Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Tag: Arizona

Meandering through the Last Days of Summer

My parental units are finally off on their long-delayed summer vacation. Mom’s arms are sufficiently healed for her to get in and out of their RV and she hasn’t fallen in a few weeks, so I’m crossing my fingers and toes that they will have a nice trip. Of course, their original destination of Alaska is on hold for now — the window for Far North travel has closed for the season. Nevertheless, they are making the best of things and planning to visit family in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, Dan and I continue to dream about a trip to the British Isles. Our previous trip abroad only whetted our appetite for more foreign vacations. Years ago, just after my first trip to Italy, I purchased a round-trip ticket to Heathrow. I was going alone — I figured I’d be fine since I understood the language. Unfortunately, about a month before I was supposed to go, my maternal grandfather died. I just didn’t have the heart for the trip after that. I ended up spending a week with my best friend Ella* and her family in Florida instead. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t go; when Dan and I eventually make it there, the city will be new to both of us. With any luck, we’ll be able to carve out the funds for the trip within the next year or two.

Fall is nearly upon us. Beta Sigma Phi has started again, and I’m glad to see my sorority sisters. In a week and a half, I’ll be at the Beta Sigma Phi convention being held at Casino Arizona. I’m going to sell some books to support my chapter. Nikki and I are the only two attending from Eta Delta, but I know we’ll have fun — we always have fun when we’re together!

My apologies for this meandering, newsy post. I’ll try to come up with something more cohesive next week. Until then, Dear Reader, live life like you mean it.

*Not her real name. 🙂

One of Dan’s and my favorite paintings.


Sore Losers

A political group called Respect Arizona has filed paperwork with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office to launch a campaign to recall Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

I’m sure it’s clear from some of my other pieces (here and here) that I’m not really a fan of the Maricopa County sheriff. In fact, I pretty much think he’s a blowhard who should have retired at least two terms ago.

However, the idea of recalling him is as ill-advised as Arpaio’s own campaign against our president. Like it or not, Arpaio was reelected. Yes, the race was close. Yes, Arpaio threw tons of money into the campaign, which likely swayed some of the voters. But, like it or not, Arpaio won. Whining about how much he spent to accomplish his goal is pointless.

Let’s talk about the next election instead. Arpaio earned just 50.7% of the vote, which means 49.3% did not vote for him. This was his slimmest victory yet. We have four more years to slice off one percent of his support and find a single candidate with both the experience and presence to relegate Arpaio to the halls of Arizona political history, along with some of our other poor choices. Anyone else remember governors Mecham and Symington?

Respect Arizona, as much as it saddens me to say it, the people have spoken. Sheriff Joe gets four more years to waste taxpayer money and generally show his lack of class to the rest of the country.

Whatever Arizona’s reputation may be, we have certainly earned it.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio - Armed and Dangerous

Sheriff Joe Arpaio – Armed and Dangerous (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

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They Don’t Put This in the Travel Brochures

Arizona is in the midst of a cold snap. In Phoenix, we are expecting five nights in a row of freezing temperatures for the first time since 1988, which, according to one local news anchor, is “unprecedented.” Apparently, her dictionary has a different definition for that word than mine does. Never mind.

I know what you are thinking if you live anywhere colder: “wusses.” Yeah…we are, when it comes to the cold. However, I’d be willing to bet that we complain a heckavalot less than Northerners when the temperatures hit triple digits.

Like most cities, Phoenix has homeless people. Most often, they can be seen standing near freeway onramps with signs that read everything from “God Bless You” to “Will Work for Food.” Because of our normally temperate weather conditions, I would be willing to bet that most nights,  many of them opt to sleep outside rather than risk the dangers of a homeless shelter. Tonight, the shelter downtown that only sleeps 770 under normal conditions will house as many as they can stuff inside. They will be roused at six o’clock tomorrow morning – before the sun comes up – and fed breakfast, which is probably better than their average Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, at the county jail – popularly referred to as “TentCity” – the inmates (non-violent offenders) will be huddled under thin blankets. Sheriff Joe even said the inmates would receive chicken broth for dinner. Nice. How about a good meal heavy on the carbs instead? That’s what a human being really needs to survive the cold – lots of calories for his or her body to burn through the night! There is no reason that a short two- or three-month stint should become a death sentence.

Needless to say, I will be huddled under my blankets in the warmth of my home…which will probably not be all that warm. You see, when we replaced our air-conditioning unit a few years ago, we chose to switch to a heat pump from the gas heating system we had before. Unfortunately, when the thermometer falls below thirty-five degrees, the heat pump can’t keep up. Luckily, I have plenty of blankets and a heating pad to keep me warm.

Maybe I’ll try to dream about summer tonight…


Arizona (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

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Cowboys Aren’t Really Art Aficionados

Back in the 1930’s, Clare Boothe Luce, a well-known playwright and the wife of magazine king Henry Luce, commissioned Frida Kahlo to paint a portrait of a mutual friend who had recently committed suicide. Kahlo’s portrait, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, was not exactly what she was expecting. In fact, she so disliked the portrait that she planned to destroy it. However, cooler heads prevailed, and the painting was instead put in storage. Years later, she donated it to the Phoenix Art Museum, reportedly telling others that no one would ever see it there.

When I first read this story – which was hanging next to the painting at the museum – I laughed. I thought that Luce had clearly failed to see how metropolitan Phoenix would eventually become.

Then at lunch with my Beta Sigma Phi sisters last weekend, I realized I may be the one who is deluded. None of my sisters are from Arizona originally, and their perception of the state is considerably different from my own. Apparently, we live in the Wild West. Cowboys still walk the streets – at least as far as much of the rest of the country is concerned. When I mentioned this to my husband, I was surprised to find that he agreed with them. “It’s the Del Webb commercials from the Sixties,” he said. “All those commercials about the Sun City retirement community sold a version of Arizona that relied heavily on the ‘Old West’ perception.”

I never saw those commercials…I lived here, you see. So, here I am, stripped of my delusion at last. It appears that my father-in-law’s perception of me as “pioneer stock” may, in fact, be the way all non-Arizonans see me. My belief that Arizona is as metropolitan as the next major city is not shared by my fellow residents. And, in a state where a striking majority of the population is transplanted from elsewhere, Joe Arpaio suddenly seems like the obvious choice for sheriff – after all, he looks pretty good in a cowboy hat.

I suppose Phoenix’s image isn’t too unappealing, since we still draw a ridiculous number of people from other states. Dan, who is originally from Chicago, tells me it’s not unusual for people to ask him about the corrupt politics and mob activity of his home city. To be fair, though, Chicago politics haven’t changed much in the last hundred years. Phoenix, on the other hand, is nothing like the dusty desert town that existed before air conditioning.

So, for anyone who has never been here, you should know that few, if any, real cowboys roam our streets. While some people go for sunset rides on their horses, I would venture to guess that more people take that twilight cruise on a motorcycle. If you ever do get to Phoenix, I recommend a visit to the art museum, if only to see the Kahlo that Clare Booth Luce tried to hide.

If you want to see an “Old West” town, try Tombstone. Of course, their cowboys are mostly fake too.

Suicide of Dorothy Hale

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Okay. I blew it. Here it is, ten o’clock on Friday night, and I completely forgot to write my post for tomorrow morning.

So what can I share with you that you might actually find interesting or funny?

Let’s see…

I’m not much of a housewife. As a matter of fact, I’d say I’m probably the worst housekeeper I know. Nevertheless, if I know you are coming, I will make sure that my house is as clean as I can possibly make it. When my grandmother calls and gives me less than an hour’s notice, I spend forty-five minutes cleaning and the other fifteen minutes trying to make myself presentable – and she’s not even critical of my housekeeping skills! I doubt she would notice if there were dust in the corners.

My mom is – or rather, was – the ultimate clean freak. She used to keep my childhood home so clean that the five-second rule could have been the five-minute rule. When we went to other people’s homes, she always pointed out the dust in the corners. Now, twenty-five years after I moved out, her house has a more relaxed vibe. Don’t get me wrong – the place is clean. But the strict cleaning regimen of bygone days has morphed into a more relaxed style of household management.

Back to me. My mother’s cleaning gene didn’t actually make it into my DNA. I wish it did, but I can’t even sweep the floors with a broom effectively. Dan has more than once taken the broom away from me and swept the floors himself rather than watch my awkward attempts. It’s not a ploy – I really suck at sweeping…and dusting…and, well, pretty much everything housewifely. Not only that, but I don’t notice when he cleans parts of the house.

A few years ago, what is now my office was an Arizona room – basically, an enclosed porch. Dan used the space primarily for storage, and it was stacked to the ceiling in places. To get to the backyard, we had a narrow path cleared from the kitchen door to the back door. One day, I came home from work. Since I knew that Dan was in the backyard, I walked through the Arizona room and outside to let him know I was home.

“What do you think?” he asked expectantly.

Instantly, I knew I’d missed something. “Um…did you get a haircut?”

He rolled his eyes. “How could you not notice?”

I looked at him, still not sure what I was missing.

“You walked through the room, Susan. How could you not see?”

I turned around and walked back to the Arizona room. The piles of clutter were gone; it was as if a cleaning fairy had visited the room. “Wow! This looks great!”

“Save it,” Dan said, tapping his cigar against the ashtray dejectedly. “Too late.”

And that’s how I know that I am clutter-blind.

English: This is a picture of a stiff whisk br...

This is a picture of a stiff whisk broom, a gentle scrubber sponge and a micro-fiber cleaning cloth to symbolize stages of cleaning. I am personally unfamiliar with these items. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Dan Has a Better Sense of Humor Than I Do

Okay…even though election season has passed, I felt the need to share this little gem that my husband dashed off a while back. I had forgotten about it until he forwarded it to me earlier this week. I think it’s hilarious. If he had read something like this to me at the beginning of our first date, I would have known immediately that he was a good catch.

Bim Bam the Clown’s gubernatorial candidacy under fire

SURPRISE , AZ, USA(AP)–Early today, the Maricopa County Recorder and Election office had the dubious honor of informing one of Arizona’s latest political newcomers that his campaign for governor has abruptly come to a halt.

Archie Huzenga, a spokesman for the Recorder’s office, relayed that “Mr. Bam’s candidacy has been temporarily rescinded as we investigate complaints about the veracity of certain information on his candidate packet.”

The complaint stems from an anonymous note about candidate Bam’s past, which was taped to the election office door. “It brought to light several issues that will require investigation,” said Mr. Huzenga. Though the elections office would not comment publicly about an ongoing investigation, a source within the office leaked to the media that the subject of the investigation was Candidate Bam’s declared education level and his military service.

Candidate Bam’s website clearly states that he served in the Confederate army under Colonel Nathan Forrest with distinction. He enlisted in 1861 and served the duration of the war.

It is also indicates that he earned his doctorate degree in circus engineering from Klown Kollege in 1913. His dissertation was considered groundbreaking and definitively proved that 40 clowns can successfully and consistently be crammed into small spaces.

Dr. Bam was contacted for a comment on this story but as he is a strict Marxian (Harpo), he was only able to communicate by tooting his horn once for “yes” and twice for “no.” When asked directly whether he believed the Tea Party was responsible for instigating the investigation against him, he answered by emphatically squeezing his horn bulb once.

English: Smilie The Clown

This is Smilie The Clown. As far as I know, he is in no way related to Bim Bam. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Christmas Past

When I was a child, Christmas was almost always held at my parents’ home. Due to various family issues with my parents’ siblings’ families, I was the only grandchild that both sets of my grandparents were able to see regularly.

Dad would make eggnog (nothing like the stuff they sell in the grocery store), and Mom would make just about everything else, plus pumpkin pies. This was also the time when (what was left of) the cookies and breads made their appearance. I still look forward to Mom’s date pinwheels every year – my favorites!

Grandma Millie and Grandpa John would show up early with a green-bean casserole. Grandma Millie liked to be around to give Mom a helping hand. She always seemed to love the holidays. Grandpa John would find a place to sit, usually in front of the television, if I recall correctly. To be honest, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the adults – I was usually fully consumed in playing with whatever toys Santa and my parents had provided.

My dad’s parents would show up closer to mealtime. Fuzzy always brought the pecan pie – a tradition that continues to this day. Grandpa Howard would find the other men while she joined Mom and Grandma Millie in the kitchen. I always looked forward to showing Fuzzy what I had gotten for Christmas, because she was the best at looking interested and impressed.

When I was very young, of course, Granddaddy and Ma were also at these gatherings. In my memory, I can still hear Granddaddy cackle with joy after teasing my mother or Ma. Granddaddy was fond of saying that he flitted among the pretty flowers and settled on a cow-pie, which would irritate Ma and make the rest of the family laugh.

Less frequently, various aunts and uncles would make their appearances at these festive occasions.  I was almost always the only child, though. Some might think that would make Christmas a lonely holiday for me, but I was already more than accustomed to entertaining myself. Plus, once the meal was served, the adults were bound to start sharing family stories. I learned my family’s history and my storytelling skills by listening to my elders.

When the Christmas meal was over and the last of the lingering family members left, Dad would light a fire in the fireplace and we would cuddle up as a family and watch television or play one of my new games. The year I got the ColecoVision game console, I think we played video games for hours. Before that, Dad and I had wasted many quarters in the Valley West arcade. Dad was a big fan of Donkey Kong. I think we had Donkey Kong for the game console, too.

Yes, I know that Christmas is too commercial these days and that Christmas dinners are time-consuming to prepare and gone within minutes. But I still think there’s something irreplaceable about sitting down in a family home and sharing a meal prepared with love. This is how we pass on our stories, beliefs, and even our family recipes. These are the things that mean “home.”


The most exciting present I’d ever gotten…ColecoVision!

My “Power Days”

For anyone who is curious about how my recent decision to lose weight and get healthy is going, I am proud to report that I am no longer “obese” according to the BMI calculator. No, now I am merely “overweight.” Yay, me! Additionally, I have worked out five times a week for more than a month now, which I believe is considered an amazing feat of endurance – at least in my world.

My birthday weekend was great. Since my mother-in-law and I share the same birthday, my brother- and sister-in-law served up a home-cooked meal of filet mignon and assorted sides on Saturday. The whole Bennett clan (at least the ones who live in Arizona) showed up to celebrate.

My husband and I also celebrated seven years of marriage Monday. This weekend, I discovered something that hadn’t occurred to me on any of my last six birthday/anniversary occasions: Dan cannot say no to me. He’s caught in a three-day perfect storm of celebration. When I asked him Saturday morning if he would take me to the zoo on Sunday, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, even though I know that he wanted to go to the zoo about as much as he would like a prostate exam. I must be careful with my new-found “power days” – I don’t want to use them for evil…only for good.

Even though Dan was suffering from a slight cold, we had a great time at the zoo. The animals weren’t all that cooperative, though. I was hoping to see the newborn giraffes, but alas, they were not out. Even the orangutans were inside – though at least I could see them through the windows. Apparently, they don’t like the chilly (around seventy degrees) weather. I did get a good picture of a squirrel monkey at least.

Sunday night, we had dinner at my parents’ home, where Mom prepared my requested birthday meal: chicken pot pie and rum cake. Dan and I picked Fuzzy up and one of Mom’s good friends also attended the dinner. Afterwards, we played a game of cards.

I’m thinking I’ll use next year’s three-day perfect storm to request a trip to Disneyland. Dan hates Disneyland a lot more than he hates the zoo…let’s see what these power days can really do!

A squirrel monkey at the Phoenix Zoo Monkey Village

An Arizona Halloween

I have to admit that when Halloween comes around, Dan and I usually find something to do away from home. Sometimes, we go to a movie. One year, we bought a car. Since neither of us have a strong affection for this particular holiday and our neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of children, we tend to skip it.

Our neighbors across the alley, however, are apparently big fans of the holiday. For two years running, they have had Halloween parties that necessitated the use of a sound system. There may have been some karaoke involved as well, based on the number of “Rolling in the Deep” renditions I heard last weekend. While Dan and I were outside with our dogs, we heard the emcee announce the winners of the costume contest. Apparently, someone came as Honey Boo Boo’s brother, Bubba. As far as I can tell, there is no Bubba Boo Boo, but the guy who decided to dress that way won the competition. I would have liked to have seen that.

Just in case you woke up this morning in Arizona without a costume, here are a few suggestions:

Dress as Sheriff Joe!

This one is easy. Get an old-man mask, a cowboy hat, and a pair of cowboy boots. For bonus points, find a sheriff pin – the biggest one available. If you are thin, stuff a pillow in your shirt to get a decent pot belly going. If you are going with a spouse, have him or her dress up in striped “jailbird” pants and a pink shirt at least two sizes too big. Whenever anyone accuses you of being an idiot, deflect attention by asking why the President hasn’t presented a real birth certificate yet.

Dress as Jan Brewer!

You will need a blonde wig and business dress with a jacket. Wear a shade of lipstick two shades brighter than you would normally consider. Be sure to keep your best “church-lady” expression all night. Never, ever smile. Whenever anyone talks to you, be sure to wag your finger at them as if you were their mother. Don’t be too surprised if some people think you are not the governor but, in fact, a witch.

Dress as a potential illegal alien!

If you are white, this costume will require using a bronzing lotion. When you are an appropriately dark shade of brown, put on your everyday clothes. No need to speak with an accent – your skin color will say it all. (Note: if you choose this costume, please be safe out there. Drive carefully, avoid loitering, and generally stay clear of the police. Just in case, be sure to have your “papers” available to prove your citizenship. Of course, if you go overboard with the bronzer, the cops may think your driver’s license is stolen.)

Happy Halloween!

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An Arizona Original

I’ve told you a little about each of my grandparents, except my Grandpa Howard, who was married to Fuzzy for sixty-plus years. Since I learned this week that his sister-in-law, Florence, has recently taken ill – she’s 102 – today seemed like as good of a time as any to tell you about him.

It is through Grandpa Howard that I and all of my paternal cousins are third-generation Arizonans. Grandpa’s parents arrived in Arizona in 1912 – the same year Arizona became a state. They came here because one of their older sons suffered from breathing problems and their doctor advised them to seek out a warmer, dryer climate.

Life in Arizona was not easy back then. Grandpa Wells struggled to find permanent work and support his family. When Prohibition was declared in 1919, Grandpa Wells and his oldest son saw an opportunity and built a still. They sold pints at the local dances – always giving the deputy on duty his pint for free. He also bought an abandoned gold mine and worked it for a number of years.

Howard was born in 1926, the last of four children spanning more than two decades. He grew up in Kirkland, Arizona, living on his dad’s mining claim. Some years later, Grandpa Wells would sell that claim and give Howard and Fuzzy the money for my father to be born in the hospital.

Grandpa Howard spent a lot of time outside and, consequently, maintained a deep tan for much of my childhood. He was quiet and gruff. Based on everything I saw on television, I incorrectly surmised that he was a Native American. I still remember the stunned silence and the laughter that followed when I floated my theory at a family gathering.

I spent a lot of time with Howard and Fuzzy when I was a child – mostly because I adored my grandma. Grandpa Howard, however, could be a little intimidating. He was a slow talker – he always seemed to chew on his words a bit before he actually spit them out. It could make it hard for someone like me to know when he was actually done speaking. And when he reprimanded me? Well, I never wanted to make him angry. Once, when I was eight or nine, he or Fuzzy almost stumbled over some shoes I’d left in the middle of the floor. In his deep voice, he told me never to do that again – to either keep my shoes on my feet or put my shoes out of the way. To this day, when I take my shoes off at Fuzzy’s house, I still stick them under an end table.

He was always calm and had an amazing poker face. He could make anyone believe anything. He knew the difference between a buyer’s market and seller’s market and how to capitalize on either one. He told me that the secret to a happy marriage was never to fight – though I’m not sure I believe that. I guess it worked for Fuzzy and him, though I think Fuzzy actually has a pretty high temper.

In December of 2009, he was officially diagnosed with lung cancer. I say “officially” because I think he had known for a lot longer what was wrong with him. Dan tells me that he turned to Fuzzy and said, “Well, we had a good run.” I don’t remember that specifically – but I do remember that he had a speech for everyone, including his grandsons-in-law.

He didn’t linger – he lasted less than a week after the diagnosis. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just about a perfect death: enough time to tell everyone how you feel about them, but not so long that everyone wishes you would just get it over with already. He was 83.

Yes, I know…I’ve used this before. What can I say? It’s my favorite photo of my grandparents!

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