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Published Features // Columns // Essays

A few from hundreds through the years 



Feature // A Pandemic Day at Circle K 

Big Mike, as he's known around here, swings open the door for customers, greets them with a tobacco-fortified grin and kindly nod. This guy is big, like an ex-lineman, in his 40s, gray beard, swollen belly, black wrap-arounds. There's a pragmatism about him, a honed way of survival. His life's belongings cram a shopping cart, and it is packed, mathematical and neat, folded, arranged, fastened. A giant jug of water occupies the bottom rack. It is parked in the lot like some apocalyptic mini-coop. Like many out today, the dull color of his clothes mixes with the muted hues of dirt and pavement. It is a cool, partly overcast day in late March, and the skies are dripping. It is a beautiful world when the sun is out and it rains too. Big Mike is hardly concerned with any such beauty, and this is fact. It's not the threat of a virus either, he must find shelter from the goddamn rain.

Jason Stark ambles up as Big Mike rolls his shopping cart out of the Circle K parking lot. He is 40-ish, saguaro-skinny and windblown, and wears a gray hoodie and two trucker hats. 


[Continue reading here]

Feature // Walmart, ‘The Trumpvirus,’ and Survival Instincts 

The ancient Native woman rolls in her wheelchair through Walmart’s bustling parking lot and exhaust stink, squinting in the midday sun, moving toward the corner bus-stop. Anger moves through her tiny frame, down into her wrinkled hands, the unnatural velocity with which she forces her wheels. No one notices her, a shiny Ford truck nearly collides into her, and she hardly wants to stop and chat. She scowls and rolls, “They are out of everything, the shelves are clean!” Her name she says is Anna and few of her Walmart needs were met and she radiates zero joy despite the outward impression of joy in her dress—a colorful pastel blouse, blue duster and carefully pulled back gray hair. She says babies will be born with the virus now and mothers are doomed. She is alone in a world of vibrating humanity.


[Continue reading here]

Feature // Maid in America

"Are you Brian Smith from Kenyon Drive? Your sisters are Julie and Marcia? Brothers are Barry and Stuart?"


I nodded.


Her cackle, raffish. "You know who I am?"




"I'm Debbie, from your old street. Marcia's best friend."

The floor dived when recognition hit. Debbie Beck was her name then. She forever represented a life of adventure and challenge to authority in my little-boy eyes. She met me right after I was born. When we moved from our old street to a house further east, sis Marcia sort of lost contact with her after that, several years and four miles apart, what happens when teen girls separate into two different high schools.


[Continue reading here]

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Feature // Step by Step


Supported by gung-ho team din and Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jams," Marquez "Quezzy" Johnson saunters to the plate, grins wide, and pops a hip-hop dance move. Bases loaded, the green team pitcher backs up, deliberates a second or two and underarms a fast bouncy one toward home plate. Johnson holds the grin, strides and connects, foot-to-ball, blaam-booong! The orb soars, a bat-shit flyer beyond the reach of outfielders, and those on base sprint home. Johnson rounds the diamond in a flash of rainbow-topped tube socks and bright team yellow, his teammates in the chain-linked dugout go apeshit. Dude scores another home run.

Let's back up a second, to the kick itself. This was hardly an ordinary boot by the yellow team's MVP in Tucson's GayKickball league. Johnson showed a nutty athletic display of elegance and dancer élan—arms out-stretched, forehead slightly lifted, leg alarmingly extended. Like he floated. In slow motion. 


[Continue reading here]

Feature // Harmony and Twang


SLaVerne Davis is nervous as all hell. Already a star in Tucson, this 14-year-old daughter of a Texas cowboy and a French circus performer is about to perform the first minutes of the first broadcast on Tucson's very first TV station.

Equal parts post-WW II art project and FCC-regulated television, this brand-new TV studio on west Drachman is a living thing, abuzz on the adrenalin of innovation and new technology. Experts hired from big cities help direct the bustling if uncertain young staff. Place smells of fresh paint, burning vacuum tubes and cigarettes.

Virginia Mittendorf, the station manager's wife, calms LaVerne and walks her to a mirror to demonstrate TV makeup application. Soon, cameraman Howard Smith is instructing LaVerne to look at the one camera whose light glows on top. He'll point each time it switches to the other.


[Continue reading here]

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Column // Some Mother's Daughter


Sometimes entire lives are invested inside a single shopping cart.


Never wonder about the woman who walked the streets when youth had her back, before the sun carved canyons in her face, and speed jacked all her nutrients. After all, she explains, she lost each of her six children, and who cares? Back in the 1980s it was only the weed. It was so illegal you couldn't have any in your system, especially if you had children. Trailer park, nosey neighbor, Child Protective Services—goodbye kids. All yanked from her white-knuckled grip. The weed she could not stop smoking, and she'll tell you she can't help that she is part hippy because she tried so very hard, but weed for her is life and medicine and harder to quit than even cigarettes. Of course it didn't help she cheated on her husband, to get back at him for leaving her at home with the kids while he went to a company Christmas party, back in the early 1980s. She met a liar at a bar who really was a 15-year-old boy gutting life on a fake ID. Busted. Jail. Restraining order. Pregnant. 


[Continue reading here]

Column // Heroes and Villians of Stone Avenue 


Sometimes it's impossible to hide the inner turmoil, so scars show up on the outside. Junior's run long, thick and wide, snake along his arms and chest and hands. I'd guess some kid street-survivor of multiple machete fights but these are self-inflicted. Much thinner wounds, as if carved with razor-blades, angle up from the corners of his mouth into a forever grin, Joker-style, and his countenance is calm like Mos Def. His élan is raver: rose neck tats peek up from under a leopard-print kerchief, colorful mismatched socks and magenta shorts and facial dot piercings; nipple rings dangle, jingle in the hot breeze. Junior is 23 years old, been without home eight years and he is the opposite of unsure and frightened, and ideas form that I cannot shake.

Junior is guarded and his voice is disarmingly soft and it floats on complete sentences that say only what he wants to say. He grew up on Tucson's south side. He was no enthusiast of his father. "He was sexually abusing my sister," he tells me. "And my mother always tried to compare me to him, always calling me Junior." But he will check in with his mother.




[Continue reading here]

Column // A few inmates of the El Camino Motel


Sitting outside Leon Love's room one hot June afternoon, we watch the motel owner evict a trio of squatters. Much screaming and shouting results in a surly procession of filthy backpacks and sad slouches moving toward Benson Highway and Sixth Avenue. Alison, the mangy motel calico, gnaws meat off a bone she dragged from a nearby trash container. The landlord does what he can to keep the pros and dealers at bay.

Love's perched on his plastic chair: He is security here.

I don't bring shit to our conversation. Love brings more, even as chemo sizzles through his system, fogging up his memory. Hints of his lively mind come out and he explains, in soft and calm tones, how his cancer has returned but it isn't going to get him. Sometimes it is easy to see the heavier thoughts riding shotgun behind his dark eyes, hiding truths all of us hide from ourselves, and the world. 

[Continue reading here]

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Column // The monster-bike man of Miracle Mile


In a homeless camp, just below The Mile, a guy named Shane sits inside his pup tent and rolls back his shorts to reveal scars girdling his thigh. Fleshy and jagged like a shark bite. He is damn lucky the leg is attached at all.

"Something went through me," he says, running fingers over the ruddy mutilations. "Whatever it was threw me 50 feet. I have no idea why I am alive." The train hit him not 100 feet from here and Shane doesn't remember. It just happened and he came to in a hospital room, where he spent the next month and a half, before rehab. Trains run through here day and night, some days more than others, get too close and then ...

Twenty-eight-year-old Adam Brechka produces a small tin and pulls from it a few tiny brown cotton balls dirty with heroin and hands them to Shane, along with a couple hard-to-come-by smokes. 

[Continue reading here]

Column // Winkelman: The last gang in town


Squint and the filthy copper smelter could be a cathedral. Its tallest spire lifts more than 1,000 feet into milky blue, over jagged cliffs and a layer-cake mountain of mine tailings. The sweeping vista below is flora-rich, mesquite green and haunted. The ghosts tantalize, swirl through frontyard windmills and rusted wrought iron, the flower-dotted graveyard on the town's edge, these souls of Natives and immigrants, miners and ranch hands, and whorehouse daughters of the revolution. Float down the hillside, into the Gila and San Pedro Rivers, through Aravaipa Wilderness Preserve. They mingle with the dead who came before them, cultures who belonged here and conversed with their own Gods. The ghosts move beyond Dudleyville and Mammoth and 33 miles up to Oracle, and further, to the Santa Catalina Mountains.


[Continue reading here]

Column // All Hail the Circle K


I walk up and see this guy in line with no face. I mean it is concave, a sinkhole where his nose should be, and pinprick eyes inside scar tissue. Tufts of stringy hair pad the back of his head. Carries himself like some prisoner; downcast stare, back straight, strange dignity. His presence gives the interior a drama reserved for severe car accidents or falls from great heights.

He pays the cashier with coins and pushes through the smudged doors, a straw connecting his malformed mouth to a Polar Pop. He vanishes around the corner on foot into Tucson darkness, an alley between chainlink fences and yapping dogs.

Once the initial fright recedes, my heart stings for him. How he braves the outdoors only to be met with shocked and dumbfuck stares. How he finds relief in the glow of this nighttime Circle K. How the old tour T-shirt he wears could be his favorite. I imagine he has favorite things. I can't imagine his agonies.

[Continue reading here]

Tomorrow in my Tucson Salvage column I p
Column // Requiem For a Dream: An Artist and Migrant Trail Whisperer Erects Silent Monuments to Courage 


It was her shoes. Bright, red and fashionable in the hot summer sun. Sparkly walkers from a journey into The American Dream. Or, rather, the journey into the mirage of The American Dream, one envisaged in Guatemala but dead-ended in a band of low hills in the Roskruge Mountains, 35 miles from downtown Tucson. A desert not designed for the comfort of human beings but for their death. This desert is now a land of death. It is where people collapse. It is where they die of thirst, or starvation, of heatstroke, of hyperthermia, of suicide, of madness. It is where babies die too. All while nearby Tucsonans sleep comfy in beds or walk their dogs or suck down designer whiskey in shiny bars or hire Latinos and Latinas for a quarter on the dollar to rebrick their driveways or trim their Palo Verde or clean their toilets.

[Continue reading here]

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Column // Holiday bell ringers spare ‘humoration’ for change  


A guy with long fingers and wiry legs rolls up on a tattered woman's bike. Beat green coat, skull beanie. He's of inscrutable age. Could be 65 or hard-road 35. Sets his bike against the trash receptacle and moves toward the bright entrance of Walgreens. Gregory Lewis, the Salvation Army bell ringer, stops him, and, for whatever reason, asks his name and if he's a war vet. The guy nods, says, "Charles." He's aloof, maybe angry. A Samuel Jackson as Zeus Carver countenance.

Lewis, who has never before met this guy Charles, says to him: "I love you brother. There's always a first time for us to love one another."


The comment disarms. Charles stops, glowers at the bell ringer.  

[Excerpt from this 2018 column] 

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Essay // Seven L.A. Bands Way More People Should Know About


The tender years in Tucson, Arizona, stealing money from my big brother’s busboy tip jar and buying Circle K money orders with the coins to send to Zed Records in Long Beach for all the Dangerhouse sides, The Eyes, The Bags, the mighty Weirdos, Black Randy and the Metro Squad, The Alley Cats, The Deadbeats, etc. Bands I’d hardly heard but knew were godhead. I was an outcast kid, beat up sometimes, mocked, laughed at. Later, at 15, I’d be living mostly at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, a young bike racer recently named to the junior national team. Was in SoCal for a bike race. Somehow, I wound up in a car with Axxel G. Reese from The Gears and some punk-rock college dude from Tucson.

[Continue reading here] 

Column // The little Catalina Market survives a murder and becomes community


They swing open the glass door and step inside, sometimes in groups, or sometimes solo, and sometimes an hour passes and no one shows at all. There are stoner skateboarders and soon-to-be career drunks procuring St. Ides in the can and ex-cons with teardrop tats holding diapered babies. There are blue-collars pulling up in tool-stuffed pickups, the occasional white-collar driving a hybrid, and sweet-faced elderly folk. There are single moms with perpetual stoops who look older than their years with kids of varying sizes hopping up and down in tow. In a few hours time, whites, Latinos, blacks, Native Americans, purchase canned soup, or mac and cheese, or beer, smokes, soda, lottery tickets.


[Excerpt from this 2015 column] 

Column // Border crossing, swap meet prisms and the reluctant American Dream


A dust devil charges down the swap-meet walkway and stirs the shop's neatly displayed sunglasses, silver trinkets, and daisy-happy pillows. A fleeting hippy prism half obscured by dust refracts from a store across the way, and it's gone. Cosmic kitsch on a bizarrely warm day in late January.

[Excerpt from this 2018 column] 

Column // Neighborhood barber stays popular by keeping it old-school


Whenever Johnelle Hunter swings his arms behind his back, shifting his electric clipper from one hand to the other, it's like a well-rehearsed soft-shoe worthy of some 1960's Motown Revue stage, such is the swift, graceful movement of his arms, hands and legs. A knee lifts, and then the other, as he side steps over the clipper's power cable, completing a quarter-turn.


[Excerpt from this 2015 Tucson Salvage column] 

Essay // Almost Famous: The misadventures of a bunch of coulda-shouldas called Gentlemen Afterdark

Muhammad Ali towered resplendently in a custom suit and house-wide shoulders, and he had this strange, faraway dignity. You don't understand the charismatic power of a true international giant until you meet them face-to-face, empty gaze and expressionless features notwithstanding. I was introduced to Ali as "Brian Smith from Gentlemen Afterdark" and felt disoriented in front of him like a misplaced scarecrow. But I had some confidence because I'd just chugged a quart of Colt 45 malt liquor.

[Continue reading here]

Essay // Nights in Phoenix 


Once upon a time in Phoenix, I used to long for night to come down. It was like a mercy killing, really. I mean the way nightfall kills off the day there. I figured that’s why so many Phoenix sunsets look like bloodletting in slow motion.


When that sun would finally drop behind the city’s skyline, things just lit up. It didn’t matter to us that on summer nights, the heat still hummed like a migraine and the beer warmed too fast, just as long as that burning sun went down. Sometimes, the dry night breeze would be so hot I’d envision nighttime wildfires whipping up through desert arroyos out beyond Chandler toward the Superstitions. But it was beautiful, and desert things come alive in the dark.


I’d become a weird kind of tourist at night, curious and small and insignificant to the city and the desert surrounding it. I engaged all manner of people — from repo men, porn stars, and church founders to Santería priests, meth cooks, and taxicab gunmen — and profiled many in these very pages. We were mostly cooked and lean and hungry, damaged by the sun in some way, but grateful for the night. I’d romanticize the shit out of those evenings, and they’d often feel like a tripped-up mix of Denis Johnson’s desperate Phoenix in Angels and Alice Cooper’s quixotic one in “Alma Mater.”


[Excerpt from this 2014 New Times cover story]

Essay // Jesus of Suburbia


Late November. Maybe. No, wait. Early December. Hungover. Gray rainy light in the window. The phone rang. It was that voice.

"This is it," he mumbled.


"Huh? Doug?"


"This is it," he repeated. His tone was deep and sour, the usual; but different. Hushed and cryptic this time, burnt as almonds; and it wasn’t just the hangover. Shit, we were hungover every day. That was a worry. This time his voice had the absolute absence of God. Any god. Blank. And I could barely hear him; that was the weirdest thing.


"I’m gonna off myself."




"I mean it."


"Doug? What the fuck are you talking about?" There was dead silence.  That inevitable hush after a person's admission embarrasses the crap out of you, out of both of you. 


[Excerpt from this 2007 Metro Times cover story]

Essay // Rock City: A dispatch from Detroit  


A tap on my shoulder. “Are you Brian Smith?”


"Uh, yeah," I said, turning around.


Then the world switched to slo-mo.


The fist came hard. I watched my beer form a graceful arch from the bottle into the freezing night air. Woodward Avenue and the Detroit skyline dived, and my head bounced hard on the ice. Hurt like it cracked open.


Real time: I looked up and felt my head. Some dude in a cheesy facial mullet gazed down on me. What? Am I already dead after a few weeks in Detroit? Who the …?


I saw under his jacket that the T-shirt he wore sported some sort of trendy Detroit phraseology across the front. Little tips of burnt-yellow flames peeked out from under the neckline, and I thought: Really? I imagined a chest-sized tattoo of flames wrapped around a giant horseshoe emblazoned with the word “Luck.” They make such people in Michigan, too? 


[Continue reading here] 

Feature // Aretha Franklin: Portrait of the artist as a young woman 


In 1964, the Beatles shifted culture with "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the Civil Rights Act passed, but creepy Klansman Byron De La Beckwith got off twice for the murder of Medgar Evers. The same year Aretha Franklin wrote and recorded "I'll Keep on Smiling," one of the most overlooked songs in her canon, a stunning, pissed-off ode to empowerment — foreshadowing her career-defining "Respect" three years down the road — whose opening salvo was a witty, pre-feminist call-to-arms: "I'm gonna smile and take it baby/ Until I get tired of you/ When I've had enough of this business/ You'll be the first one to know we're through." Powerful, self-assured, in a voice that rolls and rumbles like balls in lanes at a bowling alley, it's easy to forget those are words of a drop-dead beautiful 21-year-old girl-woman, daughter of a fiery Detroit minister, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, a single mother who three years earlier had left two small children behind and boarded a New York-bound bus to make it in the music business.


[Continue reading here] 

Feature // The Ballad of Kenny Tudrick


Kenny Tudrick springs up from the couch, heads to the kitchen and returns balancing carefully a platter of cut vegetables and ranch dip, which he places atop a rack of recording gear. He grins and announces awkwardly, "Check me out. Hosting, man."


Down-dressed up in Y-back suspenders, white V-neck T-shirt, flared jeans with a big vintage belt buckle, and boots, the singer-songwriter hardly resembles a "host." In fact, clothes hang off him like a malnourished scarecrow, he's naturally graceful with sharp elbows, bony shoulders. His high cheekbones lift a complexion toughened a bit by a few weeks' growth, some hard road and a teenage battle with zits. Hair's grown-out shag: total rock star.


But for good reason he's host, and nervous. He's in Royal Oak's Rust Belt Studios for the first "public" listen of his new, self-titled double album — which just arrived from Manhattan mastering house Sterling Sound.


[Excerpt from here] 

Essay // Joey Ramone Leaves Home 

I was in seventh grade when I purchased my first record. It was Leave Home, the second album by the Ramones. I got it the day after it was released.


Because of Leave Home, I would have to confront countless fists on the schoolyard belonging to guys with names like Tony and Hector, guys with broad backs and thick fingers. My appearance made their hatred obvious; I didn’t wear corduroy bells with hand-tooled belts, nor did I have their doughy, well-mothered faces. I was typically down-dressed in wrinkled shirts, unruly hair, and pimples. I would have to endure the faces of students moving toward me in the hallways, watch their mouths twist into sinister smirks as they approached, and listen to the contemptible snickers once they passed. The Ramones ensured that for years to come I would be half-terrified to enter a Circle K; and brother, you do not know the rednecks in my hometown.


[Excerpt from this column in Phoenix New Times]   

Column // The Life and Crimes of Andrew Forkes: A 93-year-old career criminal looks back in danger 


When retired safecracker Andrew Forkes first did lock-down time, bathtub gin was the libation of choice. By his 18th birthday in 1925, he had five years of reform school under his belt, the consequence of a childhood in Ohio spent burglarizing and running away from home.


"Never thought I'd make it past 30," Forkes says. "I've been in so many shootin' scrapes in Detroit. . . . I'm 93 years old. If I were young today, I'd probably have AIDS."


Forkes cracked safes the country over, from Illinois feed mills ("We'd whack open these old-fashioned square-door safes -- in and out -- with usually one or two thousand fast bucks) to Michigan meat packers, Detroit supermarkets to L.A. drug stores. He's nicked diamonds throughout America and fenced everything from jewels to morphine.


[Excerpt from this Phoenix New Times column]

Column // Yazzie's Razzle-Dazzle: With his 160-foot mural in a museum ... 


New Year's Eve, the night of the dive bar tour at The House art studios, painter Steven Yazzie sports a bike helmet decorated with a fluffy boa wrap and three naked dolls with out-scissored legs. The dolls are attached to thin rods, which come to a teepee-like point two and a half feet above his head. A glow stick dangles from the top. Lights from downtown skyscrapers and the moon light up his attire: a woolen, chocolate-colored security cop jacket over flannel and sweats, a dingy gear bag off one shoulder, some visible tats and a thick mane of dark, near-shoulder-length hair. Faint Cuban beats circulate from a small cassette player stashed on his person. He's sitting on a rickety mountain bike equipped with a chirping handlebar bell and playing cards that flutter in the spokes, and Yazzie's overall élan is absurd -- half Mardi Gras minstrel, half Hollywood Boulevard wreckage.


[Excerpt from this Phoenix New Times column]

Feature // Invincilbe Summer


A tatted blond waitress slings drinks for a trio seated at a back table at Northern Lights Lounge in Detroit. A DJ — Dez from Slum Village — has Dwele cooking the woofers and a line of relaxed folks sit hunchbacked on stools along the bar while some guy's comfortably couch-slouched watching big-screen sports action near the club's entrance. That's about it. At 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, little is happening.


Not 10 minutes later, the venue begins to fill. Local rap stars arrive — Phat Kat, Nick Speed, Blake Eerie are in the house, so's Marvwon; in strolls the waifish Danny Brown and Athletic Mic League's 14KT.


Fans too, an ethnically mixed crowd of shiny-eyed men and women pay the cover, step in and their numbers peak around midnight, showtime for Detroit emcee Invincible. The gig's barely promoted — the venue's maybe half-full — but no matter; heads are here ready to roll, ready for the emcee to illume the joint.


[Excerpt from this 2008 cover story]

Column // Cut across Shorty's: Venerable watering hole takes its derelicts, and keeps on ticking


Crack and tweak are all that matter to Kim. Everything else is just part of the plot to procure it. Only through a combined sense of panic and fearlessness does she manage to collect enough cash to kill off another day.


Kim is a self-described prostitute, 39 years old. She's seated on a barstool at Shorty's Bar, waiting for the bartender to get busy. Once his back is turned, Kim hits us up for a smoke and five bucks.


"One thing I don't do, I won't steal and I won't kill for it," she says in a low rasp. "You don't know the power of the pipe. I have eight years on the pipe. Look at the calluses on my hands from the pipe. I wish I'd never tried it."


Outside the bar there are obstacles, she says, and chances are good those who want her dead will nab her -- people she has regretfully wronged over drugs.


[Excerpt from this 1999 New Times column]

Column // Go to sea:  Adventure, Beauty, Death . . . a brief explanation of why the view on your barstool is a little pallid


In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago, the aged Cuban fisherman, redeemed himself through long-in-tooth courage in the face of defeat. A triumphant allegory, sure, but Ernest Hemingway had it wrong about one thing: No one lives long enough on the sea to become an old man. You just become old at an early age. I know. I just met a 26-year-old club DJ and student here in Phoenix who's aged a lifetime after just four seasons on a Northern Pacific fishing boat.


It was 1996 when Chris Robson nearly cashed it in for the first time. Robson was an upstart deckhand in his second season on the Harvester Enterprise, a 188-foot fishing vessel that trawled for cod and pollock in the waters of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea.


The day was a typically cheerless one, heaving and wintry, and tarnished with the inescapable foulness of dead fish and diesel, a day as good as any for a routine harvest of Alaskan pollock. The huge trawl, used to exhume fish 20 tons at a time, rolled from the hydraulic net reel and into the water. The net itself is like a giant sock, 15 to 18 feet wide and 60 to 80 feet long that goes along the sea floor sucking up nearly everything in its path.


[Excerpt from this Phoenix New Times column]

Feature // Rod Fellows   


Howard Greenfield is hunkered down in the casket-like coupe, hurtling forth at 110 miles per hour in a hot rod whose suspension was made the same year Boris Karloff's Frankenstein gave alternative horror to Depression food-line gloom.


This scene could easily morph into a last-rites processional.


Like some heroic machine bravely affronting its own incessant clatters and clacks, the hot rod takes a hard line on Interstate 17, heading south toward Indian School Road. Beads of sweat well up on Greenfield's forehead and disappear into the furnace slipstream of the June afternoon. Burnt-oil-tinged air stings eyes, singes skin and throws hair. 


[Excerpt from this Phoenix New Times cover story]

Feature // Champtown: No Eminem, no Kid Rock without this guy 


It’s a Tuesday night at Bev’s Backstreet topless bar, a dim, living-room-warm East Side den. The handful of house girls are bored, sitting at the bar chatting up a few middle-age gents nursing sour marriages or holiday cheerlessness — the kind accustomed to walking out of places like this alone, down a C-note and smelling like vanilla. There’s a couple bikers in boots and denim.


A sylphlike white dancer in crack-revealing lavender hot pants moves across the small kidney-shaped stage slowly, languidly. She caresses the center pole with bored indifference. Taking long, self-obsessed glances of herself on the mirrored back wall, she could be Christina Applegate’s porn-star kid sis. She spins slowly on her heel, bends backward and takes a quick tally of the men in the room. It’s still dead. It’s still early.


James “The Blackman” Harris is DJing tonight; it’s a gig he’s had for three months. He’s been DJing in one form or another for more than two decades. He spins Snoop, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, Blondie, Guns N’ Roses and his own custom retooling of a Doors tune. He’s thin and graceful, dressed in black, a single gold chain around his neck, sports specs and a thick, sculpted Fu Manchu.


[Excerpt from this Metro Times cover story]

Feature // Last of the Independants 

Mellow is an odd dude, a savant of sorts. He's thickset with deep, dark eyes and is, on one hand, a bit slow on the uptake. But on the other hand, he's sharp as an audiophile's needle-drop, sassy even, and can quickly rattle off the day, month and year of any star's birth or death you throw at him. If you give him your DOB, in fact, he will, in seconds, tell you the day on which you were born. He never misses.


Mellow's one of the jovial inmates at Melodies and Memories Records on Gratiot in Eastpointe, a store regular who rides the bus in from his southwest Detroit home two or three days a week, even on the bitter cold ones, to hang and shoot the shit, watch a music DVD, listen to soul or R&B sides, or, perhaps, spin his faves, the Go-Gos or Herb Alpert. He's one of a cast of characters here that could've found a home in the pages of High Fidelity.


At Memories today are owner Dan Zieja, manager Gary Koral and veritable music encyclopedia Bob Koski, one of a few other staffers. They're unaffected middle-aged guys upholding an idea of "community" here — that fading idea of human interaction and exchange that's evaporating at an alarming rate in all corners of our culture.


[Excerpt from this Metro Times cover story]

Column // Booty Camp: Ex-Navy man Christian Valentino sees future in gay male porn


In blooper scenes included on the soon-to-be-released gay porn feature Behind the Set, we see a decidedly mirthful 19-year-old Christian Valentino dancing and clowning about, all smiles as he bounces his flaccid penis off the heads of other actors.


The reel also reveals another side of the Phoenix-based Valentino, a behind-the-scenes perspective of a gay porner grimacing as he struggles to relax his sphincter using a large, rather reluctant dildo. The hindmost loosening, prefaced with an all-cleansing douche, is necessary; once the shooting starts, Valentino is the anal recipient of a rigid 10-inch penis. The gent brandishing said genitalia shows little mercy on the spindly limbed Valentino. What's more, shooting for that particular scene lasted hours.


Valentino is Behind the Set's star. He will grace its DVD/video box cover. He plays a pouty, passive hetero raped by a burly, masked femme wielding an overtly articulated lust. In the scene, Valentino's yelps of pain are feigned, or so he claims. He says he enjoyed the sex scenes, and his crow and matching distressed countenance were shot for added drama after the actual intercourse took place and later edited in.


[Excerpt from this Phoenix New Times column]

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