch some Skinamax instead.

I stayed 15 minutes longer. The frustration built. More guys pressed toward the middle of the bar. More hair gel, more cologne. I started getting dizzy from the smell. I decided this was no place to see breasts.

So I headed over to Hooters.

It was a light crowd. A few couples, a few kids, me and a bunch of cleavage.

I asked my waitress if anybody had asked her to bare herself.

"No," she said. "It's really calm here. Our boss said to downplay the whole thing. No beads, no nothing."

"Check, please."

As I waited, the man at the next table asked me if it was worth it to head over to Fat Tuesday. He said he wanted to see breasts.

"Don't do it," I told him. "Long line, cover, packed with huge stinky guys. Worst off, the cop-to-nipple ratio was 24 to 0."

His name was Jim. He was a stranded trucker from Arkansas, waiting for his semi's engine to get rebuilt. He suggested that we head for a strip bar in south Scottsdale he'd been to the night before.

I found my car and began driving back north on Mill. As I sat waiting for a light, two bike cops pointed their flashlights into my minivan.

In the next block, I saw six bike cops sitting together, and two more cops came galloping by on horseback.

"Man. All I want to see now is the city limits."

I met Jim at Dream Palace on Scottsdale Road.

Eight dollars for total nudity and a complimentary Pepsi, and the cop-to-nipple ratio quickly swung in my favor. I racked up 24 breasts, tying the number of police I had seen, as well as 24 butt cheeks and an assortment of other parts I can't even remember the names of.

But I quickly became bored. I realized this really isn't the night for professional breasts. The energy of Mardi Gras comes from seeing chests that rarely see the light of day. Jim told me he'd heard another place up the street was supposed to be more fun and laid-back.

Jim had heard right. Anderson's Fifth Estate had a fun-loving rock 'n' roll mood. Patrons here exuded a kind of civil rowdiness that was infectious, which was cathartic after a long night of cops and strippers.

Then it happened. She was clearly nervous, but seemed determined to fight her inhibitions. She was being goaded by her female friends. It was like an early 1970s bra-burning party.

Finally, like a kid jumping from the high board for the first time, she closed her eyes, gritted her teeth and then lifted her shirt to the crowd.

The crowd roared. Her friends mauled her with high fives and hugs.

I applauded, then quickly moved toward the exit, satisfied that I had finally witnessed the true meaning of Fat Tuesday.

The final score: 26 to 24 in favor of breasts over cops.

More important, my faith had been restored that, despite the best efforts of the leaders of Tempe, a genuinely good and good-natured party still can be found in the Valley.

And my faith had been restored in the female breast and its glorious, mysterious power to render generally decent men despicable and stupid.