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After getting The Look, Tom heads to the Warehouse District for a poetry slam

Do you remember the look your mom gave you when she knew you were lying—straight to her face—when she asked you whether you had brushed your back teeth? Or the one your girl gave you when you showed up to meet her parents wearing that shirt? No, wait, how about the look your football coach gave you while he yelled at (and spit on) you for running the wrong pass pattern?

Well, add up all those looks, and then season them liberally with scorn and disappointment, and you have the look my (erstwhile) boy Curtis gave me recently. Plus, he's this big ol' tall guy, so when he gazes at the average-sized person, The Look is heading downhill at g sin theta, gathering speed and intensity as it goes.

I've always liked and respected Curtis. He does an amazing job running the Rialto Theatre, which makes him more important to downtown Tucson than all the big-name people on whom we won't waste ink right now. He likes good music; he's fiercely loyal to his friends; and on occasion, he dresses even worse than I do, which means he has imagination and creativity.

He was none too pleased with something I wrote in an earlier column (June 11). While taking the Tucson City Council to task for giving out fat raises to top management and then pleading poverty regarding the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, I made a flippant remark about setting the Warehouse District ablaze as both a long-term cost-saving measure and a short-term alternate light show. It was a dumb thing to write, partly because it's not that funny, and partly because, you know, that's not funny!

Let me make it clear: I don't want the Warehouse District to burn down. I don't want anybody to light it on fire. And I want all of you who want me arrested for something called "incitement to arson" to go check whether something like that actually exists. Not even the redneck Los Angeles Police Department could make that charge stick on deejay Magnificent Montague when he shouted, "Burn, baby! BURN!" during the Watts Riots.

Earlier that same evening, I was taken to task by Jim Nintzel, who pointed out that when I attack the "public funding of the arts," that includes things like museums, the opera and even the Rialto. I need to be much more careful when discussing the issue in the future. I draw a sharp distinction between what goes on in the aforementioned venues—the displaying and/or performing of works that, through the passage of time or, in the case of acts taking the stage at the Rialto, through sheer hard work and determination, have earned an appreciation and a following—and the use of taxpayer money to help finance an individual's foray into the creative process.

It's not even so much that I cringe at the thought of tax money being wasted; that's going to happen, and Lord knows it's been wasted on worse things than bad art. My objection is a philosophical one: The government that pays for the creation of art also gets to define what art is. That's not a good thing, unless you're Leni Riefenstahl.

After he gave me The Look, Curtis spoke. This amounted to the verbal equivalent of The Look. He said that he has many friends who pour their life's blood into making a go of the Warehouse District, and they deserve more than a glib rebuke from one who knows not of which he speaks. (He doesn't really talk like that, but The Look does.)

I decided that if I survived the encounter with Curtis, I would, over the next few months, acquaint myself with the Warehouse District, and then, should I ever write about it again, I would be able to do so from a more-informed position.

I decided to get started right away, so I went to a poetry slam a couple of days later. The Tucson Slam Team was having a fundraiser to help pay for their trip to the National Poetry Slam ... Off. I paid the entry fee and bought one of their CDs.

I'm not big on poetry. I like song lyrics, like, "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day; when it's cold outside, I've got the month of May." (Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson "America's greatest living poet.") I once wrote a poem in high school. It went:

Rose are red,

Violets are blue.

I like peanut butter.

Can you swim?

The teacher thought it was avant-garde and gave me an A. The really diabolical thing is that I've never tasted peanut butter, so I don't know whether I like it or not.

Anyway, the Slam Team was hilarious. They used the word "balls" a lot, although none of their poems were about sports, per se. The highlight of the evening was a paean to the recently departed Billy Mays, with lemon-smelling heaven and OxiClean-ed clouds.

They're soon heading for Florida for the nationals. I'd go were it not for the fact that the entire state of Florida is like that wet pair of socks that you threw in the trunk of your car and forgot about until you got pulled over by a cop with a cadaver-sniffing dog.

So I'll just wish them luck. Or, as the Slam Team would say, "Balls."

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